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Public culture and the dialogics of democracy: reading the Montreal and Toronto amalgamation debates.


Cet article decrit comment les debats autour des fusions municipales a Montreal et a Toronto forment un dossier important sur la complexite du discours democratique et du regroupement unique de voix qui sont impliquees dans un dialogue aux multiples tensions a l'interieur d'un important secteur de la culture publique de la ville. Notre analyse se concentre sur le cas de Montreal. Nous examinons les discours en conflit et les echanges entre les interlocuteurs ou leur 'dialogisme' en quatre etapes. La premiere etape consiste en une presentation de l'arriere-plan des cultures societales qui aident a expliquer pourquoi la question nationale joue un role plus important a Montreal qu'a Toronto. La seconde etape presente une description comparative des processus qui ont mene aux fusions dans les deux villes. Dans la troisieme et la quatrieme etape, nous preparons une comparaison entre les voix officielles des politiques gouvernementales et les differentes voix en opposition a ces politiques, telles qu'elles sont pre sentees dans les journaux montrealais. Nous concluons avec l'argument normatif suivant : dans le but d'agrandir le role du dialogue dans l'espace democratique de la ville, l'etendue de l'autodetermination devrait etre modifiee afin de mieux correspondre aux obligations de la justice et de la redistribution plus equitable des ressources. Ainsi, les voix opposees dans ce conflit pourraient devenir plus conscientes des arguments qui leur sont offerts en replique.

Mots cles: Fusion; Montreal; Toronto; Polyphonie; Orientation emotive-volitive.

Keywords: Amalgamation; Montreal; Toronto; Polyphony; Emotional-volitional.


This article describes the way the debates over amalgamation in Montreal and Toronto produce a record of the complexity of democratic discourse and a unique grouping of voices that are in a tense dialogue within an important sector of the public culture of the city. Our analysis focuses on the Montreal case and examines the contradictory discourses and the 'dialogism' or exchange between them in four steps. First, we introduce the background societal cultures that help explain why the 'national question' plays a more important role in Montreal than it does in Toronto. Second, we present a comparative description of the processes that led to the amalgamations in the two cities. Finally, we set up a comparison between the official voices of government policy and the various voices of opposition to the policy as presented in Montreal newspapers. We conclude with the normative argument that in order to expand the role of dialogue in the democracy of the city, the scope of self-determination ought to be made to better correspond to the obligation of justice and the fairer redistribution of resources, so that conflicting voices might be more answerable to one another.


Restructuring the governance of relatively distinct, but usually overlapping, municipalities into 'mega' cities has become a common strategy in several Canadian urban regions over the last ten years. Governments often invoke the functional argument in favour of democracy, that cities need to react to global economic forces through a variety of strategies, including amalgamations, in order to reduce duplication and improve the competitive environment so as to better attract transnational capital. But governments do not only argue in functionalist terms. Social justice claims are also invoked in the name of fairer redistribution and equity. Critics of amalgamations counter the functional argument by pointing out the lack of empirical evidence for cost savings and improved efficiency, and argue against the communitarian reference to social justice by citing evidence that indicates a net loss of local democratic citizenship which in turn threatens the richness of the city's civil society and public culture. Inten se middle class social movements have formed in opposition to amalgamations, but have had no success in arresting them. Governments respond that the argument against the democratic deficit cannot be grounded in the rule of law, and that in any case the need for fiscal equity and the contribution to the 'common good' outweigh risks of sacrificing local autonomy and individual choice.

One of the themes of the Culture of Cities project is that despite powerful globalizing and homogenizing forces, the particularity of each city shows itself in the way it engages these kinds of vexing issues. Government arguments concerning the need for amalgamations, as well as the multiplicity of opposition voices, bring to light this particularity from sharply different angles. The study we propose focusses primarily on Montreal, offering an outline of the Toronto case only in order to highlight the most general features unique to each city. Montreal is a city divided by historical pulls and tugs of forces that emerge from tensions between national majority and minority interests (Kymlicka 1998; Taylor 1994, 1993). While Toronto is not typically understood as a city at the historical centre of national politics, like Montreal, it is a city rich in cultural diversity and transnational diasporas and is also defined by its own internal social division. We address the example of legislated amalgamation because it displays some of the complexity of democratic discourse and of the unique but very partial grouping of voices that are in a tense dialogue within an important sector of the public culture of the city. Our analysis of the contradictory discourses and the exchange between them is developed in four steps.

First we introduce three points about societal culture that include a review of Will Kymlicka's definition of the concept and an explanation of why the national question plays a more important role in Montreal than it does in Toronto; a brief description of the differences between the linguistic and cultural politics of Montreal and Toronto; and a reminder of the importance of the common legal and symbolic role played by the federal constitution in each city. Second, the paper takes off from these three contextual points to present a comparative description of the processes that led to the amalgamations in Toronto and Montreal. In steps three and four, we set up a comparison between the official voices of government policy and the various voices of opposition to the policy as presented in Montreal newspapers. Our analysis of points of public policy and of the newspaper narratives provides a limited but significant example of the way in which direct and functional levels of democracy clash in public culture. A lthough for different reasons and to different degrees, each side claims to take into account the most efficient and functional solution to problem-solving, and each argues its choice best represents the interests of local democracy. When these two equally weighted discourses about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of amalgamation cease to look to each other for rejoinders, there is a tendency by each to respond strategically so that each becomes locked into arguing that it alone holds the last, correct, or final word on the subject. Following Iris Marion Young (2000), we conclude that in order to expand the role of dialogue in democracy, the scope of self determination for a polity ought to be made to correspond better to the obligation of justice and the fairer redistribution of resources, so that conflicting voices might be more answerable to one another.

We understand a healthy and vigorous public culture as the space in the city that draws voices from civil society into an exchange through what Mikhail Bahktin calls dialogism. This occurs when equally weighted, simple or complex utterances (policy documents and newspaper articles in the case of our analysis) address the same theme or sets of themes in such a way that they cannot help but gravitate toward one another "whether they confirm, mutually supplement, or (conversely) contradict one another." The debate over amalgamation is mainly over discourses that contradict one another. Dialogism assumes that "two embodied meanings cannot lie side by side like two objects - they must come into inner contact; that is, they must enter into a semantic bond" (Bakhtin 1984: 189). We are not arguing that dialogism is an "ideal speech model" that inevitably leads co-participants to agreement or to the legitimate closure of a debate. Dialogism does not mean avoidance of conflict or antagonism, but it can collapse into a more strategic form of exchange.

Once the general context and story of the amalgamation is outlined in terms of official government policy, we shall present a qualitative analysis of exemplary voices found in Montreal newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, and columns in order to get at some of the emotional-volitional tones and orientations in the 'for' and 'against' arguments. In the course of these presentations, we consider the argument that legislated solutions to urban governance are functionally legitimate in that they are constitutionally grounded, and that they follow the rule of law. We also consider the claim that the amalgamation contributes to the dialogue on the good of the city and the good in the city. On the other hand, we consider the argument that the legislated amalgamation solution creates deficits at the direct local level, which potentially overburden self/other identity issues and inter-community relations in civil society.

