Montreal residents not happy with the City
Montreal residence – Like downtown areas in other cities, the one in Montreal has some recognizable characteristics: it’s mostly the focal point for business, government, and institutional affairs. In Montreal’s case, it is also an important high-education centre with three university campuses located here, plus three colleges. But Montreal—unlike other cities where their residential element has diminished or almost disappeared—still keeps a healthy number of people living in its central area, approximately 85,000 Montreal residents. Moreover, that number is likely to increase as more developments (i.e., condo buildings) are under construction or planned for Ville-Marie, the city borough that covers the downtown area.
Despite the condition mentioned above—which certainly contributes to making downtown a lively place, especially after stores and businesses close—there seems to be little consideration for the residents of the borough on the part of local authorities.
Last year, for instance, a master plan for downtown was unveiled and presented to the local community council, but to the surprise and disappointment of the residents, the plan explicitly emphasized businesses and office location in the area as its top priority. Residents were just considered as a sort of additional element in the downtown equation, but not a significant one. The plan was presented and defended by Richard Bergeron, the former leader of Projet Montréal, a party that at one point presented itself as a progressive voice in the city. (Well, I guess some of its councillors are still loyal to the original principles, but not Bergeron who after his conversion became a right-hand man for Mayor Denis Coderre).
During a recent meeting, some of the highlights of what has been called the Collective Impact Project were presented to a committee of the Peter McGill Community Council. The Project has been termed “a community mobilization project with the aim of helping members of the neighbourhood in providing themselves with the collective facilities to improve their feeling of belongingness and living conditions, as well as those of the local organizations and groups.”
A sense among many of the residents, however, was that despite the good intentions or good strategies contained in the document, there are doubts as to whether there is a real intention on the part of the city and borough authorities to take into account what the residents have to say.
Recent events such as the approval of the Franciscan project despite the strong objections of many participants in the hearings, and the sale of the former Children’s Hospital to a private developer with promises to leave space for a community centre and social or affordable housing, have left many people with a sad feeling.
On top of that, Bill 122 tabled in the Quebec legislature at the beginning of this year, firstly to give more power and autonomy and powers to cities, also contains provisions that have been decried as anti-democratic. Specifically, it is mentioned the new clause that would “abolish the obligation to have amendments to the planning by-laws of Ville de Montreal, and Ville de Quebec approved through a referendum,” according to the bill’s text. Mayor Coderre has been pressing hard for that amendment that indeed would take rights away from the citizens: “When we talk about a referendum, we talk about obstruction instead of construction,” he said. “You have other cases where there was a referendum and you had a few people who blocked a tremendous project for the overall population.”
If passed, Bill 122 would hit hard the neighbourhood: Ville-Marie already has a “democratic deficit” as one of most active members of the Community Council called it. Indeed, it is the only borough in Montreal that doesn’t elect its own mayor. Instead, the city mayor is also Ville-Marie’s main boss. And to add insult to injury, Ville-Marie also has a kind of “colonial status” with respect to the other boroughs: besides not having the right to elect its own mayor, its citizens only elect three of the borough councillors, the other two are from other boroughs. This anomalous situation was created after the Charest government amended a previous legislation. The two “guest” councillors may be good officials but of course, they are there primarily to defend the interests of their own constituents which may involve putting aside the interests of the downtown borough—e.g., in the allocation of resources— if that benefits their own boroughs.
High-rise developments being built despite local objections, neglected streets: almost entire blocks with no trees, slow replacement of the old and inadequate sodium lighting for more economical, efficient, and brighter LED lamps, and the impression that the city and borough administrations don’t care about them have left the downtown residents with a strong feeling of frustration. They still have a recourse though: municipal elections should be held in November and then they may send a message to the current bosses.