The Case for an Independent Montreal

Montréal: City-State Foundation Seeks to Turn Montreal into Entrepreneur Haven

The idea of turning Montreal into a “city-state” was pitched to an audience of about 30 in the School of Community and Public Affairs basement on Jan. 29.

This doesn’t mean Montreal becoming an Athens or Sparta however, nor a stone-walled Vatican cordoned off from the rest of Quebec and Canada, but to grant Montreal its own special jurisdiction over its tax revenue and provincial services.

Such a change would require consent from the Premier, as provinces hold authority over forming cities in Canada.

“We use the word ‘city-state’ because we’re not trying to make a little change, we’re trying to make a big change,” said Michel David, president of the Montréal: City-State Foundation and associate for the business consulting firm Coaching Ourselves Network.

David argued in his presentation that Montreal could become an “entrepreneurial economy” if it could design its own tax code and was not subject to provincial oversight.

In the next three months, he said, the Montréal: City State team will begin fleshing out how they can make this dream a reality.

“When you study the situation of Montreal, there is one overarching fact,” said David. “We are the poorest city in North America; this has been surveyed and documented for years.”

Despite being known as a world-class city, this lack of prosperity is, according to David, in part due to a lack of attention from the provincial government.

“For the last 40 years we’ve had a one-segment policy, and that one segment is the rest of Quebec,” said David, noting he thinks the island of Montreal is seen as a threat by the Parti Québécois and is not given policy priority because of it being a Liberal Party of Quebec stronghold.

“We have no clout, nowhere with nobody,” said David. “[We] just get pushed to the wall.”

Free from provincial oversight on health care and education, David says Montreal could ensure that students were bilingual after elementary school, and trilingual by the end of high school, closer to the European model.

David’s plan would also look to make Montreal the gateway to commerce with both Europe and Africa because of its linguistic advantage.

As Toronto is known for finance, Calgary for energy and Vancouver for pacific shipping, David argues Montreal could become a destination for entrepreneurs, like a northern Silicon Valley, with a tax system that would balance its budget and be attractive for private business.

While Montreal matched those cities in the ‘60s in terms of economic prosperity, its growth measured by G.D.P. has been outpaced by about one per cent since—leading our city to become a “frog to debt,” according to David.

It’s an analogy that Montreal is a frog sitting in a frying pan filled with water. As the water heats up slowly, the frog falls asleep—only to be later boiled alive.

“One per cent per year, you don’t really notice it. But after 30 years that’s 30 per cent, and that’s what’s happened,” he said.