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Montreal's vital signs improving

 

 

PETER HADEKEL, The Gazette

Published: 7 hours ago

When consulting economist Marcel Cote put together a statistical picture of the Montreal area, he found several signs of improvement.

 

The region's unemployment rate, long among the worst in urban Canada, is now closer to the national average than it's been in two

decades.

 

The workforce is getting smarter. Over the last 10 years, the proportion of Montrealers who've completed post-secondary studies has

shot up from 43 per cent to 55 per cent and is now above the Canadian average.

 

Innovation is thriving. Between 1990 and 2005, the share of scientific and technical jobs in the labour force has grown at a faster

rate than in Toronto and Vancouver.

 

Cote collected the data for the Foundation of Greater Montreal, which yesterday published its annual checkup on the metropolitan area,

titled Vital Signs.

 

The report is intended to raise awareness on the challenges and opportunities facing the community. It also serves as a good gauge of

the quality of life in Montreal.

 

But for all of Montreal's improvements, there are plenty of problems to address.

 

Nearly a quarter of families earn low incomes and a disproportionate number of seniors live in poverty.

 

Chronic homelessness remains an issue, especially among First Nations and Inuit.

 

And Montreal still hasn't figured out how to integrate immigrants into its economic fabric. Relative to Canadian-born workers, the

jobless rate among immigrants is far higher than it is for Canada as a whole.

 

Asked to sum up his findings, Cote noted that in areas where change happens quickly, Montreal has done quite well.

 

For example, changes in public policy like government mandated pay equity have helped put money into consumers' pockets and improved

Quebec's economic performance.

 

But on longer term issues like poverty and personal health, progress is much slower.

 

On the island of Montreal, 25 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men did not have a family physician.

 

In secondary schools, only 39 per cent of students exercised enough to be in good physical condition.

 

It's worth remembering that economic health is closely linked to social health. Prosperity and growth help to pay for improvements in

health and social services.

 

As well, the link between educational attainment and a strong economy is clear, Cote noted. The high dropout rate in Montreal-area

schools is closely linked to the incidence of poverty.

 

To ensure that growth continues, Montreal will have to address tough challenges, including: the aging of its population, the impact of

globalization and the competitive threat from such emerging economies as China, India, Russia and Brazil.

 

The city also needs huge infrastructure repairs. And a way must be found to reorganize municipal finances so that it can meet the

needs of citizens.

 

If Montreal can do a better job in these areas, it should be well-positioned to compete, because its economy is diversified and

increasingly driven by knowledge industries.

 

"Montreal's fundamental comparative advantage is in advanced manufacturing," Cote says. The city has a skilled and stable work force

that attracts investment.

 

"Our advanced manufacturing industries are not too threatened by the developing countries."

 

Of all the challenges ahead, Cote says the biggest one may be remaining an open and international city while retaining the French

character of Montreal.

 

"We have to stay open," he said. "We have to accommodate more immigrants. But we have to get them to accept French. Otherwise, they

don't have jobs, they're not happy and they leave."

 

Montreal has done a fairly good job of retaining new immigrants but must get them into the workforce faster.

 

"The fact that Montreal is French in North America is our fundamental challenge. We want to keep it this way, we like it this way, it

makes a very interesting city. But it has its problems."

 

Cote added, however, that if cities like Brussels, Amsterdam and London can retain an international quality, Montreal can too.

 

Immigration is key to both arresting the city's demographic decline and positioning it to prosper in the global economy.

 

[email protected]

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