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Mayor of the moment

Valérie <br> Plante


You have said Montréal draws inspiration from diversity, and you have emphasised the value of social inclusion. What are the main inequality challenges facing Montréal, and how are you seeking to address them?

Diversity is one of Montréal’s undeniable strengths. However, it also brings challenges because, despite the progress made over the years, citizens of ethnocultural communities continue to face systemic barriers. This is also true for people in precarious situations who must be allowed to reach their full potential.  Our administration has always been concerned about leaving no one behind. This commitment has been made all the more important by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced us to act quickly to support the most vulnerable, including the homeless, local merchants and Montréal families. In January 2020, we actively fought against employment inequity, which remains a major issue in Montréal, as elsewhere, and which prevents the integration of many people of immigrant and multicultural backgrounds. The city of Montréal called on major Montréal employers to organise the Closed Doors Day (this link exists in French only). This awareness campaign aimed to highlight the racism and systemic barriers that continue to hinder access to employment for too many workers. The goal was to encourage employers to overcome prejudices and to discover the talent of people from immigrant and diverse backgrounds, as well as the rich contributions they can bring to their businesses. This initiative, set up in collaboration with the Newcomer Office (Bureau d’intégration des nouveaux arrivants à Montréal, also known as BINAM), was a great success. Montréal has also implemented the Equal Access to Employment program, which proposes a series of measures to promote diversity in the city’s teams. This program ensures a fair and equitable hiring process for women, Indigenous Peoples, people from visible or ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. Finally, our administration recently created the Office of the Commissioner for Combating Racism and Systemic Discrimination as well as the position of Commissioner in order to make the City of Montréal a truly inclusive organisation. The city of Montréal has recognised that racism and systemic discrimination are a reality within the city and we are taking the necessary steps to combat them.

The city has recently set an ambitious $22 million Economic Recovery Plan to stabilise and reinvigorate the economy in the short-term, in response to the local economic impacts of COVID-19. In what ways can measures within this plan also be used to support inclusive growth in the long run?

In the first phase of the relaunch plan, we implemented a budget of $22 million to quickly provide support to the merchants hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Since the needs are still great, we added a further $50 million in the second phase. This brings the total amount dedicated to supporting our economy and preparing for the economic relaunch to $72 million. This is an extremely significant amount for a municipality but we feel it is our duty to support the local merchants and entrepreneurs who contribute to the vitality of our city and economy. Our priority is to achieve a green, sustainable and inclusive relaunch of our economy. From the beginning of the crisis, we have acted to ensure no one is left behind. The city has shown great agility in putting in place unprecedented assistance measures for Montréal’s most affected businesses and companies. This commitment is also reflected in the second phase of our plan, which is based on four main principles: resilience, innovation, creativity and the green economy. This new phase will make it possible to support our most vulnerable companies: SMEs and start-ups. Smaller businesses have been hit much harder due to the confinement measures and health guidelines. Yet those businesses contribute so much to Montréal’s economy, the vibrancy of its neighbourhoods and our city’s appeal. It is our duty to support them through these difficult times, The city has also set up a plan to encourage local shopping during the holiday season. By offering free on-street parking downtown every night of the week and offering it throughout Montréal on weekends, we hope to encourage people to shop at local Montréal businesses. We have also allowed businesses to extend opening hours, to better distribute foot traffic and thereby ensure compliance with public health regulations. These measures are of course limited in time, but we hope they will help merchants benefit from the holiday season and get through the crisis. In the longer term, the city of Montréal will work with the provincial and federal governments to ensure the implementation of major public transit projects, such as the extension of the blue metro line and the development of the western section of the pink line, the construction of social and affordable housing as well as the revitalisation of Montréal’s waterfront. All of these projects will create jobs, boost the economy, improve Montréal’s resilience, and offer all Montrealers a better quality of life.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the city provided homeless shelters, which were overflowing, with basic sanitary facilities and ran an outreach campaign to ensure public health messages were shared with ethnic communities and migrants. How will you ensure the most vulnerable populations are not disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and recovery efforts in the long-term?