Below is an example of two extreme opposite responses to the legislated amalgamation in Montreal. Each takes on highly charged emotional-volitional orientations that anticipate its difference from the other. The first is a statement made by Anthony Housefeather, the leader of Alliance Quebec (a federally funded English rights lobby group). The second is a response to charges of antidemocratic tactics by then-minister of Urban Affairs, Louise Harel:

When reading the Quebec Government's Bill 170, I began feeling physically ill. Nervous flutters, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach - symptoms I recognized from the weeks prior to the 1995 Quebec referendum. The feeling I had when I felt 1 might lose my country was one that I will never forget. Now I feel the Parti Quebecois government wants to take away my town, my home, my community and my way of life. Worse still, the government says that it will not even recognize votes held on the issue. How democratic. (The Gazette, 18 November 2000: B5)

These are not republics, nor nations we are talking about! If this criticism were ever to be argued abroad we would become a laughing stock. It is absurd to compare the right of a people to self-determination with the right of cities to self-determination. Municipalities are an organizational form that needs to evolve.... This no longer has anything to do with ultra-local territoriality. (LeDevoir, 20 May 2000: F3).

As we see in these examples, the dialogism of the Quebec question in the Canadian federation gets replayed through the debate over the Montreal amalgamation. Cities, like nations, need dialogue in their public culture to draw citizens into practicing their citizenship and therefore encourage them to step out from under the cover of isolated or private associations within civil society. In turn, groups and individuals need relative autonomy from the state and other political institutions in order to develop their living environments to their fullest potential. It is clear in the above quotations that neither Mr. Housefeather nor Minister Harel have any interest in internalizing each other's position, and yet they both anticipate the response of the other in striking ways. The conflict we examine is embedded in these emotional-volitional differences. At one extreme, Minister Harel' s sarcasm proposes an accusatory sideward glance that suburban mayors maintain isolationist and anti-cosmopolitan tendencies (an ac cusation commonly levelled against her own political party because of its longstanding policy on national independence or shared sovereignty with the rest of Canada). At the other extreme, the much hotter tones of suspicion, anger, fear and moral indignation, expressed in oppositional rejoinders, argue for individual autonomy and local democracy as the highest form of social justice. The impasse between the two discourses lies in the ultimate conclusion that the one will never 'quite get' the meaning of the other.

We understand the functional versus local levels of democracy against which emotional-volitional tones are measured as being interconnected and overlapping. Each side draws either negative or positive cues from the other, and each positions itself by distancing or getting closer to the other. But we also see the levels as relatively autonomous and potentially contradictory in the sense that they can collapse into strategic modes and simply negate each other. The debate over legislated amalgamation means that the dialogue has to be finalized or concluded. But, like debates over referendums or even simple majority votes that legitimize popular sovereignty, this finalization process does not necessarily spell the end of the dialogism.

Two Cities, Two Societal Cultures, One State

In this section we present three contextual points of comparison to help situate the review of the process that led to the two cases of amalgamation described in this paper. (1) Our first point is that it is important to explain further the relation of each city to its larger societal culture in order to account for the greater role national identities play in Montreal as compared to Toronto. But what is a societal culture? Will Kymlicka defines societal culture in a way that fills out our references to public culture and civil society. Societal culture includes a broad variety of sociological relations, including the more or less local and circumstantial multiple affinities and class positions as well as a whole series of lifestyles, social movements, and voluntary associations that include all those groups in civil society that seek autonomy and social justice. On the other hand, and this is what characterizes nations or peoples in the course of the modernization of society according to Kymlicka (1995: 127) , a "societal culture implies not only the sharing of an historical memory or of values, but a range of common institutions which extends to the ensemble of the practices of public and private spheres." (2) As we discussed in the introduction, vexing issues such as legislated amalgamation have an effect on both these dimensions and are struggled over in the dialogism of public culture.

Our second point is that some of the most important self-perceptions, as well as issues within each city that are most divisive, are embedded in these larger societal cultures. On a world scale, Toronto can be defined as unique not only because of its actual existing cultural diversity, but for having achieved the transition to a well-ordered, multicultural city in record-breaking time. Although Montreal is also an integrated, multicultural city, it is linguistically divided, generally bilingual and the most significantly trilingual city in North America (Seguin and Germain 2000; Molinaro 1999; Zehler 2001). There are, of course, social divisions and political disputes over exclusion (poverty and homelessness, for example) and inclusion in Toronto, but most are not on the basis of language. Montreal has similar problems with exclusion and social division (Laberge et al. 2000), but most Canadians living in Quebec, as well as those citizens who would prefer to call themselves Quebecois, make sophisticated disti nctions on the basis of language, culture, and politics. As a general rule, Canadians outside Quebec balance a passionate commitment to multiculturalism with a uniform and pragmatic attitude toward language (McRoberts 1997; Angus 1996; Miller 2001). In a world where the English language has become the lingua franca, it is perhaps not surprising that Canadians outside Quebec tend to assume that language is little more than a neutral means of communication. In Montreal, on the other hand, the historical struggles around language inhabit politics in the sense that they distinguish neighbourhoods as well as options regarding access to schools, language of work, and signage. These political and historical struggles sometimes leave the impression of a prevalent and even permanent underlying suspicion that the 'other' language has attained, orison the threshold of gaining, hegemony. On the other hand, language is neverthis politicized. In Montreal it is certainly much less of an issue at the level of day-to-day civi lity. In other words, citizens cross neighbourhoods and 'mix' with relative ease. While Montrealers may be divided over language in the formal political sense, many express a deeply felt cultural appreciation of the 'other' language(s) in their city (Radice 2001). Still, the threat of the loss of culture (or language) is an implicit referent in most public political disputes. In cosmopolitan Toronto one often hears the chattering of the world's languages in the streets and restaurants, but there is very rarely any bi- or pluri-lingualism in exchanges with officials in public spaces such as hospitals, shopping centers, post offices, cinemas, or any of the hundreds of other more informal 'scenes' of interaction (Blum 2002).

Our third point of comparison of societal cultures concerns the common constitutional order shared by the two cities. This background definition is in fact quite important for understanding democracy at the levels of the federal and provincial states and the difference between the two cities at the local level. In fact, the early misunderstanding of the constitutional definition of legal jurisdiction for the governance of each city led to several highly charged, and ultimately unfounded, legal attacks from opposition groups. In Canada, at least to this point, there are no provincial constitutions, and the municipalities are under the jurisdiction of the provincial legislatures. (3) The legislated amalgamations in Montreal and Toronto were challenged by local municipalities via referendums and the courts, and in both cases were upheld because the Canadian constitution places jurisdiction of city governance entirely in the hands of the province. Both the Quebec and Ontario provincial governments argued that ref erendums regarding the amalgamations were not legally binding. In fact, the referendum law in Quebec has a strict procedure that requires a 'yes' and a 'no' committee to be established with access to equal kinds of resources. Violation of this procedure was cited as a further reason why the referendums were not binding. If the functional argument takes precedence over the local expression of democratic will, then what are the risks in terms of maintaining levels of trust and solidarity among citizens? Does this mean the government was not democratic, as the opposition voices claim? Can cities be self-governing outside the rule of law? Is this not a pernicious form of partitionism?

As we have seen so far, both Montreal and Toronto are enveloped in larger societal cultures whose frames of interpretation remain quite distinct; and yet both are governed by a single federal constitution. The two societies, like the two cities, are in a sense already culturally separate. Each has its own truth, its own memory and its own sense of itself and difference from the other. Indeed, imagining the differences between Toronto and Montreal in a dialogic way means recognizing difference and reinforcing identities both within the cities and between them (Nielsen 1994). In the same way that we cannot easily explain one of these societal cultures without referring to the other, we cannot easily explain the amalgamation of Montreal without referring to Toronto outside the larger constitutional question.

