Is Montreal’s $1 Billion Party Missing the Mark?
Montreal’s $1 Billion Party – Montrealers simply love a good party. We have festivals and special events all year long. During winter there is Igloofest, Montréal en Lumière and the Fête des neiges. During summer the festival season peaks with everything from the Grand Prix, Fringe Festival, FrancoFolies and the Jazz Festival – to the Carifiesta parade, Just for Laughs, Gay Pride and Osheaga Music festivals. There are also Literary and Arts festivals, Film festivals and even La Poutine Week – as well as plenty of community street festivals. And that is far from a complete list.
Even with all those events, Mayor Coderre felt Montrealers needed to ‘lift their spirits’ and decided to put on a one-year long mega-bash to celebrate the city’s 375th anniversary. However, the reasoning behind it is still vague. It is not a ‘semiseptcentennial’ (350 years) or ‘quadricentennial’ (400 years) celebration. In fact, there is no official name for a 375th anniversary – and the cost of this mega-bash has now been estimated at $1,000,000,000. Yes, one billion.
When the 375th celebration was first announced the city said it was ‘on track to spend more than $200 million’, then later announced that $329 million had been set aside for projects. In addition, there were contributions from the Federal and Provincial governments, as well as private commercial donations – of which from my understanding, added up to about $106 million. So how did the cost rise to such an astronomical amount? How much of it will be invested in capital works projects? How much of it will be flushed down the aging sewer system once the party is over? As the saying goes, ‘you don’t have to be a rocket scientist’ to understand certain things – but in this case, just trying to figure out the numbers, one might have to be.
The $80 million project to upgrade St. Joseph’s Oratory might be a smart long-term investment – but is the $3.4 million invested in granite ‘tree stumps’ on Mount Royal (that was widely protested) worth it? Or for that matter, the close to $40 million spent on lighting up the Jacques Cartier Bridge? Lighting up the huge structure was impressive, but once seen, many felt they would not be inclined to make a special trip to see it again – and that the money could have gone towards other important things.
In 2009, Toronto celebrated its 175th anniversary and worked with a $230,000 budget for a more modest celebration. When Vancouver celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2011 it spent around $6 million on a year-long festival. Montreal has far more urgent needs – such as fixing the roads, improving public transit, social housing and making sure the thousands of children living under the poverty line don’t go hungry, than to spend one billion dollars on an anniversary party.
Moreover, the goal of the 375th party is to celebrate the ‘city’s rich, culturally diverse communities and their history’. But the party appears to be missing its mark on exactly that – our rich, culturally diverse communities and their history.
Montreal is amazingly multicultural. Besides our Francophone and Anglophone communities, one third of the city’s population is enriched by Italians, Greeks, Haitians, Moroccans, Arab and Lebanese, Armenians, Japanese, Irish, Chinese, Latin Americans, Koreans, Chinese, Jewish and Aboriginal people – and more. Where is the real representation?
If it was in the ‘À nous Montréal’ magazine distributed across the city, available in French only and featuring mostly white people, it was not obvious. Nor was it found on the official 375mtl.com website, which is in French and English – but why were some of the other languages spoken in Montreal such as Greek, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Creole, German, Arabic and Chinese not given at least a paragraph?
Although there is certainly some activities that involve the city’s cultural communities, it is not proportionate to Montreal’s actual population. Montreal’s black community makes up almost 10% of the city’s population and is the largest visible minority group – but lacked inclusion in most of the programs and events. The community already voiced their concerns last July, saying the city was not doing enough to ensure their contributions were being properly represented in the celebrations. Activities and events they suggested were refused.
The oversight of Montreal’s culturally diverse communities became acutely apparent when a two-minute promo video, released last April for Montreal’s 375th birthday celebrations, featured only white people. Meant to celebrate the city’s cultural identity, it really missed the mark – and was taken down from the city’s web site and Facebook page when a flood of complaints flowed in. And it was not the first time.
Last November, another 375th video that was released also excluded non-white people. At the time, the Aboriginal community took notice. The video did not reflect the reality of Montreal and they were concerned the city’s long history with the Indigenous community would be left out. “I think people don’t know there are 26,000 urban Aboriginal Montrealers. We are here, and we are multitalented, doing all different kinds of work … and yet, people don’t recognize us,” Nakuset, co-chair of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network was quoted as saying to CBC. “We were not consulted. Our projects were put forward, and they were denied.”
It seems the lesson was not learned.
To be fair, there have been some events and activities that well captured the public’s interest, like the Classique Montréalaise pond hockey tournament last January, the Montréal Avudo multimedia show in the Old Port, the recent Giant Marionettes roaming the city streets and plenty of unique entertainment at the Quartier des spectacles – and there is more to come.
But to date, attendance has come nowhere near the numbers to justify the money spent. One billion of our tax dollars has been put into the celebration.
Have you attended any of the events or plan to? Do you feel the money could have been better spent elsewhere? And the question remains, is Montreal’s $1 billion party missing the mark?