Henry Aubin wrote last week about the upcoming 10 year anniversary of the forced merger of the municipalities of the old Montreal Urban Community into one city in this column. While 15 municipalities have voted to demerge, the majority of people on the Island remain part of the Montreal borough system. And it’s not a pretty sight.
Merging large cities into one bureaucratic network is basically a Conservative idea. Mike Harris brought Toronto into a Merge by claiming they would cut out the bloat – just like current Mayor Rob Ford’s stop the gravy train slogan – only to have turned it all into a fat beast bulging at the seams with endless demands to be fed. It’s just like the Conservatives in the US who rage against against government spending while breaking records for the national deficit. It looks like the “people” really are that retarded as they fall for the same story over and over again.
The most important thing to remember about the Montreal merger is that there was no absolutely no evidence anywhere that merging cities was a good idea, but, oh baby! does that enough-is- enough-let’s-cut-costs-in-that-megalopolis-that-is-bleeding-us-dry ever play really sweetly out in the hinterlands! Letting provincial or state governments control their fate is one of the biggest mistakes cities can do for themselves. Unfortunately, in Canada, there is a very clear history of the larger cities being severely underfunded, if not out and out neglected, by federal and provincial governments – mergers seem to be more about abuse than help. And this is a fact regardless of how much they will scream that they have treated cities well, they haven’t.
At the center of all the merger’s failures is Gerald Tremblay. He has been elected three times and those are the kind of numbers that strongly implies that he has been doing a good job. Wrong! It’s the unwillingness of voters to think clearly or take a step into the 21st century, that has allowed Gerald Tremblay to keep flowing with his inept devotion to traditional politics and urban management. English voters, to mention one obvious group, vote en masse for Tremblay and his soft core federalism, because they perceive everyone else as “separatists”. They have been voting Liberal by default for at least 40 years and then wonder why they don’t seem to get a break from government. It’s a given they will vote Liberal so no one spends any energy in trying to get their vote, and elected governments do not feel beholden to them. And the West Island, demerged for the most part, wonders why it always seems to get screwed when new transportation projects are announced. Politics is like the lottery, you can’t win unless you buy a ticket, so get involved or accept that you can’t be heard. Paying taxes doesn’t cut it, the overwhelming majority of people pay taxes, you have to actually get out there and do something.
Corruption and patronage have a lot to do with Montreal’s failure to function properly and the merger has done nothing to change or prevent these structures from proliferating, another highlight of the Tremblay dynasty. We have little direct democracy with citizens forced to bring their objections to public consultation boards that have no real influence beyond making compromising recommendations. And that happens only when the projects are deemed big enough to warrant the bureaucratic bloat that these processes in themselves require, and then the recommendations are politely ignored. Selling City properties worth 20 million for 2 million is just one example of ultra bad management, so much so it seems spiteful, but it is important to remember that such sales are not required to have any public scrutiny. Everything is set up to make life easier for the bureaucracy and it’s allies, and more difficult for ordinary people. And who benefits by all of this when the City says it’s broke and can’t afford some routine service? When it says it has to raise your taxes?
Even the people who worked on the merger project, such as Louise Harel, have admitted that it has not worked out very well. You simply will not hear anyone singing the praises of the new city with a straight face. The failure of the Montreal Merger is a done deal. But, we the people, continue to keep buying the same story over and over.