An Open Letter To Montreal`s New Mayor

By Philippe Roy on October 28, 2013

In just a few days, we will know the identity of Montreal’s new mayor. As such, the chosen person will be given a broad and impressive mandate. In the current political context, he or she will face numerous challenges and big expectations.

Beyond the many duties inherent in being mayor of Montreal, the new chief executive will assume the chair of the Montreal Agglomeration Council, which is responsible for organizing a wide range of services for the 1.8 million inhabitants of the 16 related Montreal Island municipalities.

It is in my role as mayor of one of the 16 Montreal Urban Agglomeration municipalities that I want to draw my future colleague’s attention to three issues with a significant impact on all who live on Montreal Island.

First, finance. Not to mince words, the agglomeration’s fiscal management is enough to send shivers up your spine. Its operating budget has risen from $1.9 billion to $2.6 billion in just seven years. While everyone else is attempting to limit spending growth to the inflation rate, the agglomeration’s expenditures climbed more than 30% from 2006 to 2012. In 2011 alone, spending increased 12%. Meanwhile the agglomeration’s deficit grew more than 60% between 2006 and 2012. At this rate, no municipal administration can claim to have its financial house in order. The need to get this situation under control has become urgent. 

The second issue is the Agglomeration Council’s governance, another thing that will keep you up at night. Every month, the mayors of the demerged cities attend a public meeting where all the by-laws, borrowing plans and contracts already discussed, debated and adopted by Montreal are submitted to us as faits accomplis. Our presence at the table changes nothing because a single City of Montreal official holds 87% of the vote. The situation is hardly brighter for Montreal’s councillors who, even if they voted against a proposal at a city council meeting a few days earlier, have no option but to set their opinion aside, ignore their conscience and vote in favour of the metropolis’s proposal at the Agglomeration Council meeting. Let’s just come out and say it: not only is the situation antidemocratic, it borders on the ridiculous.

Lastly, the pension fund issue must be made a top priority because the situation is more than alarming. Montreal’s contributions to its employees’ pension plan have nearly quadrupled since 2002. They were $137 million in 2002 and will be more than $510 million in 2014. That is 10.5% of the overall budget. 

These deficits have a direct impact on both the City of Montreal and the agglomeration because the city, which is responsible for its plans’ actuarial deficit and currently makes a special contribution of $256 million a year, will eventually integrate the amount into a bill to be included in the agglomeration’s common expenses. It is imperative that these pension plans be reviewed and adapted to the new economic reality because it is unfair to ask taxpayers – two-thirds of whom don’t contribute to a pension fund – to pay for the city’s pension plan deficits.

The mandate of Montreal’s new mayor will include its share of challenges. No surprise there. The new leader will have to grasp the outstretched hand of the mayors of the 15 other cities – the demerged cities – all of them proud to live on Montreal Island and eager to make the Agglomeration Council both more efficient and fairer.

Philippe Roy is Mayor of the Town of Mount Royal


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