Discussions needed on value of MMC: CSL councillor

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Côte St. Luc councillors Glenn Nashen and Ruth Kovac visibly grimaced during a council meeting, when it came time to approve the city’s annual contribution to the Montreal Metropolitan Community.

The MMC, created in 2001, represents and speaks for the entire Greater Montreal Region and develops plans, programs and strategies for the community in that area.

Each year, Côte St. Luc council members declare that they are reluctantly and grudgingly paying the bill, pointing out that it is required by provincial law. This year’s payment is $508,000, paid in two installments. Each year, at least two councillors symbolically vote against the payment.

“This year’s payment is a three percent increase over last year,” said Councillor Steven Erdelyi, who introduced the resolution to make the payment. “My personal opinion is we don’t get the value for that money. They do produce some very good reports, and they are helpful on some fronts, but not to the extent of the money we’re paying them.”

Councillor Glenn Nashen, who with Kovac enthusiastically voted against the resolution, called for a discussion on the MMC between different levels of government.

“We don’t see the true value of this extra layer of unelected representation,” Nashen added. “In this day and age, we should look at how to get better value for our money, and it really behooves our MNA, David Birnbaum, the provincial government and the City of Montreal to sit around the table and figure out a better method of providing the services, but for much better value.”

Kovac said the semi-annual MMC report is nice but is only in French.

(We checked and some MMC paperwork is in English. The MMC’s website is mostly in French, except for five documents that can be seen on the site and downloaded. There is no English section per se on the site.)

We mentioned Côte St. Luc’s grievance to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, as he is also president of the MMC.

“You won’t have a fight between Côte St. Luc and myself,” the mayor told The Suburban.

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.

Planning for Côte St. Luc’s future

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Planning for Côte St. Luc’s future
Dida Berku
The Free Press, October 25, 2011

Earlier this month, on behalf of the City of Côte St. Luc, I presented a brief to the commission hearings the Metropolitan Land Use and Development Plan (or PMAD in French). This is a 20-year plan for the 82 cities of the Montreal metropolitan area

Once this plan is adopted later this year, it will guide development towards a sustainable future through higher density housing on and off the island, improved mass transit and the protection of green and natural spaces. 

As this regional plan could influence CSL and other west-end communities towards the year 2031, my recommendations addressed all three development challenges as they affect our sector. In the category of transportation, CSL’s position is that the priorities for major road works should absolutely include building the Cavendish-Royalmount- Cavendish road extension both for cars and rapid transit. I also recommended improving rapid bus transit to the Metro (either through protected rapid transit lanes or direct express access through the rail yards to the Metro). Thirdly, I asked that the AMT add a train stop for train service along the Blainville-St. Jérome line, which ends downtown, at the Côte St. Luc Shopping Centre. 

In the field of the environment, I highlighted that many cities of the region, including CSL, have adopted the resolution in support of the Montreal Archipelago Ecological Park. As well, CSL supports the “common vision for the green and blue belt of Greater Montreal.” And of course I emphasized that our city is not in favour of the development of the Meadowbrook golf course and other natural spaces, which serve as natural buffer zones and provide valuable green space to existing communities. 

However just being in favour of greenspace preservation is not enough. Cities have to have the powers and political will to implement measures to protect green natural spaces. 

This leads me to the third recommendation in the area of land use. It is generally recognized that there are many natural areas on and off the island that are just non-buildable due to their proximity to risks and nuisances, such as flood zones and railway yards. So far, cities do not have all the powers they need to set safe set-backs to prevent residential housing in these areas, many of which have been historically zoned for development.

“As such I recommended that all cities of the Montreal metropolitan area be given the power to adopt guidelines for safe setback distances that limit residential developments adjacent to risk zones and railway rights-of-way. These recommendations are modeled on guidelines from Ontario, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Railway Association of Canada and reflect the official positions of the railway companies themselves. I hope the PMAD commissioners will take these recommendations into account. 

To follow the PMAD hearings and proposals, visit www.pmad.ca. If you want to submit your comments regarding CSL recommendations, please write to me at dberku@cotesaintluc.org

Dida Berku is the councilllor responsible for finance, the Cavendish extension, Meadowbrook golf course, ethics and CLD (local economic development).

Meadowbrook activists to join environmentalists to plan strategy

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On Tuesday, August 16, 2011 the public is invited to attend a meeting of a coalition of environmental organizations, including Les Amis de Meadowbrook, who will be organizing a common front for the preservation of our environmental heritage in the Montreal area.

This meeting is in preparation for  public hearings set to begin September 2 by the Montreal Metropolitan Community on its new urban plan (the PMAD – Plan métropolitaine d’amenagement et de développement).

At the meeting on August 16, organizers will explain the concept of the Green Belt for Montreal – La Ceinture Verte du Grand Montréal.  The meeting will take place at 7pm at the Grande Salle – Notre Dame de la Salette, 3535 avenue du Parc (métro Place-des-Arts).

The Green Belt for Montreal and Southwestern Quebec is also known as the Parc Écologique de l’Archipel de Montréal. It would form a stretch of forests and floodplains, agricultural lands, wetlands and islands linked together by green corridors and streams, and the great rivers of Southwestern Québec.

It is hoped that an action plan to create such a green belt would be enshrined in Le Plan métropolitain d’aménagement et de développement (PMAD) de la Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal – before it is adopted by the end of this year.

