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Viewpoint: An empty wish or success of the new cities according to the new government

An empty wish

June 18, 2003

Original text signed by Benoit Labonté, president of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, published today in Le Devoir, in the “Idées” page.

An empty wish
or success of the new cities according
to the new government

Those who heard the leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec say during the election campaign that he “wished success for the new cities,” and who took that to mean that he was committed to giving the cities concrete means to ensure their success, will indeed be very disappointed. The new government's first few weeks in power have shown that the wish was as fanciful as one that is made when you blow out the candles of a birthday cake: a wish that you hope will come true without setting objectives, or using tools and imposing objective measures of success.

To succeed, the new cities must be allowed to distinguish themselves and set themselves apart on all fronts. Coherent decisions concerning them in this regard must be made by decision makers who, regardless of the level of government, must think and act together. And when it comes to promoting coherence and cooperation, there is no better mobilizing force than success itself. Indeed it was thanks to this objective that such a strong consensus was reached during the Montreal Summit last year, notwithstanding the diversity of views, interests and opinions.

In this context, we are surprised, not to mention rather concerned, that instead of giving the new City of Montreal the impetus it needs to succeed, the new government has recently made decisions that have weakened its viability. As such, in the space of a few weeks, Montreal has seen its new political character brought into question, probably rightly so, by Bill 1, and then again by Bill 9. Moreover, its economic character has been undermined by the government's hasty action to cut programs, without due review, in fields—namely culture and research and development—that strike at the very core of the City's competitiveness and that of its small and large businesses.

Even if Minister Yves Séguin has since repeated his assurances to the contrary, the mere fact that the budget speech contained a clear way for the government to opt out of the commitments it signed under the City Contract reinforces the general worrisome impression that Quebec government is indifferent about the megacity, its needs, and by extension its success.

The desire to correct mistakes made during the creation of the new city is both laudable and legitimate, provided however that past mistakes are not corrected by making bigger ones. Moreover, in light of the government's decisions to date regarding the megacity, and particularly since Bill 9 marks the inauguration of a year fraught with instability and uncertainty, Montreal certainly has much to fear.

In its sweeping search for “democracy,” this democratically-elected government is in the process of abdicating its primary duty in this regard: to govern. All citizens are entitled to expect that those in power have a vision, objectives and make decisions in the best interests of the State they govern.

When it comes to the demerger issue, sadly the opposite seems to be true.

While fulfilling its commitment by giving citizens of the old municipalities on the island the right to express themselves, the government is shirking its duty to give direction to the exercise.

On a question as fundamentally important as the political organization of Quebec 's economic engine, Quebec leaders cannot remain silent and express no opinion. In the past 20 years, many studies have been conducted on the best way to organize the metropolitan region – for example, the Picard, Pichette, and Bernard reports come to mind. In this context, it is simply regrettable that the government has yet to explain why it really wishes to see the merged cities succeed.

To date, the government 's wish in this regard is tantamount to wishful thinking. For all those – and there are many – who believe in the new city of Montreal, and its potential, in its positive impact on Quebec as a whole, in the diversity and creativity of its population, this situation is both disappointing and worrisome.

Wouldn't it be more logical to give the megacity a chance to succeed and allow completion of the process proposed in Bill 1, that is, to seek support for the new city of Montreal through a more efficient sharing of responsibilities between the city centre and boroughs, before putting wind in the sails of an irreversible move towards fragmentation of our island, but also of our energy and vitality?

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