Peter Trent launches Merger book
A preview of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
(National Post)The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize is unique in Canadian literature as the only award that specifically honours books that tackle a political subject. Past winners include a biography of John A. Macdonald (Nation Maker), an examination of modern-day humanitarianism (An Imperfect Offering) and Canada’s military’s role in Afghanistan (The Unexpected War). The winner of this year’s prize will be announced on Wednesday at the Politics and the Pen gala in Ottawa. While the subjects should interest all Canadians, the winner of the $25,000 prize is decided by three voters: former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, National Post columnist Tasha Kheiriddin and novelist and translator Daniel Poliquin. We examined the candidates ahead of this year’s announcement.
Peter F. Trent on The Merger Delusion (Writers Trust of Canada – video)
Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing nominee Peter F. Trent talking about his book The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012). With commentary from members of the prize jury (Ed Broadbent and Daniel Poliquin) and Conrad Black reading the jury’s citation.
“A brilliant history of Montreal’s experience with amalgamation, told by a major participant. It is an erudite, meticulous yet lively narrative about what can happen to any great city when a superior level of government arbitrarily imposes its will. Written with wit and no small degree of self-criticism, this splendid book is a warning to politicians of all persuasions to heed the hopes and desires of their citizens before, not after, they legislate.”
About the Book
In 2002, the Province of Quebec forcibly merged all cities on the Island of Montreal into a single municipality – a decision that was partially reversed in 2006. Peter F. Trent foresaw numerous financial and institutional problems posed by the creation of this megacity and led a battle against the provincial government, the City of Montreal, and the Board of Trade. The promise to reverse the merger resonated with voters and eventually helped the Quebec Liberal Party win the 2003 provincial election. The Merger Delusion outlines the cost and pitfalls posed by amalgamation and chronicles how Trent took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
About the Author
Peter F. Trent is the mayor of the City of Westmount, Quebec. He was first elected as a councillor in 1983, and served as mayor between 1992 and 2001, returning to the position in 2009. He has contributed columns and editorials to the Westmount Examiner and the Gazette (Montreal). The Merger Delusion is
Henry Aubin: Trent shows respect for old foes
This is a gloomy time for Montreal Island. Yet there are two beams of light. One, paradoxically, is the Charbonneau inquiry. Its revelations of corruption might deepen the gloom, but its approach is actually optimistic: Its premise is that you have to diagnose a disease before you can cure it.
The other beam is Peter Trent’s new book, The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal. It shares the same hopeful premise as the inquiry. Despite its excited title, it is a masterpiece of sober analysis of what ails Montreal Island. It combines trenchant criticism with thought-provoking solutions. It was published this week in English and French.
The problem is this. Trent, unlike France Charbonneau, suffers from an undeserved image problem with the political establishment and news media, and for that reason they might not give this book the attention it deserves. For a mix of reasons, including the fact he is mayor of Westmount (stuck with its anachronistic stereotype as a bastion of anti-francophone snobs), Trent’s leadership of the anti-merger and pro-demerger campaigns made him, as he notes, a “pariah among certain francophones, especially in the media. Demerger was seen as a rejection not just of Montreal but of the whole of Quebec.” …
Trent’s image as being leery of francophones is laughable. The ex-Torontonian voted for the Parti Québécois in 1973. His first wife was a péquiste. In the 1970s, as a business-minded scientist, he co-founded with a francophone a local chemical company whose employees were all francophone. After taking early retirement (his invention of a polymer concrete used in construction made him independently wealthy), he opposed the 1990s partition movement in his capacity as leader of the island’s suburban mayors. Though he fought premier Lucien Bouchard’s merger, this book reflects appreciation for Bouchard the man.
What more would nationalists ask of this federalist anglo politician? That he hold Saint-Jean Baptiste celebrations in Westmount?
He did that, too.
The pro-merger French media were smitten with the Bouchard-Bourque-Harel vision of “une île, une ville.” The main opponents were the 27 annexed suburbs. Since the suburbs were largely anglo, these media — La Presse’s well-respected commentators in particular — deduced that the entire anti-merger movement must be motivated by an unwillingness to work with francophones in building together a big world-class city. The stigmatization has had the effect of feeding linguistic polarization. Note that this was done unprofessionally — without supporting polling data or interviews.
I guess the pundits just “knew” it had to be so. After all, that’s what the age-old anglo stereotype called for.
Meanwhile on the South Shore, where opposition in suburbs merged with Longueuil was about as intense as on the West Island. the dissenters were overwhelmingly francophone. The pundits ignored this flaw in their logic.
So, if language wasn’t a big motivator among the island’s dissenters, what was?
Home ownership. As I wrote at the time, census data showed that the suburbs on the island and the South Shore where anti-merger sentiment was most intense had the highest rates of home ownership. Homeowners are less able to move if they don’t like municipal services, taxes or the quality of life.
