Montreal - City to emulate?

Yesterday a client said something to me that was interesting. He is originally from Montreal but was transferred to Ohio for work. When asked about how adjusting to a new state was, he said it was difficult. Ohio ain't Montreal. In fact, he went further by saying Americans "like their guns and pick up trucks" and that he never missed a chance to tell Americans that if they want to learn about how to build a city they should go to Montreal.

There's a lot to digest in this compact proclamation. That America is a nation of gun toting pick up drivers is not my place to debate, though I do find it to be a slight generalization. I've never been to Ohio so I will only discuss my hometown of Montreal.

Montreal is both an outstanding and corrupt city at the same time. I suppose you can say this of most cities, but Montreal does possess a certain personality and character you don't find in most cities on the continent.

In terms of quality of life Montreal is one of the best cities in the world to live in. Access to education, electricity, water, low crime, recreational parks, public health care, an indigenous artistic community and other factors including low cost of living make Montreal an attractive place. On a subjective level, Montreal is a sexy town that maximizes your vices. It has the coolest bar and clubs and is home to some of the hippest areas in North America. Above all, Montreal is a bilingual, cosmopolitan city with French roots, where many cultures mesh in a kaleidoscope of style and elegance. It is also the Mecca of hockey and proudly has in its heritage case Le Club Hockey Canadiens with 24 Stanley Cups to its name.*

Montreal, however, has a disturbing undercurrent also. It is among the worst in car theft incidences in the world. We have telemarketing scams galore. It has been suggested that Montreal is a crime hub for many Mafia families (of any origin) as well as a haven for terrorist cells. Its poverty levels and the number of people on welfare remain chronically high. Its urban planning is all over the map, excuse the pun, and is possibly the most politicized region in North America.

Unfortunately, Montreal, in all its progressiveness, is subjected to draconian anti-democratic laws like Bill 22 (ironically Canada is officially bilingual but Quebec isn't) and Bill 101 which are laws in place to protect a fragile majority at the expense of a guilt ridden minority. It is also home to the Patriote nationalism of 'L'Office de la Langue Française', an outfit that sends its minions to harass hard working tax paying entrepreneurs to ensure they comply with Provincial laws that make it a crime to have bilingual signs that are equal in their orientation.

Parochialism (the most recent example was the local ownership that allowed for the demise of Nos Amours, the Montreal Expos) is not restricted to remote parts of Kentucky. It is exists here, too. High drop out school rates and poor health has also been revealed by recent statistics. Pure freedom of expression and thought gets a rough ride in Quebec academic circles.

So, is my client correct when he chastises his coworkers and neighbours for not being more like Montreal? Yes and no.

We probably are, on a cultural level, more progressive. The real will of Montrealers is that they do not want to be dragged into the regressive mud by their political masters and wannabe intellectuals who are constantly behind the cultural progressive curve. Montrealers possess a joie de vivre that very few cities enjoy.

Politics, however, has the power to spew venom on a good thing. Quebec politics is a hindrance to the potential Montreal has to offer. In economics, this is called the output gap. That is, the difference between potential and actual GDP as a per cent of potential GDP. It can be argued that Montreal is not capitalizing on all the advantages it has been accorded. It can't be denied that economically Montreal has suffered as a result of this.

It did not have to be this way. Montreal had the talent and tools to rival if not surpass Toronto as the financial hub of Canada. Montreal is a city of squandered opportunities. In sum, Montreal has its positives but it also has its serious negatives and we are definitely poorer (in every sense) for it. I love Montreal, but we should be doing better. We have under achieved.

*Even then, the franchise is a mere shadow of its former self. Montreal is now a second-rate sports town.

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