Mitch Joel WARNING... LONG RANT! It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it. Canada’s…
Montreal can work. Let’s just do it!
Beryl Wajsman: Montreal can work. Let’s just do it!
Candidates for office – and the bureaucrats already in – must muster the courage and resolve to commit themselves to speaking hard truths to the people; to entrenched vested interests and most of all to themselves.
Despite the allegations brought forth at the Charbonneau Commission and the arrests from UPAC, and the never-ending record tax increases, the solutions to Montreal’s challenges are not that complicated. What is complicated, as it is in all matters human and political, is that candidates for office – and the bureaucrats already in – must muster the courage and resolve to commit themselves to speaking hard truths to the people; to entrenched vested interests and most of all to themselves.
Ethics and transparency? Inform the people of decisions and leave more than a few hours a month for the public to ask questions. Montreal as an international city attracting world business? Ignore the laws inciting culture wars, reduce taxes by cutting vote-buying programs and make a tax free zone downtown for tourists as René Levesque proposed. Transport? Build a highway and rail link on the flat land parallel to the 20 through Turcot and stop worrying about the eco-theocrats. Economic development? Cut social engineering and nanny state programs that are now almost 25% of our budget. Get rid of the boroughs. Reduce the size of government like New York and Toronto did. And give the savings back in lowered taxes to Montrealers, particularly the small business people who create 80% of our jobs and now pay 3.75 pro rata higher taxes than home owners. Urban planning? Allow air rights – as all other major North American cities do – and stop the empty talk of ‘sustainable development’ in a city with a third of our households below the poverty line. Governance? Talk straight to the people. They are not stupid. Just tired.
If we assume that all the allegations at Charbonneau are true, then it has cost Montreal taxpayers some $350 million over ten years. The institutionalized budgetary envelope called `Loisirs et cultur,” now reaching one-quarter of our budget, has cost Montreal taxpayers over $5 billion in the same period! The necessary part of that envelope – parks, pools, libraries – is only 20% of it. The rest are payouts clothed in the mantra of supporting multiculturalism and leisure. If you’re a minority and want to plan an event, just incorporate and get a cheque. If you’re a group of families who want a sport league for the kids, do the same. Here’s a newsflash – that’s not what government is about! This has been nothing less than legalized vote-buying.
Municipal government is about the basics. Roads, circulation, security, waterworks, snow removal, infrastructure and basic services. It is one thing to make sure there are parks and arenas properly maintained for kids to play. Quite another to fund the activities and help with the leagues. It is one thing to encourage – through intervention and alliance – multicultural and minority groups getting started and mounting programs for their members to integrate – not assimilate – into a new city. It is quite another to fund those groups on the backs of all taxpayers. My father started an immigrant federation that at its height numbered 600 families. Never in forty years did it ever ask for funding from any level of government. If people care about their lives, they’ll do what they can with what they have and not become a burden on their neighbours. And politicians shouldn’t exploit their vulnerabilities – and the rest of our wallets – to win votes!
This budgetary envelope, not the findings of alleged construction corruption, is the single leading factor in the outrageous increases in property and business taxes – unique in North America – that are ruining people’s retirements and driving small businesses to close. In certain once-thriving parts of downtown almost a quarter of storefronts are empty. One of the leading causes are business taxes that now average $50 per square foot. Not that long ago, that was the rent. In the east and west ends of the city, retirees living in modest homes have seen their property taxes double. No one can breathe anymore! This budgetary envelope is almost five times larger than it was ten years ago with property taxes almost tripling and business taxes almost quadrupling to support it.
Apart from taxes, language has once again reared its ugly head. I assure you that Bill 14 is far more ruinous to the health of Montreal than even the Charter of “Values.” If we want foreign investment to come here – and we need it because there is no internal growth – we need foreign companies. Those companies want to bring their executives. Many are hesitating because most are English and they want their kids educated in English. They should be allowed to send their kids to the schools of their choice. Montreal’s Mayor must declare a special status for this city, and go further in making it clear that just as Montreal chooses not to follow Quebec’s lead on right on red, so we will not follow it on language. Montreal’s leader must have the courage to withdraw this city’s consent. There is no other path to growth.
Montreal hit two sad firsts this year. Dead last out of North America’s 22 major urban centers in economic growth. And with Detroit and Sacramento – both of whom have been or are in bankruptcy – we are now paying more of our bureaucrats not to work than to work. As of this year Montreal is sending out more in pension cheques for retired blue and white collar workers than it is to working city employees. We can’t afford it anymore. There is no growth from within, so we need foreign investment. There is no more money for the pension imbalance. We need a Mayor ready to declare a state of emergency if the unions don’t roll back pension accessibility to where it was ten years ago. Payable at pension age, not simply when a worker chooses to stop work. Though limited, a Mayor has a right to declare an emergency for infrastructure work and make a call on the Federal government for the Canadian Forces engineers to come in to handle critical projects. The Mayor of Winnipeg did just a few years ago when the city suffered paralyzing flooding.
Montreal can no longer rest still at harbor. Montrealers must not be satisfied. We must not be satisfied because Mayoral candidates are discussing issues at the edges of our urgent needs and not confronting the serious issues head on. Running merely to oppose one another in order to get a job is no longer sufficient. That’s like watching two fencers parrying and thrusting. Meanwhile, we the people suffer. In a city where 34% of households live below the poverty line and the next third of working men and women are working poor with no more than two salary checques to their names, we need fundamental, transformational change. It is time to make Montreal freer, fairer and richer. It is time to stop demonizing citizens through rules and regulations that are nothing more than back-door tax grabs. Time to stop deflecting from core responsibilities through projects and programs that are questionable in their purpose and practicality. Time to end the profligate pilfferaging of our pockets for ends that no need demanded and no suffrage affirmed. Montreal can work. But it’s up to us to face hard truths, make needed sacrifices and push those who seek our vote to just get it done.