Municipal merger: It only makes sense

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Suburban columnist David Lisbona published the following column in last week’s paper.  I’ll take the time to respond to his assertions that municipal mergers make sense in the coming days.  You can already guess what my response will be.  Check back and let me know what you think by clicking on the comment button.

 

 

Municipal merger: It only makes sense

The Suburban, March 30, 2011

By David Lisbona

There is a street fight going on in Hampstead and truthfully, I want no part of it. Who’s right who’s wrong, I’ll leave that to the voters of the town, who are more than capable of deciphering this for themselves. While The Suburban has become newspaper non-grata in the town, which is scary unto itself for a whole variety of reasons, I am more interested in the business case for the Town of Hampstead merging with its neighbor, Côte St. Luc.

Allow me to suggest right off the bat that the impetus for such a merger will not come from the provincial government as was the case of the failed mergers imposed upon the municipalities in 2002, nor will it be decided in either council chambers. No, such a move can only be spearheaded by the citizens of the municipalities involved through referenda and will not be decided by the elected members of either council.

There are compelling reasons why CSL and Hampstead should get together and here are some of them:

Geography: If you look at a map, the Town of Hampstead looks as if it has been carved out of CSL by a five-year-old who didn’t want to eat the crusts or by a gerrymandering politician, it simply makes little sense. Every time a CSL public vehicle services either MacDonald Avenue or the area known as “North of Hampstead” (which ironically is in CSL), it has to drive the entire length of Hampstead to do so. While I have no doubt that there are sharing arrangements between the municipalities, why place that impediment there in the first place? One geographic entity, one planning department and all of the economies of scale to be derived from that.

Representation: Between the two municipalities, there are two mayors and 14 councillors representing approximately 38,000 people. While I have no doubt that many of them perform yeoman’s work, the business reality is that no organization needs that much middle management. A combined municipality would surely need no more than 10 councillors between them, while I would argue that a mere six or 6,333 citizens per councillor in this technologically advanced day and age, where “meeting” your constituents consists of a text or e-mail as much as face-to-face encounter, is more than sufficient.

Public Services: Without its own library and arena, the Town of Hampstead has always had to rely on the facilities of others to ensure that its citizens had access to similar public services as those in other municipalities. With a merger, the citizens of Hampstead would no longer be guests at the Montreal West Arena or the CSL Library, they would have facilities of which they could take ownership and have some input. More importantly, the combined municipality could explore the possibility to construct a second rink at the site of the Samuel Moskovitch arena, something that each municipality alone could not do. The marginal cost to the library facility would surely exist but once again the scale economies to be derived would be significant as well. Further, a joint municipality would be better able to regulate traffic flow toward Decarie, instead of having two separate councils with differing interests creating confusing and inconsistent rules for drivers.

Inter-city Competition; Let’s not forget the increased competitiveness of their intercity teams. Both municipalities have had to rely on neighboring municipalities, namely LaSalle and Montreal West. A larger combined municipality will increase the pool of players and ensure more competitive hockey and baseball inter-city teams.

As I said, I am not interested in wading into the battle that is being waged right now in Hampstead, I am simply trying to present the business case and what I see here is a compelling one for combining these two municipalities. However, this time, unlike the forced mergers, the impetus has to come from the bottom up — the citizens — or else any merger idea will prove as unlikely as a left turn off Fleet during the morning rush hour.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are provided for informational purposes only. They are meant to stimulate and challenge your financial advisor/ broker/lawyer and/or accountant to examine the issues raised and to determine whether they can be used in your best interest.

via Municipal merger: It only makes sense.

Why is Robert Libman still talking of a merged CSL, Hampstead, MoWest?

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Former Cote Saint-Luc Mayor, CSL-Hampstead-Montreal West Borough Mayor and Montreal Executive member Robert Libman was hired to write a report on the future of Hampstead’s town hall, fire station and Hampstead Park.

