«Making Montreal a Success Together»
Notes for a Speech Given by Montréal Mayor
Mr. Gérald Tremblay
to the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal
Tuesday, October 14th, 2003
The speech as given takes precedence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Those who know me know that I define myself first and foremost as an agent of change. That is why I am in politics. And this is still what motivates me two years after my election as Mayor of Montréal.
Today, I believe more than ever that a New Montréal is ready to take flight to become more competitive on the global stage, where our city has been neglected for far too long.
The future of Québec and Canada rests on the success of all our cities and metropolitan regions, because it is in the cities and in these regions that people live, interact and exchange ideas, and together develop projects and ideas that contribute to the wealth of nations.
Today, I would have liked to talk to you about what is truly important to the entire population of the Island of Montréal, for their quality of life and the quality of their services.
Because Montréal can no longer afford to wait.
Is it still acceptable that the metropolitan region is not fully recognized as the economic and cultural engine of all of Québec, even when we know that in 2002, we represented:
- 47,6 % of the population of Québec ;
- 49,2 % of the jobs ;
- 49,5 % of the GDP of Québec ;
- as such, we are the source of half of the autonomous income of the government;
- 53,4 % of private real-estate spending;
- 73,4 % of the venture capital invested in Québec ;
- 46,3 % of manufacturing shipments.
Last week, at the annual Congress of the Montréal Metropolitan Community, I asked my colleagues certain questions. I think they are important enough that I ask them again today.
Is it still acceptable that a region like Montréal lives, year after year, with a chronic inability to adequately finance public transit when we know that Calgary, Edmonton and the Vancouver region have already solved this problem with the help of their provincial governments?
Is it still acceptable that a region like Montréal doesn't have a highway artery system linked to the extension of Highway 30, a highway that's been talked about and promised now for three decades? And what about the repairing of Notre-Dame Street? That's been talked about for 30 years, too.
Is its still acceptable that in matters of economic development, we are witnessing an entangling of structures and a duplication of mandates that's had the notable effect of encouraging unproductive rivalries?
Is it still acceptable to continue planning our development of the territory in an isolated fashion, without coordination or coherence?
Is it still acceptable that we are hesitant to embrace sustainable development while protecting our woods and green spaces? For example, in 1992, the Montréal Urban Community imposed a moratorium on all new purchases of green space. Over the following 10 years, we noticed a loss of more than 750 hectares of wooded surfaces, which represents an area comparable to that of the entire borough of the Plateau Mont-Royal. Even today, there is great pressure exerted on the 1000 or so hectares of natural areas that remain.
Is it acceptable that, over the years, the former city of Montréal sold its water to its neighbors without calculating the real costs? The cost of water was calculated without taking into account the sums necessary to ensure that the equipment remains current. Since the cost of financing decreased over the years, we found ourselves with an unrealistic situation: as the network got older, the cost of water continued to decrease. As if the network, once installed, was unchanging and eternal.
Is it acceptable that the sole disposal site that we have, BFI, is contemplating piling up waste to a height of 17 stories when we could adopt responsible management of our waste. The government has set at 65 % the recovery rate of residual materials. On the territory of the Island of Montréal, we are only at 17 %.
Is it still acceptable that we can't collectively provide adequate financing for social housing when we know that we will need 10 000 units over the next five years?
Are poverty and social exclusion acceptable? We cannot keep closing our eyes and pretend this problem doesn't reflect on us or that it is solely the responsibility of the former city of Montréal. It touches the whole of our community.
Is it acceptable that Montréal finds itself trailing the pack of North American cities in terms of GDP per capita, ranking 26th out of 26? How do we explain this lag? You know as well as I do that we can do better and that we must do better.
And finally, is it still acceptable that new revenues flowing from economic growth continue to bypass the municipalities?
This is really what we need to discuss today.
All of the questions I've raised concern the entire territory of the Island and the whole of the Metropolitan community. Not just the former city of Montréal. They cannot be resolved in a piecemeal fashion. And they must be resolved with everyone at the table. It is not for the former city of Montréal to face all of these problems by itself. Everyone benefits from the advantages of the big city. So everyone should participate in the costs. In the past, some have refused to pay their fair share. Today, facing the crucial challenges ahead of us, no one should be avoiding it.
