Monday, January 11, 2021

Montreal’s forced amalgamation and why it matters for Metro Vancouver

One conversation that happens from time to time is that our region should reduce the number of municipalities. I’ve posted about this in the past. The result would be less accountable local governments with no cost savings.

In Metro Vancouver, we have a federation of local governments in the form of a regional district. The regional district provides services such as public housing, 911 services, clean drinking water, sewer treatment services, and solid waste management.

Transit is regionally funded, planned, and delivered by TransLink. Major roads are also regionally funded by TransLink.

Many communities in our region also share police services and library services.

Over the weekend, I read about the process in the early 2000s when the Quebec provincial government forced 28 municipalities in Greater Montreal to amalgamate. The decision to amalgamate was unpopular. Successful referendums resulted in 15 of the former municipalities demerging from the Montreal “megacity.”

The current City of Toronto is also a result of many force amalgamations over the years. Toronto currently has 26 councillors, which represent around 2.7 million people. This number works out to one councillor for every 103,846 residents, similar in size to large federal ridings. Provincial MLAs in BC represent about 62,000 people each. The point being is that such a larger number of people per City councillor reduced local accountability.

In Montreal, the provincial government recognized the importance of local government representation and accountability, even as it was forcing an amalgamation.

The City of Montreal has 19 Boroughs, each with a mayor and council. Boroughs range in size from a population of 18,000 to 167,000. Borough councils are responsible for many local services such as fire protection, road, and land-use planning. There are 18 borough mayors and 38 borough councillors.

Montreal also has a City Council. City Council includes the mayor of Montreal, the 18 borough mayors, and 46 other councillors that deal with City-wide matters, including setting long-term spending programs.

There is also an Executive Committee of Montreal City Council, which coordinates the City’s actions and day-to-day activities. The committee includes councillors appointed by the mayor of Montreal.

In Montreal, they invented a new structure that seems to be a two-tier local government system in all but name (similar to Metro Vancouver.)

In Toronto, they sacrificed accountability in the name of a smaller City Council and increased service delivery cost! This is a lose-lose.

When looking at our local governments in BC, our current Metro Vancouver structure is working well to ensure that we have local accountability with regional delivery of services where it makes sense.

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