A year ago we witnessed an exciting development in Montreal: for the first time, the second largest city in the country would have a female mayor. Then, a party with a progressive outlook on urban issues would be in charge, and finally, the old-style of decision-making at city hall, represented by the defeated Denis Coderre, would be a thing of the past.
Valerie Plante indeed introduced some new vision for the city: her projected new metro line, although for now just a dream, indicates a long-term vision and a commitment to public transit. One has to remember that for more than twenty years, except for a few extensions to existing lines, the metro system has not grown. Plante is right in making public transportation a priority, although one has to concede that metro lines, by the amount of fund required, could never be undertaken by the city alone: provincial and federal assistance is needed for such projects.
On the minus side, the new administration has had in the management of traffic its worst performance. Summer is, of course, the occasion for various road and infrastructure repairs which usually involve the tearing down of streets. Fair enough, people can accept the inconveniences these works involve, as long as the authorities in charge do their best to minimize their negative impact. However, in this case, the opposite happened: the effects of works on Dr. Penfield Ave. which was closed for a few weeks, were compounded by the temporary closing of the Remembrance and Camillien Houde roads on the Mount Royal, which created long congestions on Sherbrooke St., itself subjected to some repairs on its east-end side. A consultation has been announced on the closing of the Mt. Royal road, but most people suspect that despite that consultation (and the fact a petition to revoke the road closing has had many more signatories than the one calling for its permanent closing), Projet Montréal will impose the road closure anyway. So much for democratic participation!
The Mount Royal situation is also a reflection of a doctrinal position on the part of Projet Montréal that has its merits but is also afflicted by a zeal too frequent in some political causes. This party championed the rights of cyclists and pedestrians, complemented by its emphasis on improving public transit. All of this quite commendable, except that the excessive zeal of some of the policymakers has resulted in a sort of fanatic anti-car crusade. I myself am a strong supporter of public transit, and I do much of my shopping on foot. But one thing is that ideal scenario, and another is the reality of a city with a five-month winter and at least three months of snow on the streets, which make walking, especially for the elderly, and biking –for all–hazardous. In many cases then, for some people, the only viable solution is to take the car. Only people with a fanatic anti-car concept, could not see that situation.
This view is also what seems to be behind another project for downtown: the conversion of McGill College Ave. into a pedestrian street, even though the area doesn’t have many pedestrians to benefit from the measure.
Mme. Plante also favoured city bureaucrats over a party member: some months ago she disciplined the Mayor of the Villeray-Saint Michel-Park Extension Borough, Giuliana Fumagalli, for her alleged mistreatment of some bureaucrats. I don’t know the exact details of the dispute, but one thing is clear: city bureaucrats don’t like change. And by city bureaucrats, I don’t mean the hard-working agents who deal with the public or medium-ranking managers, but the big bosses who are notably incompetent: the guy to whom I complained about the lack of trees during a borough council took months to fix the problem partly. Mme. Plante even defended those guys, asking me to call them “public servants” instead.
After a year, there are still some good ideas floated by her administration, but as long as she resorts to the same old style in decision-making, Ms. Plante might not be back for a second term.