Unfortunately, that which polarizes us actually monopolizes a large part of our effort and energy and creates uncertainty that is not beneficial to the development of our city. Are demergers the real priority? We are very far from the debate we should be having.
I can understand the frustration and motivation of some citizens. We understand that, during the forced mergers, some citizens felt rushed or threatened. We understand that they felt wronged by not having been consulted. We also understand their fear of losing their identity, their quality of services and their quality of life.
But it is no accident that some of the former suburban cities are richer than others. Can Westmount claim to be what it is if it wasn't situated in the heart of Montréal?
Dorval would not be Dorval if it didn't have so much government investment because of the airport. However, without Montréal, the metropolis, there would be no international airport.
And without an airport, as well as a major metropolitan highway system and a metropolis nearby, St. Laurent wouldn't have been able to develop an industrial park of such a scale with businesses subsidized mainly by taxpayers.
It is the same thing in Anjou. It is the subsidies and other considerable sums invested by government to decontaminate the soil that, among other things, allowed for the creation of the property wealth of its industrial park.
Do you think property values on the West Island would be as high if it wasn't in the metropolitan area? Do you think the biotech companies would have established themselves along the 40 if it wasn't for Montréal, with all of the cultural and economic vibrancy of a big city? If not for the city's road network? If there wasn't an airport nearby, not to mention renowned universities? Asking the question is enough to provide the answer.
If the former suburban cities are so rich and the former city of Montréal less wealthy, it is because, for decades, taxpayers in the suburbs were able to profit from the advantages of the metropolis without sharing in all the costs. And often, the former city of Montréal was left to its own devices. And don't talk to me about the money that was sent to the MUC. That money was returned, in large part, to these same suburbs in the form of public services.
Nevertheless, it is Montréal that is in fact the essence of their wealth and their identity. Citizens may want to conserve their suburban identity, but that does not change the fact that, without Montréal, that identity would no longer exist. Like it or not, everyone living on the island is part of the city. Moreover, when traveling to New York or Delhi or Paris or London, we say we come from Montréal, not Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue or Pointe-Claire !
For more than 30 years, we have tackled problems head on. For more than 30 years at the then MUC, we tried, often in vain, to agree on solutions to the chronic problems that afflicted all of the island. That MUC, because of veto rights and divergent interests, made it so that many problems were never resolved : waste management, regional parks, inter-municipal interchanges, the road network, notably Cavendish Boulevard, which since 1997 has been subject to the development plan of the old MUC. And today, if we have a demerger, we are told that there will be a sort of light MUC structure that will be put in place to deal with problems.
Let me tell you something: a light MUC structure or an agglomeration council, to use the Minister's terms, would be anything but light and would make the population of Montréal Island the most heavily administered in all of Québec, with a borough, a city, an agglomeration council and metropolitan community.
How's that for re-engineering!
Think of all that talent, all that energy, all of that effort expended, and for what? To divide us against one another. To squabble. To go back instead of building. To embroil us in endless arguments over the virtues of mergers or demergers. And surely to allow our real competitors to move further ahead. That would be investing in squabbles and divisiveness rather than investing in growth.
No one should accept this. In any case, I do not accept this. And you, each of you, in your life, in your work, with your families, your friends, you should not accept this either, In Montréal, it seems to me that we should be aspiring to something great, something inspiring, something structuring. Not always moving backward, repeating ourselves. As a society, I thought we were much further ahead than that.
In the meantime, we are sidestepping the real stakes for Montrealers. While we should be putting our efforts towards planning the development of Montréal, the Québec government, with its Bill 9, has maintained ambiguity and a climate of uncertainty that, understandably, has not only harmed its development but delayed it.
The uncertainty does not come from the 24 months that we have asked for to put our reorganization plan in place. Quite to the contrary; we know where we are going and we are ready. The uncertainty comes from the going backward and the conflicts proposed by the government and the leaders of the demerger movement. The uncertainty comes from the gray areas of Bill 9 and the illusions created by the demerger advocates.
While we should be using all our energy to apply solutions to resolve the chronic problems that affect Montréal, what are we doing instead? We are putting in place an obscure process that can only lead to the creation of new problems without resolving the ones that already exist.
