The honeymoon’s over for Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante
The year at city hall was bookended by tax hikes — the first caused outrage, protests and voter’s remorse; the second, a sigh of relief.
In between, there was endless complaining about late buses, overcrowded métros and ubiquitous traffic jams, and quarrelling over cars on Mount Royal. Then, a new premier sailed into the National Assembly and Mayor Valérie Plante was faced with a new set of problems.
Here’s a look at some issues Montreal city hall grappled with in 2018.
It took a year but Plante finally fulfilled her election promise not to raise average residential property tax bills by more than the rate of inflation.
In January, her tenure got off to a rocky start when she flubbed her first budget. After less than two months in office, Plante raised 2018 taxes by a full percentage point more than inflation, then used a convoluted explanation to argue she hadn’t broken her campaign pledge. Few taxpayers bought it and she squandered voter goodwill.
Plante tried to make up for the miscalculation in her second budget, tabled in November. In 2019, the average tax bill will go up by 1.7 per cent, matching Montreal’s projected inflation rate for next year.
But the tax hikes hit some much harder. In Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, for example, landlords are expected to jack up rents due to average increases of almost six per cent in taxes on residential buildings with six or more units.
MOUNT ROYAL FRICTION
For five months (June to October), Montrealers had to forgo driving across Mount Royal due to a Plante administration pilot project that banned through traffic on the mountain. She said she wanted to make the mountain safer for cyclists and pedestrians and more pleasant for all.
She did not seem prepared for the backlash. Many drivers hated it because it removed a travel route from Côte-des-Neiges to Plateau-Mont-Royal. And though you could still park on the western and eastern sides of the mountain, some mountain users said the temporary ban made it more complicated to reach Beaver Lake, the lookout at the Mount Royal Chalet, and the Camillien Houde belvedere.
The big question now: Will the city permanently prohibit crosstown traffic? Plante says she will await the results of a public consultation being carried out by the independent Office de consultation publique de Montréal, due early in the new year.
But her Projet Montréal administration pre-empted the OCPM with its own preliminary report with a rosy conclusion: the pilot project was a success because it made the mountain quieter and safer. “We are extremely satisfied, even joyful. In fact, it was more than we hoped for,” said Luc Ferrandez, the executive committee member responsible for large parks.
Some saw this as more evidence the Plante administration has already made up its mind.
Plante campaigned on a mobility-focused platform, promising better transit and more fluid traffic. But a year after they turfed Denis Coderre’s team, Montrealers continue to gripe about AWOL buses, sardine-can métros and never-ending road congestion.
Plante did convince Quebec to help fund the purchase of 300 new hybrid buses but they’ll start arriving only in 2020. More subway cars have also been ordered but they, too, are years away.
Plante set up a “mobility squad” to deal with fixable traffic bottlenecks, but so far it has only made a dent in a problem exacerbated by major projects out of Montreal’s control, namely the replacement of the Turcot Interchange and the Champlain Bridge.
On the parking front, the city is eliminating 140 spots on Ste-Catherine St. by 2021 as part of a revamp of the commercial strip. And it recently emerged the city is also mulling removing another 340 or so parking spaces on Ste-Catherine in a second phase, angering some drivers and businesses.
Downtown driving may also be affected by Plante’s plan to turn McGill College Ave. into a public square, though she has so far not said how much of the street will be pedestrianized.
THE CAQ AND A HARD PLACE
The previous Liberal government saw climate change as a priority and was keen to cozy up to Plante, helping pay for new buses and agreeing to study the possibility of the new métro Pink Line that the mayor desperately wants. But the Liberals aren’t in charge anymore.
As recently as this summer, few were predicting that François Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec would sail into the National Assembly with a big majority. Working with him will be one of Plante’s biggest challenges.
Legault, who barely mentioned the environment during the campaign, wants to expand and build highways, while Plante wants to spend billions on a new métro line that Legault is skeptical of.
The two may also continue to clash on immigration: Legault wants to cut it; Plante says Montreal already faces a labour shortage.
And religious symbols: Legault wants to bar some public employees, including police officers, from wearing them; Plante, the mayor of Quebec’s multicultural metropolis, is on the record as favouring allowing Montreal cops to wear religious symbols.
THE HONEYMOON’S OVER
Plante lost her lustre over the past year. Elected with 51 per cent of the vote when she unseated Coderre in November 2017, she would now only manage 42 per cent of the vote, according to a recent Léger survey. That’s four percentage points less than Coderre garnered last year.
Anglophone Montrealers seem particularly perturbed by Plante. Only 35 per cent of anglophones said they would vote for Plante today, compared to 53 per cent among francophones. More than half of anglophones surveyed said municipal taxes are too high, compared to 44 per cent among francophones.
The two language groups do agree on one topic: 70 per cent of francophones and 60 per cent of anglophones say Plante has not done enough to improve traffic flow on Montreal roads.