As reported in the Suburban, Hampstead wants 16-storey high rise at fire station site, Libman was quoted as saying:

“A number of people I spoke to said that if a major change is made in Hampstead Park, keep in mind if one day it becomes an entity such as Côte St. Luc-Hampstead-Montreal West, the facilities should be adaptable to a larger population.”

With well over 90% of our local voters having cast ballots in 2004 to demerge (putting an end to the Borough of  CSL-Hampstead-Montreal West) it is unclear which people Libman consulted, and why, for him to make such a statement? 

The forced mergers were a failed experiment in Quebec and ought to be banned completely. Let’s leave Pandora where she belongs.

Smoke detectors would have saved woman’s life

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The recent deadly fire on Van Horne Ave in Cote des Neiges was a terrible reminder of just how important it is to have functioning smoke detectors in your home.  Firefighters did a blitz in the neighbourhood the next day and found 70% of residences were without operating detectors.

This is astounding and absurd!  Is your life not worth the trouble of a $10 or $20 detector and a couple of bucks for a new battery?

Also worth noting is that door-to-door fire inspections have fallen off the radar at the Montreal Fire Department since the mergers in 2002.  Our pre-merger Cote Saint-Luc Fire Department did inspections nearly every day of the week, all year-long.  Places of large gatherings such as the shopping centres, church, synagogues and civic centres were inspected every week.  Houses, condos and apartments were inspected at least once a year.

Since the merger, there are hardly any inspections at all.  We pay more in taxes for less services for Montreal’s fire inspection. This is totally unacceptable.  Another empty promise from those that forced the mergers on us.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, nine years after merging the fire departments there is still not a word of English on their website!

CTV Montreal – Smoke detectors would have saved woman’s life – CTV News.

Demerger doomsayers proven wrong

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Demerger doomsayers proven wrong.

How did it come to this?

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How did it come to this? (Henry Aubin, Montreal Gazette)

The verdict on the mergers is in: Things are worse

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The verdict on the mergers is in: Things are worse  (Henry Aubin, Montreal Gazette)

A decade after merger, Montreal is a city adrift

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A decade after merger, Montreal is a city adrift.

Fire prevention campaign targets school children

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The first “Fire Prevention Month” of the Montreal Fire Department has begun.  Claude Trudel, Chair of Public Security on the Montreal executive committee, and Serge Tremblay, Director of the Fire Department launched the program aimed at Montreal school children.  The theme is “Fire Safety Starts at Home”.  FD teams will visit over 300 primary schools on the island.

Emphasis will be placed on the need to have a working smoke alarm. “A working smoke detector was missing in all cases of deaths due to accidental fires in homes in 2009,” said Mr. Trudel. “In this context, FD teams will visit 50,000 homes to ascertain the presence and operation of this essential tool. Where deficiencies are found, alarms as well as lithium batteries are distributed by prevention agents.  To date, 30,000 visits have taken place.”

“Fire Prevention Month is a concrete initiative that demonstrates the importance this Administration attaches to the safety of Montrealers. Prevention contributes to security and our quality of life,” says Mr. Trudel.

The Director of the FD said that “empowering citizens of all ages with regard to their own safety, makes them our allies in fire safety across the island. That’s why Fire Prevention Month offers extensive programming for the general public. ”

Fire Prevention Month is held from September 13 to October 10, 2010 on the entire territory of Greater Montreal. For program details, visit ville.montreal.qc.ca/sim.

In my opinion:  The Montreal Fire Department amalgamated all the fire departments on the island of Montreal in 2002, including all of those in bilingual cities, such as Cote Saint-Luc.  After 8 years of service one would think they would offer an English language version of their website and educational materials.  This is truly disappointing and quite unacceptable and should be corrected without further delay.

