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The Economy of Exodus: Is Montreal the Next Motor City?

Questioning prior generations on their perceptions of Montreal generally prompts nostalgia of a time when the city was not only the booming center of la Belle Province, but also that of our entire country. Montreal, once a thriving economic hub, especially for multi-national corporations, has fallen far from its former glory. This is nothing new. Most companies packed up decades ago and made their way down the 401 to Toronto, and residents quickly followed this trend. However the recent increase of migration from Montreal and the province as a whole signals long term economic detriment. Since the election of the PQ in the fall of 2012, the exodus has steadily increased year by year, and yet researchers warn that the political atmosphere is not necessarily to blame. Quebec’s economy is driving out residents, but not all have given up hope. Campaigns for the appointment of city-state status for Montreal, akin to similar projects in cities like Tokyo, have been gaining momentum among those residents who have not yet packed up their station wagons. While the idea of Montreal as a city-state lingers, what is clear is that action must be taken fast, or our beautiful city could very well be the next Detroit.

Data from the first nine months of 2013 demonstrates the highest levels of migration from Quebec so far this century, with net losses steadily increasing since 2011. While two thirds of these migrants choose to settle in Ontario, other migrants head further west to Alberta. A total of 28, 439 people emigrated from Quebec in early 2013. After accounting for immigration that flows in to the province, this equates to a net loss of 11, 887. While the political climate remains a factor, particularly in the recent past (causing minorities to feel increasingly ostracized), similar trends in the financially struggling Maritimes signals that the economy is the primary issue. Most former Quebec citizens state that the reason for their departure stems from a lack of opportunity in both Montreal and the province. The equation for Quebec students seems, more than ever, to receive their low-cost education and pursue opportunities elsewhere. While perhaps an overtly harsh and dramatic formula, there is a pressing need to prevent future potential taxpayers from jumping ship.

Although characterized by a relatively high quality of life, bilingualism, and the most universities per capita, Montreal ranks last on the list of the Top 25 Large North American cities. This, by default, makes Montreal the poorest as well. On a Canadian scale, the per capita GDP requires a minimum 25% increase to reach the standard average, and far more to be comparable to the likes of Toronto or Vancouver. The problem lies in the fact that Montreal is subscribed to an economic plan formulated for the maleedge province as a whole.

Quebec is below national averages for most economic indicators: 16% lower average salaries and 17% lower rates of productivity. However, the province does lead in taxes and public debt, approximately double  compared to our neighbours to the West. While the province’s strategy is largely based on natural resources, entrepreneurial business has little room to grow under such a plan in this cosmopolitan city. Approximately 50% of the province’s population resides in the Greater Montreal area, and this population contributes towards 65% of the provincial annual tax revenues. Economically however, the city is governed by a plan that shows blatant disregard for its staggering differences.

Other factors are clearly at play, such as a greater presence of unionized workers, but it is namely the issue of language characterized by Bill 101 that is disadvantageous. This not only hinders a large numbers of Canadian companies based in other provinces from expanding to Montreal, but also thwarts foreign companies from establishing their Canadian headquarters here. Even with turnover rates, there are only so many opportunities for workers and soon to be graduates. This does not only weaken Montreal, but the entire province as a whole.

Some have begun imagining the possibility for Montreal to become a city-state within the province of Quebec, believing this will impede a continuing mass exodus, particularly of students, and bring Montreal back to its former glory. The idea does not plan to see the city emulate Monaco, but envisions city-state status as allowing Montreal to become an economic zone outside the control of the provincial government. A decentralization of powers would have to take place. While it’s an intriguing proposal, many would agree Montreal officials could not be trusted to handle such a task, in light of recent corruption. The creation of an economic plan specifically tailored to the needs of the city would be more likely; and this would clearly be beneficial to the province as a whole.

The provincially devised economic plan is not only unfavourable to Montreal, but in reality to Quebec itself. While public debt is said to have increased $28 million a day for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, recent data shows Montreal’s debt sitting currently at $5.6 billion, with a budget of only $4.9 billion. While comparing Montreal to Detroit may be an exaggeration, the trend of borrowing and increasing debt compared to a constant decrease in revenues is all too similar; not to mention the constant increase in the number of migrants. As of late, the Parti Quebecois does not seem to be concerned in creating any momentum, but a potential spring election will hopefully bring these issues to the forefront of debate.

-Matthew Bienz

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About Matthew Bienz

Student of Political Science and Human Rights at Concordia University. Born and raised in rural Quebec, Matthew moved to the city where the political pace is much more to his speed. He joined the Political Bouillon in hopes of fostering the budding journalist within and to become more involved in political discourse. Matthew hopes to engage political science and non-political science students alike in the Canadian system, as well as draw attention to his ancestral Switzerland.

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