Merger of cities

Letter to the Editor of the Montreal Gazette.

It appears that the Quebec government is employing a timeworn ploy to get its way with regard to the just-introduced legislation on the forced merger of Quebec cities. The ploy is: when trying to get a deal, always ask for more than you actually need. That way, when negotiations result in your getting less than you asked for, you will still have gotten what you needed or secretly planned to get anyway, and your opposite number will believe that he or she has also won by forcing you to accept less than your demand.

A blatant example is the federal government’s raising postal rates a few years ago; they circulated a rumour that the rates would jump by a substantial amount, and there was an immediate outcry from the outraged public. When the actual increase was introduced, the public breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that they had not been subjected to the intolerable increase they had been led to believe was the government intention. The government ended up with the increase that they wanted, and it was accepted gladly by the electorate, thankful that the government had caved in to their protestations!

With the current situation, the legislation that was introduced goes much farther in reducing the status of existing cities such as Westmount, than even the Bernard report envisioned. Clearly, these measures are so draconian that almost everyone can be united against them, and join in castigating the provincial government for its antidemocratic behaviour. There will be a geat hue and cry, many local referenda and demonstrations, all with the same message: most of the people are solidly against the proposed reforms.
Those who believe that the government will pay no attention will be wrong. Quebec city will listen; they will soften down the legislation to something likely approximating the Bernard report, and they will announce with great fanfare that they have listened to the will of the people and responded! We the voters will once again breathe a sigh of relief, grateful that our elected representatives are not as heartless as they seemed to be. We’ve won! we will think.

But of course the government will have won, because they will have gotten us to accept merger legislation which is still unacceptable, even if less unacceptable than the legislation originally introduced. But anyone who dares to say so will be denounced as an ungrateful whiner and complainer, and will no longer have a solid and united opposition backing him or her. And that is the heartbreaking result of this insidious manoeuver: the people who have the most to lose from forced mergers will find themselves alone, no longer part of a common front of opposition.

What can we do to prevent this scenario from unfolding? We must first become sensitised to the real risk that it may come about, so we can put our heads together and come up with answers. If we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem!

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