Viewpoint: Why must the new City of Montreal succeed?

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Added on 11 June 2003 in Viewpoints

Why must the new City of Montreal succeed?

June 11, 2003

Why must the new City of Montreal succeed?

Last year's Montreal Summit was a watershed event that saw the beginnings of a concerted leadership shared by representatives from a multitude of sectors and milieus of the new City of Montreal. One year later, as the merger/demerger debate rages on, the heads of the Montreal Summit delegation who have signed the following document, would like to give new impetus to the initial grassroots and political movement that emerged to ensure the success of the new City of Montreal.

Cosigned by the following members of the Forum of delegation heads of the Sommet de Montréal:

In alphabetical order:

Carle Bernier-Genest
President
Forum jeunesse de Montréal

Simon Brault
Director general
National Theatre School of Canada

Dinu Bumbaru
Program director
Héritage Montréal

Xavier Ceccaldi
Vice-president
Daniel Arbour & Associés

Pierre Desrochers
President
Conseil régional de développement de l'île de Montréal (CRDÎM)

Benoit Labonté
President
Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

Robert Lacroix
Rector
Université de Montréal

Gilles Larocque
Directeur, bureau régional de Montréal
Fédération de l'Âge d'Or du Québec (FADOQ)

Claude Lauzon
General manager
CDEC Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce

Henri Massé
President
Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)

Philip O'Brien
Chairman
Devencore

Robert Perreault
General manager
Conseil régional de l'environnement de Montréal

Arthur Sandborn
President
Montreal Regional Council of the CSN

We firmly believe that the merger of Montreal Island municipalities is in the best interest of its citizens. First and foremost, this municipal reorganization meets the requirements stemming from the increasingly important role that cities must play and the growing responsibilities they must assume in all spheres of development – particularly that of the economy.

That said, it is true that some may question the manner in which the merger was handled. It is indeed unfortunate that the public debate did not always highlight the most fundamental issues. Given that the justifications for the merger were never really broadly disseminated before the event, nor have they been since, it is not surprising that the only way for the new City to become acceptable is to be perfect.

But that is certainly not going to happen overnight. And of course, no one could reasonably expect it to.

Still, despite its flaws, the new City of Montreal deserves to exist. First, because with the necessary effort, these flaws can be overcome – particularly with regard to the nature and quality of municipal services delivered in the boroughs and the total respect for citizens in the manner of their delivery; and second, because in spite of these flaws, the new City is still the best collective answer we can offer to the challenges awaiting cities of the 21st century.

Indeed, what are the reasons that militate in favour of keeping the new City of Montreal ?

Many people have mentioned the need for greater equity in financing the city centre and its metropolitan infrastructures. This, at best, can only be a partial explanation for why some citizens have seen their tax bill increase. It is true that it is perfectly legitimate to require all residents on the island to contribute their fair share to metropolitan projects, equipment, and other responsibilities. However, this is not how we will enlist support for a unified city and instil great pride in being one of its citizens: We must present the new City as a vital project and explain the vision that underpins the harmonization of the taxpayer burden on the island. In short, we must proclaim loud and clear our aspirations for this more equitably financed city, which has such enormous potential.

It goes without saying that simply having it run smoothly will not be enough, because for the most part, the old municipalities already were running very well. To have the new City run smoothly does not justify why we changed the municipal structure. For this reason, if we limit the discussions to administration and decentralization to the new boroughs, we seriously reduce the effectiveness of our arguments in favour of the new City of Montreal.

The justifications and aspirations for the new city must be broadcast; they must also be embodied. In this regard, Montrealers, have a greater than ever need for visionary, enlightened leadership from the first representative they elected for their City: the mayor of Montreal. Gérald Tremblay can offer this type of leadership, and we encourage him to fully assume and exercise it. There are others, such as the Board of Trade, who can also exercise leadership in their milieu and sector of activity and who are ready to work with the mayor to help convince those who need convincing.

We would therefore like to explain in greater detail why we support the megacity, or even better, why we celebrate its existence.

