Friday, October 31, 2003
The games people play. And in politics, the list of games can be endless. One of the most worrisome these days is the merger-demerger Vaudeville act currently being played in Montreal.
According to Premier Jean Charest, this is the price so that citizens can "adhere" to the municipal mergers imposed by the previous Parti Québécois government. We promised you democracy and adhesion, the Liberals say, but demergers is what we might get instead.
Many Montrealers watch helplessly as the web of demerger referendums is being woven before their eyes. Those who support the megacity could be forgiven for thinking that this issue is being handled by political leaders who have been acting irresponsibly.
The list of apprentice sorcerers is short but impressive. First came Lucien Bouchard, who created this mess by proceeding without any mandate. Then came Jean Charest, who saw the mess, stepped into it and made it worse.
Charest chose to ride the wave of anti-merger discontent that was swelling in some areas at the time of the mergers. He ignored the political and linguistic tensions this could awaken, opting instead for the promise of initiating a process that could lead to demerger referendums.
Through it all, Mayor Gérald Tremblay has done little to show true leadership. Here's a man who recruited high-profile anti-merger politicians and relied on them to give him the edge over Pierre Bourque. That did the job, but it opened his administration to a number of demerger Trojan horses. Predictably enough, many of them have been working actively to dismantle the city they were elected to represent.
Which brings us to former mayor Pierre Bourque, the spiritual father of "one island, one city." This week, he invited the mayor to join him in a "Montreal Committee" and unite pro-merger forces to battle the anti-merger activists. Tremblay angrily dismissed Bourque's offer, saying he couldn't let go of his decentralization plan in exchange. So it's back to Square One.
As the anti-merger forces are preparing their own battle - with former Westmount mayor Peter Trent as one of their most determined leaders - Tremblay and Bourque are bickering like two boys in a schoolyard refusing to play with each other.
As for the PQ opposition, it can hardly be heard. So much so that know-it-all activist Gilles Rhéaume and, of all people, Mouvement National de Libération leader Raymond Villeneuve, have moved in to fill the void. The end result is demoralizing as many pro-merger Montrealers are left wondering where their own Peter Trent is.
As demergers loom, the fate of Montreal - the same megacity that has just been identified by Statistics Canada as the most economically diversified city in Canada - hangs in the balance.
So what to do? Tremblay wants to decentralize the megacity to bring about the "adhesion" of its most reluctant citizens. Charest tells the demergerites that if they get their city back, it won't be the same city as before. Heck, they might even pay higher taxes.
Here is where the biggest problem lies: Both the premier and the mayor believe that reason will win out over emotion. They throw around parliamentary commissions, decentralization plans and talk of fiscal equity while the demergerites reject any rational argument that favours a united Montreal so they can get back their little kingdoms.
Here's a reality check: Most demergerites don't care about any of this. They can afford any cost to demerge and no amount of decentralization will ever satisfy them. Trent said as much in August: Tremblay's decentralization plan "will only whet the appetite of those who want their city back." Clear enough?
The emotions run so high that voters didn't bat an eye in Baie d'Urfé when they elected Anne Myles, a unilingual anglophone. But while it is truly amazing that in 2003, people can elect someone who cannot speak the language spoken by 82 per cent of the society she lives in, the irony is that because Bouchard's megacity encompasses a number of predominantly English-speaking boroughs, it is precisely the merger that has reduced the percentage of francophones within what is now the megacity. This, in turn, is fostering a greater bilingualization of services. And that is worth paying attention to, a lot more than the case of one individual representative.
So what is the solution? Many are urging Charest to axe his promise. But Politics 101 teaches that any new premier who reneges on a major commitment will be chopped liver for the opposition on anything else he'll try to implement.
The only hope is that pro-merger leaders finally get their act together and their egos in check. They must do it fast so they can rally enough citizens to come out and vote against the demergers. Because the referendums, they are a-coming.
Merger supporters need their own Trent
Friday, October 31, 2003