A project whose time has come

Back in 2005, I participated in a show at the now-defunct Les artistes du Toc Toc in Mile-End. It was called Tramway Trance and was a benefit for a new municipal political party called Projet Montreal.   I didn’t know that much about the party, except for the fact that they wanted to bring the Parc avenue tramway back, which sounded like a good idea to me.

As the night progressed, I did my performance then settled in to check out the rest of the show.   I briefly met Richard Bergeron who seemed at home among artists and people who aren’t the types that generally get associated with mayoral candidates.   This was Projet Montreal’s first election and while they didn’t come to power, Bergeron did get on the Plateau Borough Council.

Four years later, Montreal is going back to the polls again.   At first, it looked like Projet Montreal was poised to make significant gains in the Plateau and get nothing everywhere else.   That was a few months ago.   Now things are different.   They recently jumped eight percent in the polls and are showing up more and more on TV and in the newspapers.

It makes sense.

From water meters to financing irregularities to what seems like backroom dealing regarding the Quadrilatere St-Laurent project (more on this soon), Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s party seems to be dealing with a new scandal every day.   He’s also the guy responsible for the grossly unpopular attempted renaming of avenue du Parc and an attempt to turn all of Griffintown, a historic neighbourhood in the heart of the city, into a suburban-style shopping mall, among other fiascos.

Louise Harel, whom the mainstream media considers to be Tremblay’s main rival, doesn’t seem to be connecting with Montrealers as a whole, not to mention that she can’t speak English well enough to compete in a debate or properly translate her party’s “redemarrer Montreal” slogan.   Benoit Labonte would probably have been a better choice as leader for Vision Montreal, though he is still covered in some of the Tremblay dirt thanks to his time in the mayor’s party.

Meanwhile, Projet Montreal has been putting forward ideas that actually could change things in Montreal for the better.   The tramway plan is back and much bigger than before.   There would be trams on St-Laurent Boulevard as well as Cote-des-Neiges and Mount-Royal, another one running along Centre street through Pointe-St-Charles and Griffintown and a free tram on Ste-Catherine Street downtown.

These would be an integral part of a broader transportation strategy (PDF) that would emphasize reserve bus lanes like the existing ones on avenue du Parc and Pie IX as well as new ones on several major streets, including one that goes all the way to Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport in Dorval.   This strategy also includes a plan to extend the metro’s blue line westward past Snowdon all the way to Montreal West, something many have been requesting for years but none of the other parties seem ready to endorse.

The Projet Montreal approach is an urbanist approach to urban development.   It is part of a strategy designed to reverse the American-style trend that has seen people move out of the city to the suburbs and commute back by personal car.   According to Bergeron’s introductory message in the party’s platform booklet (PDF format), this trend began here in the mid 70s and because of already existing debt, the city wasn’t able to deal with it.

“Between 1971 and 1986 Montreal lost 225,000 residents. Today, despite significant immigration, Montreal numbers 100,000 fewer than it did in 1971,” he observes, “economic cycles came and went strong growth in the second half of the 1980s, a dramatic downturn in the nineties, followed once again by ten years of prosperity and with them a succession of municipal administrations, each unable to halt Montreal’s decline. The exodus of middle-class families continued unabated.”

In particular, Bergeron points to mayor Tremblay’s record and cites the increase of personal car use aided by nine increases in transit fares under Tremblay’s administration.   He finds the mayor’s recent rhetoric about communal transport rings hollow, given that the mayor is pushing for more roads and bridges.

“How is it that, as mayor, he never attempted to reverse the trends that are so harmful to the city which he governs?” Bergeron asks, “the only plausible answer is that he is still enthralled by the now discarded ‘American Way of Life’, with its highways, its motorized mobility, its seas of bungalows and shopping malls, all running on cheap oil. Gérald Tremblay’s idea of   progress, of modernity, of wealth and even of human happiness in other words his most deeply-held convictions and his cultural values all are products of the early 1960s.”

Bergeron argues that this worldview has lead to the recent economic crisis and is now being rejected worldwide.   Instead he proposes an approach similar to that employed successfully by cities like Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Stockholm, Portland, Amsterdam and others.

“Projet Montréal was founded with the precise intention of setting Montreal on the only course remaining at the beginning of the 21st century,” he argues, “there is therefore no need to reinvent the wheel…Let us draw knowledge and inspiration from the best urban achievements of the past thirty years.”

This course would not only see a more efficient and affordable transportation system, but a redeveloped marine gateway, development projects in general being done on a human scale with respect for history and roadwork that lasts.   In brief, Projet Montreal wants to make the city a place that people want to live in and can afford to do so.   They want to bring people (and especially families) back from the suburbs.

They don’t plan to break the budget doing so, either.   Instead, Projet Montreal proposes to eliminate wasteful spending.   Under Tremblay, most of the city’s big projects have been outsourced to private contractors.   This means the city is paying a bureaucrat to deal with the contractor and then paying the contractor to do the work.

Projet Montreal would cut back on giving municipal contracts to private contractors in favor of a better-trained civil service capable of realizing the projects on their own.   They will also end borough mayoralty and replace it with the borough president, have a single city council representing all the boroughs and an overall more transparent and accountable government.

They have brought in judge John Gomery (the man who some feel brought down the Paul Martin government) to oversee the ethics of their fundraising.   They also plans to limit the power of the executive committee and invite more citizens to participate in the political process both at the city council level and through neighbourhood councils.

Projet Montreal hopes to develop truly urban neighbourhoods with green spaces and affordable human-scale housing.   They want to expropriate buildings that have been abandoned or barricaded for over a year (remember what happened with the autonomous social centre?) as well as help integrate the homeless back into society.   This is clearly a platform that favors the people of Montreal over sometimes dubious business interests.

It’s also a platform that has a chance of being realized.   Voter turnout in Montreal elections is historically low, but with enough momentum, it could get higher.   If there is over 30% voter turnout this time around, Projet Montreal feels they have a chance of winning.

Considering all these factors, I’m pleased to announce that we at Forget The Box endorse all of the Projet Montreal candidates running in the Novemember 1st municipal election as well as Richard Bergeron in his candidacy for mayor of Montreal.   If you want to see this project come to fruition, too, you can make it happen by voting for the progressive choice, Projet Montreal.

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