Former federal Prime Minister Kim Campbell was once infamously quoted (supposedly out of context) as saying that “an election is no time to discuss serious issues”. The present Quebec election seems to be no exception. As it winds down to a nail-biting finish it’s safe to say that this campaign has been disappointing on the level of content, despite the promise of political renewal that came with the spring. Many issues have fallen to the wayside as the major parties hammer away on the select issues that they think will best resonate with the swing electorates they need to win. Thus we get ad nauseam discussions about school boards, family doctors, language politics and referendums, and little talk of environment, universities, or poverty.
Like many other important issues, the future of the Montreal region has been little discussed. Nor have broader issues around urban development been mentioned, such as the revitalisation of regional centres, housing policy, or transitioning suburbs into more complete communities. Public transit has been mentioned, but generally in the context of committing to various municipalities’ wish lists, and not so much with the intent of presenting a holistic vision. This state of affairs is likely a testament to the little weight Montreal has in provincial politics, as well as political parties’ calculation that there are few votes to be gained talking about these types of issues. That said, despite the lack of real debate each party has released specific promises for the region. Here’s a quick overview of what they are proposing:
The PQ presents the longest list of promises for the Montreal region. Beyond commitments to transit funding and public health, it also gives nods to a number of the City of Montreal’s priorities including the retention of middle class families and the realisation of the PMAD’s objectives. Unsurprisingly, ensuring a francophone majority on the island is also one of its stated goals.
- Name a minister specifically responsable for region
- Measures to retain families, including afforable housing (15,000 units promised province-wide) and more CPE spots in Montreal
- Ensure realisation of PMAD (Plan métropolitain d’aménagement et développement)
- Extension of the blue line to Anjou
- Goal of 40% increase of trips on public transit by 2020
- Strengthen presence of French language in Montreal
- Support for manufacturing and cultural industries in city
QS’s proposals for the city aim focus on bringing about a local green revolution in transportation with proposals aimed to reduce auto dependence, improve public transit, and ensure accessible housing.
- 1.2 billion in investments in public transit over 5 years including communter train, metro extension, busses
- Massive effort to electrify public transit
- End to mega highway projects like the new Turcot Interchange
- 22,500 units of social housing in the Montreal region over 5 years
- Funding for renovation of aging schools
- Support for social economy in neighbourhoods
Coalition Avenir Québec
Like most of Legault’s campaign, his Montreal platform focuses on rearranging structures and the need for “leadership”. By and large, rather populist and doesn’t address many important issues.
- Reduction of number of city councillors and abolition of borough councillors
- Reduce boroughs’ powers and recentralise certain powers to the central city administration
- Favour investments in commuter rail over metro extentions
- Abolish the Agence Métropolitaine de Transport and replace it with a public company directly under provincial control
- Create the position of Municipal Ethics Commissioner
- Favor Montreal’s economic development by further developing tourism, cultural industries, and knowledge economy
- Negotiate agreement with the City of Montreal to provide more support for infrastructure maintenance
Parti Libéral du Québec
As with most of the campaign the Liberals’ Montreal strategy is to sell their achievements and encourage the electorate to stay the course. Their commitments are few and relatively superficial. They include boosting tourism and Montreal’s international reputation as well as limited transit investments.
- 375 million in new transit spending
- More funding for metro renovations, but no committement to extending lines
- Financial support to progressively transition the taxi fleet to hybrid or electric, with destinct visual branding
- 300 new kilometres of reserved lanes for transit
- Funding for renovations of major tourist sights like the Biodôme, the Jardin Botanique, the Fine Arts Museum, and others, in preparation for Montreal’s 375th anniversary
Contrary to the other parties, Option National doesn’t have any Montreal specific elements in its platform, though it does have a few policy positions that touch urban issues. Like Québec Solidaire, ON proposes major investments to electrify public transit. It also wants to encourage international organisations to establish their headquarters in Montreal and Quebec City.
By and large these platforms all have major holes and none manages to present a well thought out plan for Montreal or any other Quebec cities for that matter. To its credit the CAQ acknowledges Montreal’s key role in the Quebec economy, but its plan is based largely on populism. Like in so many other aspects of their platform, they put their faith in magical gains of efficiency and savings to be found in rearranging structures and institutions. Moreover, their proposals regarding public transit are clearly aimed at the off-island suburbs, the only part of the region where they are competitive. The PLQ’s plan is also unimpressive, mainly involving continued funding of current projects as well as a few trendy projects to boost Montreal’s image abroad. But no real content or vision.
Québec Solidaire proposes bold, and necessary, action to build up our transportation systems and meet the population’s housing needs. Yet, it seems like the party’s proposals are mainly a commitment to work within the National Assembly to achieve social movements’ historical goals. There hasn’t been an attempt to synthesise it all into a coherent vision for where Montreal is headed, and think outside of the box about how to transform the city in a progressive direction. This is a shame, since on other files Québec Solidaire has shown time and time again its capacity to put forth new and heterodox ideas which raise the quality and breath of debate.
Finally, only the Parti Québécois seems to have attempted to present a well-developed vision for the Montreal region. Their commitments are modest and incrementalist in a period when many would like to see a paradigm shift, but on transport and development their programme is in line with emerging consensuses in the region. However, at the same time they also promise to continue hammering away at their simplistic brand of identity politics, which while more symbolic than real, will be a disservice to the city. As with education, environment, and so many other issues the likely election of a PQ government will probably be more of an opportunity to seize than a guarantee of better policies.