Viewpoint: First a chance to choose Montreal!

First a chance to choose Montreal !

September 12, 2003

Original text signed by the following representatives of the metropolitan community, published in Le Devoir, in the "Libre opinion" page.

Cosigned by:

Simon Brault
Culture Montréal

Benoit Labonté
Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

Robert Lacroix
Université de Montréal

Phyllis Lambert
Founding director and chair of the Board of Trustees
Canadian Centre for Architecture

Henri Massé
Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)

Nancy Neamtan
Social Economy Working Group

Philip O'Brien

First a chance to choose Montreal !

The new city of Montreal belongs to all its citizens, and it deserves to exist! This is the profound conviction that some of us have already had the occasion to express in these very pages. As stakeholders in the social, union, business, cultural, and knowledge sectors, we feel called upon once again to respond to the debate surrounding Bill 9 and the public consultation that may be held concerning the new cities. We believe it is time once again to speak out and send the following message: Montreal deserves that we first be given the chance to endorse it in a democratic manner!

Two major goals seem to underlie the decision of the Quebec government to table Bill 9: to allow an expression of democracy and give citizens a chance to express their opinions on changes directly affecting their membership in a community; and to promote the success of the new cities by obtaining a democratic expression of public support for new ways of doing things.

To reconcile these two objectives, Bill 9 proposes a roundabout course of action: to express their support for the new city of Montreal, citizens must reject demergers.

The government can never control the result of a referendum vote, but it is responsible for clearly presenting the real issues underlying such a consultation.

If we wish to obtain support for the new city of Montreal and for that support to be the fruit of an informed decision, the consultation to be carried out within the context of this Bill must focus primarily on the substance of the political and administrative proposal developed after several months of living with the new municipal reality.

Insofar as the government seems determined to proceed with Bill 9 – even though some are suggesting it should simply be withdrawn – we wish to throw our support behind the idea proposed in the brief submitted by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal: to precede any move toward a potential demerger by a vote by the entire population of Montreal to endorse their new city.

The economic, social, cultural, community, and environmental issues related to the municipal reorganization are matters of undeniable concern to all citizens of the island. We thus believe that inviting all citizens to discuss the future of their existing city would be a demonstration of respect and pragmatism. It is in fact by granting priority to a consultation at the level and on the basis of the new city that we can give precedence to the arguments taking into account all of the issues – particularly the reasons and needs underlying the merger, the potential benefits of the new city, and the impossibility of returning to the statu quo ante.

The new city exists. For this simple reason, it should serve as a point of departure for any process aiming to improve the territorial organization of the Island of Montreal. Since we are already living in this new city, let's begin by seeing how it can be adjusted to better respond to the needs of citizens. There is no economic argument that justifies, in Montreal, the development of expertise in transition committees!

This reasoning is in line with the very essence of the process launched on June 20 by Mr. Jean-Marc Fournier, Minister of Municipal Affairs, Sports, and Recreation, with his ministerial statement inviting the elected representatives of the new cities to present to him, by October 1, 2003, proposals for an administrative reorganization.

In the case of Montreal, this proposal is already known. Although some of us expressed, on an individual basis, some discomfort with regards to certain dispositions of this proposal, we believe it involves sensible adjustments that could, on the whole, better meet the needs of citizens and thus deserve to be studied and discussed. For this reason, we are anxious to hear the decision of Mr. Fournier regarding approval by the government of this new model.

As unpopular as it may have sometimes been, the merger of the municipalities on the Island of Montreal was nevertheless the result of extensive reflection. During the 1990s, several reports, commissioned by both the Liberal Party (Pichette report) and the Parti Québécois (Bédard and Bernard reports) agreed on the need to proceed, to various degrees, with a municipal reorganization on the Island of Montreal. We therefore believe that the proposal of a unified metropolis proposed in the wake of these numerous studies and analyses deserves a chance to first obtain the support of its citizens.

This would of course require the wide dissemination of the proposal for the administrative reorganization of the new city and the dissemination, before any public consultation, of the results of impact studies offering citizens a complete picture of the situation: on the one hand, of the costs of a demerger, for the former municipality as well as for the new city, and on the other, of the positive impact and potential benefits resulting from the safeguarding of Montreal as we know it today. The promotion of the new city would also require an expanded debate on the advantages for its citizens and for its positioning on the national and international scene, a debate that only a public consultation on endorsement would truly be likely to generate.

Prioritizing endorsement would not mean that any demergers would be out of the question. With results compiled by territory corresponding to each of the former municipalities, sectors that did not endorse the new city could still pursue the consultation process laid out in Bill 9. But giving priority to a true endorsement would indicate a desire to take positive, constructive steps toward the economic, social, cultural, community, and environmental development of the Island of Montreal.

It would be an approach geared toward the future and thus, we are convinced, a reflection of the vitality of our metropolis.

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