The Big Picture

I’ve been having trouble coming up with something to talk about. I have to thank Wikipedia author Chicoutimi for updating the entry for ‘Greater Montreal’ with this graphic, which got me thinking on a different level. The City of Montréal is represented in dark blue, with independent communities within the Metropolitan Region coloured pale blue. I would personally consider some of the grey areas to the left (like that part near Oka, or Valleyfield, Les Cedres etc) to be a part of the metro region, and I’m not sure the borders are laid out perfectly, but either way you get the big picture – Montréal anchors a massive metropolitan region with a population of nearly 4 million people (StatsCan predicts it will pass that number within two or three years, with about half that number residing on the Island of Montréal). Moreover, Metro Montréal is Canada’s densest metro region, with about 900 people per square kilometre, and that number is expected to quickly reach about 1,000 people per square kilometre within the next few years.

Perhaps you can imagine my frustration, looking at a map such as this and considering the economic power of 4 million people, when I see all these independent communities. What are they all independently working towards? Are our goals, needs and wants so different? Would these communities even exist without Montréal?

It strikes me as being exceptionally inefficient, and perhaps the greatest obstacle preventing our much deserved international recognition and further economic and political potential. We are held back by ourselves, each hoping to succeed independently when cooperation is what’s best for all concerned. I look at a map like this and can only ask why? Some of those borders were determined by the extent of investment in various residential projects. The people who live there have almost nothing in common (by design) with the people who built the community in the first place. Almost all bedroom suburbs are like this, so to what do they owe their independence? Market forces? The housing market? The whims of the CMHC?

And while these communities can build fences to force citizens of Montréal to pass through patrolled check points (see Town of Mount Royal), or build barriers to prevent motorists from using a much-needed by-pass (see Town of Montreal West), or exist solely to benefit international oil conglomerates which have abandoned much of the eastern tip of the island to ecological ruin (see the Ville de Montréal-Est), the City of Montréal finds itself having to deal with independent communities who all too often behave like spoiled children, completely lacking in vision and inherently contrarian in disposition. Although I would love to one day be mayor, I can only imagine the difficulties this situation creates. Clearly the best situation would be for a single metropolitan government with a borough and ward system for municipal government, with a large congress of representatives to ensure appropriate representation of the massive new city.

If the entire metro region you see above was a single city, we could review zoning and taxation across the entire region, establish a more egalitarian and proportional taxation system based on new data and subsequently establish new zoning ordinances to re-position certain economic and industrial activity to more advantageous locations while simultaneously increasing urban residential densification and renewal. Collecting taxes from a unified population of four million would allow us to independently lead on capital investment for new infrastructure projects, no more waiting around to secure federal or provincial input. Moreover, we’d be able to expand and increase public transit services, possibly even leading to the development of high-speed rail within the metropolitan region before expanding outwards to other cities. Montréal is the number one tourist destination for Manhattanites – so where’s the bullet train to serve and stimulate that sector of the tourism market? Investing today may secure it for tomorrow.

On a final note, consider as well that a metro city such as the one I’m proposing would be well-positioned to take on additional responsibilities, such as education, healthcare and welfare services. Devolving some of these concerns to a new metro city would allow greater day-to-day operational efficiency, not to mention guarantee a new higher standard of public education and full bilingualism of the population. A single metropolitan school board would have the resources to secure higher rates of pay, better facilities and provide additional after-school and specialist services than any of the current independent boards. Do our children not all deserve the same education, or are we willing to allow inequities to persist based on mother tongue and where one lives? How does that benefit society? This is but one example of how a larger city could have the economic and political force necessary to tackle some very complicated socio-economic problems. We need the same kind of thinking applied to health and social services as well – we need to run our own systems, adapted to our needs, united for our own strength, and no longer subjected to long-distance governing. We need operational sovereignty on a localized, metropolitan level – this is the only way to properly move forward and establish ourselves as a global alpha city.

8 thoughts on “The Big Picture”

  1. Therefore, we need a new representational system. What do you think of splitting the executive from the legislative bodies, and make Mayor and Council subject to the policy proposals put forth by a large congress of community representatives? We could develop a party system more inclined towards coalition government, perhaps even party affiliations. A city as big as ours deserves to be governed properly, with a microcosmal form of ‘big government’ governing the metro region.

    I mean, there are fully independent nations smaller than our city (in population and area), and they can support not only ‘big government’ but a wealth of social services and security forces. Consider Singapore, whose population is a mere 1.3 times larger than our own (and with only one-sixth the land! Their density is seven times our own!) Singapore is an economic power unto itself, fully able to defend herself and provide excellent care of her citizens. They have what some here pejoratively refer to as ‘big government’ – I think Singapore’s government is very effective and efficient, especially when you compare it to our own here in Montreal:

    Suffice it to say I don’t think our city is appropriately represented, and we need a bigger government to grow into a bigger, more powerful city.