Comparison of the Two Amalgamations

Given the above remarks, it is important to keep in mind three important background differences between the Montreal and Toronto amalgamation cases: i) the national and linguistic question has dramatically less impact on Toronto's political culture than on that of Montreal; ii) the Quebec provincial government won a key consensus between labour and capital early in its first mandate at the Quebec Summit, a consensus that would lead to an orderly downsizing of social services and ultimately a balanced provincial budget prior to the amalgamation legislation; and iii) the Parti Quebecois ideology carries a mix of neo-liberalism and social democracy whereas the Ontario Conservative Party is much closer ideologically to the neo-conservative agenda inherited from the Thatcher and Reagan governments of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Harris government was elected in 1996 in the wake of the failure of the Ontario New Democratic Patty to expand its coalitions with labour and social movements into a majority government. The Harris government came into its majority with a promise to balance the budget and reduce taxes by an extraordinary figure of 30 per cent. The amalgamation of Toronto and other cities in Ontario was given legitimacy in the context of 'common sense' fiscal responsibility. The official Quebec version of municipal restructuring was never aimed uniquely at providing cost savings to balance the provincial budget, but rather to 're-modernize' governance to better meet the challenges of globalization, provide fairer taxation so that suburbs would also contribute to the maintenance of Montreal's infrastructure, cultural institutions and downtown core, and provide a more coherent context for civic education and integration in Quebec society.

Although some of the patterns in the amalgamation in Montreal and Toronto are similar, the difference in societal cultures as well as the circumstances and ideological parameters of the political parties responsible for the legislation are in fact quite different. The first indication of the possibility of the Toronto amalgamation can be traced to the early trial balloons sent up through the press in the spring of 1996, two years before the first echoes were heard in Montreal and shortly after the election of a conservative government (the gap between rumour and legislation was similar in Montreal). The City of Toronto Act, Bill 103, was passed in February 1997 and became law in January 1998. The bill consolidated the upper tier of Toronto's municipal government, the Greater Toronto Region (GTR -- itself the product of an amalgamation introduced in the 1980's of 13 municipalities into five consolidated regional structures -- Peel, Halton, York, Durham, and Metro), as well as six municipalities in the central area of metro Toronto. In 1999, following Mayor Mel Lastman's suggestion that Toronto should become a separate city-state, the provincial government passed the Fewer Municipal Politicians Act and further reduced the number of city councillors from 58 to 45, at the same time extending the province's authority to appoint board members to settle restructuring disputes between regions (Sancton 2000).

Although the Ontario Conservatives, while they were an opposition party, argued that they would address the gridlock in the two-tiered Metro government system, they gave no indication in the provincial election that the government would consider a legislated amalgamation. Nonetheless, very shortly after the election, they ignored their own committee reports and decided on complete amalgamation as the solution. The plan became a cornerstone in the Conservative government's scheme to fulfill election promises. Reducing taxes and the size of government was the core idea. To achieve its promise, it would have to cut at least $6 billion from its $56 billion budget. School boards were dramatically reduced and provincial budgets for public housing, daycare, health, and welfare, as well as public transport were either entirely or mostly transferred to the municipalities without offering the promise of long-term, stable funding (Boudreau 2000).

The Ontario government argued that amalgamation would lower government expenditures by reducing duplication and administrative overlap by streamlining bureaucracy and developing better communication between Toronto and its neighbourhoods through the introduction of six community councils (one to replace each of the six former municipalities), and by creating more private sector jobs by better positioning Toronto in terms of global competition. The rapid rise in transition costs were not publicized, but as the city went into deficit (not the predicted surplus) the government provided loans and one-time grants to fulfil the promise made by the government to the new mayor to stop tax increases. Although there is no evidence that savings did occur, what is noticeable about the Toronto case is that "from the beginning, the government's own measure of success for the megacity was the saving of money and the prevention of municipal tax increases within Toronto" (Sancton 2000: 140). This created a condition in which the government would have to provide financial concessions whenever the new mayor could demonstrate need.

Legislation for the Montreal amalgamation is contained in three separate bills (Collin 2001). In April 2000, Bill 124 was tabled. The bill gave powers to the Ministry of Urban Affairs that would allow the government to reorganize fiscal equity and services in municipal regions. In June 2000, off-island referendums opposed the legislation, and in the same month, Bill 134 passed, outlining the plan for the amalgamation of the Montreal urban region including expansion of the old Montreal Urban Community (MUC) into a new commission, the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC). The MMC would now control coordination and regulation of various aspects of inter-municipal affairs between the anticipated new island City of Montreal and its neighbouring municipalities. In October 2000, the Bernard Report on municipal restructuring was received by the Bouchard government, which had not yet declared that it would legislate amalgamation, leading local activists and politicians to believe dialogue was still possible. In a dra matic move a month later, the province-wide amalgamation bill was passed. Bill 170 concerns the restructuring of several municipalities in the province, including the 28 municipalities on the Island of Montreal into one municipal government and the creation of the new South Shore city of Longueuil. In January 2002, one mega-city and 26 boroughs replaced the former political structure. The new municipal council of Montreal includes one elected mayor, 71 city councillors and 21 borough councillors for a total of 93 representatives. The legislation reduces the 28 on-island mayors to one, and 256 city councillors to 71. The new executive committee is composed of the mayor and between seven and 11 councillors chosen by the mayor.

To further elaborate the background context for the legislation, it is useful to keep in mind that in 1996 Quebec had 1,306 municipalities, and that 85 per cent of these had less than 5,000 citizens. "Two thirds of the population of Quebec lived in six urban regions [Regions metropolitaines de recensement] with more than 100,000 inhabitants each" (Guay 2001: 58). After years of study, debate, and political inertia, the amalgamation question came back on the agenda following the failure of yet another attempt to consolidate the growth of municipalities through the 1996 Politique de consolidation des communautes locales. The 1996 policy sought voluntary solutions through government incentives to cover increased costs to municipalities by joining services and fusing government structures. The initiative would end four years later with the admission that less than 20 per cent of the municipalities involved found enough common ground to experiment with mergers or shared services.

Bill 170 created three new levels of decision making in the Montreal area: The Montreal Metropolitan Community; the City of Montreal and the boroughs. The much-enlarged MMC would contain 105 municipalities from the larger region and over 3 million people, while the new island City of Montreal would contain 1.8 million people (Collin 2001). The Montreal Metropolitan Community is an office for planning inter-municipal road, firefighting, and emergency services, as well as public transit, security and land use. The responsibilities of the new City of Montreal include the coordination and integration of the above services on the island of Montreal, whereas the boroughs would be responsible for the administration of local services. Without taxation power, each borough is responsible for its local zoning, garbage pickup, park planning and improvement, economic development, roadwork, permits, culture, sports and recreation. At first it was hoped that there would be a five per cent (5%) budget saving over the first five years, but this figure was later revised by the transition committee. According to the most recent predicted 2002 budget, the tax revenues will be maintained at the 2001 level; a majority of citizens will pay the same amount of taxes or less and expenses will grow at half of the inflation rate of two per cent (2%) ( A budget deficit, illegal according to law, is now predicted according to the most recent proposal from the new mayor. Thus, the earlier prediction that a majority of citizens would pay the same amount of taxes or less seems to be in doubt (

Unlike in the Montreal case discussed further below, the opposition to the amalgamation in Toronto was not led by the former municipalities but by an activist group called Citizens For Local Democracy (C4LD), a largely middle class citizens' group that came together following the government's first official announcement in 1996 (Boudreau 2000). The simultaneous occurrence of massive cuts to the Ontario public sector and the announcement of the merger created a large-scale oppositional movement. Demonstrations, general strikes, popular referendums, legal challenges, and government opposition filibusters were some of the forms of protest against the merger. Opposition would nonetheless fail to translate into an alternative political movement that could defeat the Conservatives in the 1999 election and mobilize the majority of Toronto citizens to elect a mayor and council that would share the political vision of C4LD (Isin 2000). Intense opposition to the amalgamation disappeared following its passage into law and the election of the first mayor. The conservative government survived the dramatic downsizing of the public sector, open public battles with public sector unions, and the forced amalgamation of Toronto's seven municipalities into one megacity. Unlike Montreal, (4) large Toronto daily newspapers did not massively oppose the amalgamation, but they were critical of the downloading of debt and services to the municipal level. This became the core consensus in Toronto that opposition voices would come to share.

