As we enter the best of summer we wanted to remind our governors that festivals and frolic does not make this city work for us. It can be made great again, but it will take intelligence and political will. We cannot simply repeat the same mistakes thinking we’ll have a different result.
To enjoy this city, we need to access it. To enjoy this city, we can’t be strangled by it. And we, like all of you, have been victimized by the current paralysis of it through dogmatic and incompetent governance. Things are being done we don’t need and those matters we do need are not addressed.
We are faced with too many frustrations that stand in the way of enjoying our Montreal. It truly is a world class playground. But one can be forgiven for thinking that there are people who get up in the morning just to come up with ideas to make things tougher.
This past week the city announced a tramway will now connect downtown to Lachine. The city administration seems to have forgotten that Montreal had tramways into the 1950s. There were celebrations in the streets when they were terminated. Due to our inclement winters, there were constant breakdowns and accidents as ice covered the tracks and wheels. Why are we repeating the same mistakes?
The city announced two weeks ago that there would be bike paths with permanent barriers down some of our most important retail and entertainment streets particularly St. Denis and Peel. Merchants have unanimously protested. Nobody rides bikes for five months of winter and the permanent barriers destroy parking and access. Cars outnumber bikes in summer by 30 to 1 even in summer. But reality does not seem to affect our city planners.
On St. Catherine St. work is continuing on closing three of the four traffic lanes from Atwater to Bleury because our city administration believes people will like walking to shops “as in Europe.” Here’s a memo: Nobody likes to walk in -20c! We don’t have Europe’s continental temperate climate. Merchants are flocking to their landlords to try and break their leases.
All these actions do nothing but deny Montrealers ease of access to their own centre city. They should be stopped. The summers ahead of us will not allow us the full measure of pleasure we are entitled to. We will be imprisoned to doctrines of wishful thinking that will fail and destroy the very heart of this majestic place.
Construction madness? How about organizing a proper schedule of staged infra-structure repairs where main arteries — main tourist arteries — like Peel, Guy and Notre Dame are not closed at the same time. Particularly not in tourist season. And when there are emergency repairs needed, force the unions to work at least two shifts.
Parking hassles? How about getting rid of the near bankrupt Bixi stands once and for all since they have eaten up some 800 down-town parking spaces and are used by only 26,000 people as opposed to 400,000 who drive downtown. Let’s get those spaces back and give some relief to merchants and visitors alike.
While we’re at it, how about extending parking times to three hours from the current two in all areas so we can actually enjoy our festivals, stores and theaters without worrying about getting tickets. It’s time to stop the war on cars.
Stores and businesses closing? Cut business taxes by eliminating waste in municipal budgets and allowing them to breathe. We have more retail vacant space — some 19% of inventory — than at any time since the 1990s when Mayor Doré started hiking business taxes to support a bloated bureaucracy. As hard hit as homeowners are by rising taxes, small businesses pay taxes almost four times as high. They now average $50 per square foot. Not that long ago, that was the rent.
The institutionalized budgetary envelope called “Loisirs et culture,” now reaching one-quarter of our budget, has cost Montreal taxpayers over $6 billion over ten years. The necessary part of that envelope — parks, pools, libraries — is only 20 percent of it. The rest are vote-grabbing payouts clothed in the mantra of supporting multiculturalism and leisure. It’s time to end it.
Municipal government is about the basics. Roads, circulation, security, waterworks, snow removal, infrastructure and basic services. Let’s get them right and Montrealers will enjoy their city to its fullest potential. We can be great again. And the city will work for us once more.