Viewpoint: Seven areas of action for the Montreal region  

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Added on 31 May 2002 in Viewpoints

Seven areas of action for the Montreal region

Published in The Gazette on June 2, 2002

May 31, 2002

Benoit Labonté, president
Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal


Taking an interest in the development issues of a large city begins by first acknowledging the immense complexity of such a subject. Indeed, complexity is a fundamental characteristic of any large city that is often at the heart of its vitality and attraction: the importance of a diversified economy or the appeal of a varied cultural scene is a case in point. Indeed, rather than bemoaning its existence, we must control and leverage this complexity.


This was one of the objectives of the Montreal 2017 symposium recently organized by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal: to ponder the challenges facing Montreal in the next 15 years from a sufficiently broad and diversified perspective to reflect the metropolitan complexity.


The preliminary conclusions of this symposium indicate that the success of urban agglomerations depends on many factors. Thus, far from identifying a miracle recipe, the symposium led us to formulate a call to action in seven specific complementary and interacting areas that will be at the core of Montreal's success in the next 15 years. The Board of Trade has undertaken to develop a performance indicator for each of these areas that it will monitor by way of an annual review.


The aspect of complementarity is particularly important and characterizes the spirit with which we gathered at this symposium. In addition to sharing a strong desire to participate in Montreal's success, we are well aware that this success hinges in large measure on our collective ability to work together, in the same direction.


Metropolitan mobilization and leadership


Montreal is a city-region. This was one of the most clear-cut observations that emerged from the symposium. Paradoxically, the region is only beginning to acquire, with the creation of the new cities of Montreal and Longueuil and the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC),the political, economic and administrative structures that reflect this fact. The Montreal region is not yet entirely accustomed to viewing metropolitan Montreal as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts; a whole whose business centre defines the region's cultural identity and international persona; a whole energized by the economic contribution of this centre and by the ongoing support of the other regional job clusters.  From this perspective, the Montreal city-region needs a mobilizing metropolitan leadership, a leadership that will know how to enlist the support and participation of the entire territory and all walks of life to make Montreal a success.


Inclusion and equal opportunity


We must pay particular attention to equal opportunity and inclusion if we hope to rally massive participation in Montreal's development. Since our demographic growth lags behind other large cities, Montreal must increase and leverage the number of citizens who can contribute to the economy. To do so, we must adopt innovative approaches that call on the participation of governments, communities, culture and business, in short, all those directly and indirectly affected by the challenge to eradicate poverty and exclusion.


Succession and education


Given that the global economy is increasingly knowledge-based, succession and training have become unavoidable challenges for Montreal. Notwithstanding this reality, it is surprising to note that many major players have not become involved in education. Indeed, it appears to be an area in which the government of Quebec is practically the only player. It would be preferable to see others, beginning with the City of Montreal, the MMC and the business community, take an active interest in education issues. The idea is clearly not to replace but to complement the Ministry of Education. One way this could be done, for example, is by promoting Montreal universities when promoting metropolitan Montreal abroad or enhancing synergies between educational institutions and the private sector.


Creative potential


The recent international successes of artistic productions and technological innovations that took shape in Montreal have enlightened Montrealers to the economic importance of "creative" industries, be they cultural, scientific or technological. Unfortunately, creativity is something you express, not manufacture. Montreal would do well to launch initiatives aimed at making the city an ever larger, accessible and inspiring creative location. It should also consolidate its critical mass of creators, through training or by attracting talent. Because culture, art, research and high technology are part and parcel of Montreal's economic strengths in this 21st century, the funds allocated to these sectors must be viewed as an investment and the amounts invested must be commensurate with our collective ambition to innovate and excel.

Quality projects


All too often, the concept of quality is not an express consideration in development projects. Yet quality is what often determines success and durability. This search for quality should  top the list of investment concerns, right up there with financing or technical feasibility. In this regard, major development and urban planning projects should set an example by insisting on quality, both from the public and private sectors. The pursuit of quality should not be limited to urban design and planning, but also extend to such areas as environmental stewardship, integration of art into the public domain and other elements that contribute to quality of life in Montreal.


Connected to the world


Montreal must be connected to the world, both for obvious commercial reasons and in order to excel. There is probably no better measure of Montreal's success as a city of quality, a creative city or a city of human resources than its ability to attract foreign talent or investors. In addition to being an excellent barometer, being connected to the world provides an inexhaustible source of inspiration, openness and new ideas that are in our best interest to actively cultivate by multiplying and maintaining ties between Montreal and other urban centres.


Competitiveness


Another priority area requiring Montreal's attention is the fiscal and regulatory framework that governs entrepreneurs, investors and workers. Given the mobility of both companies and workers alike, the ability of the legislative framework and government programs to allow and promote innovation has become all the more important. This area merits closer attention since the Quebec government's power of intervention in the metropolitan economy is greater than anywhere else in North America. The issue is not necessarily to change the model but rather to ensure that the existing structure is competitive.


Follow-up


While it certainly did not answer the age-old question "what came first, the chicken or the egg?" the symposium did identify seven areas of action that complement each other and mesh into a single priority: to realize Montreal's full potential.


Highly ambitious, this goal requires creative, coherent and cohesive actions. We must  therefore closely monitor and expose the areas where action fails to materialize.  To this end the Board of Trade is developing performance indicators with a view to each year publicly reporting on development in the metropolitan region. For example, a "Montreal connected to the world index" to measure the many facets of the metropolitan region's international contacts: exports, foreign investments, air links, linguistic competencies, immigrant retention, etc.


At the end of the line, these indicators should enable the Board of Trade and its partners to monitor and further Montreal's development. We must be forthcoming with our ideas as well as our efforts - and demand the same of our decision makers.


With the approach of what Mayor Gérald Tremblay has presented as an action-oriented summit," we hope that many initiatives will result from the above-mentioned call to action. Montreal is destined for many successes if, knowing how to capitalize on the metropolitan complexity, Mayor Tremblay can count on collaborators at the Summit to work on enhancing the quality of life of Montrealers along with the region's economic development.

Co-signed by:
Simon Brault, president, Culture Montréal
Robert Lacroix, rector, Université de Montréal
Phyllis Lambert, director-founder, Canadian Centre for architecture
David McAusland, senior vice-president, Alcan Aluminium
Phil O'Brien, president, Devencore
Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire, president and executive director Centraide du Grand Montréal