Montreal lost its charm – “For it was impossible not to be taken by the beauty of these young trees in full health.” (Jean Giono, The Man Who Planted Trees). I would have liked to start my article with this quotation, however, to be honest, it’s not my idea. Since I always warned my students against the temptation of plagiarism I will first give credit where credit is due: the quote was on the first page of a City of Montreal report called “Tree Policy of Montreal” published in 1998 under the administration of former Mayor Gerald Tremblay. Since the text hasn’t been disallowed, I have good reasons to believe that it is still Montreal policy.
And why bring about this document issued under a now (probably deservedly) forgotten Mayor? To answer that, let’s revise some of the statements made then: “The urban forest lends personality and charm to the City. Think for a moment of the stark monotony of a cityscape devoid of trees!” Well, if one walks around Sainte Catherine or other streets in the downtown area these days it is precisely that desolate landscape what that person will see. Trees have a difficult life amid the many hazards of an urban milieu; the document I have cited also mentions that: “trees planted in an urban environment are often subjected to considerable stress which can put their health, if not their survival, at risk.” Everyone knows that and therefore it is important the tree policy be seen not just as a statement of good intentions, but as a call to action as well. The City document points to the particular case of the urban tree: “The situation is all the more worrisome given that the urban forest cannot regenerate on its own.” This assertion means that someone—of course the City or in this particular case the Ville-Marie Borough—must take care of replacing the trees that are dead for different reasons.
It is regarding the actual implementation of the tree policy where the problem lies. I have contacted on more than one occasion the city councillor for the Peter-McGill district of Ville-Marie, and he has explained to me that now the solution to the problem depends on the city bureaucrat in charge of tree planting and replacement—that was more than a year ago! I don’t have reasons to think that the councillor is lying, but then, what should I think: that indeed the city is run by faceless bureaucrats who don’t pay the slightest attention to what elected officials tell them? (Politicians come and go, some bureaucrats would say) That these bureaucrats would pay even less attention to ordinary citizens like me or others who from time to time ask about trees or other problems? (Unlike politicians, bureaucrats don’t respond to anyone, nobody has voted them in office. Therefore they can treat citizens with total contempt).
But the time for recriminations or mutual blaming between elected officials and bureaucrats should be left for a later date. Why? Simply because spring is coming, which means it is planting season (the other occasion to plant trees is in the fall). Therefore, if they really want to make a rather inexpensive (compared to others quite extravagant ones) contribution to Montreal on its 375th anniversary, why don’t the borough bureaucrats replace the numerous trees missing on Sainte Catherine, de Maisonneuve, Saint Mathieu, Lincoln, Simpson, Atwater, just to name just a few of streets going on the way of becoming “desertified”?