Personae non gratae – Champlain, Richard, Taillibert

I feel this story might have slipped under the radar.

The guy who designed the Big O has a counter-proposal to the Fed’s Champlain Bridge Redux project.

Noted 88 year-old French architect Roger Taillibert says his design looks better, is better designed, will cost less and can be completed in less time than what’s currently being planned.

The Tory plan is estimated to cost anywhere between 3 and 5 billion dollars and is currently slated to open at the end of 2018 (fifty months from now).

Taillibert says his plan would cost $1.7 billion and can be completed in 39 months. Main difference: use of pre-fabricated steel supporting structures in lieu of the seventy or so concrete columns currently featured in Poul Ove Jensen’s design.

Now before I get going, an issue to address.

Taillibert designed the Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Village and a variety of other structures at the Olympic Park, including the pool and the velodrome, which today houses the Biodome.

All the problems related to the Big O are principally issues relating to its construction, not its design.

The substitution of building materials by crooked contractors and the numerous delays had nothing to do with the architect, and everything to do with the construction companies, several of which were run by individuals who had political connections to former mayor Jean Drapeau.

So before anyone jumps up on the soapbox to unilaterally dismiss anything proposed by Taillibert, remember that his designs aren’t the problem, it’s how they were built and by whom (and what corners the builders cut).

Also worth noting: all the buildings he designed here are still in use, and that’s significant in and of itself. Most Olympic structures end up slowly rotting away as they seldom have any post-game use.

We’re lucky because we’ve gotten 40 years of service from our Olympic installations.

***

Taillibert has additional criticisms to volley at the appointed Danish architect (remember – there was no design competition); namely that the proposal is aesthetically lacking while being needlessly complex – in sum it seems over designed. He points to the concrete pylons and the use of three physically separated roadways instead of a suspension bridge design supporting a single large roadway. Taillibert’s design conforms to the Fed’s requirement that the bridge support at least six vehicular traffic lanes and two lanes for public transit (with the eventual implementation of light rail), but does so in a more straightforward (and in my opinion practical) fashion.

For a comparison of the two designs, side by side, check this out.

What makes Taillibert’s design intriguing is that, for an architect so closely associated with the use of concrete, his proposal instead uses steel, which he considers superior to concrete in terms of long-term survivability. In essence, he describes his design as being both practical, with an eye to minimizing maintenance, and more worthy of Montreal and the bridge’s namesake – the multiple suspension towers and their cables more evocative of the ship Champlain sailed on.

Consider that the current Champlain Bridge was built with steel-reinforced concrete which eroded due to road salt and a lack of vehicular deck drainage system; over the years corrosive slurry infiltrated the concrete and ate away at the steel cables within.

The response to Taillibert’s proposal have ranged from outright refusal on the part of the federal infrastructure ministry to scepticism from Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre. The Fed’s position is that the bridge project is already moving along, that they’re sticking with the architects they’ve already chosen and are about to announce which of three consortia will actually build the bridge.

Here’s where things get interesting: both SNC-Lavalin and Dessau are bidding to build the bridge, and both these firms are either currently or have recently been investigated for corrupt practices.

It should be noted that the winning consortium is “expected to operate the structures (meaning the new bridge and some of its connected roadways, including the federal portion of Highway 15) for thirty years”.

I’m not well-versed in legalese, but I would assume this means that the winning firm will get the maintenance contract, locked-in, for whatever bridge they end up building (and yes I checked the preliminary report – that’s precisely what it means). The Fed also states that the winning consortium will have some leeway in terms of the final design and the materials to be used.

But it was this sentence that made me do a double take:

“Given the long operating period under the responsibility of the private partner, the client may allow it to deviate from traditional methods and introduce technological innovations at its own risk.”

The concrete used for the original bridge was supposed to have been a ‘technologically innovative’ type of concrete that ultimately failed.

I don’t how comfortable I am knowing the winning consortia would be encouraged to take risks to maximize profitability.

Isn’t this the whole problem with construction of government projects in this province in the first place?

***

Perhaps Mayor Coderre has a point about Roger Taillibert – why didn’t he make his proposal sooner?

The lack of a formal design competition, for one. Provencher Roy and Poul Ove Jensen were selected and it’s not entirely clear how the Fed came to make its choice. Mr. Jensen principally designs bridges, and has some 200 designs to his name. Provencher Roy is a well-known architectural firm based in Montreal with a long list of various projects, including a lot of institutional spaces and rehabilitated spaces (such as the new Canadian arts pavilion at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Montreal World Trade Centre and the renovation of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel).

