by Robert K. Whelan and Pierre Joncas
In Inroads 15 we described the process leading up to the June 20 demerger referendums in Quebec municipalities.1 We paid particular attention to developments in Montreal where a new administration under Gérald Tremblay came to power in January 2002 in the “One Island, One City” that had been created by the PQ government.
The Tremblay administration was soon confronted with changes following the 2003 provincial election campaign, in which Jean Charest’s Liberal Party promised to submit the mergers to the people directly concerned for their approval. The changes took the form of a law, Bill 9, which opened the door for old municipalities to revert to their former status as separate, independent entities, albeit with much reduced powers, and set out a series of stages through which it could take place, the last being a referendum. As a result of the June referendums, opponents of the Montreal megamerger managed to carve out a large chunk of their new island-city, including a huge crescent-shaped piece at its southwestern end, comprising 28 per cent of its land area and 15 per cent of its population.
Observers stress different motives as driving the défusioniste (i.e. demerger) forces. Martin Horak and Andrew Sancton see the opponents of amalgamation in Montreal (as in Toronto) as middle-class residents with a strong sense of local identity.2 Julie-Anne Boudreau agrees the opposition is middle-class-based but views Montreal as primarily a territorial struggle over cultural identity propelled by the desire of anglophones to protect life in English in Montreal.3 Heather Murray sees these movements as part of a general desire to assert and exercise urban autonomy,4 expressed, for example, in the current struggle to use proceeds of the federal gasoline tax to finance urban infrastructure.
In this brief update, we shall discuss the difficulties faced by the défusionistes, some aspects of the referendum campaign and the outcome itself. We shall conclude with a discussion of short-term prospects for Montreal, other metropolitan communities and the provincial government.