Montréal pushes for more revenue and responsibility

Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre wants his city to gain the special legal status of 'metropolis', which would create a new relationship with the province of Québec. (Ville de Montréal)

Update: The City of Montréal announced on 8 December that the new metropolitan status law has been proposed in the Québec National Assembly. (French only press release here.)

Last year, Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre took over the leadership of Metropolis, a global network of nearly 140 members that share ideas and best practices common to the world’s big cities. If he gets his way, however, that network won’t be the only metropolis over which Coderre presides.

Coderre is pushing legislation that would give Montréal a special legal status of “metropolis” within the Canadian province of Québec. He discussed the plan with Citiscope in an interview on the sidelines of the U. N.’s Habitat III conference on cities.

The idea has been floating around for at least a year. According to an October 2015 report prepared by the City of Montréal (available in French only), metropolis status would recalibrate Montréal’s fiscal and governance relationship with Québec. The end result would set the city and provincial governments on a more equal footing, even though provinces are technically a higher level of government within Canada’s federal system. The proposal still needs to pass muster in the provincial legislature.

“Montréal is the second biggest city in Canada,” Coderre says. “We already have some tools to work with, but we need more jurisdiction, more power with the funding attached to it, from an economic-development, social-development and sustainable-development point of view.”

The biggest request is financial. Currently, Montréal relies on property taxes for 70 percent of its annual revenue. Coderre hopes that metropolis status will provide new sources of revenue for the city. Specifically, the city wants a cut of the 10-percent sales tax Quebec levies on most goods and services. Exactly how much would go to the city would need to be negotiated. Coderre says this is justified because Montréal is responsible for the lion’s share of Québec’s economy. “As a metropolis, we are a locomotive,” he says. “We are pulling the cars. Those cars are the region.”

[Read: In Montréal, Habitat III forum hails rise of ‘cities planning’]

Elsewhere, metropolis status would amend the city charter to allow Montréal and its 19 arrondissements (districts) more leeway in how responsibilities are divvied up. It would encourage the city and province to jointly tackle environmental clean-up, especially of the St. Lawrence River, and major infrastructure projects, such as knocking down old highways. As the first port of call for immigrants, the province would be expected to contribute more to the city’s assimilation services. Finally, metropolis status would require provincial policymakers to recognize the entire Montréal metropolitan area in their planning efforts.

“We’re investing CAD$21 billion (US$15.7 billion) in the next ten years in our infrastructure,” Coderre says. “We are at the forefront of the main challenges that we’re addressing. At the same time, [national and provincial governments] will have to provide the jurisdiction tools and the financial tools to work with so we can help each other. When we’re helping our cities, we’re helping our countries, we’re helping our citizens.”

Montréal has seen a wave of experiments with its administrative status over the past decade and a half. In 2002, the city and its suburbs were forcibly merged into a mega-city, an unhappy marriage that only lasted until 2006. A compromise proposal, the Montréal Metropolitan Community (CMM in French) now offers a degree of coordinated metropolitan governance in the region, which comprises 3.7 million people spread over 82 municipalities. If the proposed metropolis legislation passes, Montréal will once again be on the vanguard of how to tailor-fit governance structures to a city.

[Read: In the Montréal area, 82 municipalities begin to think and act as one]

According to a City of Montréal spokesperson, the legislation is expected to be introduced before the end of the year. It will likely be part of a package that would also give Québec municipalities more autonomy and designate the provincial capital, Québec City, as a “national capital.” Under Canadian law, the province of Québec is recognized as a “nation within Canada.”

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Gregory Scruggs is a senior correspondent for Citiscope. Full bio

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