Though these are logical choices, an open design competition never occurred, and therefore the proposed bridge seems like it’s little more than a rendering based on the preliminary study, albeit with one major defect.

Clearly Mr. Taillibert did his homework. One of the more curious points he brought up in the interview he did with Radio-Canada is that because his design features fewer (far fewer) support columns, which he says would lessen the environmental impact.

Initially I thought this was little more than mere greenwashing – it’s always a good idea to tout the ecological merit of your project, regardless of how dubious those claims may be, simply because people like hearing ‘green’ buzzwords. Frankly, it’s usually about as far as we go.

But the preliminary proposal actually spends a great deal of time pointing out issues pertaining to environmental and cultural impact. I didn’t realize it, but there’s a Mohawk burial site located on Nun’s Island that needs to be considered separately, and a fair bit of text focuses on minimizing damage to the river’s underwater ecosystem.

Fewer supporting columns means less disturbance to what lies beneath, so it makes the Fed’s choice to go with seventy supporting columns a bit of a head scratcher, especially given how much time was spent by the consultants focused on ensuring the new bridge design would do as little environmental damage as possible.

***

I’ll close by saying this: this is the most important bridge in the entire country. It’s both the busiest crossing and the one pulling in the most revenue from cross border trade. It’s vital to the interests of Montrealers.

And yet, despite this, the only kind of appeal to the public has come somewhat as a back-handed compliment. We were told by Denis Lebel that ‘maybe the bridge could be named after Maurice Richard’ in what I can only imagine was a Tory effort to make nice with Les Habitants and maybe score a few votes here in 2015. That said, the idea to name the bridge after Maurice Richard left many Montrealers and Quebecers wondering how anyone in Ottawa could possibly elevate a mere hockey player to be on a equal footing with the man who started the colony of New France, arguably setting the sequence that lead to our creation as a nation in motion.

The Richard family said they were not at all in favour and then the issue was dropped.

And then, as though to prove just how utterly useless the provincial government actually is, the PQ and CAQ managed to get the National Assembly to agree (without debate) that the new bridge should be named after Samuel de Champlain. An affirmation after the fact (it was decided yesterday).

Provincial transport minister Robert Poeti made the point that the motion would be pointless given the bridge is under federal jurisdiction.

Ultimately, they’ll also make the all, unilaterally, on naming the bridge.

From what I’ve been told, if we’re really well behaved they might let us drive on it.

More to come on this issue, doubtless.

After the sabbatical…

Image

So here’s the deal…

After many months trying to figure out what to do with this blog, and after being accosted by a variety of people inquiring, angrily, whether I was ‘that guy with the Montreal blog’, I figured, much like Ross Perot in 1992, to listen to my many belligerent supporters and get back in the game.

What’s going to happen is this: taylorcnoakes.com will be redeveloped into a far more personal website, one I intend to use to showcase myself as a professional, as a journalist, pundit, photographer, project manager etc.

A new site I’ve tentatively called ‘expomontreal’ will replace this website as my main outlet for all things related to this great city. You can expect expomontreal to be up and running by the start of the new year, at which point this website will start to look and feel a bit different.

The new site will have three main focuses: architecture, history and politics – it’ll be information rather than opinion driven.

For those still interested in opinions on one issue or another, come here.

And all of this will be wrapped up in the Kondiaronk Foundation, which may very well have its own website at some point over the course of the next few months. Simply put, the Kondiaronk Foundation is a non-profit organization intended to study the city of Montreal with an aim to better understand how we came to be, and further, to get an idea about where we’re going. As you probably already figured out, I don’t think this city is an accident, and I think we could use something a bit more in depth than what mtlblog has been churning out for the last little while.

So that’s that, and that’s where we’re at.

I’d like to thank everyone who told me to stop being a lazy curmudgeon and keep blogging. This is for you. You’re the real heroes…

Now does anyone know what symbol means irony?

Afterthought – since the top of the year I’ve been working with some regularity over at CJAD as a producer and reporter. In part, focusing on developing a new set of skills lead me to temporarily abandon blogging.

Then the following happened:

1. JF Lisée said the best way to bring about greater social cohesion in Quebec could be accomplished by eliminating Anglophone CEGEPs
2. Two mentally ill men who killed Canadian Forces personnel are now being called ISIS terrorists
3. The Feds wanted to name the new bridge after Maurice Richard
4. The members of the National Assembly actually had to pass a motion stating that “organizations should not be involved in organized crime” – a motion Quebec Solidaire abstained from voting on, and in which a dozen PQ MNAs weren’t even present to vote on.

