Louise Harel's latest contribution to the renewed debate over municipal governance is so wrong in so many ways it's difficult to know where to start, but we'll give it a try.
First, tendentious musings about "ethnic boroughs" and divided loyalties can only inflame a conversation that is, as we explain in the editorial above, desperately needed. A quick way to make people dig in and resist any change at all is to start muttering about the unhealthy nature of their community ties.
And that's precisely what former municipal affairs minister has done by warning in television interview that the borough system threatens to create a patchwork of ethnic cities on the Island of Montreal. In fact, Harel's suggestion already has backs up, notably that of St. Laurent mayor Alan DeSousa who bridled at the notion that his borough is an "Arab city." "I don't think Madame Harel knows or understands our community," he told The Gazette's Linda Gyulai, " and as a result ... is quick to jump to stereotypes and conclusions."
Exactly. Maybe Harel should get out more. There are no Arab cities in Montreal, or anglo or Haitian ones, either. The boroughs, even as they're now constituted, are already ethnically diverse. Notre Dame de Grâce, for example, is no longer a monochromatic anglo bastion and Rivière des Prairies is as Haitian today as it is Italian (and as fiercely distinct as it was when the city of Montreal absorbed it decades ago).
Montreal is not without ethnic tensions, but the idea that it will descend into a kind of Balkans on the St. Lawrence is risible. That many Montrealers have strong attachments to their communities and neighbourhoods is a point in the city's favour. That some of those loyalties are enhanced by ethnic pride gives the city more pizazz than grief. And a measure of political control over community issues like recreation and snow removal is more likely to create a sense of belonging than one of alienation.
Harel's preference for one big city that speaks with one voice betrays suspicion of anything that doesn't fit into some sort of bureaucratically mandated organizational chart. It's a mindset that seems unable to grasp the notion of complementary loyalties. Just as there's no contradiction between being a proud Quebecer and a proud Canadian, there's no conflict in being a proud NDGer and a proud Montrealer. For most of us, it's as natural as breathing.