Montreal is facing a budget crunch and it wants your opinion, but only in French

·3 min read

The city of Montreal wants to know what you think its priorities should be for the 2021 budget, but it is asking for your input in French only.

That has one Concordia professor and community leader questioning the usefulness of the survey.

"We have been communicating for hundreds of years, for God's sake," said Clarence Bayne, a professor at the John Molson School of Business, and president of the Black Community Resource Centre.

"So don't tell me that you do not have a process in place whereby you can put out things — technical stuff like this — in the two languages, that is more likely to help you to arrive at your objective: knowledge to the maximum number of persons, feedback as quickly as possible." said Bayne.

The eight-question survey asks whether Montreal should ask for temporary permission to run a deficit given the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under provincial law, cities and towns are not normally permitted to spend more than they take in.

The survey also asks if the city should raise taxes beyond the rate of inflation to balance its budget, or cut back on services such as policing, snow removal or trash collection to save money.

'Exceptional process'

In a written response to CBC, the city said it is conducting the survey online, and not in person, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is an exceptional process, but we still felt it was important to consult Montrealers regarding the budget, despite the limitations imposed by the actual situation," reads the statement.

Spokeswoman Geneviève Jutras said the survey is in French only because of the rush to get it online as quickly as possible.

Jutras said such a survey would have been posted in both languages under normal circumstances and that the city will re-examine this next year if, once again, it has to carry out consultations online.

Bayne calls that explanation "off the mark".

"I cannot understand the basic stupidity of not using both languages when it is necessary to get a very quick and in-depth understanding of what is being communicated," he said.

Survey hints cuts are coming

The opposition, Ensemble Montréal, agrees that the survey should have been in English as well.

But deputy leader Francesco Miele says the only options in the questionnaire appear to be cuts to essential services.

"Is Mrs. Plante telling us that if it snows she may not collect the snow? Is she telling us that she might cut down on garbage pickup?" asked Miele. "It does not make sense."

Miele says the questions amount to the administration at city hall tipping its hand as to what its priorities will be with the next budget.

"How can we ask Montrealers whether they want to cut on snow removal, garbage pickup or police and public safety funding? So the reality is that there's no real options out there," said Miele.

The survey is available until August 23. The city will analyze the results until mid-September before presenting the 2021 budget in November.