Winston Churchill once perfectly defined the competing state doctrines of our time. He wrote, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent vice of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Whatever we may call the philosophical bent of our municipal administration, we are certainly not missing many miseries. Whether it be road closures to keep cars from our largest commercial artery, or spending over $50 million to make a square into an expanded green space or closing our cross-mountain road we have had our share.
But over the past ten days Montreal got arguably our most basic winter service wrong. Snow and ice clearing. And in an attempt at political deflection worthy of a magician’s sleight of hand, the Mayor had the audacity to send letters to all the borough Mayors with a not so subtle tone of reprimand worthy of a grade school teacher and demanding that they all report to the city on their plans and progress. What made this almost laughable if it were not for the human cost on our impassable sidewalks and roads, is that snow removal is a centre city responsibility.Yes, the work is carried out by equipment located in a variety of boroughs, but the guidelines for how, when and how much are set by the city and its public service bureaucrats and all the boroughs must follow. So the Mayor didn’t need letters from borough mayors. She had the schedule and results. What made the past week different — and dare we say hopeful — is that some half-dozen mayors are fighting back.
Pierrefonds — Roxboro Mayor Jim Beis blasted Mayor Plante on three occasions in televised statements once going as far as questioning whether she was, “living in the same reality” as everyone else. He naturally made the points we made above. That not only did the Mayor have all the information because her departments direct this work, but that it was insulting to mayors like him to be used as scapegoats. But it was Anjou mayor Luis Miranda’s reaction that was most telling. He stated that he would “never listen to directives on snow clearing from the centre city again” and revealed that after the major snowfall last November Plante’s bureaucrats sent notices to all borough mayors NOT to clear the snow after a certain point. Miranda said the reason for all the ice this month, is that all the uncleared snow from November had turned to ice and added to the new ice and snow we received in the past two weeks.
This was not Miranda’s first experience being victimized by this administration. Last winter he disobeyed central city directives, got the snow and ice clearing right and was punished for it. He decided to clear all the snow from his town and all the ice before it hardened and deepened. He went further than the point dictated by Plante’s people. For that act, Montreal executive committee member in charge of public service Jean-François Parenteau, former mayor of Verdun, sent Miranda a $500,000 fine. Parenteau’s reason? He told the media that everyone should have the same “level of service.” So for M.Parenteau, that “same level” is the lowest common denominator. He seems to be a committed supporter of the race to the bottom. His definition of “same level” is to strive for the worst level, not the best. A great philosophy of public service. Not. A perfect example of the “equal sharing of miseries.” M. Parenteau remains in his same position today and has direct charge over snow removal operations.
Public reaction last year demonstrated such a level of outrage at this stupidity and hypocrisy, that several days after Parenteau’s statement, the Plante administration announced that Montreal would be buying more ice-crushing trucks to service sidewalks and that these machines would be available to all boroughs. The city did not however make clear how many machines it was buying nor how the “sharing” schedule would be determined. Nor has it yet. But then we can only assume that this is the inherent vice the public must absorb for the “same level of services.” Regardless of how miserable those services are.
It was not that the Plante administration couldn’t clear the snow and particularly the ice, it simply took a conscious, pre-meditated decision not to. As people were falling and breaking bones and emergency rooms were flooded with ice-related injuries, the city said that trying to clear the ice would damage its machines and that in any case clearing the ice would “compromise the integrity of sidewalk asphalt and concrete and would also harm the grass in the spring if we used the amount of force necessary to eliminate the ice because it was so thick.” We can only assume the same philosophy holds true today. The latter part of the statement is also the city’s justification for the insanity of not salting sidewalks. The cheapest and most effective pre-emptive solution to ice. Well, as many young people would say, “What the heck is up with that?”
So the public is to understand that its physical safety against the elements — job one of any administration — is being sacrificed to a philosophy of green before anything. Better for people to absorb the damage to their bodies and pressure an already and overburdened health system than the city spend funds it has already budgeted in the spring for the possible repair of some sidewalks and green spaces. This civic administration beggars the imagination.