A 'Plan Sud' for the Greater Montreal area is crucial to Quebec's economic future

MONTRÉAL, June 14, 2012 /CNW/ - Quebec needs to develop a "Plan Sud" that focuses on making Greater Montréal the economic hub it should be, according to a Conference Board of Canada publication issued to coincide with Les Rendez-vous IDU Québec, a conference from the Urban Development Institute of Quebec held today in Montréal.

"Quebec has articulated an economic development strategy, Plan Nord, for its northern regions, which is appropriate given the strong demand and high prices for commodities," said Mario Lefebvre, Director, Centre for Municipal Studies, and author of the publication. "But the time has also come for Quebec to adopt a 'Plan Sud' for the Greater Montréal area. The economies of Quebec and Canada will never realize their full potential if Montréal is floundering."

In a 2006 report, The Conference Board of Canada concluded that economic growth in the country's "hub" cities generates growth spurts in their surrounding communities and throughout their respective provinces. The Montréal census metropolitan area is this driving force in Quebec.

However, Montréal is no longer firing on all cylinders—at least not when compared with hub cities in other Canadian provinces. From 1987 to 2011, the Montréal census metropolitan area's average annual economic growth was only 1.8 per cent, compared with 2.4 per cent for Canada as a whole.

The briefing released today, A "Plan Sud" to Make Montréal the Hub City It Should Be, identifies seven major elements that should be part of a Plan Sud: restoring municipal financial health, attracting and integrating immigrants, encouraging investment, ensuring transparent and responsive governance, supporting industrial clusters, marketing innovative research and products, integrating regional development.

Municipal Financial Health
Restoring Montréal's financial health must be the first ingredient of a Plan Sud. Several Conference Board reports have shown that Canadian municipalities currently are not able to both provide all the services they should and fund the infrastructure they need to operate. In this environment, Canada's large cities, such as Montréal, cannot be engines of economic growth.

In 2008, the Conference Board formulated a three-pronged approach to address municipalities' fiscal imbalances: upload responsibilities to higher levels of government (or be provided with revenues to assume downloaded responsibilities); access a revenue source, such as a sales tax, that grows with the economy; and make greater use of available financial tools, such as borrowing and user fees.

The future prosperity of Canada and Quebec depends on immigration. Although Montréal attracts a high proportion of immigrants to Canada, many choose not to stay. Support from the federal and provincial governments is needed to help Montréal attract, retain, and integrate its immigrants.

Investment in public infrastructure plays a crucial role in strengthening long-term competitiveness and economic performance. And in an economic environment characterized by globalization and a strong Canadian dollar, Montréal businesses that want to remain competitive will need to increase their capital spending as well. A strategic plan to stimulate foreign direct investment is also in order.

Canada's municipalities (including Montréal) need to rethink their governance model. According to a survey by Montréal International, the average approval time for land sales, urban development projects, zoning changes, or public consultations in Montréal is 12 months, a period that could potentially jeopardize some investment projects.

Industrial Clusters
The Montréal census metropolitan area contains a number of industrial clusters, such as: aerospace, life sciences, information and communications technology, culture, financial services, and clean technology. Rather than adding to the existing list of clusters, incentives should be focused on those that exist, by prioritizing strategic investments, tax incentives (such as tax credits), and cooperation with universities to train a specialized workforce.

Although much original research has been carried out in the Greater Montréal area's universities, this research does not seem to have been accompanied by a marketing effort comparable to that deployed in other major urban centres around the world. This may in part explain the relatively low number of patents registered annually in Montréal. Better marketing and commercialization of new ideas is essential.

Integrated Development
A master plan is needed to guide an integrated approach for initiatives to improve Montréal's economic health, given that such initiatives often focus only on neighbourhoods. For Montréal to become a flourishing metropolis, policies need to be part of an overall plan.

The publication is publicly available at www.e-library.ca.


For further information:

Link: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=4893

Brent Dowdall, Media Relations, Tel.: 613-526-3090 ext. 448
E-mail: corpcomm@conferenceboard.ca

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