In Toronto, then, disputes over suburban and inner-city taxes and services became increasingly entrenched. In Montreal, a key issue concerned the need for wealthier suburbs to pay a larger share of tax in order to finance inner-city services. In Toronto the controversy was about forcing new tax assessments and raising tax on property owners in the inner city as a way of providing tax relief in the suburbs. With respect to taxation, the Quebec government argued that citizens of 53 of 64 municipalities would have their taxes diminished. In Montreal, the estimates rendered public in the middle of November 2000 estimated that 22 of the 27 municipalities would see their taxes diminish (Le Devoir, 16 November 2000: Al). Again, estimated taxation savings have been significantly revised by the transition committee in its request to amend the legislation in order to better accommodate previously unanticipated costs. Contrary to what the Bernard Report (2000) originally suggested, the government decided not to allot po wers of taxation to the boroughs.

Although official and oppositional voices in the Montreal and Toronto amalgamations share some similarities, they are in fact quite different given that they are embedded in distinct societal cultures. One key difference is the way each city deals with the relationship between language and culture. It is important to keep in mind that linguistic conflict is not always central or even present for most citizens in Montreal's day-to-day civic life, and yet, at the same time, it is a central theme in the political realm of policy and lawmaking in the history of both Quebec and Canadian society. Both cities and their larger societal cultures are legally and symbolically interrelated, given their common grounding in the federal constitution. These general points should be kept in mind as we proceed to examine the Montreal case in more detail.

Official Voices in the Montreal Case

There are risks in suspending the comparison of the Montreal and Toronto cases in order to explore the specificity of the former. For one thing, such a departure presents a dilemma given that our presentation could very easily slip into an index of parochial facts or historical interpretations that are of considerable importance for understanding the context but would also draw us too far away from the dialogism we want to examine in these final sections. Our strategy is to proceed with a reconstruction of the most instructive elements of the government's official voice in this section and discuss examples of opposition voices in the following section before drawing together a conclusion.

On November 15, 2000, Louise Harel introduced the final proposal on the reform of municipal organization for metropolitan regions that would address a longstanding set of governance issues for urban regions in Quebec. The proposal laid out the timetable as to how the 64 municipalities targeted by the mergers would be regrouped into the new cities of Montreal, Quebec, Longueuil, Hull-Gatineau and Levis. According to the Livre blanc sur la reorganisation municipale (Gouvernement du Quebec 2000c), some of the issues at stake exceeded municipal boundaries and took on regional or whole urban areas. The cases of Montreal, Quebec City and the Outaouais region receive special treatment in Bill 170. But the reorganizing objectives are the same for each region. Five objectives are posited in the Livre blanc:

1. Land use planning and development, preservation of agricultural land, reinforcement of core cities or local municipalities, and control of suburban sprawl;

2. Protection of environment, water and air purification, domestic and industrial waste collection and recycling;

3. Improvement of quality of life, social services and social development;

4. Attending to public transit and transportation services for commodities;

5. Creation of attractive areas that will compete in the global market.

Taken together, these objectives could be placed in the context of a response to what most contemporary cities, especially in North America, are struggling with -- problems of sprawl, transportation, environment, globalization etc. Most urbanists would argue that a government that does not address problems such as these is not facing up to its current problems (Dagger 2000). We can see that the first three objectives presented above are closely bound together in order to achieve the overall objective of fiscal and social equity, and improved accountability at the local and regional level of governance. The final two, by contrast, are more oriented to global market strategies. As if to anticipate an imaginary rejoinder, the official discourse insists that while amalgamations are part of a global trend, there is more than one model for improving governance. At the wider provincial level, the government promises only some amalgamations are necessary. In all the urban regions, however, services could be planned partly at the regional level, and partly at the local or district level and could be shared between different administrations wherever and whenever needed -- the term used in the report is desserte a geometrie variable [adaptable servicing]. The law also provides for negotiation mechanisms and arbitration committees on labour issues between municipal councils and employees. The main objective of the restructuring is to provide services to all citizens at lower cost, or better services at the same cost, and to do so on a fiscally equitable basis without downloading social assistance costs from the province -- as was done in Ontario.

Urbanists from Montreal generally oppose the government position but also diagnose multiple problems in the Bill and offer advice as to how to overcome them. Promises to address macro problems of sprawl and transportation are seen as unproven, and the claim to provide more democracy is seen as a confused attempt to turn city governance into an administrative apparatus similar to that of the province. As one commentator, Annie Chelin, put it, "[a]dministrating a city is not the same as governing a province" (La Presse, 29 November 2000: A25).

There is consensus between both government and urbanists that the gap between macro urban planning and fiscal equity, on the one hand, and the problem of local autonomy, identity, and democracy on the other, cannot be resolved without important structural changes. For both urbanists and government representatives, the same irresolvable debate can be traced back more than 50 years. An emotional fatigue enters the narrative as can be seen in Luc-Normand Tellierin's opinion piece entitled "Confession d'un urbanalogue montrealais fatigue":

What strikes me as the most desperate aspect in all this is that the debate itself is completely blocked. The truth is we are stuck between highly monolithic sectarian cliques: the suburban cliques, the university cliques, the business cliques, the cliques of the left and the right.

These cliques remain monolithic even as they change their ideas overtime. The most striking example is the how the 'left' shifted a dozen years ago from slogans like "small is beautiful", "citizens participation", and neighbourhood councils, to lend support to slogans like "big is efficient" and then moved on to give support to legislating a 'metropolitan superstructure' and 'multiple fusions.' (LeDevoir, 30 December 2000: A8)

Choosing between the discourse of amalgamation and the fusion of communities on one hand, and the discourse of preservation of identity, difference and local self-determination on-the other, creates a whole series of dilemmas for the provincial government and the municipalities alike. Proposals from either side to resolve the double-voiced discourse are imperfect at best. At one point following the initial opposition to the Bill, the government asked the municipalities for their alternative. The response from one group of suburban mayors was to create more local councils. Jean-Robert Sansfacon, a journalist from Le Devoir in favour of the Bill, articulates the official rejoinder to the counter-proposal when he argues, with a touch of satire, that "small municipalities have a lot of charm, but they just don't have the administrative capacity to deal with problems of sprawl, public transport, and international commerce" (Le Devoir, 2000: A8). In other words, if the city resists pressure to amalgamate, it loses economic competitiveness and the ability to address macro level urban problems. But if the city amalgamates to gain economic and administrative capacities, it also risks becoming too large and too symmetrical to maintain local services, safe levels of sociability, and inclusive democratic structures (i.e. 'the charming small municipalities').

