Corruption is Killing this City

Not the work of the author…

There’s no other way to say it, and I think we need to begin acknowledging that there are tangible roots to our city’s seemingly inherent corruption. What drives me mental is that, no matter which way you look at it, a far greater number of people all stand to gain a greater amount in the long-term if we simply eliminate a wide assortment of poor practices we’ve accumulated over the years.

How many water mains have burst in the past few days, let alone weeks?

How many times have St-Laurent and Parc Avenue been ripped open in the past few years?

And how times have mould or asbestos closed public schools and forced re-locations?

I’m likely preaching to the choir – if you’re a Montrealer you can read off a list of various problems our city has to do deal with, seemingly every single year. The infrastructure, in general, seems to be in the midst of a rather rapid degeneration. Perhaps this is because we never invest in long-term solutions, or preventative maintenance and forensic engineering. Because selling band-aid solutions makes quick friends in the political arena. But it’s a short-term gain for a select few at the expense of the greater gain for the masses of average citizens. I say our priorities are grossly out of whack.

What would it actually require to fix everything in one shot? Our city has an annual budget of $4.7 billion. If we were to demand a one-time only increase on property taxes for the very wealthy, and deviated all available discretionary spending towards infrastructure repair, surely we could help end the era of mass collusion by simply eliminating most of our recurring problems.

Consider this. It seems as though every year the roads are in bad shape and in need of repair. On top of that, we’re actively re-building major thoroughfares as it is, the bridges need constant (though far from preventative) maintenance and the viaducts, overpasses and tunnels are all in need of dire repairs.

In addition to all that, our utility network needs a massive overhaul, something which has only been piecemeal up to this point. Communications cables, sewers, water, steam and gas pipes, the electrical grid – all of it happens to be buried under the same roads which are in need of repair. And yet we seem incapable of coordinating the operations.

The railways infrastructure needs to be developed, as more and more commuters move to the suburbs to escape the constant repairs. And because we need to spend all our time and money repairing broken systems, we never get around to building anything new. Innovation takes a back seat to the pressing needs of now because of what we didn’t do yesterday, and thus is labelled as naive.

It’s a vicious circle in every sense of the term.

And this, in my opinion, is the fundamental root of why our construction industry and various levels of government are corrupt – they’ve created a system which provides lucrative contracts signed by enterprising politicians who promise overhauls of the previous system without actually overhauling it. All projects come out over-budget, behind schedule, and ultimately don’t work, as often it seems they weren’t intended to. It seems that the primary reason everything is always broken is because that provides a small, non-innovative industry every reason to try and secure more work later on by doing the job as inefficiently as possible. The level of corruption is so massive it nearly defies explanation – it is my great fear that nepotism is becoming as characteristic a Montréal trait as our joie de vie.

It is an infectious and paralyzing desease which has managed, over the past thirty years at least, to dig itself into seemingly every element of our modern cosmopolis. $3200 garbage cans, new bus shelters that cost five figures, an an apparently 3-5 billion dollar bridge to the South Shore. Why is it that this all costs so much, will invariably wind up costing more, and does nothing to actually solve some of our more pressing issues facing the city. It’s no just that we seem to uniquely employ bandaid solutions, but that we also spend so much time arguing about new development it never comes to pass. We’re so used to the inflation and inefficiencies of corruption in industry, government and commerce, that we have no idea how long things should take to build and how much they cost. Consider that most of the infrastructure we need to upgrade and develop is in fact fifty year old technology and design. It’s not all bad, but given the perception that our last crack at original design and civic-pride-fuelled development resulted in the degeneration we face today, we’re loathe to ever try something novel, or expand on the innovations that actually work quite well. Mind you, the last time we tried expanding the Métro, it cost nearly as much as building the Blue Line as we know it today. We’ve been debating Métro expansion for nearly a decade with no new construction despite rising demand and necessity.

Do you realize we built the first 26 Métro stations in 4 years in the early-mid 1960s? This includes the entirety of the Yellow Line, and about 60% of both the Orange and Green Lines. Four years, on time and on budget. It immediately began making money for the city. Today it requires a sprucing up of epic proportions, but ever there – in a system beloved by the citizenry and worthy of the investment, we’re loathe to commit any money to it.

And so it is – we’re letting things crumble all around us and the electorate, for whatever reason, seems helpless to stop it. At least part of the problem is also a result of a lack of real economic planning on the part of our administration – how much new growth is funded by outside money compared to what wealth is created here? Why is it that our city cannot improve its infrastructure without necessarily engaging two other levels of government? Why can’t we do what is best for ourselves, easily, effectively, with long-term gain and durability at the forefront of our minds?

Our current system, as it manifests itself daily in crumbling infrastructure, is economically untenable. It will drive us to a complete economic collapse, as it somewhat savagely erodes consumer and investor confidence alike.

The idea that someone could become rich off of collusion needs to be proven false. The gain comes at a very real cost, and we can see it demonstrated every single day.

What we need is a committed effort to find and implement solutions to these problems on an escalated time-span. A single year where we commit to fixing everything in a single shot. A year-long property tax raise for those who can afford to pay, in addition to a diversion of considerable sums towards implementing a city-wide infrastructure upgrade and city-beautification initiative, organized through a single centralized command. It would require more jobs than people currently available to fill them, meaning it would create a year-long surge in job creation, and a three shift system would be required to avoid paying expensive over-time, not to mention avoiding operational exhaustion.

And here’s the kicker – this is not entirely new, we’ve done things similarly in the past.

So what are we waiting for? 2013 is around the corner, another mayoral election is due, and once again it seems like the two central figures – Harel and Tremblay – are embroiled in controversy, petty politics and poor associations. But who cares, right? Voter turn-out in the last election was around 30%. Pathetic. Is it any wonder we have the problems we do? Is it any wonder we’ve lost our economic prowess – we’re an expensive comedy of errors. Corruption is killing our city.

All we need to make it stop, is to stop doing what we know isn’t working. The very definition of insanity is repeating the same action expecting a different outcome each time. So are we collectively deranged? Or just disinterested, demoralized? Our lethargy and resistance to exercising our most fundamental duty – to be vigilant and engaged citizens – is keeping us all down, preventing our mutual success.