It is wrong for the demerger leaders to tell their fellow citizens that they will get back their cities exactly as they were. That's false. And it is not me saying this, but the Minister of Municipal Affairs. He could not have been clearer in this regard. There is no going back, and I quote him here: « The city that signs a register and has a consultation will not have the same status and powers that they had before the mergers. Is that clear?»(1). He has repeated this many times : there is no going back to the old status quo. The tax system of the agglomeration and equalization will ensure that all citizens of all demerged cities, no matter who they are, will contribute their fair share of the costs of the whole territory of Montréal Island and the upgrade of services. No one will get back the same city, with the same responsibilities and the same budget as they head before the mergers. To say otherwise is to mislead the population.
If we took the budgets of the old cities and applied to them the contributions they were already making to the MUC for public services, contributions that will now be made to the City of Montréal, their debt servicing and we add, based on Bill 9, the contributions that will be made to adjust quotas for new shared responsibilities like firefighting and the municipal court, to name just a few of these services, that would account for almost 70% of their budgets.
That would leave them only about 30 % for their local services. That is about the same budget that the current boroughs already have. The only difference is that now, we all sit together at the same City Council to make important decisions together.
The real question that demerger advocates should be asking themselves and their citizens is this: do you want to go backwards to manage 30 % of your taxes at the cost of losing the influence and decision making power you actually have now?
I think the population of the Island of Montréal deserves better than that.
I will say again to the government: quickly make the necessary amendments to the City Charter so that we can put in place the elements of our new organization, clarify Bill 9 and give us 2 years so that taxpayers will begin reaping economic benefits and capitalize on the advantages of our new organization. In fact, the majority of citizens are ready to give us those two years.
Even Premier Charest and the Treasury Board president acknowledged that re-engineering, reorganization or redeployment, whatever term used, and I quote, « this is a process that will unfold over the next 4 years. » I would like to be given the same opportunity. In fact, I am asking for half the time the government will take. Give me two years and then give the public their say as you have promised.
I invite all the leaders of the demerger movement to openly debate the real stakes for the Island of Montréal and to acknowledge that there is no other choice than to accept and be a part of this reality. I invite them to come and calmly discuss, with no distortion and without consideration of their personal interests, the real consequences for their citizens and their services. I invite them, as well as their elected representatives in Québec, to tell their citizens the truth, to keep them well informed and to appeal to their reason rather than their emotions. Because this is not just in the interest of the metropolis but also that of their citizens. Are they aware of this?
I have done all I can throughout my political career to avoid confrontations and splits between francophones, allophones and anglophones, between the rich and the poor. I don't want a split between east and west, between former suburban cities and the former city of Montréal. What we've been witnessing over the last little while is a profoundly emotional debate, a debate that risks slipping and causing harm to our society. The risks of social fracture are high and the ambiguity of the government is not helping.
For our part, we have heeded the government's call. We have presented an organizational model that has obtained the support of City Council and the acceptance of a large part of the population and representatives of civil society.
This model is the best, if not the only, way to make Montréal a success together. It is the only way to give citizens value for their investment in the city. We want the time to put it in place. It is like the business plan in your company: you need time to implement it. It's the same thing for us. We need time. And we want it so that we can change the culture, mentalities, attitudes and behaviours.
This reorganization plan is one that the Premier himself and the Minister of Municipal Affairs have praised, one that has removed all of the possible irritants that elected officials may have faced by giving back the boroughs all of their powers to provide and manage local services.
We should challenge ourselves to be the best. To do that, we need to have the courage to give ourselves growth objectives that are at once ambitious and attainable.
Can we, for example, speak of a realistic objective of an annual growth rate of 5%, when we know that our average performance over the last decade is 3 %, all while knowing that an increase of 1% is equivalent to $1.02 billion? But that is precisely what we need to aim for in order to be among the top performing city economies.
In essence and this is an ambitious objective this means that for our region to join the leaders among metropolitan areas, we need to increase our gross domestic product (GDP) by about 5 billion dollars.
How? By relying on an integrated action plan that links strategic areas like economic and social development, land development, the environment, culture, housing and transportation.