The government emphasizes equity and argues that amalgamation will recover a sense of a just redistribution of economic resources. From the government's perspective, if the city were to move in the other direction and become more diverse with even more small municipalities, not only would its ability to solve macro problems be jeopardized, but also its capacity to better integrate new citizens. On the other hand, the loss of civic memory, a key reservation of the opposition, heightens the fear or suspicion of losing languages and territorial locale (whether English or French). This is a very important point in the amalgamation dispute. The government position hardly acknowledges any loss of civic memory and insists language rights are not at issue in the Montreal region. (5) At the same time, however, the official policy claims that stimulating urban centres in Quebec (the six metropolitan regions and the 25 urban agglomerations) will ensure wealth and collective well-being. In the long run, in conjunction with immigration and integration politics, it is supposed to consolidate French as the public language in Montreal, as it is selsewhere in Quebec (Piche 2001; Gouvernement du Quebec 2000b). (6)

One important source of concern that cuts across ethnic and linguistic divisions in Montreal is the change to the way culture and the arts are managed. Here, a dual concept of societal culture - the administrative integration of communities on one hand, and the recognition of identity and differences at the level of citizenship and national identity on the other - has informed Quebec cultural policy for decades. (7) Bill 170 induces changes that directly affect the management of institutions and the rules that govern them; for example, la Loi sur la Bibliotheque nationale du Quebec, la Loi sur les biens culturels, la Charte de la langue francaise, la Loi sur le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec, and la Loi sur le Conseil des relations interculturelles. An important question concerning the administration of public culture has to do with how le Service du developpement culture (Department of Cultural Development) of the new city government and local administration will share responsibilities and manage the network of libraries, Maisons de la culture (neighbourhood cultural centres) and various cultural programs in the boroughs, as well as supporting local groups. The question becomes: What will be the relative weight afforded citizens, professionals, and other groups implicated in the arts at the borough level? (8) A letter from a representative of the Professional Librarian Association is an example of one such voice. The representative advises the government to pay attention to the potential loss of librarians the amalgamation might provoke: "The main weakness of the public library system in Quebec is the lack of the renewal of librarians... In 1997 there were only 318 public librarians in Quebec. In Ontario there were 1,150.... International norms recommend 1 librarian for every 10,000 inhabitants... a rate of 0.45% per 10,000 is clearly inadequate" (Le Devoir, 14 November 2000: A9).

An important point the government argues in favour of amalgamation is that the city will be more diverse, open, and multicultural and will be able to maximize its ability to maintain population and attract immigrants. It is interesting that most of an interview accorded to La Presse at the height of the controversy by then-premier Lucien Bouchard, concerned the question of language and cultural convergence. "The reform," says Bouchard, "will break down barriers in Montreal so that anglophones and francophones will live together in the same city and same milieu. They will face the same challenges when making decisions together." He highlights the importance of integrating leadership from small, isolated municipalities operating without any real power into a powerful, city-wide island council made up of elected representatives from each of the boroughs. In an intimate and highly personal tone, he recounts how in his own life history he has become more and more open to the anglophone community ("his wife Audrey Best," notes the interviewer, "is herself an American"). "More than ever in my life, I am meeting anglophones. And I want to insist that the more we talk, the more we get to know each other, and the more we understand one another, the more we will do things together. This fusion is going to make a synergy, an osmosis possible in Montreal." He concludes with great enthusiasm that the fusion will mean an anglophone could be elected mayor in Montreal for the first time in almost 100 years (Le Devoir, 25 November 2000: A8). Bouchard's calm and personable voice is a smooth reassurance that a new renaissance in sociocultural integration is about to occur. Pierre Bourque, then Mayor of Montreal, and one of the most often heard voices supporting the amalgamation, touched on three further themes of integration that add to Bouchard's plea for unity:

1. Social Integration: "Montreal, like most large metropolises, is afflicted with several social problems whose resolution requires local concentrated action. To resolve the problems of poverty, the rebuilding of older neighbourhoods, the marginalization of the homeless, prostitution, access to public housing, and drug trafficking and gangs means all the various sociological facilities of the future city will have to be drawn together and applied. Puffing together existing facilities on the Island could create a new social solidarity."

2. Cultural Integration: "Montreal is, and will always be, a place that welcomes immigration; almost 42% of Montrealers have origins other than French or British. Facilitating the integration and francisization of new citizens is the most important challenge for the Quebec of tomorrow. In its daily activities, the City of Montreal has to become the agency for this gradual integration that needs to be carried out with the greatest respect for the culture of each community."

3. Economic Integration: "It is essential that economic development strategy for the island be coordinated by a single governing entity and one vision that will stop the sterile battles between the seventeen industrial parks on the Island." (Bourque 2000: A21)

Official voices say amalgamation is the only way to integrate the English and French, the cultural communities, the poor, the excluded, and the criminal into a new, prosperous city that will overcome nonproductive competition for global capital, investment, and immigration. Bouchard and Bourque reinforce Minister Harel's observation that the city has to be modernized, that it has mutated too much and that the search to sustain local sub-governance is ungrounded, and further, that it risks dividing the city into camps and eroding even further its ability to function.

The official voices of support for government policy fill in one side of the dialogism of public culture. It provides imagined responses in the name of the 'common good' to opposition voices that seek to influence, negate, or contradict the official tones and orientations. The Parti Quebecois government took a political risk in its decision to restructure municipal legislation with the express intention of developing a new sense of belonging, strategic vision and cooperative practices. One interpretation of the official voice is that it assumes there simply is not enough integrated sub-governance, this lack of central authority contributing to unfair economic divisions between urban regions, as well as creating problems for integrating linguistic and cultural divisions within Montreal itself. The official voice of the government claims Montreal is to become "a humane metropolis on an international scale." Interesting questions remain, of course, about the 'voices' of everyday culture, street culture, and alte rnative culture, as well as the sense of belonging of the imaginary function by which one constructs and deconstructs personal and collective identity. This latter issue is at the centre of how the opposition to amalgamation presents itself. We now shift our focus to the analysis of newspaper reportage and sample a series of voices from opposition narratives to address the other side of the dialogism in the debate over amalgamation.

Opposition Voices

Newspapers in Montreal provided a wide coverage of the anti-merger stance throughout the year 2000. (9) The opposition voices are not derived from one narrative structure, nor are they accented in the same tone or situated in any single evaluative stance. They include points of view from academics, suburban mayors, residents, and anglophones and francophones in the greater region of Montreal. Opposition voices are often expressed in cool tones of rational analysis or critique, but when the merger is perceived as a threat to local autonomy, local identity, or local democracy, the voices are charged across an intensely emotional range that runs from suspicion, fear, anger, and moral condemnation to even revenge. Like the official voice, these oppositional voices are not monologic. They respond to and anticipate rejoinders from the official discourse. To amplify these voices we present a reading of some of the more exemplary narratives. Our analysis begins with the more detached orientations, and proceeds to dem onstrate a progressive emotional-volitional intensification across the narratives as the passing of Bill 170 became irreversible.

A significant number of urbanists, geographers, economists, and sociologists from Montreal diagnose multiple problems in the policy and the way it was presented to the public by the government. (10) They argue against amalgamation as the only solution to address macro problems of urban sprawl and the global economy. They also offer advice on how to overcome these problems. That is, their voices are formulated as bridgeable to a generalized opposition, which anticipates and calls for an open, constructive dialogue (Le Devoir, 9 November 2000: A8). A good example of how the voices move from a relative detachment to highly charged emotional-volitional tones can be seen in the essays by Raphael Fischler and Jeanne M. Wolfe, who wrote regularly in the three Montreal newspapers during the period of debate we examined. They begin their series with relative support for the amalgamation but end in an open attack against the Bill. In the first article, entitled "Courage, Mine. Harel," they recognize "that the old quest ion regarding the need for urban reform in Montreal has to be addressed." They recognize official claims concerning the need to solve crossmunicipal problems and unequally distributed social resources and agree with the argument that in order to solve macro urban problems there is a need to expand the regional scale by including the Island, the North Shore and South Shore within a more cooperative administrative structure (La Presse, 22 January 2000: B3). Yet they flatly reject the One island, One city solution promoted by then-mayor Pierre Bourque. Forthem, merging 28 municipalities into one of nearly two million residents on the island of Montreal would make urban administration more bureaucratically complex and less economically efficient. "Bigger means cheaper only up to a point. Beyond that point -- which Montreal has certainly reached -- bigger means more complex and less efficient" (The Gazette, 19 February 2000: B5). As the debate on democracy progressed, Fischler and Wolfe argued in much harsher term s. In the end, they contend that the amalgamation proposal and legislation is full of "hollow slogans about the march of progress and the making of history, together with lame excuses about confused citizens and obstinate mayors. Consequently, the official position fails to provide a clear and satisfactory explanation on motives, details and goals of the merger" (The Gazette, 25 November 2000: B5).