So yeah, with all that’s going on what choice do I have but to resurrect this website.

Case for a City State No. 1 – Champlain Bridge Replacement Project is Federal Extortion

Sadly, we won't be getting anything like this - six lanes,  plus a bike lane and covered tunnels for light rail and express buses

Sadly, we won’t be getting anything like this – six lanes, plus a bike lane and covered tunnels for light rail and express buses

I’ve decided to start a series I hope will help make the case for why our city needs to evolve into a city-state responsible for its own internal affairs.

I firmly believe this is the ideal future political arrangement for the city and greater region of Montreal.

We must become Maitres Chez Nous.

Moreover, I believe Montreal is the ideal city within Canada on which to experiment because I’m convinced the people living here are fed up with having nearly zero control over how our taxes are spent locally. If you think of local taxpayers as shareholders in the corporation of the city of Montreal (and yes, it is incorporated), then we’re getting a shitty return on investment.

Though we have the structure of a democracy at the municipal level, it exercises so little actual control over how our city develops and operates it’s ultimately politically useless. Time and again important decisions concerning the future of our city are made by unelected officials who don’t even live in our city. It’s an unsustainable situation that needs to change immediately. Why bother voting at the municipal level at all when seemingly all of the most important urban planning decisions are made by other levels of government?

Our current political situation consistently leads to corruption, collusion, nepotism, price-fixing, fraud and the worst kind of Duplessis-era ‘reward politics’. A couple weeks back the Prime Minister, in justifying his position that the new Champlain Bridge should collect tolls, reminded Montrealers of how ‘unique’ our situation is:

“Our willingness to construct a new bridge … in the Montreal area is quite unique. This is not an international bridge, it is not an interprovincial bridge, and there is no other case in the country where the government of Canada alone is building such a bridge.”

In other words, ‘shut the fuck up about tolls and be grateful you’re getting anything at all you lousy bastards who don’t vote for me.’

Notice that the same guy who has been gutting the federal government of all it’s revenue-generating crown corporations wants this one to keep right on going. No privatization scheme, and certainly no talk of eliminating the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain Bridge Corporation by turning over control of the bridges to the city. Strange too that the prime minister would take such an active role in what’s supposed to be an ‘arm’s length government agency’.

He’s completely unwilling to step up to the plate to save Canada Post or the CBC, but Montreal’s bridges require his direct involvement?

Let’s take a step back and really think about what’s going on here.

1. We (the people of Greater Montreal) need a new link from the island of Montreal to the South Shore to replace a bridge which is falling apart.

2. The existing bridge is defective and was built by the federal crown corporation that’s in charge of most of the major bridges spanning the Saint Lawrence and the Seaway. Corners were cut to get the job done as cheaply as possible and maintenance wasn’t at the necessary level. An agency of the federal government didn’t do its job properly and, as such, we have to deal with a bridge that is in need of constant inspection and repair.

3. The reason the Fed is in charge of our bridges is because, once upon a time, the Fed had the bulk of the expertise and the capital to execute infrastructure mega projects. Today things are different; the city of Montreal could, if it were permitted to, raise funds and find local firms with the expertise to design and build a new span (be it a bridge or tunnel).

4. But given that this isn’t the case, the Fed calls all the shots. Without consulting the public, without holding a design competition and without even considering alternatives to a bridge (such as a precast concrete tube-tunnel, which would last longer and be cheaper to build), they decided (for us) that we will get a new bridge according to their design. It is estimated to cost $5 billion, but given the cost overruns of just about every major infrastructure project built locally or otherwise involving federal administration, most assume it will invariably cost more.

5. And now the Prime Minister is telling us that we’re to pay for it with tolls.

6. The people of the region of Montreal are being forced to accept a $5 billion loan from the federal government to build a bridge we weren’t consulted on.

This is extortion.

If we’re going to pay for this bridge both indirectly (through taxation) and directly (through tolls), we should at least wind up owning it, but according to the prime minister, the bridges – once tolls pay for it – will be transferred to the province, not the city.

The people who are going to pay the bulk of these tolls live on either side of the Saint Lawrence. The residents of the South Shore need it as much as the people of Montreal. Indeed, the economy of Montreal needs it the most. And yet, we’re completely cut out from having anything to do with its design or function.

If the Fed and Quebec City can’t come to an agreement over tolls or how to include public transit access, do we really expect they’ll figure out a way to at least maintain it properly?

In our city’s history it has often been the case that disagreements between the federal and provincial governments have resulted in megaprojects that never seem to work as intended.

