How to reduce taxes for all Montreal residents

Once more Montrealers are being hit by excessive tax increases and it is even worse for the suburbs whose residents will pay 38% of the Agglomeration tax increases even though they make up only 12% of the island’s population. Yet there is a simple way to reduce all residents’ taxes, eliminate unnecessary expenses and improve democracy.

In May, 2006, as a newly elected Mayor, I started the boycott of the Agglomeration Council. It had become apparent that Montreal was taking full advantage of the unchecked power that they had over the suburbs. Even though the suburbs paid about 20% of the costs of the Agglomeration services, we got back much less than our fair share. For example, only 2% of the money paid for arterial roads went to the suburbs while 98% was spent in Montreal boroughs. In May of 2006, Baie D’Urfe’s Mayor, Maria Tutino, joined me in leaving the Agglomeration Council. Then every month more and more Mayors joined us until by December none were left attending the Agglomeration Council meetings. Almost immediately the Quebec government called us to a meeting to discuss our grievances.

This triggered 18 months of negotiations between Montreal, Quebec and the suburban mayors. In June of 2008 we reached a deal that was much fairer to us and there was an understanding that there would be further discussions on resolving the remaining issues.

Sadly, there were no significant additional discussions and while the situation today is much better than in 2006, it is far from fair or acceptable. Montreal totally controls the Agglomeration Council. If a single person from Montreal attends an Agglomeration meeting, he/she gets 87% of the votes and whoever attends from the suburbs gets 13% of the vote. Not surprisingly, there has never been a decision favoring the suburbs. So, you may ask why do we need an Agglomeration Council? We don’t.

Of course, we will still need island-wide services and someone will have to pay but there are fairer alternatives than through Agglomeration taxes. Here are some examples:

Police – each city should pay based on their potential use of the service. This could be based on population or number of personnel assigned to a territory with the costs of island-wide squads spread equally over all the cities.

Fire – again it should be based on population.

Waste management – this could be based on the tonnage of waste collected. That would lead to less waste (and more composting, recycling, and reusing). That would be good for the environment.

Water – this is billed based on consumption now but central sewer lines and central water main costs are based on property taxes. All should be based on consumption and, again, this would be environmentally friendly.

Public transit – Quebec pays part of the cost and users cover part but the rest, which is currently paid for by municipalities, should be based on the amount and level of services in each city.

So, what do we lose by eliminating the Agglomeration?

Nothing! Montreal will still manage the services and prepare the budgets as they do now. Auditors will have to make sure that no Montreal expenses are slipped into central service budgets and cities can be billed directly for the services.

What do we gain by eliminating the Agglomeration Council?

Substantial dollars, a huge reduction in time wasted in meetings and forests worth of paper.

Currently there are 30 members of the Agglomeration Council who each get about $11,000 annually. There is a President who gets paid more. There are numerous committees with members, VPs and Presidents who are often paid handsomely. Not one of these individuals is needed since the real decisions are taken by Montreal’s Mayor and Executive Committee.

However, the money paid to elected officials is only the tip of the iceberg. Each meeting requires staff to attend and pages of documents to be produced. Heads of the police, fire and other services must attend to answer questions. Their staff have to prepare them. It is all for show and a huge waste of everyone’s time.

The suburban Mayors can force Montreal/Quebec to eliminate the Agglomeration simply by refusing to participate and saying they will no longer accept money for doing nothing. How will Montreal politicians then be able to keep attending meetings that are nothing but a show? Will their voters accept paying them for nothing? I think not.

So, Montreal politicians will not be able to justify the Agglomeration’s continued existence and will have to replace it with something along the lines of what I am suggesting. To be clear, I am not suggesting another temporary boycott like the one I started in 2006. This time it would be a permanent withdrawal. After 15 years of negotiating with Montreal and Quebec since 2008 and getting absolutely nowhere, it is well past time to say, enough is enough.

Goodbye, I’ll be leavin’I see no sense in this cryin’ and grievin’ [and negotiatin]
We’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me

Different Drum, with apologies to Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys

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  1. Good reading, thanks, especially for myself who was unaware of the extent of yet another of Ville de Mtl’s taxation exploits.

  2. Warren, almost no residents other than Mayors and members of council understand the extent to which we are being “robbed” by Montreal. It was much worse in 2006 but it is still terrible now.

    Marilyn, I offered shorter versions (to meet editorial guidelines) to both the Montreal Gazette and the Suburban. So far neither has decided to publish it.

  3. Having attended an Agglo meeting and having lived through years of crazy Agglo increases I agree completely with Bill that the Agglo is an un democratic farce. Made me think of democracy in China. If the Agglo wants to tax us we should be allowed to vote in the general Montreal election.

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Picture of Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Bill Steinberg

Dr. Steinberg has a BSc from McGill University, a PhD in Psychology from Northwestern University, and was a professor at Concordia University. He was Mayor of the Town of Hampstead for 16 years and led the demerger battle. He was was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and is currently President of the Cochlear Implant Recipients Association.

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