Is the Montreal Mayor’s honeymoon over? – Less than a year since the astounding victory that put her at the helm of the second largest city in Canada, Valerie Plante and her Projet Montréal party are facing some problems. Some social activists who were enthusiastically involved in bringing change to city hall are now decrying her administration.
One may say that since the beginning there were some mixed signs, although people who supported her were still savouring their victory. Plante represented the ordinary guy, and people were expecting changes in the way business was conducted at city hall. They even forgave, as a faux pas, the increase of city taxes above the mark that she had announced during the campaign using the ploy of distinguishing between the property tax and the water tax. (The property tax was indeed under the rate announced during the campaign, but when the water tax was added, the total went over the promised increase). The lack of ethnics and Anglos in her executive was not decried enough either. Others didn’t protest when she changed her tune about the REM (the Light Electric Train to the Trudeau Airport) –now she approves of it. She probably expects that in return both, the province and the federal government eventually support her cherished Pink Line project for the metro.
But then there have been moves, many promoted by her fellow Projet Montréal Plateau Borough Luc Ferrandez, embarked in an anti-car crusade which has made enemies not for him who already has his dose, but to the Mayor herself, since City Council makes some of the decisions. The most controversial of these measures was the one that has put restrictions for car access to the Mount Royal. On weekends the two roads that cross the mountain, Remembrance from the west and Camillien Houde from the east, will no longer be connected. The move has created strong reactions, mostly adverse for Plante.
The most recent problem for the Mayor and her party, also originated after a Plateau Mont-Royal decision, was the closure of a popular ball field in the north-east side of the Jeanne Mance Park. Frequented by young people who enjoy softball, many of them from the Dominican community, the park was one of the park’s traditional features. The argument to remove the field was characterized as silly by critics of the borough measure: that a ball going off course could hit pedestrians or vehicles. Indeed, one such accident occurred, but chances that this type of incident is happening again are not very high since the field was surrounded by trees, which any ball going in the wrong direction would hit, before knocking on someone.
Valerie Plante is also the Mayor of the Ville Marie Borough which comprises the downtown area. While during the last council meeting this Tuesday she was congratulated by residents of the Peter McGill district because of the recent announcement of the new two primary schools for that sector, there were other issues on which the administration performance was not so complimented. One of those is the disappointing performance regarding the replacement of trees in many of the downtown streets: large segments of Sainte Catherine, Sherbrooke, Simpson, Saint Mathieu, to name just a few, have seen their trees gone and never replaced, despite demands made by neighbours for the last three years. In some cases, the borough bureaucrats have decided to deal with the missing trees more definitively: instead of planting new trees they have ordered to pave over the openings in the sidewalks where trees used to be placed.
Yes it’s too soon to dismiss the Mayor and her party, but what is certain is that it is not too late to make some decisive changes: move away from an anti-car posture that in some cases borders fanaticism, pay more attention to what the citizens are demanding, rather than to what bureaucrats who don’t have to respond to anyone, say. Many would like to think that the Mayor if she rectifies, may succeed after all.