Valérian Mazataud Le Devoir Earlier in November, Mayor Valérie Plante cited the increase in snow removal costs — up to 100% from one year to the next in certain boroughs — as one of the reasons why she had to increase property taxes by 4.9%, on average, in 2024.
The next winter season will cost the City of Montreal almost $200 million, according to Maja Vodanovic, member of the executive committee.
An army of workers will have to spread various abrasives, plow and clear snow from some 10,000 kilometers of Montreal streets this winter, as well as sidewalks and certain cycle paths.
Earlier in November, Mayor Valérie Plante cited rising snow removal costs — up to 100% year over year in some boroughs — as one of the reasons she had to increase taxes property by 4.9%, on average, in 2024.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Ms. Vodanovic, who is also mayor of the Lachine borough, declared that the total snow budget this year is estimated at $197 million, or approximately $10 million more than last year. She blamed the rise on high inflation, labor shortages and climate change.
“Many of our contracts are increasing, unfortunately, with interest rates and with labor shortages. (of labor) and especially truckers,” many of whom are in their sixties,” she noted.
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The cost of snow removal trucks has literally exploded in recent years, according to the district mayor, due to disruptions in supply chain linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, where many parts were manufactured.
And while some might think that milder climate change-induced winters would reduce costs, there are other challenges. Montreal is experiencing more freeze-thaw cycles, forcing it to intervene more often to avoid blocked pipes and dangerous ice.
Heavy snowfalls used to occur between the months of November and March, but they are now concentrated in January and February. The result: snow removal companies run all their machines at the same time for a shorter period of time, hiring more people and forcing them to work overtime.
Other Canadian cities are also seeing their costs rise.
Edmonton says its snow removal budget is increasing every year and will reach up to $68.5 million by 2026, a cost that the general supervisor of Infrastructure operations on the city's grounds, Val Dacyk, attributes in part to climate change, including warm temperatures that create slush and flooding.
Winnipeg budgeted $36.26 million for fiscal 2023, up from $34.7 million in 2022, although actual snow removal costs were higher, including $87.18 million in 2022.
The winter maintenance budget in Mississauga, near Toronto, increased by $1.1 million to $26.82 million for the 2023 fiscal year.
Even Vancouver, with its much less harsh climate, has seen its costs rise steadily, from $3.8 million in 2018 to $7.4 million in 2022, during which time the amount of snow the city receives has also increased.
Toronto said its 2024 winter maintenance budget of more than $100 million a year is still being developed but will be “higher than of 2023” due to “rising costs of equipment, labor and general market conditions.”
Montreal, the big city the snowiest in North America
No other city in Canada spends as much on snow as Montreal. In addition to being the snowiest major city in North America, its downtown area is dense, meaning there's little room to put snow and it's too cold to let it melt , mentioned Maja Vodanovic. These conditions force the City to undertake complex snow removal operations several times a year, which include towing cars, clearing snow in the middle of the street before loading it into trucks and transporting it to one of the most 20 landfills, an operation that has been estimated in recent years at around $1 million per centimeter of snow removed.
Jean-Philippe Meloche, assistant professor of urban planning at the University of Montreal, says that management snowfall poses a significant challenge for elected officials due to the variable nature of the weather and the anger of citizens if it is not done well. “Winter is an obsession for municipal elected officials.”
Additionally, the snow removal market is not competitive, according to Professor Meloche, which reduces cities' options for contractors and makes the industry vulnerable to collusion — although he added that relying on private companies Private companies generally remain less expensive than using municipal workers.
Costs are increasing due to inflation of machinery and labor, but the quality of snow removal is also increasing, he said. -he observed.
In recent decades, the city dumped polluted snow into the rivers surrounding the island of Montreal, rather than taking it to snow dumps, he added. Additionally, Montreal and other Canadian cities expected residents to stay home when the weather was bad.
“Today we know that if there is a storm , people are going to go out anyway, and we don't want them to get hurt, especially because they can claim damages from the City after injuries sustained on icy sidewalks. »
Maja Vodanovic agrees. The mayor of Lachine, who is originally from Croatia, says she remembers how impressed she was the first time she saw snow and the reaction of municipal teams. “It’s like an army that clears the snow and makes the city livable in winter,” she noted. “It’s simply an achievement and in my opinion we don’t recognize it enough. »