WATCH ABOVE: Mario Lefebvre discusses Montreal’s future with Camille Ross
MONTREAL —; Look down Sainte-Catherine, Saint-Laurent and even Saint-Denis streets and it will be striking how many “for rent” signs are up.
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It’s an unnerving reminder for Montrealers that the city’s economy hasn’t been at its best for at least two decades.
This was only confirmed when the Conference Board of Canada and HEC Montreal business school released a November 2014 research report.
The numbers make the city’s economic future look bleak, pointing to the fact that Montreal has the lowest growth rate among Canada’s big cities (just over 1.5 per cent), the lowest disposable income (around $28,000) and one of the highest unemployment rates (8.1 per cent – second only behind Toronto).
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But according to Mario Lefebvre, president of the Urban Development Institute of Quebec, the city’s economy isn’t as bad as people believe –and the future is already looking brighter.
“We all know we’ve been through some tough times, let’s not deny that,” he said. “But let’s put it behind and move forward.”
In the last 20 years, Montreal’s economy hasn’t been doing well, especially when compared to Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton, (both which have been doing well due to the oil sands).
“But there’s much more to it than oil now,” Lefebvre said.
“These two cities [Calgary and Edmonton] have attracted a whole lot of people, there’s been the burst of several new industries.”
“We had all the reason to be worried until about a year and a half ago,” he noted, pointing to the Charbonneau Commission as one of the ways Montreal is picking itself up.
A falling dollar
Lefebvre said the strength of Canada’s dollar over the last ten years has actually hurt Montreal’s manufacturing-based economy.
“Manufacturers went through some pretty tough times the last ten years with global competition,” he said.
“Globalization is not a vague concept any more, it’s a reality and in this global world, the dollar at par made it really hard for our industries to compete.”
It’s not ideal for anyone planning a vacation to the United States, but Lefebvre insisted the Canadian dollar taking a dip is the best thing for the city’s economy.
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He noted that the decreased strength of the dollar helps the manufacturing industry, which accounts for about 15 per cent of Montreal’s economy,
Keep the dollar low for now because rates become more competitive, and raise it when we’re ready.
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“This guy is going to be able to sell the city of Montreal the way it should be sold,” Lefebvre said.
Montreal’s mayor, Denis Coderre, has worked hard to open the city’s economy, but Lefebvre warned he can’t do it alone.
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Lefebvre also applauded the collaboration between the private and public sectors in Montreal.
Pointing to the Train de l’Ouest, which is being financed by the Caisse de Dépôt, as a sign that Montreal’s economy is finally turning around, Lefebvre said Montreal needs a strong infrastructure plan, which is already on the way to becoming a reality.
With an interesting public transportation system, a good infrastructure plan will entice more companies to come set up shop and stay here —; as long as Montreal is able to keep these structures in place.
“Let’s stop looking back and now think forward,” said Lefebvre.
“We have all the reason to be optimistic about what’s coming.”