Mayor Valérie Plante to deliver balanced budget along with ‘a lot of pain’
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s new administration is promising to deliver a balanced budget Wednesday, but one of Plante’s councillors says an unexpected shortfall left by the previous administration means the budget will be accompanied by “a lot of pain.”
Just days after Plante was elected mayor last fall, she said her Projet Montréal team was surprised to discover a gaping $358-million hole in the budget of the outgoing Denis Coderre administration.
Speaking to host Mike Finnerty on CBC Montreal’s Daybreak Monday, Plateau-Mont-Royal borough mayor and executive committee member Luc Ferrandez said Plante’s administration has found ways to make up that shortfall.
“We did, but with pain. With pain, with a lot of pain. It’s not like there’s surpluses of money and surprises and gifts for everybody, that’s for sure,” said Ferrandez. “Christmas is over.”
Ferrandez didn’t elaborate, but he suggested that the administration was able to balance the budget without increasing taxes beyond the rate of inflation, as Plante promised.
Opposition proposes independent budget watchdog
The opposition at city hall, made up of former members of Équipe Denis Coderre, has consistently denied any problem with the city’s books, saying Plante’s team was using preliminary numbers and calling it a shortfall is an “old trick.”
Opposition leader Lionel Perez proposed Monday that the city create a new independent budget office, modelled after the parliamentary budget officer in Ottawa.
The office would provide objective financial data about the state of the city’s finances and the estimated cost of proposed projects.
‘Elevate the debate’: Perez
Perez said that would end the common practice of new administrations blaming budget shortfalls on their predecessors.
“It would elevate the debate,” he told reporters at city hall. “The population doesn’t really care for this war of numbers. This kind of proposition would be able to diminish, if not eliminate that.”
Perez said he would introduce a motion calling for the new office at this month’s council meeting. He estimated it would require an annual budget of $5 million and a staff of 30 people.
He said many American cities including New York, Chicago, San Diego and Pittsburgh have such independent budget offices.
A spokesperson for Plante said Monday he agreed that more objective financial data and greater transparency would be good ideas.
However, he suggested that creating a whole new office was unnecessary and that the city’s auditor general could provide much of that data.