Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

The Abominable Snowman

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

The Abominable Snowman

Article excerpt

A borough mayor in Montreal unleashed a firestorm after advocating not plowing snow off the streets as soon as it falls.

Nobody much minded Borough Mayor Luc Ferrandez's campaign to green up his hip Montreal neighborhood so long as it was a matter of planting flower beds and widening sidewalks near schools. Plans to slow traffic by changing circulation rules in residential streets did create some blowback, but nothing like the storm he set off when his brand of urban environmentalism took a turn for the radical.

Against all advice and, to some, all common sense, Luc Ferrandez has done the unthinkable this winter: he has refused to have snow removed from the streets of his Plateau-Mont-Royal Borough as soon as it falls.

In a bid to save money by cutting back on overtime pay, Ferrandez wouldn't send out the snow-removal trucks on weekends or evenings. He also refused to send them out when the snowfall totaled less than five inches. And this month, he refused to have snow cleared even after it topped six inches because the forecast announced warm weather in the following days. Now he is considering a plan to remove snow only from the shady, northern-exposed side of streets, leaving the sun to do the work on the other side.

The backlash has been furious. "You'd think it was Syria!" Ferrandez says.

Small surprise: in Canada, downplaying snow removal can be political suicide. Conventional wisdom here has it that when folks go to the polls in municipal elections, the one and only question that matters is: how quickly does my street get plowed? And with good reason. Without prompt plowing, a city like Montreal, which receives some 89 inches of snow every winter, becomes basically unusable.

This has pitted boroughs in an arms race for snow-removal that often crowds out budgets for all other local amenities, while lining the pockets of reputedly corrupt snow-removal contractors.

As mayor of the Plateau-Mont-Royal Borough -- population: 101,054 -- Ferrandez is in a better position than most to drop out of this race. This is Montreal's hipster heartland, and Ferrandez's young, enviro-conscious constituents knew they were voting for something of an anti-car fundamentalist when they elected him in 2009. …

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