1. International competition among urban agglomerations

During its 361 years of existence, it is clear that the world around Montreal has changed. The world that we know today is one in which urban agglomerations occupy a dominant, essential place. Urbanization, whether on a global, national or provincial scale, has achieved new heights, with more and more people choosing to live in large urban centres: 50% of the Quebec population lives in the metropolitan region, while 50% of Canadians live in the urban centres of Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

This concentration has less to do with a renewed affection for city life than the fact that this is where economic activity is concentrated. In today's knowledge economy, human resources are more important than natural resources. Companies naturally grow or relocate where they have access to the largest pool of human capital resources: urban centres.

Urban agglomerations share many more similarities than, for example, resource regions. If you want to work in the steel sector, your options are limited; however, if you're interested in biopharmaceutical research, you can choose from an impressive number of cities around the world. And because cities generally resemble each other, the competition between them is all the more fierce and it's often a city's distinctive features that make the difference.

How does this relate to the new City of Montreal ? It's our individual and collective ability to create and showcase our strengths that will ultimately make the difference.

2. Cities: agents of social, cultural and economic development

The days when the main roles of a municipality were to collect garbage, organize recreation, and remove snow are gone forever. Now, in addition to its traditional responsibilities, a city like Montreal must act as a catalyst for social, cultural and economic development.

What makes companies, workers, creators, artists and students choose to locate in one city over another? Increasingly, experts are realizing that what tips the balance is not only the tax plan but also the quality of life, the quality of place, and the abundance of talent. In many respects, Montreal is blessed: its creative potential, cultural diversity, environment, safety, and vitality of its downtown are just some of the elements that help set it apart. But we must do still more. And as soon as we think about doing more, it becomes clear that the impetus required for the most promising initiatives must come from City Hall: one need only think of the creation of the Quartier des spectacles, the establishment of the Société du Havre, the implementation of a Cité des biosciences, the creation of a Cité universitaire étudiante, improvements to mass transit, integration of handicapped people, etc.

There are many other spheres where the City should be the catalyst: social housing, sustainable environmental development, local and community development, and why not the Université de Montréal and McGill University hospital project, or a world-class trade fair centre? More often than not, the problem is money, or rather inequitable municipal financing and lack of diversified sources of new, recurring and foreseeable revenues.

In this context, we believe it is imperative for the well being of the Montreal agglomeration to have a single municipal entity that can fully carry out its role as a catalyst. And this is why it is just as urgent to establish and maintain fiscal equity – in the form of equalization – on the island of Montreal, or better still, across the agglomeration.

For now, the new City and the equally new Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC) are undeniably the best response we have to these needs.

3. Demonstrate and leverage the cohesion of Montrealers

Wouldn't smaller cities be better placed and more effective at playing this development catalyst role? The answer is a resounding no.

For too long, territorial divisions and a certain degree of parochialism have seriously hampered Montreal 's development. Wouldn't it be more effective, for example, for the technology parks of the Montreal region to compete against those of Toronto, Boston, San Francisco or Barcelona rather than with each other? While it's true that many civic services can be more efficiently managed at the local level – which functional boroughs should allow – for others, particularly those at the heart of Greater Montreal's competitiveness and international visibility, the weight of a unified city equipped with real and necessary powers and responsibilities is far more desirable.

The diversity of its population and the peaceful coexistence of its two main cultures, French and English, often come to mind when touting Montreal 's advantages. In many respects, this is true and experienced by an impressive number of Montrealers; whether in their workplace; when they do their shopping at Marché Jean-Talon or Fairview Centre; during walks or bicycle rides along the Lachine Canal on the Expo Island or the Morgan Arboretum; when attending a hockey game or lawn bowling; or in an open-air concert at the Jazz Festival or the Chamber Music Festival. It is time for our municipal political institutions to once and for all reflect this solidly entrenched reality.