Trent’s book details other practical considerations helping to explain resistance.
One was skepticism toward Bouchard’s promise of economies of scale: The author recalls how a 1999 provincial study showed Montreal spent 28 per cent more per capita than the 20 next-largest Quebec cities (and that’s excluding spending on public housing, homelessness and other Montreal-specific concerns).
Another factor was a dislike of Montreal’s culture of grandiosity. The Olympics, for example, cost $9 billion in current dollars, “enough to give a property-tax holiday to all Montreal Island residents for three years.”
There was also fear for Montreal’s overpaid, disruption-happy labour unions.
And also a distaste for Montreal’s party system and weak democracy.
All these causes of anti-merger sentiment have, of course, proved well-founded.
Yet the Quebec government, the city of Montreal, the labour unions, the Chambre de commerce and the francophone media have never acknowledged that the merger was an error. It’s hard to admit a mistake.
Trent’s tone makes it easier to do so. There is no “nyah-nyah, told-you-so” tone. He shows classy respect for most of his old foes.
A haughty anglo? Heavens, I see this book, hard-hitting though it is, as in effect a 671-page love letter to the city.
Thanks to the Charbonneau inquiry, we’re waking up to long-ignored corruption. The Merger Delusion has the potential to help open society’s eyes to misplanned government structures. The longer we ignore this reality, the longer Montreal will overspend and drift.
Trent takes on the megacity in new book
(Westmount Examiner) In his new book The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing the Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal, Trent examines the mergers from top to bottom, and chronicles his own personal fight to reverse the process.
The goal of the book, which Trent describes as “part history, part memoir, part opinion,” was “to document what was promised by the megacity and what was delivered,” he said.
What was promised, he said, was fiscal equity and cost savings. What we got, he said, was anything but. … He says he will “never forgive” former Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay for “fighting tooth and nail against demerger” after being elected on a promise that he would not stand in the way. He accuses government officials of lying about mergers being “a worldwide trend” in the first place. And he is angry about the province taking “our well-run cities” and making them more expensive to run, whether demerged or not.
“In some way, the book was a catharsis – turning anger into something else,” he says.
In the book, he offers some solutions for Montreal, such as eliminating the municipal party system and reducing council size. He hopes, too, that his book will have one more legacy.
“I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he says. “I hope that if, in five or 10 years, people start saying mergers are a good idea, they can look here.”
‘The Merger Delusion’ chronicles repercussions of making a megacity
Ten years ago, Quebec forced all Montreal municipalities to merge into one single municipality – setting off years of public protests, legal battles and bitterness.
Peter Trent, the mayor of Westmount for 13 years, has written a book about the effects of the merger on the Island – and on its repercussions.
The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal chronicles how Trent took his battle against the megacity all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and outlines the problems posed by amalgamation. Global News: Global Montreal | ‘The Merger Delusion’ chronicles repercussions of making a megacity
AT LAST! Our OWN Peter Trent’s magnum opus, The Merger Delusion, How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal — or if you prefer the longer (French) version La Folie des grandeurs, Fusion et défusion sur l’île de Montréal — will be available next month. Just in time for the Christmas book-giving season.
Peter will hold a public book signing on Tuesday, November 13 at the Westmount Public Library, 4574 Sherbrooke Street West, from 4-6pm where for the modest price of $40, or less than six cents a page, you may acquire a priceless signed first edition and have a word with the distinguished author.
Congratulations to Peter!!!
Order online(the book, not the Mayor)
La Folie des grandeurs
Fusion et défusions sur l’île de Montréal
SORTIE PRÉVUE EN LIBRAIRIE LE 13 NOVEMBRE 2012
En 2002, le gouvernement du Québec a fusionné de force en une seule municipalité toutes les villes de l’île de Montréal – une décision partiellement renversée en 2006. Première longue réflexion sur le sujet, La Folie des grandeurs est une critique acerbe et perspicace par un acteur clé de la lutte contre les fusions, Peter Trent.
Le maire de Westmount retrace les racines de ce délire et présente un bilan de ses conséquences. Plusieurs politiciens font partie de la distribution: Claude Ryan, Louise Harel, Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry, Jean Charest, Pierre Bourque et Gérald Tremblay. En toile de fond, deux langues, deux cultures et, en guise de décor, le référendum sur la souveraineté, le mouvement partitionniste, le délestage fiscal et la corruption municipale.
Patiemment et méticuleusement, Peter Trent livre avec un humour teinté d’impatience et parfois d’exaspération un récit où s’entrecroisent l’exercice autoritaire du pouvoir et une déformation alarmante des faits.
La Folie des grandeurs n’est malheureusement pas une oeuvre de fiction.
Peter F. Trent est maire de la Ville de Westmount.