Speech given by Mr. Guy Fréchette
President, Board of Trade of metropolitan Montreal
October 2, 2001
Speech of president elect- Annual meeting of members
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, colleagues. It is a pleasure and a great honour for me to address you now as we launch the 2001-2002 season of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.
It was with more than a little pride that I accepted the presidency of the Board of Trade this year, at a time when a whole range of new challenges present themselves to all Montrealers as we prepare for the arrival of a new city on January 1.
Off the record, let me say that becoming president of the Board of Trade brings with it some major perks, such as being wished a happy new year a good three months early!
Perhaps I should start now to send my own best wishes to each one of our 7,000 members, because we have another very busy year ahead of us.
Fortified by its 179 years of tradition, the Board of Trade is still the most influential and prestigious organization of the Greater Montreal business community, and again this year it will have many opportunities to demonstrate the relevance of its mission.
We aim, of course, to represent the interests of the entire business community, but also to promote the economic development of Greater Montreal, for the benefit of all its citizens.
We represent not only company managers but also their employees and self-employed workers who are joining the Board of Trade in record numbers. I would like to take this opportunity to salute my colleague Normand Legault, the outgoing president, and stress the magnitude of his accomplishments.
During the past year, Normand's vision and interventions allowed us to support the efforts of the Quebec government to give Montreal the tools it needs to succeed.
Normand, you brought with you a spirit of entrepreneurship that was translated into speedy, enlightened decisions. Decisions that will mark the Board of Trade and guide its future.
Personally, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to work with you. Your calm, cheerful manner and positive attitude are contagious.
Above all, you have the gift of simplifying matters and ensuring that common sense prevails.
I would also like to highlight the valuable collaboration of the board of directors and its outgoing chair, Pierre Laferrière. Pierre, your credibility, rigor, sound judgement, and effective interventions were major assets in the service of the Board of Trade.
And I would be remiss not to mention the valuable cooperation of Luc Lacharité, who, for more than fifteen years, contributed to the development and success of the Board of Trade.
And finally, I would like to publicly acknowledge the Board of Trade's excellent staff and their new executive vice-president, Benoit Labonté.
Having spent five years at the helm of the World Trade Centre Montréal, Benoit is no stranger to the Board of Trade, and we are confident in his ability to meet the many expectations of the Greater Montreal business community and to prepare the Board of Trade to meet the important economic challenges of the early 21st century.
A new environment
As the Board of Trade's new season gets underway, Montreal is experiencing unprecedented economic and political conditions, both at the regional level and beyond our borders.
This represents an exceptional opportunity not to mention a civic duty for the entire community to prepare the future of our city-region, influence its expansion, and shape its destiny.
This must be done within the context of the extremely rapid internationalization of political, economic, business, and cultural ties among city-regions around the world.
Despite the tragic events that devastated New York and Washington in early September and which will no doubt have great economic impact, the trade between city-regions will continue to increase. Over the next ten to fifteen years, Greater Montreal's future will be largely determined by its ability to understand and adapt to this situation,
While Greater Montreal's economy is still fragile, it has made significant progress in recent years - progress that will enable Montreal to stay the course despite fluctuations in the global economy. Because it is during tough economic times that winners demonstrate their ability to adapt and react, quickly and effectively.
Montreal is now a city of culture and tourism, a city of biotechnology, but also - with its four universities a city of higher education, a city that exports its goods as well as its services and know-how.
And, I might add, a city of major transformations. I am speaking now, of course, of the creation of the new City of Montreal, which, after a long period of reflection, is now at the implementation stage. The new city is now a reality.
In the coming months, the new administration will face significant challenges as it sets about completing the work begun by the Montreal Transition Committee. We must, of course, applaud the enormous energy expended and the excellent work accomplished by the team of Monique Lefebvre - and encourage it to stay the course during the final sprint.
But the Transition Committee is not the only player involved. The success of this new city will depend on the cooperation of all stakeholders and the readjustment of their attitudes, their approaches, and their policies.
