by Sylvain Comeau
Signs have sprung up in Westmount: "One Island One City: No." The mega-city debate and the Bourque administration's mega-city ambitions stirred a sharp debate on a School of Community and Public Affairs panel on February 9.
Mayor Pierre Bourque was a last-minute addition to the panel, coming in person to defend his vision of a fusion of the cities on the Island of Montreal.
"I'm proposing that we make one city out of Montreal," he said. "We have revitalized the downtown area, the heart of the city. I think now we're ready to live together, in a city with a strong heart."
Bourque contends that the mega-city is the only way to combat urban sprawl. "Urban sprawl leads to the doughnut effect - the outside gets fat while the centre becomes wider and emptier. Eighty per cent of our revenue comes from taxes, but the more we tax, the more people and businesses leave, and our tax base erodes."
Bourque made it clear that his administration has its eye particularly on prosperous Westmount. "Westmount's average income is $104,000, while Montreal's average is $34,000. Why not share?"
Bourque argued that a merger would foster a greater sense of shared community among all Montreal Island residents. "This would reinforce Montreal. The problem today is that each municipality tends to focus on the problems in their own backyard, which makes it easy to forget shared concerns."
Jacques Chagnon, MNA for Westmount-St-Louis, led the charge against the Bourque plan. He said that Bourque was not elected with a mandate to merge the island of Montreal.
"The Bourque administration has an obligation to hold public consultations before any mergers go ahead," Chagnon said. Not everyone chooses their country, but everyone chooses their city. No one wants to be told where they're going to be living."
Chagnon wondered out loud why some off-island municipalities are not being considered as part of the mega-city. "If Westmount is so rich, why not get rich people off island involved in this, too?"
Chagnon said that there are more down-to-earth, less grandiose ways of helping get Montreal back on track. "If they really want to strengthen Montreal, why not invest in its institutions? What is our real wealth? I believe it is our hospitals, our schools, especially our four universities."
Westmount Mayor Peter Trent argued for the sovereign rights of municipalities. "I am a municipal sovereigntist; I am against the implied political monopoly. Why, just because you live on the Island of Montreal, should you have Mr. Bourque as your mayor?"
Trent feels that the case has not yet been made for mega-cities, and argued that it is up to Bourque to convince the prospective partners.
"The only place where an amalgamation of this sort is happening is in Ontario. Shouldn't we at least wait to see what happens there, so we can benefit from Toronto's experience?
"Why should we commit 'urbanicide' -- sacrifice these cities and their histories? I think the burden of proof is on Bourque to show that there is a good reason."
This panel, and a number of others being held this semester, are organized by second-year students in the School of Community and Public Affairs as part of their coursework.
Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.