As this year’s municipal election campaign winds down and all the issues are assessed it has become increasingly clear to myself (and, I think a large part of the general population) that what we really need here in Montreal is a degree of freedom from undue outside influence. Time and again it seems like we’re prevented from moving ahead addressing our own needs because of various kinds of interference or obstruction.
This is the question I put to Richard Bergeron, Projet Montreal leader and mayoral candidate:
After reviewing your party’s extensive program it has become clear to me that many of your projects, especially the bigger and more interesting ones, will require the city of Montreal to gain new powers. As an example, with regards to your ambitious Métro extension project, this is currently the responsibility of the AMT, a provincial government agency we have no control over. So with all this and everything else in mind, what will you do to secure a new degree of operational sovereignty for the city of Montreal?
Okay, well, the first thing is I can’t modify the Canadian constitution, nor can I change the fact that the provinces are responsible for deciding which powers are allocated to what cities and when. The relative power of a Canadian city, any Canadian city, is an area of provincial jurisdiction, and it just so happens that of all the cities in Canada, the cities with the least amount of power are the cities of Quebec.
The federal government doesn’t have much to do or say with regards to our city. They own or have owned large pieces of land, but much of this is being sold off and redeveloped. They own the port and the bridges and certain key highways but that’s about it. The province plays a much, much larger role in our affairs.
The province is involved in many different aspects of our lives and there are ministries responsible for those aspects – be it education, healthcare, utilities etc. But of all the government agencies and ministries, none is more important than Transport Quebec.
When they make a decision it carries a lot of weight. When they decide they are going to prioritize highway construction and repairs over investments in public transit, these are decisions made to appease suburban communities over the wants and needs of the citizens of Montreal.
The MTQ made the decision to greatly increase the capacity of the Turcot Interchange, despite professional and community opinion against doing so, in large part because of highway capacity improvements they’ve made elsewhere, such as the completion of highway 30 on the South Shore, highway extensions to Valleyfield or adding another lane to highway 15. All of these improvements were designed to better facilitate car movements to and from the city, which in turn require a larger Turcot Exchange and a new bridge, which is the responsibility of the federal government.
For over a decade the province has prioritized public transit investment that also goes to the benefit of the suburbs over the city. The MTQ has invested $1.75 billion in commuter rail, but at 18 million passengers per year, the entirety of the AMT’s commuter rail system doesn’t even equal a single reserved bus lane operating in the city, such as the lane on Henri-Bourassa Boulevard.
One reserved bus line carries more people per year than an entire suburban train scheme. And yet, again, money is directed towards the suburbs, not the city. And this in turn becomes an element of suburban community branding.
The mayor of Mascouche can now tell his residents, ‘we have a train station’ as will the real-estate agents. What they won’t tell you is that scarcely more than 1% of the residents of Mascouche will use or have any use for this train.
The Train de l’Est is both over budget and well behind schedule and maybe, at best, 1500 or 2000 people will use the Mascouche train station on a daily basis. That’s a very expensive investment in an off island suburb, and it’s clearly politically motivated.
Worse, the province can use these ministries and agencies to claim innocence. They say, ‘It wasn’t us who made this decision, it was the MUC, it was the AMT.’ But do they take responsibility for the screw ups, the cost-overruns, the delays or even the foolish lack of planning? No, of course not.
It’s disingenuous when the province says that the ‘Montreal community’ is planning a commuter train extension out to the suburbs when it’s very clearly not. So I have an idea – I’ll be the mayor of Montreal and only represent the interests of Montrealers. I’m not interested in trains out to the suburbs or in supporting any more urban sprawl. I’m against this and so is the party.
How far are you willing to take that?
It can go as far as me refusing to attend the meetings of the agglomeration council, the CMM (Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal) and/or simply eliminating the Montreal delegation to the CMM. Doing so would render the CMM superfluous and it would fall because they need us much more than we need them.
I can’t and have no intention to be the mayor, simultaneously, of Montreal, Laval, Longueuil, Mascouche, Beaconsfield etc. One city is enough to focus on without unnecessary and ultimately futile outside obligations. Doing so would it make it very, very difficult for the province to continue passing the buck to its ministries and agencies when it comes to development here in Montreal.
It seems like both the provincial liberals and the péquistes have both been working against Montreal’s interests.
And it would be the same with the CAQ too. I remember meeting with Francois Legault in the spring of 2012 and he told me he’d be our city’s number one defender. I explained to him the crucial dichotomy of the city and its suburbs and how we’re losing 20 000 middle-class residents each year and, further, how the province has facilitated this exodus towards the suburbs.
And I went on to say that if he really wanted to win the election, all he had to do was campaign in the suburbs and run on a pro-suburban development platform, to forget about the 514 and focus on the 450, as this was the surefire way to get elected. And he said to me quite solemnly, ‘No, no I’d never do that. I want to invest in Quebec’s great metropolis, I understand how important it is blah blah blah.
That was in May of 2012. By the fall he was using Luc Ferrandez as some kind of a socialist boogeyman to motivate his predominantly middle-class French-Canadian base, because of course as you know, Luc Ferrandez apparently scares suburban dwellers.
Basically no matter which way you cut it, whether in federal or provincial terms, the politicians court the suburban voters at the expense of the urban citizens. We’re locked in a zero-sum game.
And as you’ve probably already noticed, when the provincial politicians do come to Montreal – what do they say? They say either Montreal isn’t French enough and the spread of English needs to be stopped, or, they say that Montreal isn’t cosmopolitan enough and we adopt official bilingualism, always, always playing one group against the other for cheap political points.