To this end, the Board of Trade would like to reiterate that it will cooperate with all these players including all three levels of government, trade unions, and industry representatives.
The needs and expectations are many and varied, depending on whether you speak to a resident of the downtown core or an outlying borough, a real estate developer, or a future exporter.
In light of its own mandate and concerns, the Board of Trade has drawn up what it believes to be the four criteria essential to the success of the new city and its ability to compete on the world stage.
I am referring here to:
- The organization of the new city, because it is important to consider the satisfaction of residents;
- Increased leadership and political powers, promoting better integration of local dynamics and more harmonious economic and social development of the metropolis;
- Delivery of services and the organization of work, which must be both effective and efficient, carried out at the lowest possible cost, and focused on the well-being and satisfaction of citizens; and finally,
- The sharing of responsibilities by the central city and the boroughs.
Moreover, these important questions will be asked to the candidates Pierre Bourque and Gérald Tremblay, during the economic debate organized by the Board of Trade on October 10, at the Centre Sheraton hotel, to which you are all invited.
In these rapidly evolving times, the economic vitality of Montreal depends largely on the coherence of its stakeholders and the excellence of its organizations.
The Board of Trade contributes to Montreal's success by helping to maximize its competitiveness, strengthen its political impact, and position it on the international stage.
Because we may be experiencing these changes in our own region today, but from now on they will be taking place around the globe.
The city-region and the international
More than ever before, economic (and thus business) development is centred in large urban areas. As the Toronto-based economist Jane Jacobs explained recently, Canadian cities are at the very heart of the country's economic success.
It is primarily in cities that the most decisive actions and solutions for sustainable economic and social development are now likely to take shape.
In fact, the World Bank predicts that the number of people living in cities around the world will double in the next twenty-five years.
The role and the impact of these city-regions and Montreal will be among them will be comparable to those of City-States during the Renaissance.
To fully comprehend this dynamic, you must understand that for the past twenty years, it has been trade between states and thus mainly between city-regions that has sustained global economic growth.
During this period, the expansion of international trade at an average annual rate of 6% - has, on average, been three times greater than that of the gross domestic product of all countries combined; and we can expect this trend to continue. Today, 45% of Canada's GDP depends on exports.
With its 3.5 million inhabitants, Greater Montreal alone counts some 5,000 exporting firms, or 71% of all those in Quebec.
For the past two years, almost half of the 86,000 jobs created in Montreal have also resulted from the excellent performance of Greater Montreal companies in international markets; and the Board of Trade has played a role in increasing the export potential of these companies.
In this area, the Board of Trade benefits greatly from the efforts of its affiliate, the World Trade Centre Montréal, which has become a key player in the delivery of export services in Canada.
Montreal is thus carving out an enviable position for itself on the international chessboard. The region owes it to itself to export goods and services, of course but more than that it must create a larger number of exporters. It is no more a choice, it is reality. From now on, Montreal will be competing with the largest cities on the planet. To successfully rise to these major international challenges, the new City of Montreal must also rally the resources, expertise, and strengths to be found in abundance in the entire surrounding area.
In this sense, the challenges facing the new city go far beyond its geographical limits. We will have to support the emergence of a strong, cohesive Montreal Metropolitan Community.
Montreal will have to participate fully in developing a cohesive new structure the Montreal Metropolitan Community which will encompass the city's north and south belts.
From welfare housing to public transit and land use planning, the MMC will be a major element in coordinating economic involvement in the region.
This dynamic will have to be understood and supported by all, including governments, municipal administrations, and all private and para-public partners.
This regional vision will be critical to our future successes both at home and abroad.
That is why the regional economic development plan to be produced by the Montreal Metropolitan Community in the next two years is of vital strategic importance.
The Board of Trade will insist energetically that this extremely important economic development plan be devised and coordinated directly by those who will be responsible for it, that is, the elected representatives of Greater Montreal themselves.
The MMC should be an organization definitely devoted to the planning and developing the region's grand strategies, and that is where this expertise should be developed and housed.