Côte Saint-Luc announces new City Manager and Associate City Manager

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Côte Saint-Luc announces new City Manager and Associate City Manager

Côte Saint-Luc, August 10, 2010 – At last evening’s monthly council meeting, the City Council of Côte Saint-Luc appointed Tanya Abramovitch as City Manager and Nadia Di Furia as Associate City Manager.

“Tanya and Nadia bring strategic vision, youth, and strong administrative abilities to their respective roles,” Mayor Anthony Housefather said. “Each has shown outstanding initiative, sound judgment, and skills that make them ideal to lead our staff. They are also both in their 30s, which highlights the generational shift currently underway in our municipal government and across the city.”

The City Manager is the senior civil servant of the municipal government and works closely with the Mayor and City Council to establish the objectives of the city and to manage its daily operations. The Associate City Manager performs a similar function and works closely with the City Manager and Mayor and City Council.

Abramovitch began working in Côte Saint-Luc in 2001 as a reference librarian. She was appointed the Director of Library Services in May 2006. She has a Masters degree in history, and a Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) degree from McGill University.

“I’m looking forward to this challenge,” Abramovitch said. “I loved modernizing our public library during almost five years and I cannot wait do the same across the entire city government with the help of our staff.”

Di Furia started her career in 2005 in Côte Saint-Luc as a payroll clerk and, later, payroll manager in the Finance Department. She was appointed the Director of Human Resources in April 2007. She has a background in commerce.

“We have an excellent team around our senior management table and I’m looking forward to working with our team to implement the vision of the City Council,” Di Furia said.

Together with the appointments of Abramovitch and Di Furia, the city announced that former City Manager Ken Lerner, who was appointed to the job in March 2006 was leaving the city.

“Ken helped re-build our municipal government when Côte Saint-Luc demerged from Montreal and was re-constituted as an independent city on January 1, 2006,” Mayor Housefather said. “The City Council and I wish Ken all the best.”

Read it in the Suburban

CSL concerned about fire department cooperation

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CSL concerned about fire department cooperation

By Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban, Jan. 28, 2010

Ever since the mergers took place in 2002 and even after demergers took effect in 2006, suburban municipalities have complained of a lack of cooperation between municipalities and the fire department, whose control was transferred from suburbs to Montreal as a whole.

Côte St. Luc councillors, including Glenn Nashen and Dida Berku, have brought up the issue many times over the years, especially when it came to conducting fire inspections to help prevent fires. Berku said in 2006 that inspections are a fraction of what they should be, and mayor Anthony Housefather concurred.

The issue came up again at the December Côte St. Luc council meeting. Nashen, in charge of the public safety portfolio on council, said that the fire department had not submitted their report for November. At every monthly meeting, Côte St. Luc adopts monthly reports from various city departments, as well as the Montreal-controlled police and fire departments.

“Even when they do submit their report, it’s virtually impossible to tell what it is they are doing in terms of Côte St. Luc,” Nashen said. “We’ve asked, for four years now, for a qualitative report that gives an indication as to their operations and in terms of the prevention work that’s being done here.

“We have yet to receive any type of significant cooperation, so much that we’re not even quite sure who is in charge locally at this point and time. We will have a meeting very soon of the public safety committee.”

When it comes to police Station 9 in Côte St. Luc, cooperation between the police and Côte St. Luc is exemplary and Station 9 commander Sylvain Bissonnette even regularly attends the council meetings of Côte St. Luc, Hampstead and Montreal West.

Contact was made with the Montreal fire department, but The Suburban received no comment as of press time.

Montreal’s budget: B for effort

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Montreal’s budget: B for effort

F for content

The Gazette

Editorial

January 15, 2010

Montreal’s new budget, with its eye-popping tax increases for residents and businesses alike, is city hall’s effort to manage a bad situation. There are some sensible elements to the package delivered Wednesday by the executive committee’s finance chief Alan DeSousa, but the pill is too big for Montrealers to swallow.

