To propel Montreal’s revival, the City should step up its support for businesses, promote public transportation and get Quebec the opportunity to run a deficit. This is what a committee of experts mandated by the Plante administration recommends in a report published on Tuesday.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, Montreal had the wind in its sails in terms of jobs and investments. The pandemic hit her hard. Many companies have had to close temporarily and others have downsized. Not to mention the major cultural and sporting events that have been canceled. Montreal has been idling since March and has even become the epicenter of the pandemic in Canada.
As the gradual deconfinement begins, the administration of Valérie Plante asked a group of experts chaired by Luc Godbout, holder of the Chair in Taxation and Public Finance at the University of Sherbrooke, to propose solutions for revive Montreal’s economy.
Finances under pressure
Since the start of the pandemic, the City has taken several steps to give businesses a boost and give owners a break. In particular, it postponed payment of the first property tax payment to July 2, which deprived it of $ 2 billion in cash. It also incurred several expenses for the purchase of protective equipment and overtime for its employees. Its revenues from public transport, transfer taxes, parking meters and permits are in free fall. The City also anticipates a shortfall of up to 538 million this year.
In Canada, municipalities are not allowed to run deficits, but the committee suggests that the City of Montreal obtain from the Government of Quebec the temporary lifting of its obligation to balance its budget while obtaining financial support from other orders governments to help it get through the crisis. The committee proposes that the City consider the issuance of “special stimulus bonds”.
The right to deficit is however not an avenue favored by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities last April. When questioned on this subject, the mayor of Gatineau, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, had considered this option unsustainable. “This is shoveling the problem forward,” he said.
The committee of experts also suggests extending the deferral of property taxes and even examining the possibility of offering tax rebates for certain sectors of activity in the districts most affected by the crisis.
He advocates teleworking for city employees and support for SMEs to do the same while taking into account its impact on downtown merchants who depend on these workers.
The committee has several suggestions for the City to support businesses by promoting local purchasing or by supporting them in their digital shift, which it has already started to do.
Experts believe that in its recovery, Montreal must not lose sight of environmental issues. “We must transform the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to seize on the environmental front so that Montreal becomes a leader in terms of energy transition”, they write.
They also emphasize the importance of public transit, which could be perceived as less safe than the car in times of pandemic. In particular, they urge the City to work with large employers to adjust schedules and avoid excessive traffic during peak hours. The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal has also started discussions with employers on this subject.
In terms of town planning, the committee is moving in the direction of the developments already proposed by the Plante administration to encourage active transportation with the establishment of sanitary corridors and pedestrian or shared streets.
Montreal should not neglect the cultural industry, which represents economic spinoffs of 9.4 billion for Quebec and should financially support major events towards online festivals and the creation of interactive platforms for broadcasting shows, the committee said.