Montreal

Quebec proposes greater autonomy, grants metropolis status for Montreal

Montreal is now officially the "metropolis of Quebec," a status long sought by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, and stands to gain new powers in matters of economic, social and cultural development from legislation introduced Thursday in Quebec City.

Bill 121 will grant city new authority in areas of economic development, housing, heritage, and social policy

Martin Coiteux, Philippe Couillard and Denis Coderre took part in the presentation of Bill 121 on Thursday. (CBC)

Montreal is now officially the "metropolis of Quebec," a status long sought by mayor Denis Coderre, and stands to gain new powers in matters of economic, social and cultural development from legislation introduced Thursday in Quebec City.

The proposed law, Bill 121, was introduced Thursday by Martin Coiteux, Quebec's minister of municipal affairs and the member of cabinet responsible for Montreal.

Coiteux said the new law will grant Montreal the power to both abolish subsidy limits for businesses and provide tax credits. It would also allow the city a pre-emptive right to acquire property for municipal purposes and to expropriate neglected properties from their owners.

Among other rights and powers, Bill 121 will grant the city an annual economic development subsidy that would reach $50 million by 2021 and new authority in areas of housing, heritage preservation and social policy touching on homelessness and immigration that are currently administered by the Quebec government.

Montreal will also be allowed to set the opening hours for bars in its territory.

'Historic' legislation

Premier Philippe Couillard introduced Bill 121 as part of the "greatest decentralization of powers in the history of Quebec."

A similar bill for Quebec City was recently introduced, as was another that wants to grant greater autonomy to all municipal governments across Quebec.

Couillard said the new bill will enhance Montreal's role as "the economic, social and cultural engine of Quebec."

"It provides the degree of autonomy needed to attain its potential … It provides the means to intervene, the independence and the ability to compete with other major cities in North America," he said.

Election promise

Securing recognition for Montreal as the metropolis of Quebec was a central promise of Coderre's mayoral campaign in 2013.

Coderre said he was satisfied with the proposed bill, and spoke at length about how it will enhance the "Montreal Reflex."

"When an important decision is required, we can make the decision that's best suited for Montreal," he said.

Coderre said an example of how the new bill could benefit Montreal business would be the freedom it allows the city to provide a tax credit or compensation for merchants affected by road work in commercial areas like Saint-Denis Street.​

Not everyone happy

Projet Montréal was quick to criticize Bill 121, saying it doesn't go far enough to solving the city's problems.

"This status won't allow Montreal any true financial independence; it's just as dependent on property taxes and that means no less pressure on its citizens," said party councillor Laurence Lavigne Lalonde.

Dinu Bumbaru, policy director at Montreal Heritage, expressed concern over Bill 121's proposal to devolve much of the province's authority on heritage issues to the City of Montreal.

"The city has done tremendous work on heritage in the last decade and beyond, but the city is also greedy and when it comes to a battle between heritage and tax [revenue], heritage is often the casualty. So we have to be very careful," he said.

While welcoming the right to expropriate neglected and abandoned buildings, Bumbaru said he's worried that Bill 121 could result in the dissolution of Montreal's municipal heritage council.

"If the minister of culture is giving more powers to the city in terms of heritage, there needs to be checks and balances, and that's part of the heritage council's role," he said.

"Abolishing it would take us to a pre-Jean Drapeau period, and that's not progress."

Bumbaru pointed to the city's position on Maison Alcan and Viger Square as examples of its unclear heritage policies.

"A number of recent decisions show that it has yet a clear line to be taken by the city on how it wants to address the heritage challenges in the future," he said.

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