For a second year, the City of Montreal has launched a public consultation regarding its budget. The consultation for the 2021 budget takes the form of a survey which Montrealers may respond until August 23. (The study consists of eight questions and to participate visit.
The current conditions created by the pandemic may force the city administration to face hard decisions: to raise taxes or to cut services. Another option is to run a deficit, however, for this to happen, it would be necessary to modify a provincial law which now forbids cities to be in the red.
Indeed, hard decisions to make. Not surprisingly, one of the questions of the survey addresses the issue of what to cut: “police services,” “garbage collection,” “snow removal” and “other.” Given the atmosphere created after the killing of George Floyd in the US, and the rise of the “Defund the police” movement, reducing the police budget seems a natural choice. However, that might not be everybody’s choice. In fact, a few months ago, people in the NDG neighbourhood were protesting the closing of a local police station. Then, the question of reducing police services is somehow more complicated: the SPVM has a lousy record regarding race relations, in particular by profiling black people.
On the other hand, however, there are cases when people actually wish that an agent is on hand: robberies, assaults, rapes. Somebody has to be there to face these—genuine—threats to society. Although, by comparison to other cities, especially American ones, Montreal is indeed much safer. But crime, even on a relatively small scale, still exists and someone should be there to fight it. And this, without neglecting social policies aimed at preventing crime. But that in an area outside the sphere of policing.
The reduction of garbage collection or snow removal is also a difficult option. In fact, there are already complaints that these important works are not done properly. What about the “other” option? Usually, in surveys, people rarely fill out the line marked “Specify,” but here there are possibilities not included in the study. Perhaps for a good reason: people affected by them may be the same that commanded the study. To specify then, what about reducing the bureaucracy in the city hall? I took the time to visit the city website and counted as much as eleven permanent commissions, to which you have to add fifteen para-municipal organizations. Of course, many of these bureaucratic structures are necessary, and no one would dispute its usefulness: water supply, public transportation, tax assessment and collection, urban development, culture and sports. But, do we need a Bureau des relations internationales? Is it necessary for Montreal to have its mayor or other officials taking trips abroad to attend international conferences—cocktails and receptions included? What about the Service de la performance organisationnelle? Come on, you don’t need such a thing. Each section of an institution—in this case the city—must perform well its job, no need for some particular bureaucratic layer reminding them to organize themselves in a right manner. And what about the Commission de toponimie, supposedly in charge of proposing names for streets, parks and other public places? Its role: to be clear that those honoured with a street name really deserve it. The city, instead, could save money on this by commissioning research on the subject to History departments in any of the four city universities.
Reducing the bureaucracy, however, should be attained by eliminating or merging some commissions and bureaus, getting rid of the high-paid bosses who manage those bureaucratic structures. Rank-and-file employees who do the actual work should keep their jobs.
The city survey also asks if one would agree that the city could run a deficit (something that both the federal and the provincial governments are doing at this very moment). Yes, of course. We live exceptional times, and Montreal needs to keep the right level of services. At the same time, property owners and businesses are also facing very demanding situations, which would make tax hikes the worst measure to take. The city should follow the federal and provincial examples and be allowed to run a deficit. After all, it is only money, easy to recover when things get back to normal—quality of life, however, is essential.
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