As for the delivery of those strategies, we can only insist that the Montreal Metropolitan Community entrusts its specialized regional organizations such as Tourism Montreal, the World Trade Centre Montréal, and Montreal International.
The Board of Trade supports the Montreal Metropolitan Community in its role as economic development planner and coordinator, and work with it to establish a strong, united regional voice.
Changes within the Board of Trade
For the Board of Trade, the coming year will also be a time of reflection and transition. It will have to take a close look at where it is headed in this millennium and the kinds of challenges it will face.
Ever attentive to the needs of its members, the Board of Trade will have to review its role, determine its interests, reassess its practices, and refocus its actions.
For example, we are currently reviewing our public affairs committees to tighten up our interventions and make them more relevant. To this end, making the committees more focused on strategic analysis. The Board of Trade benefits from the collaboration of members expert in their respective fields and concerned about the future of Montreal who enrich our debates with their interventions and enlightened positions.
It is with their input that we will develop the positions, the strategic alert projects, and the sectorial contribution that will promote the success of the new metropolis and its regions.
These new strategic analysis committees will deal with economic development, public finances, urban development, tourism and culture, and social issues.
These are not just superficial changes: the Board of Trade must focus its actions and orientations where they can offer the most added value.
We must not act at any price but rather ensure that what must be done is done
and done well. Our accomplishments will be in line with our mission and in accordance with our orientations.
The major challenges
What are the major challenges facing us now? We are in a position to affirm that we fully understand our surroundings and the strengths of metropolitan Montreal.
From the Picard report to economic summits, the same key sectors have come up over and over again. These include, among others, tourism and culture, telecommunications, information technologies, aerospace, transportation, and biotechnology. And those are the sectors on which the Board of Trade will focus its efforts.
Here, too, we have at our disposal significant assets in the service of the Greater Montreal business community.
Whether through our strategic analysis committees or our close ties with affiliates such as the Electronic Commerce Institute (ECI), the Board of Trade is well aware of the needs of companies facing the challenges of the new economy.
We are in a position to offer solutions meeting the needs of the business community and helping Quebec companies make the most of the new information technologies.
Moreover, we will continue to work closely with our many usual partners in the region, including other boards of trade, the Conseil régional de développement de l'Île de Montréal, Montréal International, Tourism Montréal, and important developers such as Montreal's Quartier international and Aéroports de Montréal, to name only a few.
We know Montreal's strengths and challenges, we are adjusting our approach, and we are identifying the growth levers of the metropolitan economy.
These levers are human resources, innovation, access to capital, international corporations, the socio-economic environment, and the mobilization of public and private stakeholders.
As was confirmed during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last April, the foundation of sustainable economic development is built on two pillars: education and democracy, and the Board of Trade has a key role to play in both of these.
With regard to education, the Board of Trade has often stressed its concern for the educational system.
Two years ago, on this very occasion, Pierre Laferrière underlined the government's demobilization in terms of financing education infrastructures and universities. He also reminded us of the need for financial support from the private sector. We still have important work to do in support of tomorrow's number one natural resource. Montreal must continue to strive for closer ties between the business and education communities.
The results of a recent inquiry by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business showed the importance of good schools and a qualified work force to ensure the prosperity of the local and regional economy. Furthermore, a 1999 study by Economic Development Canada indicated
in Quebec, barely one out of every two workers holds a job, compared to the US where its three out of every four. We need to do something now!
The high-school drop out rate is 34% on the Island of Montreal, a rate that is unacceptably high in today's knowledge-based economy.
At the same time, the Board of Trade continues to support two important projects at the high school level: the Polyglobe project, which aims to bolster students' confidence and self-esteem, and Operation Back to School, which aims to reduce the number of school dropouts.
In addition to rethinking programs, we will also have to reinvest in more humane physical infrastructures and the excellence of our teaching staffs.
We must face the fact that despite Quebec's decision to reinvest in education a decision we applaud our Montreal universities still lag far behind other Canadian and American universities when it comes to their ability to compete for top-notch teaching staff.
