Demerger – 10 years later

2014-05-29

This is Hampstead’s centennial year, so it is quite fitting that it is also the 10th anniversary of the demerger referenda on June 20. Had we not won the referendum, Hampstead would no longer exist and we would be part of the Cote Saint-Luc, Montreal West, Hampstead borough of Montreal.

 

We won the referendum with a vote of over 90% and, subsequently, I ran for Mayor and was privileged to be elected to serve you. While I am very proud of my three election victories and all that we have accomplished, nothing was as exciting, or as significant, as the demerger battle and eventual victory. At one point, after the forced mergers and before the Liberals replaced the PQ in 2003, our diehard band of demerger activists, island wide, was down to about a dozen of us. Aside from my wife, Doris, and me, the group included among others, Campbell Stuart, who went on to become the first Mayor of Montreal West following the demerger, Maria Tutino who became Baie D’Urfe’s Mayor and still is, and Colleen Feeney who is now a Montreal West councillor. At the time, not one of us had ever been involved in politics.

 

The odds against us were astronomical. The pro merger side was led by Montreal’s Mayor, Gerald Tremblay, and they spent well over $2 million on the campaign. On our side we sold blue ribbons for $2 each. The business groups were against us, as well as, much of the media. The referendum rules required both a majority of the votes cast, and also that 35% of the people on the electoral list vote for demerger. When you realize that the electoral list had about 20% names of people who had died or moved, and that turnout is normally low in municipal votes, the 35% hurdle was difficult to achieve. Such a requirement has never been used in any democracy. In spite of all that, we won because the people wanted their towns back.

 

Are we better off?

I will focus on Hampstead but it is a similar story in all the other reconstituted municipalities. We have hadlocal tax increases below inflation for seven years in a row. The Montreal boroughs have had much higher increases. In 2006 when we got Hampstead back, many residents compared our infrastructure to that of a third world country. Now Hampstead’s infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, water mains, sewers, etc.) is in excellent shape. Montreal is in such bad shape, that they have had dramatic sinkholes that swallow trucks and when there are heavy rain storms, Montreal has sewer manhole covers flying up on top of geysers, due to the sewers overflowing. Futhermore, our house values have climbed faster than those in most areas of Montreal.

 

Our services are far superior to what they were during the merger years. These include snow clearing and removal, cleanliness, beautification of our green spaces and numerous events. We are also a bilingual town with all communications in both French and English. Montreal is not. Being a small town also means that you can reach me and the councillors very easily. Montrealers can call 311. It is not quite the samepersonalized service that you get in Hampstead.

 

What about the unfair Agglomeration?

Prior to the forced merger, we had the MUC which was responsible for island wide services, so the concept of an island wide body is not new. However, under the old MUC both the suburbs and Montreal had to agree on all decisions but under the Agglomeration Montreal got 87% of the vote so they have total control. On top of that, the Agglomeration was given more responsibilities than the old MUC. Still, following the boycott which Maria Tutino and I started in May, 2006, we got the Quebec government to pass Bill 22 which reduced the Agglomeration’s responsibilities and gave the demerged towns more power. More needs to be done butoverall we are much, much better off having demerged.

 

If you have any comments or questions on this topic or anything else related to Hampstead, please e-mail me at WSteinberg@Hampstead.qc.ca or call me 7 days a week until midnight at my home office (514) 483-6954. 


Sincerely,


Dr. Bill Steinberg
Mayor, Town of Hampstead