CRITIQ was the catalyst behind the special status for Montreal movementOriginally published in the Montreal Gazette on April 20, 2014.

BY KYLE GREGOR-PEARSE AND GARY D. SHAPIRO

What would it take to get back the Montreal of decades past?

The push for a meaningful special status for Montreal inside Quebec is a response to the never-ending threat of a referendum and the continual neglect of Montreal by provincial governments.

The notion of special status has shed its reactionary stigma in recent months, as more people embrace the potential benefits. Montreal represents a huge proportion of Quebec’s population, as well as its GDP, so it does not make sense for Quebec legislators to govern as if all regions were the same. Special status legally recognizes the uniqueness of Montreal; if implemented, it would provide a framework for customized legislation to meet the city’s special needs.

As stated in a recent study conducted by BMO in tandem with Boston Consulting Group, “Montreal doesn’t have the same instruments as other Canadian metropolises to exercise its authority. It has the powers of a rural municipality.” The same study recommends endowing Montreal with the rightful powers of a metropolis — including retaining and attracting talent from across the globe, fixing the city’s infrastructure, and promoting a unique Montreal.

Hong-Kong, Dubai, New York and Toronto are all cities that have achieved some form of special status, and are operating with increased autonomy vis-à-vis their regional governments. British Columbia has even passed province-wide legislation granting increased power to municipalities across the board.

Even Mayor Denis Coderre is on board — although he needs to support this concept more deeply and forcefully. He’s been quoted as saying that Montreal needs more powers to diversify its sources of revenue, so that it isn’t so heavily reliant on property tax. He says that “Toronto gets 32 per cent of revenues from property taxes. In Montreal, it’s 70 per cent,” and that “as a true metropolis, Montreal should have the autonomy to decide where it should spend its money.” Being able to offer a stable political environment for investment is also crucial to the success of a city; a Montreal with special status would be able to do just that, protected as it would be from political uncertainty.

Special status is front and centre in the media. Supporters have sprung up from grassroots movements and among politicians alike. Canadian Rights in Quebec (CRITIQ) was the first organization to raise awareness of the benefits of a Montreal with special status, through its “Notre Montréal” campaign. CRITIQ’s petition for special status gained nearly 10,000 signatures in less than month, and the number of signatures is still growing.

Moreover, the island of Montreal has proved in this recent election to be comprised of predominantly Liberal-leaning voters who support incoming premier Philippe Couillard’s interest in a Montreal with special status.

Montreal needs to be better insulated from the political whims of provincial politics. We must strive to break down the cultural divides that impede us and embrace the cultures and traditions that we know and love. This is still home, isn’t it?

To be sure, there are some issues that would have to be resolved before the city would be granted such powers. But these are minor, and the potential gains far outweigh any losses. Is it possible to repatriate Montreal’s joie de vivre and former glory as a major player on the North American continent? It would not take much, just the right to control our own destiny.

We’ll never know unless we try. So for now, in the words of Mayor Denis Coderre, “My flag is Montreal.”

Gary D. Shapiro is founder and chair of Canadian Rights in Quebec (CRITIQ).

Kyle Gregor-Pearse is majoring in communication studies at Concordia University.

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