Historic vote for Montreal Mayor

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What a week at Montreal City Hall!

Michael Applebaum has made the local history books becoming the first English-speaking mayor in 100 years. Also, Montreal has not seen a Jew in the Mayor’s chair since Joseph Shubert was appointed Acting Mayor of Montreal for a period of three months, on August 29, 1927.

Although the vote was a squeaker with Applebaum taking 31 votes to Richard Deschamps’ 29 votes, there were three spoiled ballots which could have shifted the outcome the other way. The vote for interim mayor was a secret ballot of Council members only since Mayor Gerald Tremblay stepped down less than one year prior to the next general election on November 3, 2013.

Councillors Ruth Kovac and Glenn J. Nashen with CDN-NDG Borough Mayor Michael Applebaum

The fact that a by-election was not needed saved Montreal taxpayers about $10,000,000 according to media reports.

Michael Applebaum has shown himself as an honest, hard working and dedicated Borough Mayor and Chair of the Executive Committee. I have seen him in action with regard to the expansion of the Jewish General Hospital as well as other issues in the Cote des Neiges-NDG borough. He is on top of his files and thoroughly understands the needs of his constituents.

Any criticism of his French-language skills is ridiculous. His French is excellent, regardless of his accent. Even Montreal opposition leader Louise Harel said that she wished she spoke English as well as Applebaum speaks French. In fact, he didn’t even speak a word of English during his pre-vote address to Council! (It wouldn’t have hurt).

Applebaum will now lead not only Montreal City Council and his borough, but also the Agglomeration Council responsible for regional services including the Montreal Island demerged municipalities, the Ville Marie downtown borough and the Montreal Metropolitan Community.

Councillors Ruth Kovac, Glenn J. Nashen and Sam Goldbloom discuss local issues with Cote des Neiges – NDG Borough Mayor Michael Applebaum (2nd from left)

Huge responsibilities, demands and expectations lie ahead for Applebaum. If he succeeds in cleaning up the image and reputation of Montreal and setting the course for a solid future as an independent mayor don’t be surprised to see his name on next year’s ballot (regardless of today’s intentions).

So, congratulations Mayor Applebaum. I wish you great success and courage in all the lies ahead. As a Cote Saint-Lucer I’m looking forward to your leadership and vision to benefit all those who reside on the Island of Montreal and across the region.

Henry Aubin: Demerger has served suburbs well

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Henry Aubin: Demerger has served suburbs well

 

Support is growing for the re-consolidation of Montreal: Here’s why doing so makes no sense whatsoever

 

By HENRY AUBIN, The Gazette February 14, 2012

 

 

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Henry+Aubin+Demerger+served+suburbs+well/6148032/story.html#ixzz1mPbnkkVh

 

Jean-Paul L’Allier is one of most esteemed figures in urban affairs in Quebec. The stunningly ambitious and beautiful transformation of Quebec City’s old quarter took place largely during his lengthy stint as mayor (1989-2005). He’s Mr. anti-immobilisme.

 

So it’s interesting to know what he thinks of municipal government in Montreal.

 

In a speech Sunday at a meeting of Projet Montréal, he said the megacity’s 2006 demerger has “weakened Montreal.” L’Allier, who oversaw the relatively successful merger of Quebec City, says Montreal’s demerger of 15 towns and the simultaneous decentralization of power to the city’s remaining 19 boroughs prevent Montreal Island from bringing all its players (“forces vives”) together. “Some day,” he said, “this must be corrected.”

 

L’Allier thus lends more respectability to the wacky notion of a forced re-merger. Vision Montréal’s Louise Harel, who designed the original merger when she was municipal affairs minister, adores the idea. A popular La Presse columnist is touting it. I’m also starting to hear ordinary Montrealers scapegoating the demerger for the city’s problems and favouring re-merger.

 

This reminds me of how the whole merger concept began more than a decade ago. A few politicians spoke up for it; most people paid little attention because the idea seemed preposterous. Then the francophone media embraced the bigger-is-better premise, the politicians got bolder and before you knew it, whamo, it was done.

 

There was no public debate then. Promoters spewed nonsense (“economies of scale,” “lower taxes”) and refused to respond to fact-based counter-arguments (that have since proven accurate). They dealt with critics by ignoring them.

 

And that’s what’s happening all over again as the remergerites try to build public support. They deal with contrary arguments by pretending they don’t exist.

 

I invite these promoters not to hide from such critiques but to address them. Here are some:

 

–The demerger itself is not a problem. The megacity still claims 87 per cent of the island’s people, and the megacity can impose its will on the remaining 13 per cent when it comes to all intra-municipal matters (police, transit, arteries, fiscal help to poor areas, etc.). Note that not even Jean Drapeau, the most powerful Montreal mayor of our time, had such clout over the entire island.

 

–Granted, because of the decentralization of power to the boroughs, a mayor of Montreal has less power than his predecessors over the city proper. Borough power has created certain problems not in the public interest (for example, duplicated jobs, policies that are not co-ordinated with neighbouring boroughs). But it has also brought real benefits (citizens have a greater voice, services are better tailored to neighbourhoods’ needs). True reform would entail prudent, nuanced adjustments – not a wholesale return to centralization.

 

–Don’t blame the immobilisme on the demerger or on decentralization. The central city has had its hand in virtually all the major projects that have been stopped or delayed: the Casino, Griffintown, the extension of Cavendish Blvd., the covering of the Ville Marie Expressway, the modernizing of Notre Dame St.

 

–Empowered boroughs and demerged towns have almost nothing to do with the scandals staining Montreal. The waterworks contract, the SHDM mess, city hall’s roof and the auditor-general’s emails all reflect on the central city. That’s where the main rot is.

 

–The megacity’s first four years – that is, the time before the demerger – were no Golden Age. Operating expenses grew by 16.3 per cent, 2½ times the inflation rate. Real World 101: Units of governance get more inefficient the bigger they are. Demerged suburbs are using small size to make economies. Why stop them?

 

–What people expect most from municipal government is decent services. Angus Reid polls have shown that residents of demerged suburbs are consistently happier with their services than are residents of areas that were merged into Montreal. That’s no accident: Small units of government not only deliver services more cheaply, but better, too. They have closer supervision.

 

The case could be made that many people might gain if Montreal were to allow a further demerger.

 

That would make for a stimulating debate.

 

But we’ll never see one, not so long as serious, thoughtful deliberation over Montreal’s governance is taboo.

 

haubin@montrealgazette.com

 

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

 

 

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Henry+Aubin+Demerger+served+suburbs+well/6148032/story.html#ixzz1mPbdN1oy

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