Not many Montrealers will have five- or six-per-cent pay raises this year. True, property taxes rose only a little during Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s first term in office, and less in his second. But that does not soften the blow now.

The city is between a rock and a hard place in trying to stop young families, in particular, from abandoning Montreal Island. High taxes drive families away, but improving life on the Island demands high taxes. We would have preferred a budget with a smaller tax hike and more rigour on spending, although we’ll admit that significant spending cuts would not have been easy to find.

DeSousa and Tremblay made one excellent – if temporary – cut, to capital spending. After the scandals of the last year, all but essential contracts should wait until tendering rules and oversight are firmly improved. This cut is a step toward restoring public trust in the administration, as is the transfer back to the city of some professional work which has been contracted out.

Not everything in the budget makes as much sense. We agree with the Board of Trade that the business-property-tax increase is risky, and we think the new tax on parking spaces downtown is worse. The war on downtown parking is truly dangerous: There’s plenty of free parking at Carrefour Laval and DIX30 and Fairview and all the others.

The budget also reconfirms the financial folly of forced mergers. As our columnist Henry Aubin has documented in truly painful detail, all the promised efficiencies of mergers have vanished without a trace; instead, the mergers have added costs, with almost no improvements in services. All we have to show for the whole harebrained scheme is rancour between the city and most of its on-Island suburbs.

Nor will this budget ease that rancour. Whacking the demerged suburbs with a 12.6-per-cent increase in their payments to the agglomeration is so ridiculous that many will see it as malicious.

Overall, DeSousa and Tremblay have made the best compromises they could find in a bad situation. We’ll give them credit for trying, but we fear this budget will make Montreal’s problems worse.

In my opinion:  The bold portion above is to continue to highlight the confirmation on how completely ridiculous the merger process was.  Promises by mega-city politicans and supporters were nothing more than that.  Looking forward, it remains clear that what is needed is a structure that benefits the entire region of Montreal.  If Boston can flourish with it 100 plus municipalities in the region, as well as several others often cited by Henry Aubin in the Gazette, Quebec should stop trying to build a better mouse trap  and copy the best of breed south of the border.

2010 property Tax increases will be driven by runaway spending by the City of Montreal

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Press Release from the Association of Suburban Municipalities

2010 property Tax increases will be driven by runaway spending by the City of Montreal

2006-2009 spending increases on regional services were three times the rate of inflation

Montreal, 11 January 2010

On Wednesday January 13th, City of Montreal taxpayers will learn how much the Tremblay administration proposes to increase their property taxes for 2010. At the same time, Montreal Island suburbs will also finally discover the details of proposed increases in their contribution to regional services, increases which will translate into substantial hikes in their residents’ tax bills. Regional spending includes things like police, fire protection, mass transit, water management, and so on.

Even at this late hour, Montreal’s suburban “partners” who contribute to these regional costs have been told simply that their contribution will go up by roughly 13%. They are still in the dark about how this number was arrived at. What is clear is that these alarming increases are driven by one thing: runaway spending by the City of Montreal. Since the birth in 2006 of the “Agglomeration Council” where City of Montreal representatives rubber stamp regional spending over the objections of suburban mayors, such costs have ballooned by over three times the rate of inflation.

For example, in 2006, fire protection costs according to Montreal’s audited financial statements amounted to $264 million. The 2009 Budget called for fire protection spending of $304 million – a 15% increase. Inflation over the same three year period was only 5%. Mass transit costs were $321 million in 2006, but rose to $371 million in the 2009 budget: a 16% increase. Police costs went from $476 million to $567 million during the same period: a 19% increase. While there were some offsetting new police revenues, costs still rose far more than the rate of inflation.

If one removes the costs for arterial roads – which were returned to local municipalities to manage – overall regional spending went from $1,776 million to $2,067 million in three years: a 16.4% increase that is over three times the rate of inflation.