'Expert commentators' commonly criticize the ambiguous nature and the necessity of merging cities to achieve a better-coordinated greater Montreal. A sense of uncertainty and suspicion arises when some areas of urban development are not specified. The opposition is concerned about the absence of guarantees or clearly identified plans for transition, and is quick to identify gaps in logic and telling silences. A good example, seen in the previous section, concerns how libraries in the region of Montreal will be organized and whether or not the amalgamation will provide more equitable services between libraries around Montreal. The sense of uncertainty can come with an anticipated principle of hope. For instance, Jacques Panneton, the director of the Montreal Public Library's 23-branch network, sees the municipal merger as a means to iron out the inequities among the island's libraries: "Francophone communities tend to have libraries which are far less rich than those in Anglophone communities, but we can't hav e that any more" (The Gazette, 8 December 2000: A3). But a more commonly held sense of uncertainty stimulates apprehension and anxiety that also reveals something of the isolation of the municipalities themselves:

Every morning when the Cote St. Luc library opens at 10, Harry Greenberg hikes from his apartment across the street to begin his daily ritual. Dressed in a tweed jacket and sweater vest, the 79-year-old sits down in a sunny corner of the library and digests a daily helping of books and magazines. "I spend six or seven hours here. I come in the morning, then I go home for lunch and come back," said Greenberg. Greenberg can come every day because the doors of the cote St. Luc Library are open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. But that could soon change. Cote St. Luc librarian Eleanor London says, "[w]hat I'm understanding is that all the libraries will be evened out. If any one city shines in a particular area, that library will no longer be allowed to shine." This prospect makes London heartsick, because it spells doom for the pride and joy of Cote St. Luc. London started the library from scratch 35 years ago. She has painstakingly created an institution for the people of her community with a cozy fireplace, sofas that are firm enough for seniors to rise from with ease, a Canadian art collection and long operating hours. "I told the architects to make this place a cross between a hotel lobby and a Westmount living room," she said. And for many, the library is like home. It caters to Cote St. Luc's many senior citizens, who come to socialize, read, play chess - even get information about medications they are prescribed. If the library was open less or not at all, London fears many would spend long, lonely days cloistered at home" (The Gazette, 8 December2000: A3).

Mr. Greenberg's and Ms. London's stories summarize a widely held suspicion that the amalgamation means the loss of control over local everyday practices (Greenberg's routine visit to the library), over high quality services (long operating hours and a public ambiance that is a cross between a hotel lobby and a Westmount living room), over a cozy, personalized home-town feeling (the library is like home), over local differences (special seats designed for the elderly), over local autonomy (to decide the design of the library) and over local identity (library as the pride and joy of Cote St Luc). Apprehension is in part generated from a mistrust of the City of Montreal's perceived insensibility to local needs. In other words, local participation in decision- making is believed to be threatened by the negative association between the size of the larger polity and the level of access to the core of decision-making. Local autonomy is in jeopardy, as is local participation in making decisions and in exercising cult ural citizenship.

As noted in our discussion of Montreal's larger societal culture, we also need to read pleas for local identity in association with the complex linguistic issue (Levesque 1999, 2001). Although the provincial government insisted municipal reform has nothing to do with the promotion of the French language, anglophone opposition sees a hidden agenda behind the municipal reform which gradually reduces the threshold of English use in municipal services, or increases the difficulty of achieving bilingualism for certain boroughs. Some francophones also fear that the integration of bilingual suburbs will force more English use at city hall and weaken the use of French. (11) In other words, the municipal reform proposed by Mayor Bourque, supported and enforced by the provincial government, is perceived as a threat to the public culture of both English and French Montrealers. (12)

If identity is contextualized in the self-other relationship, local identity for the opposition is consolidated by praising the administration of existing suburban municipalities on the one hand, and diminishing the administrative capabilities of the City of Montreal on the other. Five municipalities including Westmount, Baie d'Urfe, Senneville, Pointe Claire and Ste. Anne de Bellevue, claim to be victims of their own success at municipal management and are therefore going to see property tax increases through merging with other municipalities (The Gazette, 17 November 2000: A7). Again, if local identity is associated with the sense of belonging in smaller neighbourhoods, it is immediately threatened when urban residents do not have a say in how their communities are going to be organized, or how the change in municipal zoning would affect the quality of suburban lifestyles. Amplified by concrete anecdotes and examples, this discourse is made by contrasting municipal management abilities between the suburbs a nd the City of Montreal. In other words, local identity is threatened because the boundary between well-run suburban municipalities and the poorly-managed City of Montreal is erased.

Suspicion and fear are common orientations in opposition voices. For Anthony Housefeather, quoted in the introduction, the municipal merger is the extension of the 1995 referendum, and the fear of losing control over English rights in Montreal. For many anglophones especially, it is too suspicious not to think of the Quebec national project in the discourse on municipal mergers, "if you consider that the sovereignty issue is always at the back of their [the P.Q. government's] minds" (The Gazette, 2 December2000: B1). But 'The Quebec Question' also surfaces among some fracophone sovereigntists who argue for local autonomy and self-determination and against the merger. One sovereigntist claims he has worked for the P.Q. for 27 years, but "now will take the next 27 years to fight them" (The Gazette, 20 November 2000: Al).

Such suspicions and fears concerning the loss of autonomy are also accompanied by pleas for individual rights in contrast with the official communitarian assurances for the 'better common good' offered in the speech of representatives for the amalgamation. The predominance of individual over collective rights is curiously central to consolidating a rather closed self-identity, about my town, my home, my community, and my way of life. Overall, it assumes individual choice ought to be respected over and above any collective 'good.' As one francophone resident writes: "I have lived in Montreal-North for 34 years.... On November 15, Mr. Bouchard, you disturbed the peace by proposing the annihilation of my municipality. I chose to live in Montreal-North for plenty of reasons. Aside from its lower taxes, I chose a very quiet neighbourhood with a lot of non profit social services. The restructuring you propose will destroy this balance" (La Presse, 22 November 2000: A25).

Emphasis on individual choice and rights resonates in the opposition's anti-merger slogan Ne touche pas a ma ville (Don't touch my city). (13) The issue is not simply about exercising the individual right to residential freedom, it is also about the transfer from individual rights to the autonomy of local institutions. Local municipalities should have the right to self-determination free from political coercion. Although many opposition voices do recognize that Canadian municipalities are constitutionally subject to provinces, they insist that the merger plan is "legal but illegitimate." A Longueuil resident, Jean-Denis Fournel, addresses his letter to then-premier Bouchard by stating that "I understand that municipal power is subject to the province in the Canadian constitution. However, the respect for our institutions is fundamental" (La Presse, 22 November 2000: A25).

