How much is Montreal spending on its 375th anniversary?
By: Bonnie Wurst – mtltimes.ca
The 375th anniversary celebration of the founding of Montreal started with a few stumps. Granite stumps that is. With a year-long celebration starting in December 2016, our fair Mayor Denis Coderre intends to put his stamp in stone – a stamp which will be costing the city close to $3.5 million alone.
A series of 27 ‘discovery stops’, stump-shaped granite sculptures to be installed on Mount Royal as part of the celebrations has caused controversy from the very start. And despite the public outcry and criticism surrounding it, Mayor Coderre continues to defend the stumps as “art” that “serves a double purpose as a resting stool”.
His perception and taste in art is questionable in the least – and contrary to the majority of citizens and politicians against the idea. He’s like a bad version of ‘Father Knows Best’ ramming his ideas like a jack hammer into the city regardless of what the family wants or says – simply because he thinks it’s right. Well, he’s wrong.
He also recently attended the unveiling of ‘Au Grand Dam’, a monument constructed of large concrete and marble slabs in LaSalle’s Parc Des Rapides as part of its 100th birthday. And once again he ignored the cry of public criticism. He is only quoted as saying, “It’s sometimes good to be happy for things happening for the signature of Montreal”. Not only is the piece questionable (it looks like huge slabs of rectangular concrete blocks that fell over randomly and just left there), it cost close to $700,000 of taxpayers money.
There have been no real public consultations on most of the city’s plans for the 375th. And like the granite stumps, he is like stone when it comes to listening to his constituents. Heritage Montreal policy director Dinu Bumbaru recently said ‘the lack of public consultation is a real issue, and there is a need to reconnect with the public on these types of projects’. But how can you hear through ears of stone?
Next year is the 375th anniversary of the founding of Ville-Marie, the missionary settlement that grew into modern-day Montreal. The city is planning to spend more than $200 million dollars on special events, festivities and and ‘legacy projects’ – whether we like it or not.
It’s a spending spree that is drawing criticism from many. Projects such as lighting up the Jacques Cartier Bridge to the tune of close to $40 million or building an Urban Walkway – a 3.8 kilometer path winding its way from the St. Lawrence River up to Mount Royal, strolling in at $42 million and climbing, are actually fairly creative ideas – but it all needs to be put into perspective.
Yes, it’s wonderful to celebrate our city, Montrealers love to celebrate just about anything. And yes, a 375th anniversary seems worthy of some type of celebration – but does it justify a $200 million (most likely plus) budget in which a more distinctive celebration like a Quadricentennial (400) year would be worthy of?
“Montreal has so many pressing needs. There is so much that could be done with the money being spent on this 375th anniversary,” Alex Norris, a councilor with opposition party Projet Montréal, was quoted as saying. And he is not alone, as Montrealers are increasingly scratching their heads with the same thoughts. And so am I.
But not Alain Gignac, general manager of the ‘Society for the Celebration of Montréal’s 375th Anniversary’. When he was asked why such a big deal was being made over a 375th anniversary, he said, “… it was born from Montrealers will to take this opportunity to celebrate our city’s vitality, its history, its heritage, its people, its neighborhoods. Many consultations took place over the past year, and our activities rigorously represent what Montrealers are looking for.” I tried to contact the office to ask how and who exactly was consulted, I received no reply to date.
There is no lack of ideas of where to put all that money to better use; ‘affordable housing’, ‘more green spaces’, ‘education’, ‘health’ and ‘better public transit’ are the buzz words on social media and on the streets. How about more money towards the subsidized breakfast and lunch programs in our schools for the children who are in need?
But at the top of the list is what I believe most Montrealers really want as an anniversary gift. And they want it now. Take the $200 million and put it towards speeding up the process of repairing the mess our city’s infrastructure is in. The gridlock and detours are driving everybody’s blood pressure up and taking a heavy toll on our health and well-being. We don’t need fancy lights on the bridges – we want bridges with more than one lane open so the commute to work can be done without nervous breakdowns and the fatigue from having to add extra hours to our workday because of the delays. We need roads taking us more or less directly to where we are heading, not to the east end and back to the west end, then circling north and south just to get to our local supermarkets.
We are having nightmares (drivers, cyclists and pedestrians) where large orange cones are chasing us into sink holes.
And finally, WE DON’T NEED AND WE DON’T WANT GRANITE STUMPS ON THE MOUNTAIN. Leave the mountain in its natural and wild state – even if it was at no cost to the city and donated by the God of Stone.
Otherwise, we might sleep through the year-long 375th anniversary celebrations which would put a big gran(d)ite stump in our Mayor and City’s Executive Committee party plans.