The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal held its municipal economic debate on October 18 in person and via live broadcast at the Centre Sheraton. It was moderated by Esther Bégin, anchor and host on the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC).
The two main candidates, Valérie Plante, incumbent Mayor of Montréal and Leader of Projet Montréal, and Denis Coderre, Leader of Ensemble Montréal, were invited to discuss the city’s economic issues. Discussions between the candidates centred on five major themes that reflect the concerns of the Montréal business community: economic development, commercial activities and housing, the environment and climate change, budgetary capacity, and taxation.
“The next administration will have many challenges to tackle: downtown, transportation, etc. We are giving candidates a platform today to debate Montréal’s issues.” – Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal
Economic development for the relaunch of downtown
Despite positive economic signals across the city, downtown Montréal and its commercial fabric continue to suffer the consequences of the crisis, including a loss of traffic due to the absence of workers, students, and tourists. While initiatives are increasing to relaunch the sector, we expect a strong commitment from the candidates.
According to Denis Coderre, there are many ways to increase traffic and the vitality of downtown.
“We want to ensure that downtown is livable and enjoyable to visit by making it clean and safe. We also need to repurpose unoccupied buildings into social housing. We have the financial capacity to tackle this problem.” – Denis Coderre, Leader, Ensemble Montréal
Valérie Plante emphasized efforts by her administration and the importance of preserving the quality of life of residents.
“In the past three years, we have made $3 billion in direct investment in downtown. I care about quality of life and the livability of neighbourhoods.” – Valérie Plante, mairesse sortante et cheffe de Projet Montréal
Stimulate commercial activity and support Montréal businesses
The pandemic highlighted the complexity of some of the administrative processes Montréal businesses face. Given the urgency of responding to needs generated by the crisis, new, more agile, and more efficient practices have been put in place for entrepreneurs. A business community priority, reducing red tape for businesses is one of the few topics on which the candidates agreed.
“We have to keep cutting red tape for merchants, because time is money. We have instituted online permitting, a single site for service for businesses, and symbolic pricing for terraces. That is concrete action. We need to streamline service as much as possible.” – Valérie Plante
“We need a better policy to support businesses. We started with the concept of an intelligent city. By working more diligently with indicators, we can improve the quality of life of merchants.” – Denis Coderre
The issue of regulatory agility is tied to the broader issue of support for commercial activities. Both candidates believe it is essential to stimulate activity on the city’s major commercial arteries, but they differ in their approach.
“We need to have concrete tools to meet the needs of small and medium-sized merchants. Free terraces saved businesses. We need to avoid the status quo.” – Valérie Plante
“Our status as a metropolis is what allows us to create projects for businesses. We want a retail window strategy to improve the experience. We want modular taxation for merchants. Above all, we need to work with all partners on these issues.” – Denis Coderre
Challenges in mobility and public transit
The issues of traffic flow, managing construction sites, and mobility are the main concerns expressed by the business community. On the issue of traffic, a structural problem for the city, the candidates clearly indicated the difference in their approaches. Denis Coderre emphasized managing construction sites, while Valérie Plante focused on the importance of collaborating on these complex issues.
“There is a problem with mobility because of road work management and signage. The mobility squad is caught in traffic. It takes leadership, and we have shown what we are capable of.” – Denis Coderre
“We are going to strengthen the construction site charter to authorize work 24/7. You can’t just say ‘I’m going to fix it,’ because if that worked it would have been fixed long ago.” – Valérie Plante
Opposing views emerged on the issue of transit. The candidates indicated their priorities, between the need for an efficient road network and the importance of public and active transit.
“You can be pro-bike, but you can’t be anti-car. Above all, we need to look at shared use of the road network.” – Denis Coderre
“I’m not anti-car; I’m pro-safety. Safety, greening, making space for everyone, and you create a dynamic. On Saint-Denis, 7000 people use the Express Bike Lane daily, and the street is thriving.” – Valérie Plante
What are solutions for a green city?
Given the urgency of climate change, the candidates agreed on making a transition to a greener economy. At the municipal level, this requires promoting mechanisms such as environmental taxation, the value of which was recognized by Valérie Plante and Denis Coderre.
“Environmental taxation is extremely important; it requires courage and support. There has long been discussion of diversifying the Ville de Montréal’s revenue. A mileage tax and taxing waste collection are promising solutions, and we are working with all partners.” – Valérie Plante
“There was a problem with leadership at the CMM on environmental taxation. I want to form a committee on green taxation, with green obligations on the primary market to finance public transit and greening. We need to eliminate our dependence on property tax.” – Denis Coderre
Taxation of businesses and the Ville de Montréal’s budget capacity
The pandemic seriously depleted the Ville de Montréal’s budget. The candidates were asked to outline strategies to get public finances back under control without increasing the city’s business tax burden. Denis Coderre argued this required modular taxation.
“We are going to work with all sectors to reduce the tax burden and enable modular payment. Tax increases will not exceed inflation. The objective is to rebuild trust with economic partners.” – Denis Coderre
Valérie Plante stressed Montréal’s economic health and reducing the gap between individual and business property taxes.
“We have had the strongest economic relaunch in Canada, so I refuse to say that the city isn’t doing well. Credit rating agencies have said Montréal is strong. Since we took over, we have reduced the gap between business and individual property taxes. We have significantly reduced taxes for small businesses.” – Valérie Plante
The questions and background for the debate were based on the brief published by the Chamber on the business community’s priorities for an attractive, green, and prosperous city.