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City of Montreal to invest as much in police in 1 year as green infrastructure in 10

“The city’s budget is providing what might be the least accountable and most trigger-happy police force in Canada with $45-million more in 2022.”

You can be forgiven if you somehow missed the fact that the city of Montreal proposed its budget for 2022 last week. Just three days before the completely secular mass celebration of the birth of a Bronze Age Arab-Jewish miracle worker from Palestine, the Valérie Plante 2 (Electric Boogaloo) administration proposed a nearly $6.5-billion budget for city operations in 2022, as well as a nearly $20-billion capital program for the next decade.

Issuing the budget proposal just a few days before Christmas isn’t the best look for a municipal government that’s ostensibly interested in improving transparency at City Hall and fostering greater trust among the general public, as it severely curtailed the public’s ability to process the information and discuss it in local media. Moreover, with COVID infection rates popping into five-figure territory, it’s not like the average Montrealer has much bandwidth left over to seriously consider how their money is being spent by the municipal government. 

That being said, I expected a more substantive critique of the budget proposal from the leadership of the Denis Coderre Placeholder Party. Aref Salem, who’s taken over the job of keeping the seat warm from ousted King of Côte-des-Neiges Lionel Perez, didn’t have much to say other than that they didn’t really have a lot of time to process it, and that they’re miffed there aren’t more financial assistance programs. Characteristically, Salem was short on key details — like how much the city should be budgeting for financial assistance, who would be getting it and how (or if) such assistance would dovetail with similar promises of assistance from the federal government.

Regardless of whether the news media has enough time to scrutinize every detail of the plan, you would think that the city’s self-described official opposition would have their interns burning the midnight oil to, y’know, come up with a list of things to be opposed to, and to demonstrate their opposition to the mayor’s plan.

Perhaps my expectations are too high given Ensemble’s opposition never amounted to anything more than simply being contrarian, but I digress. If Salem wants to be anything more than a Lionel Perez duplicate, he’s going to have to take the reins and chart his own course. Making Ensemble MTL anything more than a Denis Coderre vehicle is his job to lose.

Back to the matter at hand: How is our money being used next year?

International Day Against Police Brutality
City of Montreal 2022 budget to invest as much in police in 1 year as green infrastructure in 10

It’s disappointing to me that Projet Montréal has decided to throw more of our money down the bottomless pit that is police funding, providing what might be the least accountable and most trigger-happy police force in Canada with $45-million more next year, its second largest budget boost in the last two decades. This brings SPVM funding up close to the three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars mark, with the SPVM eating up nearly 20% of the municipal budget. I would have preferred to this money go elsewhere, as I am not convinced that spending more money on police ever leads to better outcomes (and most of the academics who actually study this kind of thing have made the same point over and over again).

What’s particularly troubling here is that Plante & co. didn’t even try to attach any kind of conditions to this funding boost — no civilian oversight board, no limitations on armed response. The Fuzz will also be getting about $4.6-million to help fight gun violence, which is interesting to me because, well, what else are they doing with their time and money if not combatting violent crime in our city? And how exactly is another $4.6-million going to help? For all that’s progressive about the city of Montreal, our enlightened leaders essentially take a conservative and traditional American approach when it comes to law enforcement. That is, throw money at the problem until it goes away, and never demand any accountability. In this respect, Mayor Plante isn’t any different from any of the ‘law and order’ Boss Tweed types to have come before her. Spending $17-million on body cameras is a great way to make the police and political class feel like they’re being accountable (mostly because the cops will likely be able to turn them on and off at their discretion), but it’s not what the people of Montreal actually want, nor does it appear that the tactic will have any positive effect on reducing police violence. At a time in which Montrealers are losing faith in police and are advocating in favour of defunding them, Plante has decided to go in the opposite direction. It makes me wonder who’s really in charge of this city.

Conspicuously absent from issuing any comments regarding the mayor’s white hot cash injection into the city’s pork industry is Balarama Holness — the guy who literally campaigned on a Defund the Police platform in the last election and then had the temerity to proclaim victory after not winning any seats. Perhaps he’s busy failing upwards like Mélanie Joly into a cabinet post in the administration of Trudeau the Younger.

Where I was hoping to see some bold action, I was sorely disappointed. Plante & Projet’s planned environmental and climate change spending for 2022, as well as the capital programs for the next decade, are insufficient and generally lacking in imagination. As an example, $45-million — the same amount the SPVM received as a bonus for 2022 alone — has been earmarked for green infrastructure for the whole of the next decade. Only $10-million is to be invested in urban agriculture, but again, this is over the next decade, and the city has plans to acquire just 40 more hectares of urban agricultural land over the next five years. (If you’re of the metric persuasion, that’s 0.4 square kilometres. Put another way, the island of Montreal is just over 43,000 hectares — this really isn’t a lot of land).

The city also plans on spending $186.5-million over the next decade as part of the never-ending plan to connect the two parts of Cavendish Boulevard, which is just more evidence of Plante & Projet’s hopelessly outdated thinking (fully one quarter of all the major capital projects of the next decade are earmarked for roadways, not public transit). The Cavendish Connector project seems like it’s just a backdoor to the Royalmount project, which, rather than “reimagining midtown Montreal,” in the language of the project’s promoters, will likely join the menagerie of the city’s White Elephants, up there with Mirabel Airport, the Olympic Stadium and the REM. Call me a cynic, but I’m just not sold on the idea of going to a waterpark next to the Decarie Interchange. The Cavendish Connector, assuming it’s completed, will channel West Islanders and West Enders alike from highways 40 and 20 onto Royalmount Avenue, likely causing more congestion than it alleviates. Either way, I can’t see how this is anything but more public money working to support another harebrained speculative real estate project. 

All in all, it’s a disappointing budget for a municipal administration that portrays itself as grassroots environmentalists with an ear and an eye toward progressive social change, and which has further managed to eliminate any semblance of a threat from the populist rightwing of local politics. Why Projet doesn’t aim higher is a mystery to me — they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. ■

Read more editorials by Taylor C. Noakes here.