As you might imagine, what with recent news about a possible light rail system on the Champlain Bridge, it’s so far proved just about impossible to come up with a solution.

Recent news is that the current provincial transport minister wants another year to study whether having a light rail mass transit system is even worth it. He then further justified his decision to take an entire year to further study something blatantly obvious because the city of Montreal isn’t in a position to develop light rail.

This is coming from Robert Poeti, the same man who holds the AMT’s purse strings. It’s the AMT (another unelected arm’s length government agency) that would plan, develop and execute any light rail, as funding would have to come through the province.

So, to recap:

1. A bridge we weren’t consulted on is being built by the Fed with the intent to transfer it to the province after the people of Greater Montreal pay for it via tolls.

2. Any mass transit light rail system would have to paid for by the province and the province says we shouldn’t expect anything before 2023 because Montreal doesn’t have a light rail system (which hasn’t been planned and has no planned funding).

3. Montreal doesn’t have the means or the authority to develop a light rail system on our side of the river without the province’s involvement and direct financial support.

4. The bridge is supposed to be completed by 2018; current designs do not include provision for mass transit.

5. The province has decided to study whether eco-friendly mass transit on the busiest bridge in Canada is a good idea.

This is government for you. Sometimes it’s a miracle anything gets built or works at all.

And speaking of extortion, SNC-Lavalin is looking for nearly $200 million more for the MUHC superhospital. It’s arguing that slow decision-making by the MUHC, work stoppages and ‘work not included in the initial program’ is what justifies their recently leaked demand for more money. Among others, they cite the bridge they had to build to attach the hospital to the above ground ‘underground’ parking lot, even though they were initially required to build underground and include a tunnel to the multi-modal Vendome station.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. SNC-Lavalin bribed two top executives with the MUHC – among them Arthur Porter – with $22.5 million to ensure the company would get the contract to build the new hospital. They also stole their competitors designs, threatened others and by all accounts will deliver a hospital that is over budget, prematurely outdated, inaccessible and with an insufficient number of beds.

And they want more of our tax dollars.

As I said before, think of yourselves as share holders in the various levels of government you pay taxes to.

Are any of us getting a good return on our investment?

Montreal Saturday Night – St. John’s Ambulance Edition

Glow - Saturday Night

Get first aid training.

***

After a delightful evening up in the Mile End about a week ago I came across an unfortunate scene on the way to Laurier Métro. An elderly woman was riding her bike when a bag slung across the handlebar had become ensnared between the spokes, causing her to take a nasty fall. Head first.

I didn’t see it happen, just that several cars had stopped and a crowd had gathered in its aftermath. The woman was on the ground, twisted up into her bike, trying to get up while people gathered near commanded in both official languages not to get up.

That’s when I knew to step in.

I got my first aid training at St. John’s Ambulance last fall, graciously paid for by my previous employer. The instructors and instruction was top-notch, and it’s conveniently located right next to Jarry Métro in the same building as Justin Trudeau’s constituency office (so there’s a reason to go right there). I took the CSST ‘secouriste’ first aid course, which covers all the basics. Most importantly, it gives you the confidence to involve yourself and execute simple first aid techniques that will, in most cases and above all, provide immediate comfort and stability in an emergency situation. In retrospect I wish I had taken the course earlier, as it has so far proven quite useful. You may remember an incident of police brutality I witnessed at the April 3rd anti-austerity demonstration, in which a retired teacher was smashed with a shield by a marauding line of riot cops.

Then, like last Saturday night, it was instinctual to step in; there’s nothing nearly as serious as head trauma. I kept her head still and ran through the litany of questions – name, address, where do you hurt, who can we call, do you know where you are etc.

Ultimately it seemed to look worse than it actually was. She was wearing a bike helmet, a really geeky-looking one at that, and it may very well have saved her life.

We’ve lost too many sisters in bike accidents recently…

In any event, get first aid training. Ask your employer if they need a secouriste and volunteer to do the training, it’s entirely worth it. It has nothing to do with saving lives; if you’re lucky you’ll never be in a position in which a life depends on your actions. I prefer that responsibility ultimately lie in the hands of paramedics, nurses, doctors and surgeons. First aid is about providing comfort first and foremost.

***

As an aside to the aforementioned, the emergency response was as follows:

Firefighters…

Police…

Ambulance.

Someone needs to explain to me what the logic is here. This was a bike accident. I understand that the cops are needed to manage traffic and see if it was a hit and run or drunk driving accident, and that the firefighters are the mandated first responder in our city (though the logic behind that one escapes me as well), I just don’t understand why they need to dispatch a firetruck and several firefighters when a smaller vehicle and fewer responders would suffice.