The new City of Montreal is an opportunity for the entire population on the island to participate directly in – and have an impact on – its political life in the same way that it already participates – powerfully – in the social, community, cultural and economic life of the agglomeration. The smooth operation of the new City must reflect and further nourish the great maturity that characterizes relationships between all of the island's linguistic and cultural communities.

Conversely, dismantling the new City, or worse, creating a municipal enclave on the West Island, would be a step backwards that would erect a new, harmful and unstable barrier between anglophones and francophones when it is precisely the disappearance of this barrier that is responsible for the unique charm, strength, and distinction that has characterized Montreal in recent years.

4. Give Montreal political weight to match its economic weight

Montreal needs to rely on the resources and cohesion of its entire population to compete with the other cities and urban agglomerations of the world. It also needs to acquire new financial means and powers. Even unified and more equitable, Montreal remains handicapped by its over-dependence on property taxes.

It would be naïve to believe that fragmented into several municipalities, the Montreal region will be able to force the hand of Quebec City and Ottawa to obtain the new resources it needs for its development. Already the MMC - which encompasses 63 municipalities in the metropolitan region – has difficulty speaking with a single voice on behalf of half the Quebec population that lives within its territory.

Thanks to the new City of Montreal, the residents of the island are represented by an elected official who receives the strongest popular personal mandate in Quebec : 1.3 million voters are in fact called upon to directly select the mayor of Montreal. Under normal circumstances, this should give him exceptional power, authority. and legitimacy when it comes time to negotiating with the other levels of government. Montreal needs these governance attributes more than ever before – especially in a context where the urban agenda will figure predominantly at all levels of government in the coming decades. Over the past few years, the traditional pilgrimages to Quebec City that the different mayors of Montreal felt compelled to make have clearly demonstrated that when it comes to political weight, Montreal and its region can never have too much.

Indeed, while Montreal is the metropolis and economic engine of Quebec, it is not the political centre, which unquestionably remains in Quebec City. What's more, elections are won and lost in the regions of Quebec. Who then, in this context, can speak loud and clear for Montreal if not its mayor, one singlemayor?

***

Exactly one year ago, Montrealers across the island came together to participate in the Sommet de Montréal. Together, we debated and sketched out a vision of what the future of Montreal could and should be. Together, we achieved a consensus on the means to achieve our goals. This was truly a watershed moment for us as “new” Montrealers: driven by a common vision and shared feeling that success could be ours if we worked together.

One year later, it must be said that it has been difficult to convert this spirit and commitment into concrete achievements. While a few projects have made some progress, we are still far from the lofty aspirations we entertained right after the Summit. And now with the tabling of its framework legislation, the new government of Quebec is delaying and distracting us from what should be our overriding objective: ensuring the economic prosperity, sustainable development, cultural vitality and social cohesion of the urban agglomeration of Montreal.

One year later, it would be a wise to look back at the Summit and use it as a basis for answering the questions inevitably raised by this framework legislation. One of these answers is that multiple and multipliable identities are possible. In fact, it is good that they are. Representatives of all the new boroughs, the environment, culture, and the local, community, and business milieus gathered around the table at the Summit. By reaching a consensus, we became new, proud Montrealers even as we continued to represent and remain committed to our local communities and respective sectors of activity. This multiplicity of identities is also possible within the framework of the new megacity. You can identify yourself with Plateau Mont-Royal or Baie-D'Urfé and still be a Montrealer. The same holds true for all the other boroughs and neighbourhoods of the island.

It is said that complexity is inherent to vitality. Reorganizing the Montreal municipal structure or decentralizing it with a vengeance by confining each one to its corner is a sure-fire way to ensure stagnation. Joining forces to confront the challenge of creating a common identity and a large metropolis that runs smoothly, develops harmoniously, and gains international visibility is the only way to ensure the long-term vitality of the urban agglomeration of Montreal.

We acknowledge that some mistakes have been made, particularly in the way this major change was introduced and its details explained to the public. Yet clearly you don't correct mistakes by making more of them. So let us create a positive living environment and, above all, inform citizens of the many good reasons to keep our megacity intact. Montreal and all Montrealers deserve no less.