Mayor Plante’s decision to take 7,000 acres of land in the West Island to create Canada’s largest park may be the most transparently dogmatic and totally unnecessary decision she has made. It is geared to nothing but pandering to her green voting base that is a small percentage of the population but a much stronger voting bloc in our low-turnout municipal elections.
It goes along with the other priorities in her agenda that make war on cars, development and anything else that stands in the way of her dream of a Luddite future. She spends little time lobbying governments for tax credits to make hybrid cars affordable which would address the most important environmental question — the internal combustion engine. Instead, her policies attack people’s freedom of mobility by making it nearly impossible to locomote in this city. She thinks people in cars are rich plutocrats not understanding that most drive for work. Sometimes their cars are the only things allowing many to hold down two jobs. But it’s always profitable politics to demonize isn’t it?
She pays lip service to the importance of independent businesses. Then proceeds to eliminate traffic lanes in the heart of St. Catherine St. and expand sidewalks by seven feet offering the absurd excuse that shoppers like to walk as they do in Europe. The reality of Montreal being the coldest major city over a million people seems not to have sunk in.
In the name of all those byciclists who she pretends love to ride even in winter, she proposes permanent bike paths on Peel and St. Denis streets — already suffering retail recession. Again, evidence based decisions are not to her liking. Even in summer in her own Ville-Marie borough days average 400,000 cars and 26,000 bikes. In winter the bikes are down by 95%. Under her administration downtown Montreal — our economic engine — has lost close to 1000 parking spaces.
And let’s not forget her closing of the cross-mountain road on Mount Royal. First she closed it and and created more congestion and pollution on Park Avenue and Cote des Neiges. Then she held consultations. Then she mercifully reversed most of the decision. Alice in Wonderland. “Sentence first, trial after,” said the Mad Hatter.
She claimed that she would do everything necessary to give West Islanders effective REM service downtown. That required parking spaces. She promised some 9000. Then unilaterally cut them to 1200. And followed that up by deciding that Antoine Fauchon St. — which was to be the main artery to the main REM from Pierrefonds — would be for buses and bikes only. And it is now clear why she did that. Because it brings us directly to the West Island Park project.
The 7000 acres Madame Plante proposes to take lies in Pierrefonds. That borough is still part of Montreal only because — though it voted to demerge — it didn’t reach the necessary 35% voter turnout. That land is the last on the island where new housing could be built. Enough for 40,000 people. Plante claims she wants to keep people — particularly young people in the city — and now proposes to take away land where homes could be built for them off the market. It will inevitably drive more people off the island. This decision is as “rational” as all her others.
But there is more. A good deal of the land is in private developers hands. As Pierrefonds Mayor Jim Beis has pointed out, “how can she announce this plan when she has never talked with the property owners.” Plante’s response is that she will buy all the land. Buy the land? With our money. And our money paying the city’s lawyers as the current property owners fight the expropriation in court. Plante proposes to pick our pockets as she plucks the daisies in her unneeded park. These are cases that will drag on for years and cost taxpayers millions. Not only in legal fees but in lost property taxes. Existing property owners will simply continue to see their taxes skyrocket.
This proposed park will be nine times the size of Central Park in New York. Why do we need it? The same architect who planned Central Park — Frederick Law Olmstead — planned Mount Royal. Mount Royal is larger than Monaco. And Montreal has more green space than any city of a million or more people — per capita — than any in North America. Nobody needs this! But it is good election fodder. And we the people will pay.