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City Management and the Emerging Welfare State: Evolution of City Budgets and Civic Responsibilities in Montreal, 1931–1951

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2011

Jean-Pierre Collin
Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Université du Québec


The Great Depression of the 1930s transformed municipal political life in Montreal, as it did that in other major cities in North America. For one thing, the debate between populists and reformers was revived as the electoral scene underwent fundamental changes. In many cities, political machines running on patronage became more influential as the middle class began to desert the city for the suburbs. At the same time, the margin of budgetary maneuvering available to cities was shrinking, and local public finances were reduced. Municipalities that had been obliged to borrow to meet social needs resulting from the depression were faced with a prolonged fiscal crisis, which for many of them resulted in bankruptcy and trusteeship. This was Montreal's fate in 1940.

Copyright © The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 1997

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1. It should be remembered that until late in the 1930s in both Canada and the United States, local governments collected more local taxes than federal ones, and certainly more than provincial and state ones. Taylor, John H., “Urban Autonomy in Canada: Its Evolution and Decline,” in Power and Place: Canadian Urban Development in the North American Context, ed. Steker, Gilbert A. and Artibise, Alan F. J. (Vancouver, 1986), 269–91Google Scholar; Waltzer, Norman and Fisher, Glenn W., Cities, Suburbs, and Property Taxes (Boston, 1981)Google Scholar; McDonald, Terrence J. and Ward, Sally K., introduction to The Politics of Urban Fiscal Policy, ed. McDonald, Terrence J. and Ward, Sally K. (Beverly Hills, Calif., 1984), 1337.Google Scholar

2. The doctoral thesis of Michèle Dagenais makes a noteworthy contribution in this area: “Dynamiques d'une bureaucratie: L'administration municipale de Montréal et ses fonctionnaires, 1900–1945” (Ph.D. thesis [history], Universite du Quebec a Montreal, November 1992).

3. This approach was proposed, for example, by McDonald and Ward, introduction to Politics of Urban Fiscal Policy. See also David M. Nowlan, “Changing Perspectives on Municipal Taxation” (discussion draft, Department of Economics, University of Toronto, October 1990), or Fuchs, Esther, Mayors and Money: Fiscal Policy in New York and Chicago (Chicago, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4. This research is carried on with the financial support of Fonds pour la formation de chercheurs et l'aide à la recherche du Québec (FCAR) and of Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

5. For H. Carl Goldenberg, this transformation was the result of two important factors. First, the development of road transportation (cars and trucks) considerably modified the nature of facilities and services related to highways, which escalated the costs of municipal services. Also, social services, whose mandate had broadened after 1910, were putting continually increasing pressure on municipal finances. See Goldenberg, , Municipal Finance in Canada (Ottawa, 1939).Google Scholar

6. Only the amusement tax was an area of taxation (and a marginal one at that) that was shared equally by both levels. Even so, the municipal corporation had to fund its collection and administration.

7. Couture, Claude, Le mythe de la modernisation du Québec, des années 1930 à la Révolution tranquille (Montreal, 1991).Google Scholar

8. Commission d'étude des problèmes mètropolitains de Montreal, Rapport (rapport Paquette) (Montreal, January 1955). Thus Montreal's operating budget was overburdened, and the city, as well, had difficulty servicing its debt.

9. Pick, Alfred J., The Administration of Paris and Montreal: A Comparative Study (Montreal, 1939)Google Scholar; Goldenberg, Municipal Finance in Canada; Huet-Massue, C. E., Financial and Economic Situation of Montreal Compared with That of Toronto (Montreal, March 1940).Google Scholar

10. By the end of the decade, the city had borrowed more than Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, and Verdun, the next more populous Canadian municipalities, combined for direct aid to the unemployed.

11. This rise in the consolidated tax rate resulted from the levying of three surtaxes to cover the loans taken to cover operating budget deficits in 1933 and 1934 (Surtax for Special Loan of 1933; Surtax for Special Loan of 1934) and to cover sidewalk maintenance.

12. Tax on telephone equipment, charity tax on radio receiving equipment, water tax on motor vehicles, and tax on premium of fire insurance companies. Even though they brought in small sums, these taxes did make suburbanites contribute from rime to time to the city. This increased the diversification of Montreal's tax portfolio.

13. Silver, Sheldon, “The Feasibility of a Municipal Income Tax in Canada,” Canadian Tax Journal 16 (1968): 398406.Google Scholar

14. The categorization used here is borrowed from Esther Fuchs (Majors and Money), who divides municipal expenditures into two broad categories: housekeeping services, or common-function expenditures, and redistributive services, or non-common-function expenditures. The first refers to the basic services related to property offered to all house-holds regardless of income level. The second covers services with a redistributive effect favoring less-well-off residents.

15. Aid to the unemployed is not considered in these figures. This expense item is unique to the 1930s. It reached its peak from 1934–35 to 1938–39 but was reduced to almost nothing by the beginning of the Second World War.

16. City of Montreal, Direction de la gestion des documents et des archives, Procèsverbaux de la Commission d'urbanisme (21–08–1934 to 09–08–1936), Dossiers de résolution du Conseil municipal et du Comité exécutif, Troisième sèrie, no. 39612.

17. The Montreal Industrial Bureau, which was created in August 1935 at the instigation of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, was first a private organization with a provincial charter. Its board included representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade, the Canadian Manufacturers Association (Montreal section), public utility companies, and the city of Montreal. Nevertheless, the office did not become fully operational until 1937, after it was integrated into the municipal civil service.

18. Jean-Marie Martin, “Les problèmes de bien-être et d'assistance publique et l'administration municipale” (Mémoire présenté à la Commission royale déenquête sur les problèmes constitutionels par l'Union des municipalités de la province de Québec, Études spéciales V, Québec, Chez l'Auteur, 1954).

