Powerless under the country’s constitution, Canadian municipal governments often find themselves in conflict with their provincial masters. In 2002, the Province of Quebec forcibly merged all cities on the Island of Montreal into a single municipality – a decision that was partially reversed in 2006. The first book-length study of the series of mergers imposed by the Parti Québécois government, The Merger Delusion is a sharp and insightful critique by a key player in anti-merger politics.
Peter Trent, mayor of the City of Westmount, foresaw the numerous financial and institutional problems posed by amalgamating municipalities into megacities. In his book, he presents a stirring and detailed account of the battle he led against the provincial government, the City of Montreal, the Board of Trade, and many of his former colleagues. Describing how he took the struggle all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, Trent demonstrates the ways in which de-mergers resonated with voters and eventually helped the Quebec Liberal Party win the 2003 provincial election.
As the cost and pitfalls of forced mergers become clearer in hindsight, The Merger Delusion recounts a compelling case study with broad implications for cities across the globe.
Mayor Peter Trent was the keynote speaker at the annual luncheon of the Cote Saint-Luc Senior Mens Club that took place yesterday at the CSL Gymnasium. Mayor Trent presented his case in excerpts from his book and in news clippings specifically targeting the battle that developed between two former council colleagues, then Councillor Anthony Housefather and Borough Mayor Robert Libman.
The Cote Saint-Luc Demerger Co-Chairs, Anthony Housefather, Mitchell Brownstein, Ruth Kovac and myself listened on with keen interest.
Trent read from the November 2001 election platform of the Borough Council made up of Libman, Housefather and Dida Berku. “We have consistently opposed the creation of the Mega-city (…) We will support the decision of residents in any referendum held by a future Quebec government to reverse the forced merger.”
Said Trent, “Housefather and Libman made the same promises. Housefather kept his!”
Trent recounted how Libman told the Montreal Gazette in October 2001, “I share the resentment, the anger, and the frustration, and I am very much against this forced merger. We are fighting this to the nth degree.”
“How much a month – and an Executive Committee membership – can change things,” Trent emphasized, in questioning Libman’s about-face on the demerger issue.
Before a full audience of CSL seniors with sharp memories of the merger years of 2001 to 2005, Trent recounted how Libman made the case for demerger only to flip-flop after his appointment to Megacity Montreal Mayor Tremblay’s Executive Committee.
“We were sold a bag of goods,” he said, stating that smaller is better in terms of controlling finances and expenses and ensuring protection against corruption. Sure there were a handful of small municipalities that were singled out for illegal practices. But these cases were caught quickly and corrected because “citizens like you, and councils like yours,” are closely watching over everything. That wasn’t the case in Montreal, he said, where corruption ran amuck for a very, very long time.
Mayor Trent went on, “Anthony Housefather is known for his intelligence. He was front and centre during the Charter of Values debate and has the respect of all of the mayors.”
Trent made the case from several perspectives how the promises of the merger did not hold up and how Cote Saint-Luc is infinitely better off now than those former suburbs that failed to demerge. Outremont controls 22% of its budget and is dependent upon handouts from the megacity, Trent stated, while CSL controls 59% of its budget.
As for your demerger choice,” Trent concluded, “Congratulations!”
For more, see Mike Cohen’s blog.