When official voices continue to respond without granting recognition of the sense of self-management, opposition voices become increasingly accented with anger. Suburban mayors were most often the authors of the incensed verbal attacks in the anti-merger movement in Montreal. They articulated a particularly acerbic anger toward Bill 170 before Christmas, 2000. The mayor of Baie d'Urfe says "I don't think you want to hear the rude words I have to describe how I'm feeling"; the mayor of Dorval says "There are no words in the English language to describe my disgust for the way this bill and this law came to be" (The Gazette, 21 December 2000: A6). Journalist Michel Vastel from Le Soleil points out that these suburban interlocutors are not angry at the principle of creating a greater Montreal. What drove residents towards a mass public protest was "the brutal autocratic nature of this reform from on high" (The Gazette, 15 December 2000: B3). This echoes the mayor of St. Leonard's statement that "my colleagues an d I say 'yes' to a reform, but 'yes' to a complete and responsible reform only" (La Presse, 14 December 2000: A 19).

Anger aggregates as the perception increases that no meaningful consultation with citizens has occurred; no clarification of reform motives have been offered, and when all pleas for extending the debate in the National Assembly are refused. (14) Anger is not an emotional-volitional orientation restricted to the municipal mayors in federalist ridings, but rather cuts across political and cultural divisions. In Fournel's letter, entitled Duplessis Return to Power, he first identifies himself as a sovereigntist: "Mr. Premier, I would like to make it clear to you that the citizen writing to you has voted P.Q. in every election since 1970, and who also voted Yes in two referendums. This is not addressed to you by a damn red Liberal [read: federalist]." He then furiously asks the Premier: "Under what authority do you bulldoze our cities right under our noses?" (La Presse, 22 November 2000: A25).

Moral condemnation often comes with anger. The Mayor of Ile Bizard argues that "legally they didn't have to consult the people, but morally they should have" (The Gazette, 21 December 2000: A6). If opposition voices cannot be convincingly defended in legal terms because municipalities are subject to provinces, it is nonetheless legitimate to condemn the merger in the language of moral rectitude. The official position is immoral because its merger project is improvised and arbitrary, and because it was not included in the 1998 provincial election mandate (La Presse, 14 December 2000: A19 and A25). The official position is immoral because it is irrationally obsessed with the idea that a megacity could solve the economic problems at stake (La Presse, 15 November 2000: A29). The official position is immoral because it is pretentious, hypocritical, and worst of all, totalitarian. For instance, a resident from Pointe-Claire states that "it is another example of this party's dictatorship which continues to cheat on democracy" (La Presse, 27 November 2000: A25). Or a suburban mayor in the region of Quebec City who says: "we are heading quietly toward a totalitarian state, an oligarchy" by projecting a scenario where all of the municipalities in Quebec will become "Bouchardvilles," and where 70 per cent of Quebec's population will be controlled by the P.Q. government (The Gazette, 20 November 2000: Al).

Finally, there is an opposition voice that reaches beyond anger and moral condemnation toward revenge. Along with many suburban mayors, Liberal Party leader Jean Charest urged voters to turn out and massively vote the government out of power. (15) After the passing of Bill 170, the Mayor of Pointe Claire said "[t]he P.Q. will pay the political price for this"; the Mayor of Beaconsfield mirrored this sense of vengeance: "[t]he PQ are going to pay a price for this. I urge any municipality represented by a PQ MNA not to forget this and get rid of this party the next time around" (The Gazette, 21 December 2000: A6). An angry and upset resident of St. Bruno indicated: "I will make sure from now on that your government will not obtain my vote" (La Presse, 22 November2000: A25). In the end, Pierre Bourque failed to succeed in the election of November 2001 as the first mayor of the new Montreal largely because former suburban residents were highly motivated to 'penalize' him for his pro-merger position. Mimicking the sovereigntist slogan Je me souviens engraved on Quebec license plates, suburban residents showed off anti-merger stickers on the back of their cars: "Remember the forced merger" (DemocraCite web site).


Our analysis of the debates over legislated amalgamation has provided an outline of the complexity of democratic discourse and of the unique but very partial grouping of voices that are in a tense dialogue within an important sector of the public culture of the city. We have argued that debates over the Montreal and Toronto amalgamations need to be viewed through the lens of their distinct societal cultures. The national question is thus seen to play a much more important role in defining tensions in Montreal's public culture than in the case of Toronto. Yet neither the official nor the opposition discourses are limited to the national question alone. When official voices give imagined responses in the name of the 'common good' to opposition voices looking to influence, negate, or contradict them, they do so through a much broader range of narratives than those of national politics or socio-linguistic division. Opposition voices react intensely to any hint of closure or end to consultation. Our analysis of th e opposition side of the dialogism lead us to a description of 'live' emotional-volitional exchanges among a multiplicity of voices. Suspicion, fear, anger, moral condemnation, and revenge form a scale of emotional-volitional orientations associated with the loss of local autonomy, identity, and democracy, especially when identity is about the extent to which one can maintain difference from an imaginary -- but not fictional -- 'other.' In as much as autonomy and identity can be actualized in a material sense and can be inherent in institutional practices, they are attached to democratic institutions within which social practices take place.

Official voices of support for government policy fill in one side of the dialogism in public culture we have examined, while opposition voices fill in the other. We see this two-sided discourse as a resource of public culture that draws citizens out from the particularity and specificity of their association in civil society and into open democratic debate and expression. When an impasse between these spheres occurs, the resources of the dialogism are diminished. A search for agreement on some ideal municipal polity where inter-municipal affairs might be coordinated and local democracy satisfied at the level of boroughs is at the heart of the conflict we have analysed. Although there is no mutual understanding or mapping out of the ideal scope of the polity that would correspond to the obligation of justice for both sides, the dialogism has not been arrested (Young 2000).

The deep background of societal culture that informs the Quebec question, for example, is filled with contradictory and fully signifying multi-sided discourses that have been in open debate for generations. The fact that several referendums and a Supreme Court Reference to succession have failed to achieve any strategic conclusion suggests that the question itself remains open and unfinalized. We need to keep in mind that the dialogic approach to discourse analysis we have assumed does not presuppose a norm of order, which would expel struggles and disorderliness in any a priori sense. Taken on a world scale, the peaceful multi-sided background ambiguity of the Quebec question and its societal culture -- which, as we have seen, needs to be read in the debates over amalgamation -- is itself a huge part of what makes Montreal a unique place. Thinking dialogically about the counterpoint between the differences on both sides of the amalgamation debate means unravelling the tension through an immanent reading of e motional-volitional orientated voices, and the affirmation of each discourse -- in itself often divided between the contradictory claims, with opponents about functional democracy and local social justice as the 'good' of the city. These are not equal discourses, but equally weighted discourses, that take up opposite, though not always diametrically opposite, orientations toward one another.

As was argued in our introduction, the voices within these discourses cannot lie side by side without orientating both emotionally and volitionally toward one another. On the one hand, government voices participate in the dialogism of public culture in order to better measure the balance in public opinion between a politics of functionally legitimate democracy and a politics of inclusive local democracy. In the latter, government can 'stare down,' as it did in the debate over amalgamation, enormous public pressure, resistance, and even the threat of civil disobedience from opposition voices. On the other hand, it is crucial that the government openly consult opposition so as not to abuse the rule of law and simply impose its own position. For the opposition, the most important point is to have its concerns heard. In order to increase the capacity of dialogism and diminish the clash between functional and local democracy, we conclude that the scope of self-governance for a polity within the city has to be made to better correspond to the obligation of fair redistribution of resources across the city. Whether or not the amalgamations legislated by the Ontario and Quebec governments will actually succeed in narrowing this gap, or lead to a more diminished capacity for dialogism, remains to be seen.


