Montreal is a distinct place within Quebec and needs to be treated accordingly.

That's the lead item in an Ipsos Reid poll conducted this summer on behalf of the rights organization CRITIQ.

According to the survey most people in Quebec, and an overwhelming majority of Montreal residents, said Montreal needed special rules in order to stop its decline.

However the poll indicates it is still seen within Quebec as a shining beacon of prosperity, even if the reality does differ.

That difference of opinion was made clear when 49% of those living in Montreal toll the pollsters that the city was a good place to do business, while three-quarters of those in the suburbs and the rest of the province felt it was a hotbed of economic growth.

Luc Durand of Ipsos Reid said those outside of Montreal had a rosier attitude about Montreal's economic status because they do not live there.

"It's their perception of what's happening in Montreal, while in Montreal it's the real thing they live everyday," said Durand.“People really love Montreal but they really feel it’s on the decline right now and there must be something done very quickly,”

Among the poll's findings:

  • 90% said Montreal is distinct society within Quebec
  • 91% said Montreal needs drastic steps to stop decline
  • 74% said Montreal deserves special status because it is world class

Some believe that the city needs to be recognized for being the bilingual city that it, in practice, is.

“If some type of bilingual status was attainted for Montreal it would create a much more positive investment climate,” said Robert Libman, spokesman of Canadian Rights in Quebec.


Call for a city-state

The group CRITIQ is using the poll as a basis to reinvent Montreal as a city-state, with unique rules, a streamlined government, and official bilingual status.

Pointing out that Montreal is now at the bottom of major cities in North America, when it was once the largest city in Canada, the group says continued decline is inevitable unless something drastic is done.

It points out that external and internal factors are responsible, namely a decrease in shipping and airline traffic, very high taxation compared to other regions, language laws, the merger debacle and immobilisme.

Rampant red tape has stunted business growth, according to the group's leader.

“If I want to start a company, does it take six months to get my papers though the bureaucrats, which is what I think the case is now, or does it take six days?” asked Michel David, president of the Montreal City-State Foundation (CRITIQ).

David also noted that there's a massive discrepancy between the way Montrealers see the city and the way people from surrounding areas perceive it.

"I have a hypothesis that people from outside see Montreal as a big powerful thing and some of them who live further out in the countryside don’t like big powerful things and you get this fear of a big city. The people who live in the city know it’s weak because they’re looking for a job and they’re not finding one. It comes from your daily life experience," he said.

David also stressed the importance of what he called segmentation, a tool to distinguish the needs of various groups, a tool he said must be employed to improve conditions on the island of Montreal.

"There's the island of Montreal and the RoQ, the rest of Quebec. The RoQ is very homogenous, it's 95 percent francophone, Montreal clearly is multi-ethnic," he said.

He pointed out that cultural and economic needs vary greatly between the city and the rest of Quebec.

"For 50 years all the strategies in Quebec have been RoQ strategies applied to the entire province."

The city-state group wants to increase the island's population, improve the harbour, and create stronger ties with French-speaking entrepreneurs around the world.

The Ipsos Reid poll surveyed 1,250 people during the last two weeks of July, 2013.