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.

2 thoughts on “Corruption is Killing this City”

  1. Hi Steve, thanks for commenting.

    I agree you can’t blame everything on current corruption, or a mentality of collusion, or a general collective lowering of expectations. I think all of these problems have been present for years and have led to an ineffective government and a general lack of proper planning. I’ll grant you sometimes sinkholes can occur and pipes can burst just as a matter of wear and tear, but to have so many so frequently in a short time span, in conjunction with the laundry list of other on-going infrastructure redevelopment and improvement projects, is strongly indicative that various administrations dropped the ball when it came to maintaining our systems and administrations sine never really bothered to fully correct the problem. Because bandaid solutions seem to be the only solutions we regularly employ, it occurs to me our administration is inefficient because it provides a reason to do business and reward business partners. Fixing everything and making sure it works through forensic maintenance keeps a core group of city engineers employed, but not construction companies otherwise adversely affected by periodic downturns in the residential or commercial construction sector.

    Going back to the early part of the Drapeau Era, when he was a ‘clean house candidate’ hellbent on bringing the city into the 21st century with major development projects, projects came in on time and on-budget, were centrally organized and executed at a breakneck pace. Labour was imported, and we were riding a post-war boom in immigration to boot – we could do the same today to meet the same rigorous schedule. Yes, we had a stronger economy back then relative to today, but the difference isn’t that dramatic. We need strong leadership in city hall to convince the private sector to invest in city redevelopment.

    And because we cannot guarantee this will pay for such a massive project by itself, we would need to find other ways. One time only property tax increases for the top highest grossing quintile of the population, in addition to similar short-term increases for condominiums and commercial office towers would permit the city to get around cutting back on services. I would never plan such a thing at the expense of equally vital services, such as parks, libraries, festivals etc. Hell, if we have to increase the cost of parking and speeding tickets, so be it. I would further consider striking a deal with the unincorporated municipalities within the agglomeration – a great number of suburbanites work in the city, and as such, they should contribute to the city’s renovations too. There would be no metro region, no independent suburbs, without the City of Montreal. And if the amount raised in one year couldn’t pay for the renovations in their entirety, then it would be the down-payment on the loans we take out to get the job done on time. What’s left to pay off can come from the budget line typically allocated just to keeping up with repair works.

    Moreover, I think we could really benefit from New Deal styled make work projects to help stabilize the foundation of our economy. The money we spend to fix recurring problems today will allow for far greater sums we can use on major development projects tomorrow.

  2. The water mains breaks are mostly those that are about a century old, made of brick, and were long expected to be breaking down by now. It’s not corruption, it’s age.

    Montreal’s current mayor was really the first to decide to start spending money to fix the water network. And of course he gets little credit for that.

    Your suggestion that we bleed rich people and fix everything in one shot sounds cool, but it’s impractical. First of all, where are all these mythical rich people in Montreal? The main reason people move to the suburbs isn’t “constant repairs”, it’s that the suburbs are cheaper. Raising taxes significantly on Montrealers is only going to make that problem worse.

    You seem to see the inevitable shortage of labour as a good thing. But one of the problems with that is when all the good labour is being used, bad labour starts getting work too. Not to mention other practical considerations, like the finiteness of large equipment and the fact that you can’t shut down the entire city in one shot to do street repair.

    In any case, the needs are far more than a simple one-time tax hike or reappropriation of funds (you going to close down all the libraries and swimming pools to make this happen?) could bring. What’s more important than fixing everything is making sure that we properly maintain our infrastructure so breaks like this don’t happen again.

    Corruption is a problem, a big one. But you can’t blame everything on it.

    Oh, and if you’re singing the praises of the Jean Drapeau era of city administration, I would point out that another thing built around that time was the Olympic Stadium. I don’t think that was on time or on budget.

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