“All signs point to a continuation of this penchant for spending increases well over the rate of inflation when Montreal tables its 2010 Budget,” said the president of the Association of Suburban Municipalities, Westmount Mayor Peter F. Trent.

“Residents across the island will see the suburban mayors vigorously contesting these spiraling costs that will lead to tax hikes that no one can afford in this recessionary climate,” commented Côte-St-Luc Mayor , Anthony Housefather.

Expect a 33-per-cent tax hike, city warns suburbs

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Expect a 33-per-cent tax hike, city warns suburbs

Suburban mayors say residents can’t afford increase

David Johnston, The Gazette

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The average 13-per-cent increase in agglomeration taxes to be announced in tomorrow’s 2010 city of Montreal budget is far more than the average ratepayer can afford, suburban mayors say.

The city should have consulted more with the suburbs before putting the budget together and should have found ways to keep the tax hike more reasonable, the mayors say.

In a statement issued yesterday, the association representing mayors of the 15 demerged suburbs complained the city of Montreal hasn’t given them solid reasons to explain the impending tax boosts for Montreal Island-wide services like policing, transit and sewage treatment.

All the city has told them is that the tax increases will be “roughly 13 per cent,” the Association of Suburban Mayors says in its statement.

That increase is something “no one can afford in this recessionary climate,” Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather said.

The 2010 island budget is to be unveiled tomorrow by the city of Montreal at the same time it makes public its 2010 municipal budget.

Like all other municipal budgets on Montreal Island, the city of Montreal budget is made up of separate portions for local and cross-island spending. Property owners receive only one tax bill, but the local and island-wide portions are itemized separately.

Since the city of Montreal controls the political agglomeration created with the 2006 demergers, it gets to create the island-wide budget without much suburban input. Suburbs have delayed tabling their 2010 budgets until they find out in tomorrow’s Montreal Island budget what their portion of the bill will be.

Spending increases well in excess of the rate of inflation might be a reflection of a “leadership void” at Montreal city hall at the moment, Baie d’Urfé Mayor Maria Tutino said in an interview yesterday. The resignation in April of Frank Zampino as Montreal executive committee chairman and the firing in autumn of the city’s two top public servants have left the central city with an internal power vacuum, she noted.

“Nobody seems to be in charge,” Tutino said.

But Alan De Sousa, vice-chairman of Montreal’s executive committee and the committee’s top executive for budget matters, says the suburbs are wrong when they say they have been left out of the budget planning. There have been meetings where they have been told to expect big tax hikes in 2010.

The suburban mayors are overstating the case when they complain about a lack of spending rigour, DeSousa added in an interview yesterday. The fiscal problems facing Montreal are mainly on the revenue side, not the spending side, he said.

According to DeSousa, those problems include:

Pension-fund deficits resulting from poor returns in the stock market in late 2008 and early 2009. Although the markets have rebounded since, not all of that upswing can be credited into the 2010 budget.

Continuing low interest rates means the city of Montreal is taking in less revenue than normal from its own investments. In the meantime, it continues to have to pay higher locked-in coupon rates on its long-term debts.

Lower revenues from “welcome” taxes and real-estate starts, reflecting the drop in property transactions and new development throughout the recession.

The suburbs say they are not overstating the case for uncontrolled spending. They say that while the cumulative inflation rate from 2006 to 2009 has been five per cent, on average:

Spending for police services has increased 19 per cent.

Spending for firefighting services has risen 15 per cent.

Spending to subsidize transit through property taxes has soared 16 per cent.

At the same time, the suburbs say, Montreal continues to offload about $100 million in strictly local expenses onto the island books, using various accounting tricks that result in unfair overcharging of other cities.

Suburbs have complained to the provincial government about such offloading, and Quebec has agreed their complaints have some merit.

Some of those complaints were addressed with Bill 22, passed in 2008 to reform the Montreal agglomeration. But other grievances remain.

