Barbara Kay: The case for the City-State of Montreal
National Post - Thursday September 19th, 2013
A few months ago, I appeared on a French language talk show as part of a diverse panel of politicians, aesthetes and chattering-class types to give our two-cents’ worth on Quebec political issues (Bill 14 was the hot topic then). Even though everyone else was a sovereigntist, I was warmly received; francophone media people truly appreciate anglo participation in such discussions.
Dialogue proceeded in amiable fashion until I was asked if I considered myself a québécoise. “Non“, I unequivocally responded, “I consider myself a “montréalaise,” adding that Montreal was a distinct society within Quebec just as Quebec is a distinct society within Canada.
Silence. The temperature of the room seemed instantly to go down 30 degrees. Every face around the table turned to stone. Stating the truth about Montreal to Quebec nationalists — that its character, needs and interests have little in common with those of the rest of Quebec (ROQ) and that, by implication, Montreal deserves special status — is simply a taboo.
Taboo no longer. Today there will be a press conference at a downtown Montreal hotel. There strategic consultant Michel David will make his long-researched case for Montreal as a city-state, a place in which counter-productive “values” charters and language laws would not apply, and where conditions favouring entrepreneurship, economic investment and skills recruitment would.
David has been brooding over Montreal’s decline for decades. According to David’s just-released report, Montreal: City-State, Re-Inventing Our Governance, Montreal is the poorest city in North America with two million or more population (22nd of 22). It ranks 59th out of 60 jurisdictions for liberty, with the highest taxes and lowest level of entrepreneurship in Canada (50% of the Canadian average). Governance is authoritarian and disrespects individual rights.
If Montreal is to regain its former glory, it will not happen under any of Quebec’s parties, all of them in numeric thrall to regional, ethnically homogeneous voters with no direct stake in Montreal’s fortunes. David concludes that only the political and economic autonomy conferred by special administrative status (SAS) — for which there is a precedent: the Cree of northern Quebec have self-governed their territories in collaboration with Quebec City for decades — can restore and surpass this once great city’s former entrepreneurial glory.
A recently completed IPSOS survey surveyed 1,250 respondents on the island of Montreal (50%), the greater Montreal area (25%) and ROQ (25%) on Montreal’s current position and prospects and what should be done to improve the future of the city. It found that the idea of Montreal as a city state has wide appeal in the Montreal area. And even somewhat wide appeal in ROQ.
Language laws were recognized as an impediment to Montreal’s prosperity, and 75% of Montrealers think ‘guaranteeing full bilingual status’ would help
Across the board, close to 80% of respondents agreed that “Montreal has lost its prestige over the last few decades.” Only 54% across the board “would recommend Montreal as a place to start a business.” Only 46% of the ROQ felt that Montreal “should have more autonomy to make its own decisions for its future,” but 81% of Montrealers agreed they should. Yet 88% of ROQ and 92% of Montrealers agreed that “Montreal needs to be bold if it wants to move forward and prosper.”
What to do?
Language laws were recognized as an impediment to Montreal’s prosperity, and 75% of Montrealers think “guaranteeing full bilingual status” would help. “Streamlining and improving Montreal’s city governance” found favour with 97% of all the respondents, and almost as many think “recognizing entrepreneurs who are creating jobs in the city” is important.
Premier Marois, take note: A full 94% of Montrealers and encouraging 80% of ROQ believe in “promoting Montreal’s multicultural aspects.” It’s not remarkable that “making a clear and long term commitment to the Canadian Federation” drew agreement from 80% of Montrealers, but that 66% of ROQ felt the same way will probably come as an unpleasant surprise to the PQ government.
The key points of overwhelming agreement to take away from Montreal residents’ numbers are: Montreal is a distinct society within Quebec (90%); to stop its decline, Montreal needs to take drastic steps to improve the way it does things (91%); and Montreal deserves special status within Quebec because it is a world-class, cosmopolitan city (74%).
The PQ government’s attempt to pass anglophobic Bill 14 offered proof yet again, if it were needed, that language supremacy is more important to sovereigntists than Montreal’s health and prosperity. The proposed Quebec Values Charter makes it crystal clear that Montreal’s strengths of multiculturalism and openness to the world are actually hateful to them. They would rather see Montreal on its knees, reduced to a plodding, unilingual provincial backwater, than take pride in what could be one of the world’s greatest cities.
Montreal as a city-state is an idea whose time has come. All Canadians should support it. What is good for Montreal’s prosperity and growth is good for Quebec, for Canada and the world.