  2. Yes, I do realize this is problematic.

    However, I think there’s a common denominator here. For one, there’s a lack of urbanization taking place in suburbs. This may seem contradictory, but of course it’s vital that there are many poles of attraction within a city, and suburban does not necessarily mean single use, nor low-density. In this respect, its more about bringing the city to the suburbs than suburbanites into the city (though I’d greatly improve on this too). Concentrating all business in a single sector is irresponsible, and I think the city would be wise in establishing multiple poles of urban attraction and higher-density throughout the metropole.

    Second, forced fusions is not the way to go – I’d prefer a populist who can effectively convince the citizens of the independent communities to agree to voluntary annexation, and thus become members of a larger, greater whole. This may be enough to prevent a city’s affairs from being hijacked by shock-jocks.

    And we’ll never be Toronto or Québec City – those cities are far too conservative and segregated.

  3. Increasing the proportion of suburban voters is bad news for the city centre.

    One look at Quebec City is enough to make you realize this. In the 1990s, Quebec City embarked upon some ambitious revitalization initiatives under mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier. The municipal fusions created a new city where 80% of the population live in the suburbs. This suburban population is more conservative and car-oriented than the city centre population, and they end up dictating the mayor’s agenda. Since the municipal fusions, the city has been run by populist suburban loudmouths (Regis Labeaume, Andrée Boucher) who have done little to develop public transportation, cycling or anything providing real benefit to people living downtown.

    I’m not certain of this, but I think the current mayor of Toronto may be another example of this phenomenon.

  4. Total overhaul is right ;) I guess it comes down to there being a good reason for the average citizen to vote to join the mega-city, and the way things are right now a vote to join Montreal is a vote to have less say in what happens in your neighbourhood, unfortunately.

  5. I wonder if pushing ahead on a larger city will help us shed inefficiencies and streamline operations so as to become a stronger city. I feel we’re holding ourselves back as long as we pretend we’re that fundamentally different.

    Ultimately, it’s the 4 million people who could be paying taxes to this new city that really piques my interest – that’s 1.5 million more people than the current City of Toronto and as you might imagine, an impressive amount of tax revenue, which in turn could be used to improve services, infrastructure etc. So not only could be become Canada’s biggest city again (through referenda no less), but we’d have a tax base that could compete with many nations. I like the idea of Montréal having its own financial resources to pursue its own big-city interests, something we can’t do for as long as we need to look to other levels of gov’t for assistance.

    But I’m cognizant, a plan such as this would require a total revamp of not only our current executive branch, but the legislative/representational branch as well.

  6. Hi –

    Yeah, I’m loathe to force people into something they don’t want, or worse, don’t really understand fully. One Island One City was done in such a fashion that it was almost guaranteed to create a bad public reaction. I really wonder what they were smoking back then.

    The easier option, and the one that presents the best possibilities for success, would be a series of voluntary annexation referendums, community by community. Ask the people if they want in to a new metro city, majority rules etc etc. May as well give the People the actual control over their destiny, no sense doing it any other way.

    I’d certainly be up front about initial costs, though I’d do whatever I can to mitigate any initial costs as best as possible. What I found despicable was how various pre-merger communities basically spent all their money so that the City of Montreal couldn’t use it. I’ve never seen such waste in my whole life. It was sickening. I can understand the negative reaction to forced mergers, but that sort of activity only makes the city’s case (and my own) much stronger.

  7. This of course sounds a little bit like the old “one Island, One city” stuff from a few years ago. I would be all four a unified Montreal if it would be done properly.

    1) Ask the population if they are willing. If the majority say no, then its no. Don’t force it upon them.

    2) Don’t lie to them about how much its going to cost.

  8. I think that there are so many independent cities because Montreal can’t seem to manage what it’s already got, and doesn’t to anything efficiently. Is it really more efficient to be part of a borough than part of an independent city like Westmount or TMR?

    The cities have a few more councillors per capita, but that’s probably about it. Each borough has its own fleet of city vehicles, in its own colours. I don’t know the labour situation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if blue-collar workers work in a certain borough, and maybe contracts are negotiated on a borough-by-borough basis anyway. There are still council meetings, and some sort of “city hall” in each borough. Even the police cars have the borough they operate in written on the side.

    Independent cities are free to try to do things a better way. Imagine if the Plateau was an independent city, Mr. Ferrandez could do what he wants without meddling from Tremblay, (I’m not saying he’s doing the right thing, but at least he’s not satisfied with the status quo).

    In theory, more of montreal should be the same city. I’m not convinced the whole metro region should be, but at least the central island, however you want to define that. However, it’s not worth it until Montreal gets its ship in order.

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