From the beginning of the crisis, our objective was to leave no one behind. Our actions aimed to prevent the health crisis becoming a humanitarian crisis. To boost communication, we produced a multilingual video, featuring eight well-known public figures from cultural communities, to reach as many people as possible in communities where the primary language spoken at home is neither French or English. Additionally, multilingual tools were available, and the city offered its support to the 211 Greater Montréal helpline, an information and referral service linking people to community resources available in 200 languages, which played a key role during the crisis.

However, housing remains a major issue and we can only limit the impact on the most vulnerable populations if we invest quickly and significantly in social and affordable housing. Residential construction will be an integral part of Montréal’s economic recovery. This essential sector ensures quality jobs and delivers quality affordable homes. In order to preserve the diversity for which Montréal is renowned, and to address the critical shortage of affordable social housing, our administration has established the Bylaw for a Diverse Metropolis. This bylaw, which will come into force in April 2021, will ensure Montréal’s diversity through the construction of social, affordable and family housing. This will be a landmark moment in Montréal’s history. The housing crisis has been acute for many years and the need for social and affordable housing was exacerbated by COVID-19. This bylaw will ensure the most vulnerable people have access to safe housing, and middle-class families will be able to choose to live in the metropolis while staying within their budget. The bylaw will maximise the impact of the city’s various housing programs as well as those of other governments, by encouraging private projects to include subsidised housing. This will ensure the diversity of neighbourhoods undergoing transformation through the construction of 600 social housing units per year. The bylaw will also create new leverage to protect older rental buildings and maintain affordable rents. In addition, it will enable the development of a new intermediate offer, between social housing and ownership. Ultimately, it should lead to the construction of 500 family housing units at market price per year. People with a roof over their heads, who are integrated into society, can make a real contribution. The housing issue goes beyond bricks and mortar. It is the population’s quality of life and the vitality of our metropolis that depend on it.

Montréal has experienced consistent population growth over the past 60 years. How is the city changing its approach to urban planning to provide a sustainable built environment, including affordable housing that meets the needs of current and future generations?

The COVID-19 pandemic and confinement measures imposed in spring 2020 highlighted the importance of green spaces for Montrealers, who do not always have access to a private yard. Montréal’s major parks, such as the parks of Mont-Royal, La Fontaine and Maisonneuve, and local parks, have been very popular and overrun by residents in search of space and fresh air. Our administration has always made the creation of green spaces a priority, even before the pandemic. This commitment to fighting climate change has resulted, among other things, in the acquisition of land in the West Island of Montréal in order to create the largest municipal park in Canada. With its 3,000 hectares, the Grand parc de l’Ouest will protect woodlands, fallow land, wetlands, and fragile or biodiversity-rich ecosystems. It will also provide the public with new access to nature.

The pandemic and the health measures put in place have also prompted our administration to think about sharing public space. Over the past decade, the number of cars has increased on the island of Montréal. As a result, roads are becoming increasingly busy. However, COVID-19 changed the way people move around and allowed us to test installations that make more room for pedestrians and cyclists. Streets were pedestrianised during the summer, bicycle paths were widened, and oversized terraces were created, to provide the population with a safe way to get around while respecting physical distancing, and to allow merchants and restaurant owners to welcome and serve their customers safely.

The last few months have shown that the most vulnerable users of the road, pedestrians, cyclists, families, seniors, are eager for more peaceful streets that allow them to move around safely. This will continue to guide our actions. In fact, we continue to take action to make travel safer for the most vulnerable. We recently inaugurated a new section of the Réseau express vélo (REV) on Saint Denis Street. This one-way, protected bicycle lane will allow cyclists to travel on one of Montréal’s main commercial arteries safely. We are also very active in terms of public transit. We ordered 300 new buses and new reserved lanes were created to ensure the bus network’s reliability. We are working with the Québec and Canadian governments to extend the métro’s blue line. We have also obtained assurances from the provincial government that the extension of the western portion of the pink line between Lachine and downtown will go ahead. Finally, we introduced the ByLaw for a Diverse Metropolis, ensuring Montréal’s diversity through the construction of social, affordable and family housing. The city of Montréal is active on all fronts to ensure a greener, more resilient, just and inclusive city for its population. These objectives were already an integral part of our vision before the pandemic, and now more than ever they guide our actions.