If you'll indulge me for a moment, I would like to compare this situation to that of the Canadiens hockey club.
As with our beloved Habs, the days are gone when we could expect to keep the best talent here at home. We can no longer take for granted that we will have first choice from among the pool of graduates from Montreal universities or see the most promising students return here after completing their studies abroad.
From now on, we will have to compete with the rest of the world to attract them.
How long can our region expect to prosper without sufficient means to train world-class graduates?
Year after year, our society's stubborn refusal to question a dogma like the freezing of tuition fees erodes the performance potential of our universities in a world that is more and more competitive.
Yet we all know perfectly well that in today's world, talent is everything: young people who are dynamic, well-educated, and willing to stay here at home. There are solutions. Neighbouring provinces and states have found them.
Let's have the political courage and vision needed to make up for lost ground. There is no time to lose.
Improved relationships between the worlds of business and education, adequate university funding, and reduced dropout rates are all critical to our ability to excel in today's world.
The strategic value of self-employed workers is another resource on which the Board of Trade can depend. Montreal is home to 220,000 self-employed workers, representing 61% of all those in Quebec.
The Board of Trade must continue to remind governments that, in many respects, our ability to keep talent in Quebec will depend largely on the policies and legislation they set in place.
Innovation and access to capital
I mentioned earlier the strategic importance to companies of new information technologies and the contributions of our affiliate, the Electronic Commerce Institute, in this regard.
But the challenge of implementing innovation does not end there. Innovative companies benefit from rapid growth, and their markets quickly extend beyond our borders.
Access to venture capital from a greater variety of sources and in much larger amounts as well as marketing assistance are all important competitive factors that must become part of our daily reality if we want our companies to prosper in North American and international markets.
In this area, Quebec and thus Montreal has a long row to hoe.
A recent study of venture capital trends in Quebec carried out by Macdonald & Associates, for example, shows that companies established in Quebec attract less foreign capital than companies elsewhere in Canada.
Moreover, the gap in financing received by Quebec and the rest of Canada has grown steadily in recent years. Here, too, we will have to review our approach.
In terms of exports, the Board of Trade is also active in many areas. Together with a number of partners, including the Chambre de commerce du Québec, we are currently looking at setting up a trade corridor from Quebec to Mexico.
For a province whose exports represent 37% of the GDP 85% of which are sent to the United States this is an important project.
Canada - and Montreal companies may also participate in major international trade initiatives.
To cite just one example, the G-8 wound up its three-day summit in June promising to set in motion a kind of Marshall Plan for Africa.
This initiative could have very positive trade ramifications for our region.
The socio-economic environment
The Board of Trade is also concerned with the metropolitan area's socio-economic environment. Montreal's quality of life is a major competitive advantage when it comes to establishing companies or simply recruiting and retaining strategic workers and businesses. This quality of life is closely linked to cultural vitality, to harmonious, well-planned urban development, and to flexible, modern transportation infrastructures.
Urban development will, moreover, be at the very heart of the design of the boroughs of the new city and, more specifically, of the city centre.
Yet because of its size, Montreal faces challenges that are unique in Quebec and becoming progressively greater in terms of infrastructures yet lacks the financial resources to tackle them.
Mobilization of public-private players
I mentioned earlier the two pillars of sustainable development for any society: education and democracy.
Let's talk democracy.
In an article published in La Presse last June, two researchers from McGill University's School of Architecture had this to say about Canadian metropolises:
they are places of creativity and innovation, first-rate employment centres
hubs of international trade. And yet, from a political point of view, they have not yet come of age.
The metropolitan area does not have the political impact corresponding to its economic weight or even its population.
Last June, the Commission de la représentation électorale proposed new electoral boundaries for the Island of Montreal that would reduce the number of seats here from 30 to 27.
If this proposal goes through, members representing the Island of Montreal home to 25% of the Quebec population will constitute just 21% of the National Assembly.