The extant method must be obscenely expensive.

The firefighters and police who responded initially did what they could to help the woman, but they all had to defer to the paramedics who were ultimately responsible for securing her neck and moving her onto the stretcher and into the ambulance.

There must have been at least a dozen people and four emergency vehicles responding to a bike accident.

This seems to be a bit much, and I can’t help but wonder if it might not be worthwhile to develop a dedicated first responder service for the myriad emergencies that simply don’t require big costly vehicles and elite emergency service personnel.

Firefighters fight fires, that’s what they’re trained to do. Thus, they should be available to respond to fires, not bike accidents.

Anyways, just another Saturday night in Montreal.

Don’t be a bystander…

To Hell with Rob Ford & Jeremy Searle

Credit to JFL42

Credit to JFL42

Last week I watched a cavalcade of federal and provincial politicians, in addition to various members of Rob Ford’s family, talk about the mayor’s ‘personal tragedy’. They all hoped he’d ‘go get some help’ and ‘treat his disease’.

I wanted to puke.

All these politicians telling me to feel sorry for this man-child and his egregious self-control issues, and all of them apparently completely oblivious to the simple fact that, even when he isn’t high as a kite, Rob Ford is a gigantic asshole.

Rob Ford is not Toronto’s problem. Rather, the nation has a problem with the politicians we elect into office. In the last decade we’ve witnessed countless examples of politicians behaving poorly if not overtly breaking the law. Some manage to withdraw from public life for a pre-determined period of time while others attempt to frame their illegal and often reprehensible behaviour in terms of an illness they suffer from.

The political class reminds us, nearly collectively, that nobody’s perfect and everyone deserves a second (or third, or fourth…) chance.

But my nation is not a kindergarten and politicians aren’t children learning valuable life lessons for the first time. The people cannot be expected to forgive and forget the crimes of the political class when the punishment for the people for the very same crimes are often so devastating.

Don’t believe me? Then try this: record yourself drunk or high and post that video to your facebook account. Try to drum up a conversation with the people you’re getting high with and use as many racial epithets you can think of. Try to ensure the video captures you using drug paraphernalia as well as the drug you’re consuming. In other words, make it exceptionally clear, even to the casual observer, exactly what you’re doing.

Then, after you’ve posted the video and tweeted it out to all your friends, start a stopwatch and record how long it takes it before you: lose your friends, lose your job and lose whatever respect you once had amongst your peers. If you’re not a member of the white majority, record how long it takes before you start losing some fundamental rights as well.

The fact of the matter is money and influence can purchase access to one legal system while the lack of both results in having another, far stricter legal system thrust upon you. Based on the national experience over the past decade or so, there are no morality crimes for the wealthy and powerful. A mayor filmed smoking crack cocaine and uttering hateful, racist phrases not only gets to keep his job but further is permitted to leave his job for as long as necessary as is required to ‘get help treating his addiction’. Promptly, Mayor Ford flew to Chicago where he attempted to gain entry to the United States.

We’re now told by his lawyer that he’s ‘100% in rehab’. Yeah, that convinces me.

Either way I don’t care whether Rob Ford gets treatment or not. He should be forced from office and further prevented from running in this year’s Toronto municipal election. His behaviour should prevent him from ever taking (or running) for office again, as he has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be wholly irresponsible, disruptive, combative and thoroughly duplicitous in his conduct.

In sum, the man’s a lying scumbag who I wouldn’t permit to mind my dog for an hour, let alone the largest city in all of Canada for several years on end.

Do not ask me to feel sorry for him. It is especially unfortunate that the political establishment in this country is towing the company line so to speak, protecting their own asses by appealing to the public to take pity on Rob Ford. If we can forgive him, the people will likely forgive our politicians for all manner of bad behaviour. Consider all we’ve already forgiven: constant lying, fraud, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, tampering with and destroying evidence, overt displays of homophobia and racism, beating the shit out of your wife. If you’re confused about precisely which politician I’m referring to you’ve made my point.

And let’s keep in mind, we still don’t know who put the call out to ice Anthony Smith. How soon before we’re asked to forgive murder as well, because some slovenly schmuck with friends in all the right places loves sucking the pipe?

