LET'S TALK ABOUT THE CITY!
A few weeks ago, André Poulin, Executive Director of Destination centre-ville, met with Martin Coiteux, the new Minister for Municipal Affairs and Land Occupancy, Minister of Public Security and Minister responsible for the Montreal region.
You’re relatively new to the job. Have you had time to develop your vision for Montreal yet?
In politics, you should never take too long to do anything! I was appointed to my new position on January 28 and I’m often in Montreal. I work closely with those who manage the various projects that we support, whether it’s in the area of festivals, tourism, economic initiatives, supporting clusters or culture in general. First, we intend on recognizing Montreal’s specific status as a Quebec metropolis. Montreal is in competition with other big metropolises in North America and the rest of the world. It has all the right traits to develop but it needs more air and more flexibility. So many directions come from Quebec City that it ends up working off a bill of specifications instead of exercising its powers! We need to provide Montreal with the means to fulfill its ambitions, and that implies a bill. That’s fundamental.
You’re aware that a lot of expectation rests on this bill. What does its timeline look like?
I’ve always said that 2016 would be a great year for municipalities, and that it would be a very important year for Montreal. So we are aiming for this year.
Regarding the budget consolidation, you spoke about planning for more targeted spending. How would Montreal benefit from these new ways of investing?
We clearly underlined that once the budget consolidation was reached, the education, knowledge and innovation sectors would be our main priority. I always come back to that; Montreal represents creativity and knowledge, as well as a combination of the two—innovation.
Talking about the scope of knowledge brings me to international students. We want international students to stay in Quebec, but what about professionals? What can we do better to help immigrants who are professionals in their country of origin be able to continue practicing their profession here?
You’re 100% right. International students in a city of knowledge like Montreal are extremely important. And we need to hold on to them so that they can contribute to Montreal and Quebec’s development. Right now, one of the government’s main projects is to review our practices regarding immigration, to work with the best practices from innovative countries regarding economic immigration, and to hold on to the talented ones. We want professional orders to really hear us so that they will modernize their practices and adapt to the current climate. Professional orders exist to protect the public, we need them. We must open our doors.
I’d like to talk about the land-use plan. We’re still developing the suburbs, favouring urban sprawl . . . How can this plan change the order of cities and downtown areas?
I think that from the moment you decide to give more autonomy and responsibility, you give tools. I can’t talk about it too much because these are topics that we’re currently working on, but the idea is to ensure that the city and the metropolitan area develop in the best interest of their citizens, to have a metropolitan community that benefits everyone. And this also needs to apply to how the transport system is governed henceforth. We have a new bill that aims to ensure that public transit is better integrated across the entire metropolitan community area.
. . . and without giving way to too much urban sprawl!
Yes, indeed. The major government policies do favour some densification. But because we have ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse gases we would be the last people to promote any kind of urban sprawl. Our policies must fit with Montreal, because that’s where the majority of the population is concentrated.
Elsewhere in the world we see that legislations allow trade to be governed in other ways, this is particularly evident in the variety of stores in certain areas. Here, there is no legislation for that and several commercial streets are experiencing difficulties. Does the government have any plans to change who governs trade in our city?
Right up until today, there has been a paternalistic way of seeing things: Quebec decides and the cities follow. That’s not the model that we want to put forward. Municipal governments are their own kind of governments, governments that have decisions to make and responsibilities to take on, and who are accountable to their citizens. We are going towards a much less centralized model. We are, therefore, currently reviewing our approaches, and that is also true for the issue of Business Improvement Areas (BIA). And I’m not going into it with a closed mind, quite
In Toronto, there are more than 80 Business Improvement Areas, 300 in Ontario. In Quebec, we were gaining momentum but then, in the past fifteen years, things have started to slow down. Although less so in Montreal, since Mayor Coderre adopted the trade plan, which does a better job at recognizing BIAs. As Minister of Municipal Affairs, do you see a way that BIAs could be re-launched in every city in Quebec? Can we count on the ministry’s support?
We are currently working on three bills—one to sanction Montreal’s status as a metropolis, one to sanction Quebec City’s status as a national capital, and, more generally speaking, one on strengthening relations between Quebec City and the municipalities. It’s clear we’re going to
review certain articles, like those on towns and cities that specifically address BIAs.
Let’s talk about infrastructures. What developments have been made in that area?
One problem in Montreal is that a lot of work needs to be done to maintain and repair existing infrastructures. We need to be able to move beyond that as there are many infrastructures to be developed. The investments that we will be making in Montreal over the next few years will be mainly in public transit. And the impact that the Caisse de dépôt et placement is going to have on mobility in Montreal will be major, as well as the impact on transport systems like the introduction of a light rail system (LRS), which will more than likely revolutionize mobility in Montreal.
It was indeed reassuring to see these responsibilities being delegated to the Caisse de depôt . . .
When we talk about creativity, we see that it is expressed in how we finance infrastructures. It’s a good example. The prime minister recently told me that while he was in Washington they were asking him loads of questions on these models! This approach has the potential to do great things here and could serve as inspiration for others too.
The federal government has announced that it’s also going to invest in infrastructures!
The situation is looking good for Montreal right now, and we need to be able to take full advantage of that. The status of metropolis is on the table, its 375th anniversary is coming up, and at the same time the Canadian Federation’s 150th anniversary is also happening: It’s a moment to celebrate Montreal’s creativity and to ignite our collective pride. This brings confidence in the future, and with that comes a desire to invest and undertake.