An article written in the Montreal Gazette, here is the link if you’d like to read it off the Gazette’s website. http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/montreals-battle-to-acquire-more-power-ramps-up

 

Montreal wants to be able to reduce speed limits on its streets without having to ask Quebec.

It wants the power to set store hours without waiting months for a decision from the province.

Since 85 per cent of the 50,000 immigrants that come to Quebec each year end up in Montreal, the city wants more control over how they will be cared for, since Montreal does most of the caring, and control over the funding budget required to do so.

It wants more say over economic development. And social housing and homelessness and new ways of generating revenue.

It wants special “metropolitan” or city-state status, granting it extra powers in comparison to its smaller provincial confreres, in order to compete in an era of growing influence of cities in the global marketplace.

With the official signing of a fiscal pact between Quebec and its municipalities Tuesday that included a reduction in the amount of money transferred from the province to cities each year, it is assumed Montreal, and Quebec City, which is seeking special “capital city” status, have made headway on agreements in principle for the greater powers they covet. The fiscal pact also provides municipalities the promise of greater power in contract talks with their municipal unions if negotiations and arbitration fail to bring a solution.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said over the weekend that now that the fiscal pact has been ironed out, with 80 per cent of the members of the Union of Quebec Municipalities and 75 per cent of the Fédération québécoise des municipalités voting in favour, his next priority is to hammer out the deals of the metropolitan status. In April, Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau promised special status will be granted to the city, scheduled to come in February 2016. Next week, a standing committee of provincial and municipal experts will present their suggestions on what that status should entail. The details to date have been vague.

But will the province finally agree to give the city significant powers, or will it be a largely symbolic recognition? Mario Polèse, a professor of urban economics at the Centre Urbanisation Culture Société of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, cautions that higher levels of government are generally loathe to hand over financial powers. And when it comes to attaining more responsibilities, Montreal should be careful what it wishes for.

“Since it all comes down to money, it would be surprising, in my opinion, that the province would let go of basic taxing powers,” Polèse said. “Not only surprising — it would be really revolutionary.

“Considering the province’s problems already at balancing the budget, there is no incentive for it to let go of basic fiscal instruments that are sales tax and income taxes.”

Transferring of powers to the local level often results in the transferring of responsibilities for funding as well. This was the case in Toronto, Polèse said, after it lobbied for years for and finally received the “Stronger Toronto for a Stronger Ontario Act” granting it greater autonomy in 2007.

Ontario gave Toronto responsibility for social housing, but did not grant it the budget.

Greater powers under smaller local governments can lead to social inequality, with better funded or wealthier districts faring better. The United States has a tradition of high local autonomy, which means local financing for things like school systems. Teachers in different districts receive different salaries. When a city like Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013, goes under and loses its tax base, so too does the city’s school system.

“You would rather have the province finance it so you can spread the costs around the whole province equally,” Polèse said. The greater Montreal region’s aspiration to gain control over the Agence metropolitaine de transport’s network of regional train lines is also risky, Polèse said, in that similar transfers have led to years of bickering between smaller local bodies.

The Stronger Toronto Act allowed the city greater freedom to make decisions without asking Ontario, to deal directly with the federal government and create new revenue streams outside of property taxes. It created a land-transfer tax that generated $300 million annually. Some observers noted Quebec municipalities have been charging a similar tax, known as the Welcome Tax, since 1992.

In exchange for its greater freedom, Toronto had to put in place new positions to streamline the city’s administration and improve services, or risk having its powers revoked.