Original text signed by Benoit Labonté, president and chief executive officer of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, published in Le Devoir.
September 24, 2004
The Agglomeration Council: just what Montreal needs
The most positive outcome of the upheaval surrounding the referenda results of June 20 is without a doubt the impending creation of the Agglomeration Council.
Provided for by the Quebec government in Bill 9, the Agglomeration Council is both a pragmatic and necessary response to the need to preserve, in a context of demergers, the strategic functions required for the development of a true metropolis. It will therefore be incumbent on the Council to manage the urban agglomeration powers, in other words, powers pertaining to matters that must be administered island-wide in order to be effective, intelligent, visionary and equitable. Some of these matters are fundamental for a large international metropolis, for example, economic development, the environment, water supply management, the road system, mass transit, the Conseil des Arts, public security, property assessment, and the major equipments and infrastructures of collective interest.
Thus, in the absence of an island-wide city, the Agglomeration Council takes on all its significance. Indeed, it is through this body that Montreal will be able to develop, realize its aspirations to become a metropolis and effectively compete against the other large cities of the world.
And since the Council is so necessary, it is vital that it be as effective as possible.
Thanks to the sound, practical judgment exercised by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Sports and Recreation in forming the Council, past errors of the now defunct Montreal Urban Community (MUC) will be averted. Indeed, the latter had shown just how difficult it is to manage common resources when everyone at the table is only looking to defend their local interests. Constrained by the double majority required, the MUC was all too often paralyzed by a method of operation that fostered obstruction rather than compromise and a vision of the future.
Under the current circumstances, the new Agglomeration Council where decisions will be made by a simple majority is the decision-making body most apt to exercise the decisive leadership, coherence and cohesion Montreal needs. And because this council represents nearly 90% of the island's population, the Mayor of Montreal who will chair the Council will have all the legitimacy he needs to exercise this leadership.
For these reasons, it is important that the Agglomeration Council assume the form provided for in Bill 9. Montreal is at a critical juncture in its history: despite its numerous assets, it has limited resources to leverage them. Only a strong leadership that is sensitive to Greater Montreal's interests will be able to make the tough decisions required for Montreal to catch up, something it desperately needs to do.
We currently rank last in terms of per capita GDP among North America 's 26 major cities. In the coming years, the demographic slowdown will affect Montreal more quickly than most of its counterparts. Consequently, we will have to, among other things, excel in attracting and retaining talent, a task that will be all the more difficult if Montreal cannot offer an exceptional blend of economic and cultural vitality, a good quality of life and an appealing environment.
Because this is a body that can harness the energy of all the stakeholders on the island and equitably share the costs, where bickering and thinly spread resources will have no place, and where a unified vision of Montreal's development will prevail, the Agglomeration Council is a vehicle that, more than any other, can help Montreal rapidly make the urgent strides it needs.
Consequently, we must staunchly oppose any changes to the structure of this Council. Its simple mechanisms are precisely what will make it work; indeed, even the slightest tinkering with the way it operates could leave us with a vehicle stuck in neutral, or even worse, running in reverse.