Monday, June 21, 2004

Fragmenting Montreal

As the Olympic flame headed toward the Montreal, the city has voted to fall apart. More precisely, 15 of 28 boroughs decided to "demerge" from the Montreal megacity, while five new cities decided to join.

Under the old "one island" policy, the town and cities along with Montreal made up an urban agglomeration--the Montreal Urban Community. The communities were autonomous, but pooled functions and oversight for their mutual benefit. In 2002 the provincial government of Quebec, led by the Partie Quebecois, undertook municipal reforms: administration would be simplified by folding communities into centralized "megacities". The communities lost their autonomy and were incorporated into a larger Montreal (map).

The Liberal government that came into power in Quebec promised to revisit the "megacity" question. They gave the former communities the opportunity to demerge. Over the weekend, many of the communities that were forcibly incorporated into Montreal decided to leave the megacity. These communities--formerly suburbs with their own traditions and suspicions of the big city--were driven away by perceptions of higher taxes and diminished services.

The communities that will demerge may lose more than they realize. Voters seem to have been lured into voting for demerging with the promise that things would return to their previous state. However, there is no option to remake the old Montreal Urban Community. There will be no framework for cooperation between the communities. Furthermore, the "suburbs" held the majority of seats on the executive council of the megacity--they have lost decisive influence over the direction of Montreal. In many ways, the demerged communities are on their own more than ever before.


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