Montreal’s participatory budget allows Montrealers to have a real say in how and where the municipal government spends its money. Originating in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the democratic process of participatory budgeting encourages civic engagement and community building as citizens may propose and vote on how their government spends part of its public budget. Today, participatory budgeting exists in over 7,000 cities globally.
Montreal’s Participatory Budget
In a comment to the Daily, Francyne Gervais, interim director of Montreal’s Resident Experience and Communications Department, explained that Montreal’s participatory budget is “a democratic process that allows the population to influence the allocation of a part of the municipal budget.”
This process is also a “concrete way to mobilize collective intelligence and the Montreal population to work towards solving urban issues,” said Robert Beaudry, who works on citizen participation and democracy on the executive committee of the City of Montreal, in a comment to the Daily.
Montreal mayor Valérie Plante emphasized the significance of the city’s participatory budget in October 2022. She explained that “for us, the participatory budget is one of the ways to give the population the opportunity to reclaim their power to act on their city, their street, in their neighbourhood. And that is extremely important.”
In the spring of 2022, 12 projects related to the advancement of Montreal’s ecological and social development were put into action. As a result of this process, Montreal initiated projects such as the “Water in your bottle” initiative, which aims to install more water dispensers across the city to increase access to drinking water, and the “Éthel garden” in Verdun, which transforms a parking garage into a public space focused on health and solidarity.
Five of Montreal’s boroughs also run their own participatory budgets. Residents and business owners of the boroughs Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, LaSalle, Le Plateau-Mont Royal and Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve are able to suggest and vote on projects specifically aimed towards their own communities. Certain boroughs, such as Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, ran the first edition of their participatory budget before the city of Montreal’s first edition, launching their voting process in 2019. This process led to the creation of several community-serving initiatives, such as a new pavilion in St-Donat park and a bike repair station in several neighborhoods.
The second edition of Montreal’s participatory budget focuses on similar goals of environmental and social development. Kick-started in October 2022, the budget focuses on themes of youth, equity and safety. This year, $30 million has been allocated to support these projects, which fall into four categories: safe and active mobility; sports and recreational equipment; meeting areas; and parks and green space.
Youth is also prioritized. As Plante emphasized, “schools, the community, the police department, the city of Montreal and other levels of government must all listen and be involved in offering opportunities to our beautiful youth.” This year’s participatory budget achieves this by reserving a minimum of $5 million of the total budget for projects stamped with a “youth seal,” which are initiatives proposed by youth or created specifically for youth.
The Process: How Does a Proposal Go From an Idea to an Action Plan?
All Montreal residents aged 12 and over, as well as business owners, are allowed to propose and vote on projects involved in the city’s participatory budget. This year, the city outlined that project proposals must embrace a theme of youth, equity or safety; meet a collective interest; be located on public property or city-owned land; and be durable and sustainable in the long run. The project must also be able to begin within two years.
Between October 13 and December 4, 2022, Montrealers proposed 666 initiatives by completing an online form or calling the city by telephone. Once the proposal window closed, a preliminary selection of ideas took place. From December 2022 to April 2023, the city analyzed the eligibility of all received proposals, before collaborating with third-party representatives to prioritize and develop the 504 eligible projects.
Six committees composed of selected citizen representatives as well as city staff with expertise in relevant fields – such as social and community development, planning, and culture – partook in this process. To decide which projects to prioritize, the committees examined three criteria: the consistency of the idea with the themes of youth, equity and safety; the transformative nature of the idea and its potential to impact the daily lives of Montrealers; and the creative nature of the idea to renew city practices in novel ways.
After this stage, the city assessed the logistical and economical feasibility of the prioritized projects before developing the final list of projects to be submitted for voting. During this process, ideas with similar themes were blended to form one idea, whereas ideas that were too broad or generic were enhanced with specific details.
This Year’s Finalist Projects
From September 29 to October 29, Montrealers were able to vote for eight out of the 31 finalist projects eligible for voting, including: “Montréal Climbs!” which proposes the development of outdoor rock climbing walls and the installation of boulders in neighbourhoods across Montreal; “Fully Inclusive Parks” which seeks to transform four parks into fully inclusive spaces, so that users with all levels of motor capabilities or types of functional limitations can access them; “Safely on Foot in My Neighbourhood” which aims to reduce traffic and improve pedestrian mobility in various neighbourhoods by adding safety features to intersections, new street lighting, benches, and vegetation for aesthetics; and “Enjoying Food as a Community in Montréal-Nord” which proposes the development of an outdoor farmer’s market and a universally accessible community kitchen in Montréal-Nord.
The winning projects will be announced in November 2023, and the planning and realization of the initiatives will commence in January 2024.
In the coming weeks, the third edition of Montreal’s participatory budget will launch, as Laurianne Tardif, Press Relations Manager with Montreal’s Resident Experience and Communications Department, stated in a comment to the Daily.
For more information regarding Montreal’s participatory budget, including the complete list of projects and the upcoming launch of the third edition of the budget, visit makingmtl.ca.