(1.) Although a comprehensive sociological discussion of Toronto and Montreal's larger societal cultures would take us far from our subject of discussion, it is nonetheless important that we provide at least a conceptual principle for how such a discussion about the specificity of each should be approached and to help demonstrate an argument for the limits in conventional comparative analyses of the two cities that do not take into consideration this level of analysis. Without digressing into the jungle of literature on nationalism and multiculturalism, it seems relatively safe to assume that those who live or have lived in these cities (and even those who have simply visited them) are aware of their similarities and differences and that on some 'lived level' they react to national and post-national issues in distinct ways. For further discussion see Nielsen (2002).

(2.) Kymlicka (1998) makes a very important distinction between the different interests of national majorities and minorities (aboriginals and les Quebecois) and immigrant minorities that is extremely important in terms of theorizing Canadian cities. It may well be that immigration and integration patterns have changed significantly so that transnational identities are increasingly common in the lifeworlds of Montreal and Toronto. It is interesting to note, however, that despite the tendency of transnational minorities to settle in urban centres and increasingly dominate definitions of the 'lived' culture of cities like Montreal and Toronto, their voices in the amalgamation debates were barely audible (Isin 2000).

(3.) Unlike in Canada, legislated amalgamations would not likely have happened in the United States. According to Andrew Sancton (2000), there has been no similar case of a legislated merger in the United States since New York folded its 15 municipalities into one metropolitan region in 1898, a merger that continues to define the City as it is today. In the United States, mergers, or 'consolidations,' have been voluntary; that is, a product of 'public choice.' A large part of the reason for this is that municipalities are governed by state constitutions as well as the federal constitution.

(4.) Thanks to the Concordia Graduate students in sociology, Kathy Allen, Michael Craig and Susan Rogers for setting up the preliminary content analysis design, coding and cross tabulations. During the period of January 1st and December 31st, 2000, 829 articles were collected from three Montreal newspapers. The papers included the three major Montreal dailies: Le Devoir, La Presse, and The Gazette. In addition to 46.2 per cent of relatively neutral and descriptive reportage in the format of news/actualite, 41.7 per cent of the total media content take an anti-merger stance in either minor, referred or major tones. Oppositional content is almost five times greater than the total reportage on the pro-merger standpoint, which was 8.5 per cent.

(5.) In fact, one analyst demonstrates that the new Island City would strongly favour a federalist and (at the time) partitionist city-wide council because of the integration of the more numerous West Island boroughs. In an opinion piece in Le Devoir, Pierre Serre argues: "As everyone knows, the municipalities affected by the reform are mostly directed by federalists... who define themselves against the sovereigntist movement" (Le Devoir 2000: A7).

(6.) The process of building a civic nationalism and a trans-cultural citizenship goes back to the Quiet Revolution. It took a decisive step with the introduction of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedom and The French Language Charter. The Quebec model of citizenship is not especially different from the Canadian one, but it provides for collective rights that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ignores: namely, official and legal recognition for the anglophone community and for the 11 aboriginal nations, based on historical claims and rights. This may sound bizarre in strict republican or liberal political philosophy, but as Will Kymlicka (1998) has shown, it is compatible with the values of individual freedom, democracy, and justice.

(7.) The cultural policy of the present P.Q. Government dates back to 1992 and the Bourrassa Liberals. It is threefold, with bits and pieces gathered from as far back as the Quiet Revolution. First, the policy confirms that the affirmation of Quebec's identity could be achieved partly through the implementation of The French Language Charter. Secondly, the development of cultural industries, and the support of creativity and research in the arts, is to be carried out through la Societe de developpement des entreprises culturelles and le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Quebec. Finally, the policy encourages improved access and participation of all citizens in cultural life, for example through supporting popular and ethnic cultures, regional and local initiatives, tourism, educational or social integration programs, inter-culturalism, and new technologies. See Nielsen and Jackson (1991).

(8.) It remains uncertain what is going to happen to the actual City of Montreal Cultural Services (Service de la culture de la Ville de Montreal), the Montreal Urban Community's Arts Council and The Regional Council of Development for the Island of Montreal (Conseil regional de developpement de l'ile de Montreal), which are the main institutions that apply Montreal's current cultural policy. Will the new city play a dynamic role in cultural development and organization because of the expertise and resources of the cultural agency of the former City of Montreal? Nothing significant has happened in the early phase of the transition, but officials had worried earlier that services could be absorbed in a future "Sport and leisure department," which would directly challenge the specialization of present cultural workers and organizations. A large-scale Montreal Summit is scheduled for June 2002 to address the question of cultural services. See the Culture Montreal web site:

(9.) Keeping in mind our preliminary content analysis of the 829 articles cited above, we drew our examples of the narratives from articles we found through key word searches. We selected 100 articles via the keyword "municipal merger" in Canadian NewsDisc 2000(2) for the The Gazette; and from 488 articles in La Presse and 241 articles from Le Devoir using the keyword "fusions municipals," through Bibliobranchee. We further narrowed our sample to article types including editorials, columns, special reports, series, opinions and letters where ideas and emotional-volitional tones are amplified. Our examples are drawn from 25 articles found in The Gazette, 65 in La Presse and 48 in Le Devoir. We are grateful to Mircea Mandache for his assistance.

(10.) In varying degrees and for different reasons, researchers who oppose the merger plan include: Raphael Fischler and Jeanne Wolfe in Le Devoir (22 August, 2000); in La Presse (January 22, February 2, April 27, October 13 and November 18, 2000); in The Gazette (February 19, October 17, and November 25, 2000). Jean-Claude Marsan in Le Devoir (November 21, 28 and December 13, 2000); Luc-Normand Tellier in Le Devoir (December 13, 2000); Pierre-Yves Guay in Le Devoir (December 20, 2000); Bernard Vachon in Le Devoir (November 9, 2000) and in La Presse (November 15, 2000); Annie Chelin in LaPresse (November 29, 2000). An article in La Presse (December 6, 2000) was signed by several scholars, journalists, community activists and city councillors including Pierre Beaudet, Paul Beland, Andree Cardinal, Paul Cliche, Eric Darier, Andre Fauteux, Winnie Frohn, Lucia Kowaluk, Anne Latendresse, Yves Pellerin, Dan Philip, Debra Rankin, Marcel Sevigny and Alan Tasse.

(11.) Some recent socio-demographic research suggests that the French language plays an increasingly dominant role in Montreal's public life (Piche 2001; Renaud et al. 2001).

(12.) Both English and French newspapers are attentive to issues of language rights within the urban context of amalgamation. The English newspaper The Gazette pays the most attention by directing 19 per cent of its articles to linguistic issues, but the linguistic concern is also followed by the French press, comprising 11.2 per cent of articles in La Presse, and 9.7 per cent of those in Le Devoir.

(13.) On November 19, 2000, an estimated 18,000 people participated in the anti-merger demonstration held outside Fairview Shopping Centre in Pointe Claire. On December 10, an estimated 75,000 people showed up in downtown Montreal to protest against the municipal merger. Other, smaller anti-merger demonstrations were held in Quebec City and the South Shore in November and December 2002.

(14.) Only 90 minutes were given to suburban mayors to present their anti-merger ideas in the National Assembly.

(15.) The Bloc lost three ridings in the suburb regions of Quebec City.


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Author:Nielsen, Greg; Hsu, Yon; Jacob, Louis
Publication:Canadian Journal of Urban Research
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Date:Jun 22, 2002
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