Hide this dirt that I can’t see

I have a scoop for you: the streets of Montreal are clean.

This is not a joke. I took a long walk this week in several neighborhoods: downtown, Village, Old Montreal. Very little waste on the road, municipal bins emptied: I almost felt an emotion.

We even saw Valérie Plante, rake in hand, scraping dead leaves on Wednesday in a park in the Ville-Marie district. A publicity stunt for the mayor, coupled with a request for citizens: pick up your junk!

Message launched, but will it be heard?

And above all, will the City be able to maintain such a state of health all year round?

We will see about the discipline of Montrealers, notorious rebels. But when it comes to the general cleanliness of the metropolis 12 months a year, there is still a long way to go.

After my walks in the lower part of the city, back to reality on Thursday in my neighborhood, a little further north. It was “dump day” and it showed. There were torn bags everywhere, overflowing street trash bins and scattered objects on the road.

Through this morning chaos, small municipal cleaning vehicles crisscrossed the sidewalks. I saw delicate, caring workers. But in many cases, they were just pushing the orphaned trash a little further away.

It was also one of the two days of the week when the sweeping trucks take over the streets, with their rotating brushes.

This exercise fascinates (and discourages) me every time: the asphalt is so broken that the dirt only seems to sink further into the crevices. What’s the point ?

There is a lot of effort and public money invested in cleaning up in Montreal, no one can deny that. The City has brought forward its major cleaning due to the early spring and the results are already visible.

For the Ville-Marie district alone, which includes the city center, the annual budget dedicated to cleanliness reaches 23 million dollars! More than 250 employees are assigned to this task. They will now work 12 months a year, the City announced this week.

This is appreciable progress, but measures of the same magnitude should be applied throughout the metropolis, all year round. Montrealers, who have just seen their tax burden jump by 5%, it should be remembered, deserve cleanliness 365 days a year.

Snowfall makes life difficult for blue-collar workers, of course, but it has the backbone to justify neglecting health during the coldest months. There should be no “clean” seasons and “dirty” seasons.

Certain concrete actions, like those proposed by the opposition at city hall, should be considered. For example: install more trash cans on the street. Preferably with a lid, rather than open, to prevent waste from flying around at the slightest gust of wind1.

And also: empty them more often.


“There were ripped bags, overflowing street bins and objects scattered on the road everywhere,” the author writes.

We saw a very recent counter-example, around the Lachine Canal, in the South-West. On a stretch of approximately two kilometers, Parks Canada, owner of the site, removed around thirty trash cans without notice, CBC News revealed last week2. There are none left.

Reason given by the federal body on its Facebook page? “This initiative aims to make citizens responsible for the management of waste destined for landfill sites. It also aims to stop the dumping of domestic waste in containers intended for visitors. »

Parks Canada is currently “preparing” an awareness campaign… After have removed the trash. This is called doing things out of order.

We find a bit of the same problem in the rest of Montreal, I think.

Valérie Plante is right to ask citizens to make an effort to collect their waste and to avoid putting their household waste in street bins. Many demonstrate a deplorable lack of citizenship day after day. It’s true.

But I come back to it: the City and its 19 districts should set an example to encourage emulation. The mayor’s demands would have more weight if Montrealers found their own city themselves, in the first place.

Because the notion of “perception” is crucial in this matter.

Metz, a French city known for its robust sanitation program, conducted an eye-opening experiment in 2013 on two of its streets. The roads had been well cleaned, but everything else left the participants with an impression of dirt.

In the dock: dilapidated street furniture, graffiti and other posters stuck everywhere, old flattened chewing gum, abandoned store windows, dirt encrusted along the sidewalks… All these elements combined contributed to the feeling of uncleanliness , we concluded.

Today we find the same situation in several sectors of Montreal, due among other things to the proliferation of graffiti and the dilapidation of roads and sidewalks.

Even if we clean it, it looks dirty.

The garbage collection system also deserves to be reformed. Yes, Montreal is investing in recycling and composting, and yes, it is important to change our habits. But until we live in a hypothetical “zero waste” society, how come we still tolerate the dumping of trash bags directly on the sidewalks?

They often end up being disemboweled. And as indiscipline reigns, there are always some lying around everywhere, collection day or not.

Other metropolises have cracked down on this. Since last month, New York has required merchants to use closed trash cans, under penalty of a fine.3. Residents of buildings with nine units or less will be subject to this rule starting next fall. This decision stems from the proliferation of rats – a phenomenon which is also growing here.

We may fantasize about Japan and other countries that are impeccable in terms of health citizenship, but we are not there yet. It will take a lot of education and municipal discipline to instill new habits among Montrealers. One step at a time.

But already, the question of (un)cleanliness is emerging as one of the central issues of the November 2025 elections. At the municipal council this week, during a tough exchange, Valérie Plante accused an elected official of the opposition to paint a “gloomy” portrait of the situation.

His administration still has 18 months to try to prove otherwise.

1. Read “The opposition calls for concrete actions for cleanliness”

2. Read “There’s something different about Montreal’s Lachine Canal: no more trash cans”

3. Read “Trash Cans Are Now Mandatory in New York”

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