Laval’s golden door

City growing stronger, more diverse, despite the scandals

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

By Robert Frank

The words incuse at the base of the Statue of Liberty could just as easily adorn the gateway to Laval.

After allegations of corruption at Laval city hall broke, last fall, a Montreal reporter described Quebec’s third-largest city on national radio as a kind of a wasteland composed of bungalows and strip malls.

The remark epitomized many Montrealers’ snobbish attitudes. Seeing Laval as a giant, boudoir community, they fail to notice the accelerating growth that the city is enjoying on multiple fronts.

Who wants to stay in Montreal, and face ever-increasing property taxes—not to mention the extra tax load the provincial government imposes on the metropolis—when you can move to Laval—a city with a budget surplus and a property tax freeze, where seniors ride the buses for free?

Consequently, despite construction cranes erecting condos as fast as they can, Laval remains a seller’s market for residential real estate with the region’s fastest-rising home prices on or off Montreal Island.

Not only is the population burgeoning, it’s fast becoming more cosmopolitan. The arrival of a rainbow of ethnicities is conspicuous. Laval has become the destination of choice for new Canadians who are starting to make it in their adopted home.

Their presence has enriched the city in general, all the way from Val des Brises to Vimont, and is particularly evident in Chomedey and Ste. Dorothée. Moreover, everyone gets along pretty well, and the city is well-served by a polyglot police force that reflects a slice of Laval’s changing demographics better than any other civic administration.

Besides giving Laval some great restaurants, the diversity has added zip to the city’s economy. It’s no accident. The city has a refreshingly open outlook toward trade. It funds Laval Technopole, a sophisticated business development outfit that has fostered some $9 billion in direct investment in Laval during the last six years, and actively helps Laval firms to market their wares on international markets. 

The multilingual workforce is increasingly well-educated, thanks to Montmorency College, a University of Montreal satellite campus and the Armand Frappier Institute’s academic research facility.

The Armand Institute, in turn, is the lynchpin of Laval’s Biotech City—a leading North American life sciences cluster that continues to attract corporations to set up their Canadian headquarters here.

In 2013, pharmaceutical giant Valeant went a step further, becoming the first to relocate its world headquarters to Laval. It’s unlikely to be the last large firm to do so.

Rapid development isn’t always painless. The growth strains a mass transit system more suited to conveying commuters to jobs in Montreal. Laval’s Metro is already operating beyond capacity. Adding more stations can only exacerbate the problem, at eye-watering expense.

Despite the knocks that it earned through its politicians’ alleged misdeeds, financially the city continues to thrive. Because it continues to live within its means, Laval enjoys a credit rating that places it among Canada’s best-managed cities.

With a new civic administration, Laval brims with promise in 2014. Sniffy Montrealers should take a second look. Learning Laval’s winning formula could help the metropolis follow in the footsteps of Atlanta, rather Detroit.

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