***

Credit to CTV Montreal

Credit to CTV Montreal

We get a bad rap in this city because of corruption – more precisely, what appears to be provincially-mandated corruption in the construction industry. Montreal, from a development and infrastructure perspective, isn’t in charge of its own affairs, and so the opportunities for middlemen to insert themselves into the mix and collude to drive up costs, fix prices and commit other acts of fraud are many. Despite the Charbonneau Commission’s on-going public testimony and the SQ’s investigations and raids, many of the same firms involved in illegal activities are still permitted to bid on projects. The Commish lacks teeth and there’s no political will to make significant changes to the status quo. In effect, the change that would be required runs counter to neoliberal economic theory and it’s almost as though we’ve become programmed, as a society, to think this is our only option.

But that aside, for the last two years or so at least the appearance of house cleaning has been maintained. Unlike in Toronto, our disgraced former mayor Michael Applebaum has been charged with fraud and conspiracy and will stand trial for his crimes. I think this is significant; our society is trying to do something to change the climate of crime and corruption that has so characterized our local government for so long.

And thus we come to the case of Jeremy Searle, the city councillor for Loyola. He’s been asked by the Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough mayor Russell Copeman to take a leave of absence to treat his ‘drinking problem’. I’m going to be far less charitable. Jeremy Searle is a drunk who shows up to work drunk and makes drunken statements of the following variety:

” …perhaps in 10 years time, they could eradicate the separatist movement like they hope to do with Emerald Ash Borer insects (that are currently ravaging city trees). Except that the Emerald Ash Borer does less damage than the separatists…”

Brilliant. A city counsellor calling for a group of people to be eradicated like bugs.

Mr. Searle alleged he’s only ‘saying what everyone is thinking’ and that he’s always been ‘an eccentric’.

I didn’t realize the vast majority of Montrealers were favourable towards notions of genocide and that eccentricity can be used to explain away hate speech. Replace separatist movement with socialists, Jews, Aboriginals, homosexuals – in every other case he would have been immediately dismissed and run out of town on the rails.

In a more recent interview, after he was asked to apologize for the aforementioned comment and after being asked to excuse himself to treat his alcoholism, Searle now suggests that he suffers from an illness and will proceed to treat it as his doctor has recommended. He then drew a parallel between alcoholism and cancer, stating that people wouldn’t be treating him so poorly if he had cancer and that ‘he suffers from alcohol abuse’.

It’s rare that the blood in my veins boils so. Are we to believe pederasts suffer from child-rape abuse? How dare he try to camouflage his inability to control himself with spectres of disease!

This why Jeremy Searle needs to be made into an example and dealt with swiftly. The City of Montreal must remove him from his office; he has no right to represent anyone in this city based on his comments alone. That he has also demonstrated an inability to control his drinking, and that he appears – regularly – to be inebriated is also reason enough to throw this bum out on his ass.

If we take action now and make an example of Mr. Searle, we can avoid ever having to deal with a cretin like Rob Ford in the future. There must be a zero-tolerance policy towards drug and alcohol abuse by our elected officials. It’s up to the individuals seeking office to get control of their lives before being elected, not while they’re in office.

A few things every Montrealer ought to know about Mirabel International Airport {Updated – May 2014}

Recent news is that the unelected government agency responsible for Montreal’s airports will seek to demolish the iconic main terminal of Mirabel International Airport, effectively shutting the door on ever using it again. The terminal has been abandoned, but maintained, since passenger flights ceased using the airport in 2004, and apparently this costs somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million annually.

I’m of the mind this is a colossal mistake and I’ve modified a previously published article to point out why. Enjoy.

1. We still need it.

Montréal is a major international tourism destination in addition to being a key port of entry for immigrants and refugees. Our city is growing as is interest in our city, this is undeniable. As we stimulate our development and continue on our path to becoming a truly global city, we will require an airport that can handle a steadily increasing number of passengers. Such an airport will grow, by necessity, to serve a steadily increasing population base and will stimulate industrial development around it.

I’m looking at this with a long-term perspective. Traffic congestion around Trudeau airport is bad as it is and without major changes to local transport infrastructure will only get worse. There’s no room to build additional runways or terminals and, because the airport is surrounded by residential housing, the airport has a curfew limiting its hours of operation. It’s more-or-less at capacity.

And at a certain point in our city’s future, the land the airport currently occupies will be more valuable as residential housing than as an airport. Demand for on-island residential property will increase with the cost of oil, and all the factors that once made Trudeau airport’s location ideal for air travel will, in the future, make it an ideal place to own a house.

Mirabel, by contrast, is located in a rural area with plenty of room to grow. Built away from the city, Mirabel can operate twenty-four hours a day and purpose-built infrastructure can be implemented so as to make access to the airport efficient and effective across the metropolitan region. Similar infrastructure redevelopment in Dorval is proving exceptionally difficult to implement.

When considering what to do with Mirabel, we should be thinking about our future needs.