In spring and summer 2009, a provincial committee looked into specific grievances relating to forced subsidization by suburbs of the downtown core, and of water filtration in the city of Montreal.

But those committee talks fell apart in the fall after the city’s chief negotiator, Robert Cassius de Linval, its No. 2 bureaucrat, was fired in the affair over a $355.8-million water meter contract. The city has not named a replacement.

She’s ba-a-a-ck! Louise Harel might run for mayor, Henry Aubin, The Gazette

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She’s ba-a-a-ck! Louise Harel might run for mayor

Authoritarian former PQ minister brought you the megacity

By HENRY AUBIN, The Gazette   May 28, 2009

Louise Harel says that, despite earlier denials, she is thinking of running for mayor of Montreal. Oh boy.

Let’s check out her record as it affects this city.

That record spans 1998 to 2002 when she was the Parti Québécois minister of municipal affairs with special responsibility for Montreal. Inspired by mayor Pierre Bourque’s vision of une-île-une-ville, Harel spearheaded the Bouchard government’s forced merger of Montreal Island’s 28 municipalities.

The minister’s promotion of the merger reveals a striking approach to leadership.

Harel spurned the opinion of the people most affected.

More precisely, she disregarded a demonstration in which tens of thousands of residents demanded that she consult them. She shrugged off five suburbs’ non-binding referendums in which the vote against a merger ranged from 94 to 99 per cent. And she dismissed the fact her party had been elected without a mandate to carry out such a controversial step. Indeed, premier Lucien Bouchard had even disavowed any such intention before the previous election.

Harel rejected not only public opinion but also expert opinion.

The consensus of impartial research in North America and Europe is that forced mergers are counterproductive. Experience shows that as cities get bigger, their per-capita costs rise, their services become harder to manage, and citizens feel more remote from local government (as reflected in declining voter turnout). The minister did not heed this.

Indeed, when the Bédard task force – which she had set up – echoed this consensus, she ignored its advice against making the island a monolithic municipality.

Harel misled the public about the merger’s benefits.

She argued that to be a global city Montreal had to keep up with “what is being organized” in other metropolises. She pointed in particular to Boston, touting it as an example of how a big municipality can attract prosperity. Her government even took out full-page newspaper ads suggesting that the formula of municipal organization that was working for Boston would work for Montreal.

The argument was preposterous. Fact: The municipality of Boston (pop. 560,000 at the time) was one-third as populous as Montreal Island. As well, its metropolitan region – more populous than Montreal’s region – was divided into 238 municipalities, more than twice as many as here. In reality, then, Boston was practising exactly the reverse of what Harel claimed.

This was part of a pattern of half truths and absurdities. She claimed that a merger would keep Montreal in step with European cities (never mind that 34 European countries had signed a charter that repudiated forced mergers as undemocratic). That it would save money (Toronto’s merger experience was showing the opposite). That it would curb urban sprawl (predictably, it has not). And that it would spread wealth from rich parts of the island to poor ones (when mergers were unnecessary to achieve such an end).

Harel rebutted critics by resorting to anglo-bashing.

An example occurred during a National Assembly debate. When Liberal Roch Cholette quizzed her on such non-ethnic, non-linguistic aspects of her proposed merger as taxes and local democracy, Harel erupted. She accused the Hull MNA of defending Westmount and its “anglo-British character, its old stench of colonialism.”

Critics of mergers became running dogs of WASP culture. Never mind that such other anti-merger hotspots as Hull, Quebec City and the South Shore were largely francophone. (In all, the PQ merged 42 urban areas across Quebec.)

So much for how Harel oversaw the process leading up to the merger of Jan. 1, 2002. As for the actual product – the new city itself – it has achieved none of its goals.

Harel admits mega-Montreal is now “dysfunctional,” but she blames this on the Liberal government’s decentralization of 2004. Never mind that the megacity’s problems had already started emerging by then: inefficiency, a net increase in bureaucrats across the island and degradation of services – everything the experts had prophesied.

