Montreal looks to 'change culture' to attract more businesses

Montreal is notorious for being a difficult place in which to run a business, with its high tax rate and reams of red tape. The Coderre administration says it's committed to improving matters and salvaging the city's reputation.

City to study advisory group recommendations, make it easier to navigate bureaucracy

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre's administration says it's committed to making the city easier for small businesses to navigate. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Montreal is notorious for being a difficult place in which to run a small business, with road construction, high tax rates and reams of red tape complicating an already challenging pursuit. 

Last year, it was ranked as the least entrepreneurial urban centre in the country by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The Coderre administration says it's committed to improving matters and following up on the recommendations of a working group released on Monday. 

Pierre Desrochers, president of the city's executive committee, said part of the goal is to change the culture within the municipal bureaucracy. 

"There's a change that needs to be done, and yes, we're committed to making it happen," Desrochers told Daybreak on Tuesday.

"It's a difficult task, and we've working at it since 2014, and yes, we need to harmonize and make it more business-friendly so that when people want to come and invest in Montreal, we're more open to them."

Pierre Desrochers is the head of Montreal's executive committee. (Radio-Canada)
The working group, created in February, was given the task of finding ways to make the city more attractive for businesses.

It came up with 17 recommendations, including:

  • compensating merchants who lose business because of construction work on city streets.
  • charging businesses and residents according to how much water they use and how much garbage they throw out.
  • making Montreal's bureaucracy easier to navigate.

Desrochers said the city will study the recommendations, adding that a pay-as-you-go system for garbage and water use could enable the city to ease the tax burden on businesses.

Montreal, along with Saint John and Charlottetown, taxes new business investment more than all other major Canadian cities, according to a 2015 report by the C.D. Howe Institute. 

Are user fees the answer? 

At least one small business owner was skeptical of the city's plans.

Sam Papoutsis, the owner of Mile End Kicks, with two locations on Parc Avenue, doesn't think user fees will lead to any savings for business owners.

"I'd like to see the recommendations that have been done by this commission acted upon before any pay-as-you-go water service or garbage system is implemented," he said.

Papoutsis said taxes have "gone up five to six times the amount he was originally paying" when he opened for business in 2009.

He also said he'd like the city to be more forgiving when it comes to business initiatives such as sidewalk terrasses and promotional signage. 

"They are not business friendly," Papoutsis said of the city's bureaucrats. "They are actually anti-business, I feel."