2. It’s becoming more accessible.

The lack of access that lead to Mirabel’s demise is either currently being implemented, in use, or otherwise still on the drawing board.

Highway 50 from the National Capital Region (population 1.4 million) has been completed, and it intersects Highway 15 near Mirabel. There are many more international flights available from Montreal than from Ottawa and this is a market a resurrected Mirabel could have access to.

The AMT runs trains between Montréal and Mirabel, on a track which can access the Deux-Montagnes Line (and by extension Gare Centrale), in addition to the Parc Intermodal Station. The train station at the airport has already been completed. We’re closer to realizing high-speed rail access to the airport than we realize – the problem is that we’re focusing on the wrong airport. Completing Highway 50 so that it connects with Highway 40 near Repentigny will allow a northern bypass to mirror the now completed Highway 30 southern bypass of the Island of Montreal. And what better way to justify the construction of a new South Shore span than by simultaneously completing Highways 13 and 19? This way, the Montréal metropolitan region would be served by four East-West Highways intersected by a similar number of North-South Highways. A ring-road would be created, and Mirabel would finally be able to adequately serve the entire metropolitan region. And that’s just the highways. While the Fed claims high-speed rail is an expensive dream, the government of Ontario is pressing ahead with the development of a new high-speed rail system connecting Toronto with London.

I’m convinced this is precisely how high speed rail will be (re)introduced to Canada – the provinces will get the ball rolling on specific, tactical, routes which will ideally blossom into a federal system. So why not do the same here?

A bullet train running between Downtown Montreal and Mirabel could lead to the creation of a high speed rail link between Mirabel and Ottawa. A high speed train travelling at 320km/hour could run the distance between Ottawa and Mirabel in about thirty minutes. From Gare Centrale to Mirabel, the trip could be done in less than half that time.

Imagine a future Montreal in which international travel was as close to you as the nearest Métro station and didn’t require finding parking or calling a cab?

Imagine a future in which Mirabel didn’t just serve Metropolitan Montreal better, but the National Capital Region as well?

3. Competing with Pearson

Competition is economically healthy, so why not develop an airport that can compete with Toronto’s Pearson? Low jet-fuel prices and longer-range aircraft made stopping at Mirabel unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s and gave rise to Pearson Int’l Airport in Toronto as chief Canadian gateway. Today, fuel prices are high and unstable. Mirabel is 600km (give or take) closer to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and a number of important cities on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I think we could use some competition in terms of which city is the true eastern gateway to the country, and I’d honestly like to see what would happen if we pushed ahead with Mirabel to take business away from Pearson. It’s what capitalism is all about right? Better public transit access to strategically situated airports able to adapt to new technologies will define the gateways of tomorrow, and for this reason Mirabel is superior to Pearson in many respects. Let’s see what the free market has to say about it. Again, Pearson, though large, is nearing capacity and constrained from large-scale growth by what has already grown up beside it. And we can’t grow unless we have the infrastructure to allow for growth. So whereas the citizens of Toronto may one day have to plan an entirely new airport even further away from the city centre, all we have to do re-connect our airport to our metropolitan ‘circulatory system’. The advantage will soon be ours.

4. Mirabel wasn’t designed to fail – we let it fail.

Fixing it is still a possibility, but we need to act quickly so we can save what’s already been built. We don’t want to have to start from scratch at some point in the future because we lacked foresight today – that’s criminally negligent economic policy. We spent a lot of money in the past and haven’t seen a decent return on our investment. So, invest anew – but invest in fixing the problems already identified first and foremost. Whatever the initial cost, it cannot compare to the potential return a fully operational Mirabel would provide in terms of direct revenue and indirect economic stimulus. There are no mistakes, just innovative solutions. If we were really smart, we’d recognize that planned regional transit and transport projects can be brought together under a larger program to provide the access necessary to make Mirabel a viable solution to our airport problem. Ultimately, it’s all inter-related and could stimulate a multitude of key sectors of our local economy.

We were once a daring and imaginative people, we had bold ideas and planned on a grand scale. Somewhere along the way we became convinced we were no longer capable of performing at the same level, and settled into a holding pattern of socio-political malaise. Today we are restless, and we are daring to ask how we came to be, and where our former power came from. Of late, it seems that we’ve regained our swagger, our attitude. So let us push those in power to dream big once more, and push for the long-term, multi-generational city-building we were once so good at. We have it in our blood, but our pride is still damaged. Let us regain our spirit by turning our past failures into tomorrow’s successes.