19. See Collin, Jean-Pierre, La Cité coopérative canadienne-française: Saint-Léonard-de-Port-Maurice, 1955–1963 (Montreal and Québec, 1986), chap. 3.Google Scholar

20. Commission d'étude des problèmes métropolitains de Montreal, Rapport.

21. The city of Montreal had initially asked for authorization to levy sales tax and individual income tax right across the island of Montreal.

22. This organization had been created in 1921 to assist four suburbs in financial difficulty after the city of Montreal refused to annex them. Its only mandate was to settle their debts and, more broadly, to be a watchdog over borrowing and to control the finances of a larger group of municipalities. These all shared in the settling of debts for the bankrupt suburbs. See Divay, Gérard and Collin, Jean-Pierre, La Communauté urbaine de Montreal: de la ville centrale à l'île centrale (Montreal, 1977), chap. 1Google Scholar, and Sancton, Andrew, Governing the Island of Montreal: Language Differences and Metropolitan Politics (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985).Google Scholar

23. Collin, Jean-Pierre, “Les stratégies fiscales municipales et la gestion de l'agglomération urbaine: Le cas de la Ville de Montreal entre 1910 et 1965,” Urban History Review/Revue d'histoire urbaine 23 (November 1994): 1931.Google Scholar

24. Town of Mont-Royal, Montreal-West, city of Outremont, and, remarkably, city of Westmount.

25. Town of Saint-Laurent, town of Montreal-Nord, town of Pointe-aux-Trembles, town of Montreal-Est, town of Saint-Michel-de-Laval, and city of Verdun.

26. This action was certainly one of the most significant taken toward the metropolitanization of Montreal up until the creation of the Montreal Urban Community in 1969.

27. Teaford, Jon C., City and Suburb: The Political Fragmentation of Metropolitan America, 1850–1970 (Baltimore, 1979).Google Scholar

28. The borough model had been proposed as early as 1910 by Nantel, G. A., Lamécropole de demean: Avenir de Montréal (Montreal, 1910).Google Scholar

29. National Municipal League Committee on Metropolitan Government, The Government of Metropolitan Areas in the United States (New York, 1930).Google Scholar

30. Wright, Frederick, A Symposium of Opinion on the Borough System of Government for Greater Montreal (Montreal, 1928)Google Scholar. Note that the distribution of this pamphlet was in part assumed by the Montreal Metropolitan Commission It was published a second time as The Borough System of Government for Greater Montreal (Montreal, 1947)Google Scholar. See also Tanghe, Raymond, Géographie humaine de Montreal (Montreal, 1928)Google Scholar; Smyth, Taggart T., “Metro Reorganization in Montreal and District,” Municipal Review of Canada 62 (March 1946): 46Google Scholar; Marler, Georges C., “The Metropolitan Problem,” Metropole 1 (April 1947): 1117.Google Scholar

31. Boucher, Pierre, Analyse des projets de fédération métropolitame des villes de la région de Montreal soumis de 1927 à 1937 (Montreal, 1938).Google Scholar

32. Kaplan, Harold, Reform, Planning, and City Politics: Montreal, Winnipeg, and Toronto (Toronto, 1982).Google Scholar

33. Should we see in these “commissions,” each with two presidents and two secretaries, English and French speaking, another explanation for Montreal's adopting a corporatist political regime in 1940? That is what is suggested by the fact that many of the associations involved in these commissions were linked with the city council as part of the “Regime of the 99.” See Collin, Jean-Pierre and Germain, Annick, “Les transformations du pouvoir local à Montreal: Retourhistorique sur quelques expériences déaménagement,” in Aménagement et développement: Vers de nouvelks pratiques? ed. Klein, Juan-Luis (Montreal, 1986), 1928.Google Scholar

34. Collin, Jean-Pierre and Léveillee, Jacques, “Le pragmatisme des nouvelles classes moyennes ^ Montreal,” Revue international d'action communautaire 13, no. 53 (spring 1985): 95102.Google Scholar

35. See Orum, Anthony M., City-Building in America (Boulder, Colo., 1995), 1820.Google Scholar

36. See Jean-Pierre Collin, “Les stratégies fiscales municipales.”

37. Fuchs, Mayors and Money.

38. Orum, Civy-Building in America.

39. Keating, Ann Durkin, Building Chicago: Suburban Developers and the Creation of a Divided Metropolis (Columbus, Ohio, 1988).Google Scholar

40. On the history of Montreal, see Linteau, Paul-André, Histoire de Montréal depuis la Confédération (Montréal, 1992).Google Scholar

41. Monkkonen, Eric H., America Becomes Urban: The Development of VS. Cities and Towns, 1780–1980 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1988).Google Scholar

42. On this, see Gurr, Ted Robert and King, Desmond S., The State and the City (Chicago, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Keating, Michael, Comparative Urban Politics: Power and the City in the United Stales, Canada, Britain, and France (Brookfield, Vt., 1991)Google Scholar; Goldsmith, Harold Wolmanand Michael, “Local Autonomy as a Meaningful Analytical Concept: Comparing Local Government in the United States and the United Kingdom,” Urban Affairs Quarterly 26 (September 1990): 327.Google Scholar

43. Anton, Thomas J., “The Political Economy of Local Government Reform in the United States,” in The Dynamics of Institutionnal Change: Local Government Reorganization in Western Democracy, Modern Politics Series, vol. 19, ed. Dente, Bruno and Kjellberg, Francesco (London, 1988), 150–70.Google Scholar

44. Clark, Gordon L., “A Theory of Local Autonomy,Annals of the Association of American Geographers 74 (1984): 195208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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