Monday, June 21, 2004

One Island, One Shitty (Situation)

Well, the demerger referendums took place in Quebec yesterday. In Montreal, 15 of 28 municipalities voted to get out of town. To the Toronto Star that means, "The dream of turning Montreal into a 'megacity' went up in smoke..." The Globe and Mail, on the other hand, reports that, "[O]ver all, demerger proponents were stunned by how poorly they fared, and big-city mayors heaved a sigh of relief as the movement largely fizzled."

So it was victory for everyone! Or everyone lost! Or something...

I think everyone lost. For the second time. I was opposed to the mergers when they happened, because, basically, I don't buy the ethos that bigger is better. The merger was done in the least consultative way possible. And it was pretty haphazard the way it the megacity was put together: Westmount got to be its own borough because they're rich and powerful, while my parents' town, Montreal West, was stuck in with larger Hampstead and Cote-St-Luc in one borough. Montreal West as a political entity was drowned. Plus, the suburbs that were off the island weren't included in the amalgamation, despite the fact that they work in Montreal and use its resources, too.

But then, along came the demerger referendums and I was opposed to them too. Why? Because it's not a return to the way it used to be. Now all the 'burbs are directing much tax towards the bigger city (as they should), but they aren't getting representation on the city council equal to what they contribute. No taxation without representation, right? Well that's what the demerged cities have got. Plus, referendums aren't the way to make a city. Look at the maps of Montreal and Quebec City now. They're the municipal equivalent of swiss cheese.

Until I was twelve I lived in NDG. Then my mom remarried and moved to Montreal West. I've always felt like more of a Montrealer than a Montreal Wester, but I do admire the way Montreal West forms such a cohesive community.

People feel attachments towards their cities and neighbourhoods, attachments that are stronger than their attachments to their province or country. During the 1995 referendum, my answer to the silly question: "Are you a Canadian or a Quebecer first?" was, "I'm a Montrealer." Even though I live in Toronto now, I still declare myself a Montrealer at every chance I get.

Quebec politicians are going to leave this question alone for a while now. No political party will want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. I'm glad Montreal Westers got their city back and feel empowered, but the current situation is untenable.

Post-script

Valerie Belair-Gagnon, a megacity supporter with whom I had a great debate on Saturday evening, hopes that anglophones and francophones in post-demerger Montreal will get along, even though they are now, more than ever, living in different cities within one city.

And Kate at Montreal City shrugs: "A hundred years from now, Montreal, Laval, the South Shore and the couronne nord will all be one political entity, and all this fuss will just be a trivia question or a footnote in a history text."

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