Suburbs like to act like they’re creations of god, the same lil’ ol’ community that’s been there since farming days, only now with tens of thousands of residents. So folksy, so homey, and offering convenient access to so very much that you don’t have to pay taxes to support.
One would think that the outcome of the megacity flap, the victory of the West Island’s arbitrary crazy quilt of lilliputian municipal anglostans over modern solutions for better regional management, was enough to restore the often-tempestuous love affair between the Quebec Liberal Party and a key component of its base. In those heady days, West Island suburbanites suddenly discovered that their anomic shitscape inhabited by a few hundred thousand bored and anxious mallrats was a community, and one that those sovereigntist bastards were going to take from us.
Now Bourque Newswatch (no, you don’t get a link, because he’s a dick) — Canada’s favorite allegedly pay-to-play “news” aggregator — alerts us to a new twist in their knickers. The Globe and Mail reports that West Island mayors, frustrated with Charest’s disinterest in fully undoing one of his predecessor’s most sensible decisions, are going to add their voice to Mario Dumont’s coalition of right-wingers, soft nationalists who still think it’s 1993, and lumpen idiots from Quebec City.
Municipal governments on this continent were concieved and set up largely as ways to manage the development of infrastructure and the subsequent increase in land values. In Montreal, the process was often led by builders and providers of building supplies, who also served as members of the parish council and thereby controlled most community services (particularly the caisses populaires, kept on a short leash by the Church so that people wouldn’t get any funny ideas about the power of cooperative institutions). A gross oversimplification of the standard practice would go like this: get the archdiocese to build a church, get elected to the parish council, incorporate a city, get elected to the city council, and then get both the parish and the city to buy building materials from you until the city went bankrupt, at which point the City of Montreal would step in, annex you, and assume the debt.
Fast-forward to the 1950’s, when developers started seeing the upside to remaining an independent municipality, such as keeping out undesirables and further micromanaging the development process so as to ensure a monoculture of single-family houses and take maximum advantage of subsidized infrastructure that radically increases the accessibility and value of your land (i.e., Highway 40). Yet beyond these advantages, forming new municipalities was about getting away from the terrifying fecundity of Catholics and spending your money like “normal” North Americans, by sinking it into a shitty house with a garage instead of paying low rent on a decently-maintained triplex apartment and taking the bus. Most of the suburban municipalities of the West Island were created within living memory as an economic response to class and cultural anxieties, not because a bunch of farmers wanted to build a picturesque mill in the distant past.
The resulting constellation of (often amusingly mutually hostile) suburban cities was a fertile ground for Anglo alarmism, incoherent suspicion of the Galganov/Schnurmacher type, and occasional threats to secede from Quebec and form an extraterritorial enclave of Ontario (after all, we need only to survey the international examples of which Mr. Dion is so fond to see how well those kinds of things turn out). Naturally, when the PQ’s megacity proposal threatened suburbanites with having to pay to fix their spectacularly overbuilt infrastructure and take some measure of responsibility for their externalities, the shit hit the fan. Charest’s Liberals got to play the brave saviors as Westmounters and soccer moms took to the streets, and once elected fulfilled their promise to wreck a reasonably well-conceived system of policy development and operational responsibilities for the boroughs, the island, and the larger region.
Remember, repeat to yourself that it isn’t about language or partition, over and over again. Because “reopening the divisive language/sovereignty debate” is something that big bad sovereigntists do — the senescent windbags of the Gazette editorial page are merely performing their civic duty in reacting to their own cultural irrelevance in the shrillest possible terms. Now they’re teaming up with ptit Mario and his ever-shifting constellation of disposable hangers-on, ready to reap protest votes from the English wing of the minivan set. Be afraid.