The following appeared in the July 1, 2014 edition of Americas Quarterly. It was written by John Parisella, former Québec delegate general in New York. He was also chief of staff to Quebec Premiers Robert Bourassa and Daniel Johnson Jr. He is a well known and respected analyst on US/Canada/Québec politics, and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. It is a fine piece on Montreal returning to its vibrant self.
The New Buzz About Montreal
After a long and dreary winter and an unusually rainy spring, Montrealers have greeted the summer season with the Canadian Grand Prix, a series of elaborate street festivals including Jazz Fest and Just for Laughs, and the traditional national holidays of Québec and Canada. They are part of the usual rituals of summer associated with Montreal.
This year, however, may mark the beginning of a new optimism and a concerted effort at reviving the city—and may make the buzz a year-round reality. At least, that’s the hope.
This past winter, a prominent businessman and executive banker, Jacques Ménard of the Bank of Montreal, Canada’s oldest bank, released a report he had commissioned from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) dealing with Montreal’s current challenges and ways to revitalize the city.
Comparing Montreal with other cities possessing similar characteristics, the BCG report presented a ten point revitalization program, including additional powers usually associated with a city’s status as a metropolis, such as greater powers of taxation and greater autonomy.
This report, non-partisan in nature, was meant to spark an interest with leading actors from all walks of life in Montreal. The goal was to make this report a reference point for mobilizing key political, economic, social, and cultural leaders in an action plan that can tap Montreal’s enormous potential.
Montreal represents more than 50 percent of Québec’s economy. Its population of more than 1.6 million (and over 3.8 million in Greater Montreal) is among the most diverse in North America. While the predominant and common language is French, Montreal has been the home to a vibrant and longstanding English-speaking community with world renowned institutions, as well as numerous cultural communities which have transformed the city’s diversity into a major asset.
The Montreal economy is the home to numerous leading economic sectors—including aeronautical, information technology, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals—as well as video games expertise and cultural creative enterprises such as Cirque du Soleil and the Moment Factory. This is supported by an elaborate higher education network including four universities—two of them French-speaking, two of them English-speaking. Soon, Montreal will open two modern, state-of-the-art medical research faculties able to operate in both French and English: the McGill University Health Centre and the University of Montreal Hospital Centre.
In recent months, Montreal’s political leadership has been the object of some important change. The new mayor, Denis Coderre, elected in November 2013, is an able and astute politician and has already proven to be a natural leader, arguing for greater powers and sending the message that the city is open for business. His energy and enthusiasm has become contagious in a short period of time.
The recent provincial election saw the return to power of a pro-federalist, business-friendly government led by new Premier Philippe Couillard. Both Coderre and Couillard have already agreed with two of the major recommendations from the BCG report—more power (metropolis status) and access to greater financial resources for the city.
Some major infrastructure projects have also been given the green light. One includes a new bridge to replace the current and outdated Champlain Bridge by 2018. This is a project largely funded by the Canadian federal government.
A game plan—in the form of the BCG Report, plus greater political cooperation among the federal provincial and municipal governments and the mobilization of key players within Montreal’s civil society: all this will converge in a major summit slated for the autumn of 2014.
So when the festivals and the summer heat are behind us, we can expect more activity as Montreal prepares for its 375th anniversary in 2017, with its revitalization as the focal point. Clearly, there is a new buzz about Montreal—and it was long overdue.