Montreal business groups zero in on Plante’s economic pledges


Business groups will be pushing to ensure Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante makes good on her key promises to revitalize downtown.

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Business advocacy groups will be pushing to ensure Valérie Plante makes good on her key economic pledges to revitalize downtown Montreal and lighten the bureaucratic load of entrepreneurs during her second term as mayor.

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Plante vowed to invest $1 billion in the city’s central business district and allow some construction projects to proceed around the clock when she unveiled her program last month. After a resounding win in Sunday’s election, the onus is now on her and the Projet Montréal team to deliver.

Downtown Montreal is going through a building boom. Myriad residential and office towers are going up amid a decade-long drive to modernize key municipal infrastructure, while construction of the Réseau express métropolitain inches forward. That’s creating a series of headaches for motorists, pedestrians, construction crews and local businesses alike.

“Everything is getting built at the same time,” Glenn Castanheira, head of the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association, said Monday in a telephone interview. “The main priority for Mayor Plante is going to be making sure that construction sites and the businesses around them can coexist. Construction can’t hinder business.”

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Improving travel fluidity will be a crucial goal for the Plante administration, said Michel Leblanc, head of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.

“Our biggest concern has to do with getting downtown, and getting around downtown,” he said Monday. “The city has the levers to co-ordinate the different construction sites.”

Congestion is shaping up to become an even bigger issue as thousands of Montrealers start working in person again.

On Monday, Quebec said civil servants would gradually return to their offices starting Nov. 15. Employees will initially work at least two days per week at the office.

“Many workers are concerned about taking public transit during the pandemic, so the administration is going to have to come to terms with the fact that people are going to take their car to come to work,” Leblanc said. “Perhaps some sort of free parking could be offered to help workers cope during this period.”

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As downtown’s employee population slowly begins to swell, Montreal must take steps to help private contractors maintain their street-front sites properly, Castanheira said.

“We really need to start seeing more corridors for pedestrians,” he said. “It’s sort of like the Far West right now. It’s already hard to get downtown by car — and if you have to cross four intersections after you park, then you’re in trouble.”

Small businesses will be looking for a more efficient administration. Projet Montréal’s 2021 platform included a section — dubbed “500 days for Montreal’s recovery” — that hinted at tax reductions for commercial building owners and outlined a commitment to review the city’s practices and provide services more quickly. Officials at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business will be looking for progress on all of these fronts.

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“Regulatory complexity is a major issue for small businesses,” François Vincent, CFIB’s vice-president for Quebec, said in an interview. “It’s not always easy to deal with the city. It would be a huge help if things are simplified and permits are issued faster.”

The central core generates about $1 billion in commercial taxes annually, according to Montréal Centre-Ville’s Castanheira. Business groups will be watching Plante to see if she appoints an executive committee member to look after downtown.

“This is a key priority, and we’re very much looking forward to see who that person is,” he said. “Downtown is very complex. We can’t just leave it on its own.”

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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