And once again we see, we’re locked in a zero sum game. Your prospective gains, as a politician, by courting the Montreal vote, is almost nothing, especially when you consider that about half the metropolitan population lives in the suburbs. So the politicians don’t say anything, don’t make any announcements of concrete plans, projects or programs when it comes to our city, and in reality once elected they put their entire focus on the suburbs anyways.
You mentioned métro extensions. Not a high priority for the provincial government. Highway extensions? Absolutely. In fact they’re doing quite well building new highways – the 25 got a bridge, the 19 is being extended, the 30 is already completed. But when you ask about a métro extension, suddenly we don’t have the money or the means or it’s simply too expensive – the province will find any excuse it can to support the suburban vote over the city vote.
And in the rare case that a premier feels like she owes something to the people of Montreal, do we get our Métro extended? No. We get a provincial mandate to establish a two-year long study of a Métro extension that was planned thirty years ago and will cost the taxpayers $40 million, no debate. This is all we get.
And let me tell you something – the Blue Line extension is perhaps the simplest extension, technically speaking. The route is pretty much straight and flat, and there are vacant lots along the way where stations could be inserted. I’m exasperated – where’s the problem?
So what is the $40 million for?
To buy them time, to buy them votes. Look – we inaugurated the last station of the current Blue Line in March of 1988. At that time I had just entered the job market as a recently-graduated urbanist. What do you think my first major professional engagement was? Studying the extension of the Blue Line towards Anjou!
And I’ll go you one better, this extension was a part of the Blue Line’s original plan. And do you know how much we’ve spent studying the Blue Line extension since then? More than $300 million to study something that has already been studied and analyzed ad nauseum.
This is how the politicians keep the wheels of our construction industry turning. Ms. Marois made such a big splash too – a big press conference all to announce she’s calling for a study. It’s a farce.
I think what the city of Montreal needs is a mayor who is going to simply stop being involved in these provincially designed fictions; the CMM, the AMT, these impede our growth by giving the mayor unnecessary responsibilities. The last time a sitting mayor tried to stand up to bad planning on the part of the province was when Gerald Tremblay pushed an alternative Turcot Interchnage design and plan, one designed by me as head of the Executive Committee by the way, and he was told quite simply from his political bosses in Quebec City, ‘look, you’re either with us or with Bergeron,’ so he folded like a card table and that’s that.
Back in March of this year Ms. Marois green lighted the same damned Turcot project, the one no one likes and doesn’t make any sense, the same project so cavalierly pushed by the previous administration, and do you know what Ms. Harel said? Not one word.
Back in 2010 Ms. Harel supported the city’s alternative Turcot plan, but once Ms. Harel’s political boss became premier, all of a sudden she doesn’t say a word and has nothing bad to say about her boss. Well guess what? I don’t have any bosses, and I don’t owe anyone any favours.
I can’t be any more emphatic about this point – I don’t belong to any other political party but Projet Montréal and am extremely proud that I have no political bosses. This scares the political establishment in incalculable ways, because it means Montreal will have a free mayor, a mayor unencumbered by yesterday’s garbage.
Quite simply we live in a province whose entire history has been dominated by an old boys club patronage-heavy political system. I have no interest in this at all, and that’s why both the party and I are as clean and pure as the driven snow.
We need a mayor that sees the suburbs as competitors, competitors who, each and every year, steal 20 000 residents and taxpayers from the city of Montreal. And they do so while offering fewer services and an arguably lower quality of life. And yet we still lose. We lose $2.5 billion in investment as a direct consequence of suburban sprawl, each and every single year, and yet I’m expected to collaborate and cooperate with the suburbs and the province, to facilitate these losses? No way!
Let’s change gears briefly. In a recent interview some comments you made about the annual police brutality march and the use of municipal bylaw P-6 left some confused about your position. I know that your party twice moved motions, which were defeated by your opponents on council, to repeal the controversial portions of P-6, those that mirrored the now repealed Law 12, and you’ve been quite clear in the past that you consider P-6 to be a violation of basic civil liberties. Has your position changed?
No. Allow me to be crystal clear: myself, my party, we are opposed to the 2012 additions to P-6, we have always opposed them, and we will continue to oppose them. Our position has not changed. There is no place for these type of draconian restrictions on the right to peaceful protest in a democratic society. A Projet Montreal administration will move swiftly to repeal these sections of P-6.
Now let’s move on to the question of the annual police brutality march. What’s your position on that?
The question of the police brutality march is a difficult one, because of the regularity with which it descends into violence and chaos. Previous mayors have ignored it, allowed it to happen and then held a press conference the next day to denounce the violence and score political points.
My approach would be quite different. I would sit down with the organizers, open a dialogue, and make sure that their protest is able to unfold without restriction, but in a way which respects public space and the importance of maintaining a safe and secure environment for all.
My administration would do everything in our power to ensure that protests unfold without violence or provocation. In the case that we fail, we will direct police to target those who have carried out criminal acts, and charge them under the law. It is important, when it comes to protest, that our police force targets the guilty, and does not criminalize an entire class of people for the crimes of a handful among them.
I don’t believe, as my opponents seem to, that we can either have the right to protest, or safe streets, but not both. I believe that a balance can be struck which respects the rights of all citizens. Striking that balance is the role of a responsible government, and it is the role I see for my administration.