Reinvent Montreal
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Reinventing Our Governance

To stop its continuing decline, nearly all Montrealers (91%)(1) agree that drastic steps are required to improve the way things are done in their city.

Montréal is a great city that is considered unique by its residents. It provides a superior quality of life.

But Montréal is also the poorest of twenty - two large metropolitan centres in North America (GDP per capita). Surely we must maintain and improve our quality of life, but this is not our main challenge.

As the campaign to elect Bill Clinton put it in the early nineties, "it's the economy, st*#id".

Seventy six percent (76%) of Montrealers think the city has lost its prestige over the last few decades, fifty nine percent (59%) that it has lost its ability to attract new business from outside Quebec and barely half (54%) would recommend Montreal as a place to start a business. Just over half of all Montrealers (55%) think the city is in decline.

Why is this? Because Montréal is world-class cosmopolitan city with world class issues that is forced to operate under Province of Quebec parochial rules. These rules may be acceptable for the rest of Quebec, but they are toxic for Montréal.

This is completely disastrous for Montréal and equally unacceptable for the Province of Quebec. All will agree that Montréal is the economic engine of Quebec. That engine is operating at half its capacity when compared with similar Canadian cities.

The island of Montréal and the rest of Quebec (ROQ) are two dissimilar societies on three fundamental dimensions:

  • Society: ROQ is homogeneous; Montréal is multi-ethnic, 51% non-French, 80 different ethnic groups.
  • Culture: ROQ is local, the group comes first; Montréal is cosmopolitan, primacy is to the individual.
  • Economy: ROQ is driven by natural resources including agriculture and primary transformation; Montréal is driven by networks of commerce and knowledge.

The vast majority (70%) of Montrealers and Quebecers agree that Montréal is different from the rest of the province in the way business is conducted, its interaction with the provincial government, the priorities it has as a region and the way it governs itself as a city.

So how to address our economic challenge? We propose a solution in two parts.

First, a clear primary focus needs to be identified and then pursued vigorously. Montréal has lost most of its large corporations. They will not come back but we must retain those that are still here. The remaining opportunity is "Entrepreneurship", a very powerful driver of development. This is also one at which Montréal could distinguish itself by leveraging its strength in intellectual property.

Be it the public or private sector, successful organizations typically have one core competency. For example, in Canada, Toronto is a world-class financial centre, Calgary is a hydrocarbon (oil and gas) centre, Vancouver is commerce with Asia.

The entrepreneurship opportunity is open, Montréal should become "Canada's Entrepreneurial Hub".

Second, specific conditions are required to develop a successful entrepreneurial hub.

In short, the presence of clear rules and the guarantee that such clear rules will be maintained over time. Montréal is in competition with many other cities in Canada and indeed around the world to attract entrepreneurial talent. It needs to provide the best business friendly environment in terms of openness, liberty, support, minimal red tape, and fair taxation.

This is not the case at the present time. Maintaining the current system will lead to the same poor results. Montréal needs new space, new rules. This cannot happen under present Quebec governance rules.

Seventy four percent (74%) of Montrealers already think the city should have a special status within Quebec because it is world-class and cosmopolitan. In addition, about 50% of Quebecers in ROQ also believe Montréal should have special status so it can develop and prosper.

City–state is not in any way a new idea. City-states have existed throughout history and predate nation states. And there are many current successful examples such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Berlin, Hamburg, Buenos Aires, New York, for instance.

There are many different governing structures among these city-state examples and others. It is not our purpose to define this precisely at this time. The idea of city-state we think, communicates well what we are proposing.

The Montréal city-state will be a part of Quebec, a dynamic part. The goal is to create a win/win partnership.


(1) The numbers quoted in this article are from a survey of Montrealers' opinion (residents of the island of Montréal) by IPSOS Marketing done in July/August 2013.