By Martin C. Barry
Disappointed after being unable to meet Quebec's Liberal premier face to face, the mayors of Montreal's demerged cities are calling on Jean Charest to say where he stands on the future of the Agglomeration system before the provincial election.
Demerged mayors urge Charest to come clean on Agglom
"The premier must get involved and make his intentions public," said Westmount mayor Karin Marks, president of the Association of Suburban Mayors.
She said citizens have "the right to know" before the March 26 vote what the provincial government plans to do "to solve this problem for which it is largely responsible."
Although mayors with the ASM met recently with Municipal Affairs Minister Nathalie Normandeau to present her with the main issues affecting Montreal's suburban taxpayers, a promised meeting with Charest never took place. "These mayors who were democratically elected by over 230,000 citizens are furious," the ASM declared in a statement. "Once again, they have come to the conclusion that the Charest government does not keep its promises."
The ASM maintains that it received a firm commitment from the Liberal government that Charest would meet them so they could express to him the extent to which they are convinced the Agglomeration doesn't work.
The ASM says it recently received confirmation that the Liberals no longer have the intention of making a concession toward taxpayers in the demerged cities to improve the current inter-municipal structure.
Since voting in the Agglomeration Council is based on population, the City of Montreal dominates, because the number of residents in the island's central city greatly exceeds those in the 15 demerged suburbs. The suburbs have been regularly shut out of decision-making for the Agglomeration since the system was put in place by Quebec. "The meeting with the premier will not take place and the government is reneging on its promise to make a significant gesture to improve the operations of the Agglomeration of Montreal," said Marks. "We are bitterly disappointed. We have reached the conclusion that the government of Quebec accepts the dysfunctional character of the Agglomeration Council of Montreal and constantly endorses decisions that are unfair and inequitable to the taxpayers of reconstituted cities. This cannot continue."
While there are certain distinctions between each of the municipalities on the island of Montreal, Marks said that in the end all the demerged cities' mayors agreed the situation is becoming intolerable. "The structure of the Agglomeration of Montreal is dysfunctional, imposes a disproportionate tax burden for the taxpayers of these cities with regard to services provided to them," she said. "There is also a totally unacceptable democratic deficit in this structure."
In the City of Côte St. Luc, Mayor Anthony Housefather said that he and members of his council are going to do their best during the provincial election campaign to make the current arrangement of the Agglomeration an issue that should be addressed by all candidates.
Other than that, however, he suggested Côte St. Luc will be assuming a wait-and-see stance. "In provincial elections, normally the cities as a whole stay out of it and mayors and councillors support who they personally wish to support," he said. "For the city council as a whole to take a stand, it would require something very unusual to happen. So we'll wait and see."
In the Town of Hampstead, Mayor Bill Steinberg said that during the election campaign, he will be urging residents to question their candidate's position on the Agglomeration Council. "This is an issue not only for the suburbs, this is an issue that affects Montreal — there is absolutely no democracy," he said. "These are things that I think residents of the suburbs and residents of Montreal should be bringing up to their candidate."