Since the revelations about the problematic management of public funds by the heads of the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM), many have called for its abolition, alleging its uselessness. Les Amis de la montagne, an organization dedicated to the protection of Mount Royal, and other civil society partners, have witnessed time and again over the years the important role played by the OCPM in Montreal’s democratic life.
The OCPM offers Montrealers the ability to influence the fate of projects and decisions that concern them. And citizens are not shy about doing so. During the consultation on the Projet de Plan de protection et de mise en valeur du Mont-Royal, 3,500 citizens and representatives of institutions and organizations took part in the discussions. More recently, consultations on the Projet de ville du Plan d’urbanisme et de mobilité 2050 generated 4,310 citizen contributions.
The case of Mount Royal
The OCPM’s public consultations are a showcase for the mountain and its major projects. They are privileged forums for exchange, where Montrealers become aware of the fragility of Mount Royal and the efforts that must be made collectively to protect it.
Consultations on major projects have been significant for the mountain, as they have led to the emergence of unique concepts and protective measures that are essential to the preservation of our cultural and natural heritage. In the Site patrimonial du Mont-Royal, numerous consultations have guided the change of vocation and redevelopment of several institutions, such as the projects for the site of St. Joseph’s Oratory (2004), the former Seminary of Philosophy (2009), or the site of the former Royal Victoria Hospital (2022).
A number of projects from the City of Montreal, such as the redevelopment of the Peel entrance (2007), the ring road project (2008) and the future of the access roads to Mount Royal and Camillien-Houde Way / Remembrance Rd. (2019) were also communicated, explained and discussed with the population.
Outside the Site patrimonial du Mont-Royal, several consultations were opportunities to reiterate the mountain’s emblematic character, as well as the need to protect views to and from Mount Royal.
The OCPM draws on collective intelligence to push projects to the next level. The very knowledge that a project will be submitted to the OCPM for public consultation leads the project owner to seek social acceptability.
In their reports, the OCPM commissioners make recommendations that attempt to capture the consensus emerging from the consultations, without, however, advocating turnkey solutions. It is up to the city and boroughs to evaluate the recommendations and ensure that they are implemented. Abandoning certain recommendations in a report does not mean that the city is ignoring the consultation.
The fundamental characteristics that make the institution such an essential body must be maintained: neutrality, independence, transparency and openness to all.
While it goes without saying that the OCPM’s management must be equipped with mechanisms to ensure the rigorous use of public funds, this crisis must lead to improvements in its core, and in particular the following three aspects:
- Make public the city’s analysis of consultation reports, so that citizens can rely on a systematic and transparent process to understand the directions taken by their elected representatives.
- Facilitate requests for public consultation on a given subject, to ensure access to the population.
- Ensure that elected officials and municipal civil servants have a thorough understanding of the role of the OCPM and other bodies essential to Montreal democracy, such as the Conseil du patrimoine.
Let’s continue to rely on the OCPM. Let’s take advantage of the storm to improve its essence and make its role better known.
Hélène Panaïoti is executive director of Les Amis de la montagne.
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