The Métropolitain

Let’s not forget Labonté’s lair

By Beryl Wajsman on May 1, 2008

“When the state is most impotent the laws are most multiplied.” ~ Tacitus

When Ville-Marie borough Mayor Benoit Labonté declared himself to be a candidate for the leadership of Pierre Bourque’s municipal party-Vision Montréal. He said “This city needs a mayor,” he said, “…not a steward (intendant)”

Not only did Labonté continue to repeat how Tremblay lacked even the basic leadership skills required to run the city, he also said the city’s mayor lacked the necessary vision and drive required to maintain Montreal’s status as one of the nation’s more important urban centers.

Labonté`s announcement has been met by far too much unmerited optimism.

Mayor Tremblay can indeed be faulted for slack stewardship. But his sins are ones of omission. The failure to trim the city’s budget  to core priorities. The failure to concentrate on those priorities – transport, garbage, water mains, public security, snow removal – and deal with the unions to make his administration effective. The failure to produce tax cuts that streamlining would have allowed, which failure resulted in the highest property tax increases in North America. The failure to be transparent and tell Montrealers of the city’s obscene parking profits  and not only hiding them but whacking us with unheard of meter increases. The failure to understand Montreal’s multicultural muscle in his ill-fated effort to rename Park Ave. If this be stewardship then indeed it is bad.

Benoit Labonté’s sins however are ones of commission. Purposefully, recklessly and needlessly demonizing the citizens of his borough and making them pay for his experiments in social engineering and political correctness. It would have been better for him to have stayed on the political sidelines after quitting Tremblay’s team.

Tremblay should have long ago disavowed Labonté. His failure to renounce Labonté’s policies is yet another sin of omission. There is of course a gnawing doubt in many that the Mayor actually agreed with Labonté’s politics and used him as litmus paper to see how far he can demonize Montrealers and deflect them from his, and Labonté’s, nonfeasance. That question still remains to be answered.

In making his announcement Labonté said Tremblay lacked vision. In resigning last year Labonté accused Tremblay of engaging in endless consultation and not enough action. "I am impatient and nothing is being done," Labonté said. That statement would be laughable if the consequences of Labonté`s own actions on Montrealers were not so onerous. And if Labonté’s actions represent his vision then this city needs serious rescue.

Labonté consulted with no one in raising parking meter rates some 300%, the highest on the island, and taking away free Sundays at a time of a $140 million city surplus. He “acted” against landlords who didn¹t have the prescribed screwed-in ashtrays and had his “cleanliness cops” issue some $1 million in fines in their first month of operation alone which did nothing for cleanliness – the job of city employees paid for by our taxes – but it did fill city coffers . Labonté bulldozed through the removal of hundreds of parking spaces for the de Maisonneuve bike path – which almost no one uses - and destroyed  part of the one efficient east-west downtown artery in the process. All this in the name of “going green”, the latest policy resort for politicians who can’t, or aren’t, interested in getting the basics right.

The curious thing about Labonté’s “legacy” is that none of these egregious policies were in his program. None received a mandate from voters.

And now he wants the whole show? This simply does not wash!

Montrealers should remember the Labonté administration for excessive restrictions on our lifestyles and commerce. They should remember having lived through an era of unprecedented prohibition. They should remember a city core being suffocated.

All the talk of “sustainable development”, which Labonté ally councilor Karim Boulos, once arrogantly said Montrealers better get used to but which no one has been adequately able to define, is nothing more than a smokescreen to hide unsustainable destruction.

For those of you who comfort yourselves with the thoughts that, since you don’t smoke or litter or jaywalk or drive and don’t have business establishments downtown that all this doesn’t affect you, think again. Montreal is more than half of Quebec’s GDP and downtown is almost half of that again. Unless you want to see a downtown core reminiscent of the Dore years when almost 20% of storefronts were empty due to high taxes and low services, we had all better get involved in the choice of Montreal’s next Mayor.