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New broom sweeping Montreal clean

 

INGRID PERITZ

June 8, 2007

 

 

MONTREAL -- In Montreal this spring, a new army of enforcers is taking command of the streets and spreading fear in back alleys. They're tough, eagle-eyed - and armed with big brooms.

 

The city in Canada best known for its insouciance and laissez-faire ways is suddenly aspiring to be Singapore on the St. Lawrence. This year, Montreal has declared war on trash.

 

Besieged by criticism that downtown had become an open-air dump of litter and bulging trash bins, city hall made a clean sweep of it by adopting a bylaw on "civility, respect and cleanliness."

 

Since last Friday, property owners downtown have become responsible for cleaning up in front of their homes and businesses. Fines start at $125 and reach $4,000 for repeat offenders.

 

 

 

"This is probably the toughest bylaw of its kind in Canada, if not North America," said Benoît Labonté, mayor of Montreal's downtown borough. "There are no warnings, just tickets for violations. We mean business."

Mr. Labonté has scheduled a news conference this morning to reveal the fruits of the new crackdown: In just seven days, the city's "trash troopers" issued about $70,000 in fines.

 

Montreal was inspired by cities like New York and Paris, which turned around their notoriously unkempt appearance in a few years, Mr. Labonté said in an interview yesterday. "If it's good enough for New York and Paris, it's good enough for Montreal."

 

Montreal has always had anti-trash rules on the books, but it put muscle this year into applying them: Ten more trash inspectors downtown, 189 young "cleanliness brigadiers," as well as 1,400 new garbage bins, 700 ashtrays and four solar-powered trash compactors valued at $4,700 apiece.

 

Some people worry Montreal will get so clean it will be antiseptic. And the more cynical wonder if Mayor Gérald Tremblay isn't picking an easy target because it's a lot tougher to solve intractable problems like his woeful revenue sources.

 

Still, many agree the city had let cleanliness slide in recent years, and civic pride with it. Complaints mounted about overflowing garbage cans, oozing back-alley dumpsters, and cigarette butts outside office buildings after no-smoking rules went into effect.

 

"We'd let things go in the last few years, and it was visible," said Claude Rainville, head of a business development group in Montreal's Latin Quarter. "The industrial quantities of butts. The trash containers. It just wasn't welcoming."

 

And the tough anti-litter talk isn't the only effort aimed at making Montrealers less unruly. Montreal police last year added 133 officers to its traffic squad to curb the notoriously bad habits of city drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

 

In the first four months of this year, police issued nearly 3,500 tickets for jaywalking, and plan to crack down on the habit through the summer, said Chief Inspector Réjean Toutant. "I understand that this is part of Montreal's culture. But that's no reason to let things go," he said.

No smoking, no jaywalking, no littering - is Montreal losing its joie de vivre?

 

Éric Montpetit, a political scientist at the University of Montreal, studied the city's litter problems and said the new efforts are long overdue. But the trash crackdown does appear to fit into a larger pattern.

 

"Montrealers have long been the exception in Canada. We've been less disciplined and maybe a little less polite. But that wild side is also part of the city's charm," said Prof. Montpetit, who has lived in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

 

Now, the efforts at behaviour reform may signal a shift.

"Maybe," he said, "we're starting to Canadianize Montrealers."

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