Moreover, the latest demographic projections indicate that this situation will only deteriorate in the coming decade. It's easy to see what will happen: the current imbalance between the representation of Montrealers and that of those in the rest of the province will become more pronounced in the next decade, and there will be nothing we can do about it since the current legislation stipulates that the map not be redrawn for eight to ten years.
How can this imbalance possibly be justified?
The redistribution of seats is, in our view, a priority. But it must result in fair and equitable representation for every voter. This is a vital democratic principle.
Moreover, the Board of Trade has communicated this position to Mr. Guy Chevrette in a brief delivered to him today.
Quebec has just one large metropolis capable of making its influence felt worldwide. It would be unjust and unproductive not to grant it full political representation.
Along the same lines, the government's relative share of our gross domestic product has grown steadily over the past forty years. The role of economic intervention played by the government must be reviewed in the light of its impact on Greater Montreal's competitiveness.
We also believe that corporate taxation long a competitive advantage for Quebec - must be brought into line with what is happening in several other Canadian provinces and in the US. In addition to this, personal income taxes have risen to an all-time high and no longer reflect the North-American reality, contributing to a significant and worrisome factor.
We must find the courage, as a society, to take a hard look at the Quebec model and take urgent action.
More than forty years ago, we took a bold step to improve our economic and social system.
But that essential step really did no more than make up ground we had lost in preceding decades. Today, once again, we are falling behind our neighbours and competing cities and regions. It is time to take another look at the situation. Building is so stimulating! Why not treat ourselves to another exciting period of renewal such as we experienced during the quiet revolution?
The Board of Trade also expects the federal government to do its part in terms of health care and that it will grant provinces the flexibility required to adequately meet the growing needs of the hospital system.
But the news is not all bad far from it! There are numerous world-class companies, including Bombardier, Alcan, Bell, SNC-Lavalin, Hydro-Québec, and the Cirque du Soleil, that we have every reason to be proud of.
We are a North American leader in scientific and technology development.
And think of the Neurological Institute, the Heart Institute, the Clinical Research Institute, and the Chest Institute all research centres belonging to some of the leading institutes in the world in their respective fields.
We must support these successes and guard them jealously. These institutions help to attract and retain human resources that make Montreal a centre of excellence.
We live in a city with one of the world's most thriving new economy sectors. In Montreal, we also have entrepreneurship and creativity to burn.
This creativity is also expressed in our vibrant film industry. In 2000, more than $800 million was spent on filming in Greater Montreal, yielding economic spinoffs of close to $2 billion.
Our cultural sector is particularly creative, contributing greatly to the quality of life that is so much appreciated by both residents and tourists. Just think of our museums and city parks such as Mount Royal and the Old Port, not to mention the Lachine Canal, soon to be reopened to pleasure boating.
Montreal is also one of the world's greatest festival cities Jazz, Just for Laughs, Francofolies, the film festival and the Fireworks competition, as well as home to numerous sporting events, such as Tennis internationals and the Air Canada Grand Prix Formula 1. Thanks to the perseverance of Normand Legault, we will soon be hosting a Cart event; and why not an annual Canadian golf open?
All of this activity contributes greatly to Montreal's economic development and its international reputation.
Although recent international events have led us to a period of uncertainty and an economic set back, we have every reason to display wise optimism.
On January 1, 2002, some 1.8 million island residents will become Montrealers. In 32 days, they will elect a new mayor who will also become president of the Montreal Metropolitan Community.
We can aspire to building a stronger metropolis on a solid foundation of know-how, ability, and creativity: a city even better able to meet the tougher challenges of the new economy and international trade.
The cradle of dynamic strengths both historic and modern-day Greater Montreal must master the levers of its own development and work them as vigorously as possible to accelerate change.
Thank you to all of you for sharing these objectives, in line with the mission and the vision of the Board of Trade and adapted to our current vision of the future. But, above all, thank you for being a part of the action!
As for me, I intend to devote all my energies to ensuring that the Board of Trade will continue to rise to a great challenge that of remaining relevant to its members, credible to the media, and influential with governments and decision-makers.
Thank you and HAVE A GREAT YEAR!