For more information

Tremblay should use regional body to get better deal

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Tremblay should use regional body to get better deal

Off-island suburbs should pay more to the core city

By HENRY AUBIN, The Gazette, January 12, 2010

Many Montreal islanders will be upset Wednesday when the Tremblay administration unveils its 2010 budget. Some reports say Montrealers’ taxes will rise by roughly six per cent (once the water tax, business tax, and other lesser taxes are rolled into the property tax). That would be triple the inflation rate. It doesn’t count the surtax that some boroughs will charge. Meanwhile, the island’s suburbs are also bracing for another hard hit by Montreal on agglomeration expenses.

In October, an internal city-hall document indicated that a 16-per-cent tax increase spread over four years might be in the cards. Whether or not anything that severe actually happens, the island clearly faces the fiscal blues for the foreseeable future.

Let’s consider two scenarios for next few years.

Scenario A: In the face of high taxes in the city and the island suburbs, more young families continue to move in droves to the fiscally gentle off-island suburbs. Economic development follows suit. The departing tax base contributes to further deterioration of the island’s services and infrastructure. This scenario, in other words, calls for prolonging the decades-long enfeeblement of Montreal Island relative to the off-island.

Scenario B: Mayor Gérald Tremblay ceases to do nothing about the metropolitan region’s longstanding fiscal imbalance, in which islanders pay high municipal taxes and off-islanders pay almost nothing to support the city on which their municipalities’ prosperity depends.

Tremblay happens to have an ideal vehicle for change: the under-used Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal, the regional body that then-municipal-affairs minister Louise Harel wisely created nine years ago, but which Tremblay and his fellow mayors in the region have let languish. In an essay in La Presse yesterday, Luc Hétu, author of a recent book on Montreal politics, Une ville sous tutelle, asks a trenchant question: “What keeps the CMM … from publicly examining new ways of financing Montreal that are essential for its development?”

Quebec has the power to impose a fiscal regime on the region that would make the off-island help the city. However, it has never acted and it never will: No provincial party wants to ruffle off-islanders, given their voting leverage in Quebec elections. (It’s politically easier to download the city’s costs on to the island’s suburbs, since they lack such leverage.)

The office of Montreal’s mayor is the only place that any initiative can possibly come from. Under the law creating the CMM, the island and the off-island each has 14 seats on the 28-member CMM council; in case of a tie, however, Montreal’s mayor gets the deciding vote.

Tremblay could theoretically ram through the CMM a measure making the off-island share the burden of paying for the aging city (and get Quebec to accept it). But the lasting bitterness that this would create would harm the region over the long haul.

Far better for Tremblay to form a task force of island and off-island politicians who are on the CMM council to explore the issue and make recommendations.

One idea worthy of consideration is the Minneapolis solution. I visited that city in 1999 to see how its tax-base sharing worked, and I was very impressed. Five years later, in a report on how to strengthen Montreal, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development also touted the Minneapolis method.

Like the Montreal region, the Minneapolis region has scores of suburbs. When a new commercial or industrial project goes up there, the host municipality keeps 60 per cent of its property taxes (unlike 100 per cent in the Montreal region). The other 40 per cent goes to municipalities with the lowest per-capita commercial-industrial tax base.

Under this spread-the-wealth method, the region’s disadvantaged areas benefit from development elsewhere. The formula could be adjusted so that a municipality that has few stores and no industries does not become like a Persian Gulf emirate.

Is this concept not good enough for the region’s mayors? Fine. Let them recommend something else.

Tremblay has already wasted six years since the OECD’s recommendation. Now, with the island possibly facing years of tax hikes that exceed inflation, he needs to knuckle down and find a fairer way to share costs. The alternative is further drift and decline.

CSL payment to MMC in protest

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CSL payment to MMC in protest

By Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban


Côte St. Luc council voted 6-1 to pay the first of two $351,000 installments to the region-wide Montreal Metropolitan Community, but did so under protest.

At first, a 4-3 bare majority approving the payment looked likely as opponents Glenn Nashen, Allan Levine and Mitchell Brownstein said the MMC has not been fulfilling its original purpose. The only kudo offered was for the design of its documents and presentations. Mayor Anthony Housefather pointed out that the council is legally obliged to vote for the payment.

But before a resolution could be passed to make the payment, Housefather suggested that the council’s reservations be added to their resolution as a form of protest.

The MMC was created Jan. 1, 2001 and serves 82 municipalities. According to its website, the MMC’s goals are to “provide the Montreal metropolitan area with a common, shared vision, which will be followed by a consistent economic development plan and a metropolitan land use and development plan to make the region internationally competitive; ensure harmonious, equitable development throughout the MMC’s territory while providing a quality living environment for the region’s citizens; establish a truly metropolitan financing system based on diversified revenue sources to finance metropolitan activities and municipal activities in specific sectors; and harmonize government and regional organization policies and programs with the MMC’s activities.”

“The purpose for which the MMC was created has not been met, they’re not fulfilling their mandate,” said councillor Dida Berku, agreeing with the opponents. “Their purpose was to prevent urban sprawl, reinforce the centre and spread costs. They’re doing the opposite. Its budget is inflated.”

Berku agreed and they both began suggesting revisions on the spot to the council.”

Nashen, who also routinely voted against payments to the former Montreal Urban Community in the 1990s along with a rotating set of colleagues on council, maintained his opposition to the MMC payment.

“I think it is important not to have a unanimous vote in favour of a resolution that we are philosophically against even if we are obliged by law to pay it,” he said. “I see no value for our taxpayers for this enormous expense and I am opposed to this extra layer of unelected government that has not demonstrated any achievements.

“I do not believe in taxation without elected representation.”

CSL Council pays MMC $700K, Nashen against

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