And that is precisely what we are currently employing: an integrated approach. We need to accelerate the development of Montréal while having a global view, to ensure that the creation of new jobs and new businesses goes hand in hand with the urban form we want to give to Montréal; to develop our city while taking into account our natural areas that should be protected and valued; to affirm Montréal as a metropolis of culture and knowledge; to take a collective and forward-thing approach to managing residual materials; to plan public transit and road and highway transport in concert with housing, economic and land development. And all of this is to be done within the framework of sustainable development.
The New City of Montréal finally allows us to do what's best for all the cities of our region.
But there's more. The cities must be given access to reliable and forecastable financing to make long-term investments. The problem with municipal financing is well known: we don't collect any taxes that increase at the same pace as the economic growth rate.
Is it normal that our municipal expenses, despite tighter and tighter controls, are increasing faster than our revenues?
Is it normal that our revenue sources are reaching a saturation point while the economic spin-offs basically benefit the two other levels of government?
We are no longer at the point where we can justify this problem, but at the point where we need solutions.
Can we consider continuing to put our assets to use in attracting people to the metropolitan area, while also continuing to provide quality services to our population? If the economic growth of Montréal increases through our efforts, doesn't it make sense that we should receive part of that to finance the expenses that have allowed for this growth?
During the provincial election campaign, the government of Québec didn't just promise to consult the public on mergers. It also promised to diversify the revenue sources of the cities. I would like to see the same eagerness to follow through on this commitment as there was to the one the premier has already set in motion.
The two most promising revenue sources are the Québec sales tax as well as the gasoline taxes, the portion collected by Québec as well as that collected by Ottawa.
Our needs are well known, as are the solutions to those needs.
We don't create a big city only to take care of local services. We create a big city also to deal with major problems and, especially, to face the challenges that confront all the major cities in the world.
Together, we can leverage the power of the new city.
Together, we are stronger and we can exponentially increase our potential. Think of all the projects and issues we can settle for the benefit of the citizens throughout the Island and the entire metropolitan region. For example:
The Dorval Airport circle.
The Meadowbrook project that affects the borough of Côte St-Luc/ Hampstead/ Montréal-Ouest and Lachine
Green spaces like Angel Woods in Beaconsfield-Baie d'Urfé.
The Bois Francs Côte de Liesse woods in Pierrefonds and St-Laurent.
Public transit in the east and west of the city
The Quartier des Spectacles and Place des festivals.
The Cité étudiante internationale.
The revitalization of Sherbrooke Street in the East.
The projects of the Société du Havre.
The Rapides de Cheval Blanc in Pierrefonds.
The loop lane of Highway 30.
It's certainly not by isolating ourselves that we will be able to deal with these issues or get things moving forward.
As the major city in Québec, as well as its economic, social and cultural engine, we are called upon to do great things. We are confronted with real challenges.
Together, we have a strong influence on our partners, whether it be the provincial or federal governments. By having adopted a coherent and shared vision of development, we have taken a major step in the right direction. By staying united and working together, Montrealers will contribute not only to the enrichment of the population of our area, but also that of Québec and all of Canada. In order to obtain new growth revenues, we must nevertheless show that we are competitive, united and responsible.
It is only by working together that we will succeed in finding original ways to get things done. We need to be ceaselessly innovative to develop Montréal, to raise it to the level where our great city should be, among the great cities of the world, as well as to stimulate change and create wealth and distribute it equally.
So I am calling on all of you : If you believe in Montréal, Montréal needs your help. Talk to your neighbours, your colleagues, and your elected officials. Talk to your government.
Ask him why, besides political considerations, he wants to get rid of this file as soon as possible. Ask him why he thinks and says : « It was going well before, it will go well after ». Finally, ask him what his vision is of the strategic, economic and social development in the municipal world.
Personally, I cannot passively witness the sad decline that is in store for us if we maintain this kind of attitude and silence.
We are facing stimulating challenges. The future of the new city of Montréal is full of promise. But these promises won't come true if we keep looking back or, even worse, if we remain stuck where we are now.
We need to move ahead with a new sense of confidence. I believe in this New Montréal. I believe in the immense potential of our city. I believe in the immense potential of Montrealers. I have confidence in their judgment. Alone and divided, we cannot succeed. But with your help, with the help of all citizens, I know that we are capable of making Montréal a great, beautiful and generous success.
We have an obligation: Making Montreal a success together and rapidly establish our place amongst the great metropolis of the world.