Created in 2002, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) is an independent public organization whose mission is to carry out public consultation mandates entrusted to it by the Montréal city council or executive committee. It distinguishes itself by its consultation practices based on the concept of an independent, transparent and credible neutral third party.
In its first ten years of existence, the OCPM has held no less than 103 public consultations. Its mandate primarily involves urban and land-use planning projects under municipal jurisdiction, but is not limited to those matters1. For instance, consultations may pertain to the following areas:
· shared or institutional equipment (hospital, university, regional park, etc.)
· major infrastructure (airport, shunting yard, water treatment facility, etc.)
· a residential, commercial or industrial establishment situated in the business district
· a heritage site or site located in a historic and natural borough, a recognized historic monument or classified cultural property
· draft municipal policies, visions or development
However, the OCPM does not have the power to initiate consultations on its own. Its mandates must necessarily come from the city council or the executive committee.
Consultations result in the publication of reports outlining the issues and positions expressed by the citizens. Analysis and recommendations are also formulated to municipal elected officials. The process has no decision-making capacity, but its formal and autonomous nature, as well as the good media coverage it gets, makes it difficult to ignore for the decision-makers.
In addition, the Office has the mandate to propose rules to structure public consultation in Montréal to ensure the implementation of credible, transparent and effective consultation mechanisms.
The Genesis of the Office
The first formal public consultation structure appeared in the late 1980s in Montreal, with the creation of the Bureau de consultation de Montréal (BCM). For five years, this organization held public consultations on issues submitted by city authorities. However, at that time, the existence of the BCM was closely linked to the political power in office, as it was constituted under a by-law adopted by the city council. Therefore, in 1994, the new Montréal administration decided to abolish it by revoking the by-law. From then on, public consultations would be held by a single city council standing committee.
Over the years, it became clear that such a mechanism was not enough, and that a more neutral and detailed analysis was necessary for certain important projects. For citizens and groups interested in evaluating and improving a project, consultation proved useless when elected officials had already made up their minds about it.
Responding to critics and pressures from several sectors of civil society, the municipal administration created the Tremblay commission in 2000. This group of five members, led by Gérald Tremblay, was mandated to examine consultation practices pertaining to urban planning.
The Tremblay commission held public hearings over the course of the summer of 2000. In its final report, it then set out a number of recommendations, including that to create an Office de consultation publique with a mandate and mission that would largely inspire the government in the creation of the Office as we know it today.
The Office was finally created on January 1, 2002, at the same time as the new Ville de Montréal following the amalgamation of the island’s cities2. The inclusion of provisions creating the OCPM in the Charter of Ville de Montréal ensured, at that moment, that changing political teams in Montréal’s administration would no longer jeopardize the existence of the Office.
The OCPM today is composed of a president and 25 partial time or ad hoc commissioners (the position of full-time commissioner was abolished in August 2006, but remains an option under the provisions of the Charter). The commissioners are neither elected officials nor city employees; they are appointed for four years terms by city council by a majority of two-thirds of the votes cast. They are neutral and mandated to ensure that relevant information has been provided and understood, that all participants’ questions have been asked and that all opinions have been heard. They must provide equal treatment to all.
A typical public consultation process begins with the Office receiving a mandate from the city council or executive committee. A public notice announcing the consultation is then
published in a daily newspaper at least 15 days prior to the first public session. During that period, a comprehensive dissemination and advertising strategy is implemented. Access to information is seen as crucial. All relevant documents are made available in several of the municipality’s libraries and on the OCPM’s website.
The first part of the consultation then consists of one or more information sessions about the project. In these sessions, the developer and city officials present both the project and the required regulatory framework. These presentations are followed by a question period.
Three weeks later, citizens and organizations that have previously registered come to present their briefs or express their opinions before the commission. These sessions are open to the public. Briefs may also be filed without presentation at the meetings.
Following the consultation sessions, the commission deliberates. In light of the documents submitted for its consideration, questions asked, and opinions received, it drafts the public consultation report outlining the issues and positions expressed. Its analysis and recommendations to municipal elected officials are also included in the report.
When the consultation report is ready, it is sent to the Mayor of Montréal. Two weeks later, it is made public on the OCPM Website and submitted to the city council and executive committee.
A unique model
The type of public hearings held in Montréal is thus different from the traditional model of municipal public hearings found elsewhere in Canada or in the United States. The traditional form of hearings is characterized by the holding of a public assembly led by municipal elected officials, who, on their own or with the help of public servants, present a planning project and then ask for citizens’ opinions on the spot. A study in the United States shows that this type of public hearing generally lasts between a half hour and three hours3.
The practice in Montréal is distinguished by the facts that: 1) the public hearings are held by an independent organization that has the leeway to invite experts, to ask the developer of the project under examination for additional information and to ensure that citizens’ questions and opinions have been clearly understood; and 2) particular attention is given to access to information, with the relevant documents available in several of the municipality’s libraries and on the OCPM’s website, and the holding of evening information sessions describing the project, before citizens voice their opinions after a 15-day delay following the end of the information phase.
· In its first ten years of activities, the OCPM received about 2000 briefs and opinions. More than one third of those briefs came from individual citizens. About 25,000 people attended its hearings.
· According to a poll realized for the 10th anniversary of the Office, one Montrealer out of five knew what the OCPM was in 2012. Among those citizens, 86% had a positive opinion of the organization, 85% believed it was useful and 80% considered it was credible.4
· Throughout the years, the Office has shared its experiences with various cities and associations, such as the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), the Association internationale des maires francophones (AIMF), the World Association of Major Metropolises (Metropolis), and the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy (IOPD). Moreover, the Office has often hosted delegations seeking to learn more about its modus operandi and gather inspiration. This was the case with the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, which has maintained contact with the Office over the past few years and is in the process of creating a similar autonomous structure.5
Samuel Tremblay, Université de Montréal
This paper is part of a research project funded by the SSHRC, calls ‘Expertise, organizational field and the diffusion of public participation practices’ (2012-2016) and directed by Laurence Bherer (Université de Montréal), Mario Gauthier (Université du Québec en Outaouais) and Louis Simard (Université d’Ottawa).
 Lila Combe, Michel Gariépy, Mario Gauthier, Florence Paulhiac Scherrer and Franck Scherre (2012) Débattre pour transformer l’action urbaine : Planification urbaine et développement durable à Grenoble, Lyon et Montréal, Montréal : Presses de l’Université de Montréal.
 Laurence Bherer et Sandra Breux (2012), « The Diversity of Public Participation Tools: Complementing or Competing With One Another? », Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, 45:2 (June/juin 2012) 379–403
 Baker, William, Addams Lon and Brian Davis. 2005. “Critical Factors for Enhancing
Municipal Public Hearings.” Public Administration Review 65 ~4!: 490–99.
 Office de consultation publique de Montréal (2012), Ma ville, ma voix : 10 years of public consultations with Montrealers, Online. http://ocpm.qc.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/OCPM_brochure10ans_EN.pdf
 Office de consultation publique de Montréal (2012), Credibility, independence, accessibility : OCPM presentation document, Online. http://ocpm.qc.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/references/presentationocpmen.pdf