Commentary: Agglomeration system in need of thorough overhaul

Justine McIntyre, a former City Councillor, says the Montreal Agglomeration needs an overhaul, top to bottom.

Response to Victor Schukov’s column Montreal’s Agglomeration system is feudal (West Island Gazette, Nov. 22, 2017).

As former city councillor representing the borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro at the time, I stood with Beaconsfield Mayor Georges Bourelle in voting against the 2017 operating budget; first to express my solidarity with the under-represented demerged municipalities and second to express my dismay with the entire process.

Montreal’s Agglomeration structure is indeed deeply flawed. It is a system that encourages micro-local levels of government (the city’s 19 boroughs plus the island’s 17 demerged municipalities) to operate independently of one another in a highly inefficient and inherently inequitable manner, one that puts the demerged municipalities at a power disadvantage with the City.

Under this fragmented system, political representation is a hodgepodge. Lacking the time, interest and sufficient media coverage necessary for voters to become acquainted with local candidates’ platforms and positions, the Montreal boroughs’ electorate end up voting “down the line” for a party that generally bears the name of its Montreal mayoral candidate. Democracy you say? Or blind “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” to pick the least unpalatable of the choices for the top seat; a seat very far removed from local issues of snow removal, potholes and local parks.

And in the demerged municipalities, the only ballot choices are local choices, the Montreal mayoral ticket being excluded from the ballot, which effectively amounts to taxation without representation.

Shukov makes an analogy with the feudal system: I would take it a step further and call it the Court of Versailles. The mayor (king — or more recently, queen) determines, along with a faithful bevy of courtiers (Executive committee) where money shall be spent. Council (minor nobility) may then squabble but ultimately has little power to effect change to the budget once tabled. The Agglomeration (feudal lords) is one step further removed from the decision-making process, and therefore its only role is to collect and pay tithes (quote-parts) to the city-centre (Versailles). A pretty portrait for our so-called Ville-Intelligente!

What is needed is an overhaul of the entire structure, top to bottom.

The mayor, elected by all, including demerged boroughs, would be supported by councillors

representing their districts, unaffiliated with a municipal party and therefore freed of partisan interests.

As for the structuring of the city itself, rather than the concentric circles of Ville de Montreal — Agglomeration — the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM) includes the north and south shores); the structure could instead reflect geographically-defined blocks that together form the City: West-Island — South-West — City Centre — North Island — East-Island (although they needn’t bear such prosaic names); adding Laval (North Shore) and Longueuil-Brossard (South Shore) completes the portrait.

Take a look at the City of New York, which is divided into five administrative units:

Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. These boroughs retain their particularities and unique identity while forming together the City of New York. The difference is in the non-hierarchical, egalitarian organization of that city versus Montreal, which is innately (and often inanely) hierarchical.

Because cities are creations of — or creatures of as we like to say in Montreal — the province, the city government cannot itself redetermine its own structure and functioning. But is the Minister of Municipal Affairs willing to take on the ungrateful task of restructuring the City of Montreal? With Montreal’s merger-demerger chapter still a recent trauma, it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, the only differentiating factor being that people are less likely to drag you through the mud for maintaining the status quo at this point than for trying to effect change. And with a partisan political system at both the provincial and municipal levels, anyone brave — or foolhardy — enough to take on the challenge would quickly be torn to shreds by an inevitable and bloodthirsty opposition.

So here we shall sit, in our quagmire of inefficiencies, complaining about low voter turnout (again) and wringing our hands over the injustice of the system. Simply voting for the person who smiles the most seems a much happier option and one that allows us to avoid tackling the fundamental structural problem.

— Justine McIntyre is a former city councillor representing the Bois-de-Liesse district in Pierrefonds-Roxboro and party leader of Vrai changement pour Montréal.