Harel is a superb campaigner. She comes across as charmingly soft-spoken and gracious. But heed the record, not the smile. She is capable of authoritarian use of power, of rejecting empirical evidence if it does not suit her, of manipulating public opinion through far-fetched claims, and of vilifying adversaries with demagogic ethnic slurs.

All of this while leading Montreal in a counterproductive direction.

haubin@thegazette.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Ten years ago today was the start of megacity madness

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Ten years ago today was the start of megacity madness

Bourque’s one-island-one-city speech launched the municipal reorganization

By HENRY AUBIN, The Gazette, May 26, 2009

 Today is the 10th anniversary of a milestone – many would say a millstone – in Montreal’s history. That event is the speech in which mayor Pierre Bourque announced his support for the merger of Montreal Island.

Bourque’s one-island-one-city vision was a turning point in the debate over the island’s future. It has plunged the island into a morass of inefficiency from which no escape seems likely – not because escape is impossible but because the necessary political will does not exist.

To appreciate the importance of Bourque’s speech on May 26, 1999, you have to remember the context:

The Parti Québécois had been re-elected the previous December, and during the campaign Premier Lucien Bouchard had ruled out any island-wide merger.

The long-awaited Bédard report on Montreal’s future, ordered by municipal affairs minister Louise Harel, concluded one month before Bourque’s speech that it would make no sense at all to merge the entire island: It said that “diverse studies (in the U.S. and Canada) demonstrate that per-capita expenses tend to increase after a merger.”

Yet the Bédard task force was aware of the government’s bias in favour of some kind of merger, so it said that if there must be a merger let the island’s 29 municipalities be massed into three to five new entities – but not one. Indeed, under the report’s five-city scenario the city of Montreal would actually have lost seven per cent of its population, shrinking below the one-million mark to 966,000.

Bourque would have none of the report’s richly documented skepticism and he pitched a city of 1.8 million. In a masterpiece of baloney-baffles-brains rhetoric, he declared, “Montreal has a universal destiny that transcends the reality of its immediate environment.” I wrote at the time that this was “mumbo jumbo,” but what do I know? Then as now, the Board of Trade was essentially an echo-chamber for city hall, and the business audience lapped it up.

In an interview yesterday, the then chairperson of Bourque’s executive committee, Jean Fortier, acknowledged, “We never developed an argument on the advantages of the merger.” Bourque, he said, knew the PQ could ram a merger bill via closure through the National Assembly, so “We had only one person to convince – Bouchard.”

Bouchard and Harel came around to Bourque’s view the following September and the merger became a reality on Jan. 1, 2002. Harel did find an argument, “fiscal equity” – that is, the idea the wealthy suburbs would contribute more to the poor parts of the city, including her own Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. The suburbs said that they’d contribute whatever Quebec wanted so long as they could stay independent, but Harel insisted on the radical route.

Harel’s reasoning has a bitter postscript. As the mayor of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Lyn Thériault, told me yesterday, fiscal equity has “absolutely not” occurred.

I asked Bourque’s second in command, Fortier, for his post-mortem on the merger. “It was not good,” he says, “There has been no increase in efficiency or harmony.”

Fortier called back to say he’s not completely negative – that he sees some modest improvements: Fire service is better, he says, and decentralization has brought better management and traffic control to some parts of town.

And yet a merger was unnecessary to get these gains.

I often ask senior city and provincial officials if they can name any significant achievements since the merger that could not have been obtained without the merger. These officials are pro-merger, yet not one has been able to cite any such achievement. Yet none of them wants to rethink the way the island is organized.

Bourque’s legacy includes degradation of most services, more managers, stronger (merged) unions and a big jump in businesspeople’s contributions to the city’s political parties as businesses compete for larger contracts.

But do not worry. As Bourque would say, Montreal has a universal destiny that transcends the reality of its immediate environment.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal

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