Tempest in a Teapot

New Azur Métro train test run - 2013

New Azur Métro train test run – 2013

Story out today in the Journal de Montréal about how the Azur Métro cars will be ‘too big and too heavy’ to operate in our Métro tunnels and that work had to be done to adjust the infrastructure so as to prevent trains from tipping over is about as good as it gets in terms of local media’s response to a slow news day.

The article is presented in such a fashion that makes it seem the STM only just found out about this and that these renovations may be somehow related to the delay in receiving the new Métro cars, which were initially due last July but now likely won’t be in service until the end of this year.

But according to the STM (and mentioned in the JdeM article), they new about the requirement to modify a 200 metre stretch of the Orange Line to accommodate the new trains from day one, and that the work has already been completed and factored into the overall budget.

If this is indeed the case and the STM isn’t perjuring itself then there isn’t much of a story in the first place. Yes, the new Bombardier-Alstom Azur Métro trains are heavier and bigger and will even consume more electricity than their predecessors but all of this was expected and understood since day one.

After all, these are entirely new vehicles. They are not carbon copies of the existing MR-63 and MR-73 trains. They’re bigger to accommodate more passengers. They utilize new technology. They will have a different layout and, perhaps most importantly, will permit transit users to move between Métro cars while the train is in motion. I think it’s safe to assume that, if you’re building something entirely new, it might not perfectly fit in a system it wasn’t designed for.

But, with all that in mind, the modification to the tunnels only seems to have involved 200 metres out of a total length of 71 kilometres.

In other words, less than half a percent of the Métro system needed to be modified for these vehicles. Peanuts. The STM knew this and made the decision to modify a portion of the tunnel rather than scrap the project and go back to the drawing board.

If we want to have a conversation about how private enterprise can’t ever seem to deliver a government project on time and under budget, this is another conversation (and one I’d say is well worth having). It seems to me that, time and again and at various levels of government, contractors working on government-sponsored mega projects are consistently late and chronically appealing for more money.

This is true about our new Métro cars, about the Train de l’Est project, about double-decker dual-power commuter trains, about fighter jets and maritime helicopters.

Every time government appeals to the private sector to work on public projects, they pitch it against an illogical assumption the alternative is to have the state build a factory and assume all related project costs. Over and over we’re told that appealing to the private sector saves money and will get the job done faster because of ‘the principles that guide the corporate world’ are ostensibly principles that prioritize efficiency and staying true to your word vis-a-vis project cost and delivery.

Bullshit.

The private sector’s interest in government contracts big and small is twofold, but neither has anything to do with efficiency and/or cost control. The interest lies chiefly in that a) government typically continues throwing money at the project and extending deadlines to save face and b) there are no repercussions to the provider, regardless of how late or how over-budget the project is, because they typically arrange to be the sole provider for after the fact maintenance, not to mention the fact that they own type certificates and other key pieces of intellectual capital that will keep whatever’s being built working. If a government upsets the private firm, they have very little recourse and will likely pay dearly at the polls. It’s not terribly expedient for a politician to campaign on keeping government contractors in check. People respond much better to hearing how much a politician intends on spending rather than how they plan on saving money.

We want to feel wealthy, not cheap, and we want our politicians to reflect this.

Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things at a reasonable, audited cost on the timeline set by the people.

Monsieur le Maire, Tear Down this… Railing?

Community Housing, Montreal - Spring 2014

I don’t really know what to call that metal bar running along the edge of the property pictured above, but I’m pretty sure I know what it represents.

I snapped this pic in Saint Henri but if you live in this city you’ve doubtless seen these pseudo fences elsewhere. They typically run just along the edge of a given property, though providing none of the privacy of a normal fence. The buildings inside the rail are always sullen looking, worn out and cheap. Unless I’m gravely mistaken, from what I’ve seen and heard, these rails not-so-subtly announce the presence of subsidized housing.

If this really is the case, I’d like to know what the justification is. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a decorative element from a bygone era that serves no real purpose. If so, all the more reason to remove them. It’s not a fence, it offers no privacy nor added security. In every instance I’ve ever seen one of these they always look ugly – a half-hearted and half-assed rusting attempt at decoration that makes cutting the grass around it unnecessarily difficult.

And if in most cases these bars do indeed surround city or provincially-owned low-rent housing, all the more reason to remove them completely and replace them with a proper fence.

How is it beneficial to point out subsidized real-estate in a given neighbourhood? How does it benefit the residents, either of the building in question or those who live around it?

It seems to me it would be more advantageous for everyone concerned not to draw attention to subsidized housing, so as to allow it to blend in seamlessly with the surrounding environs.

So please Monsieur le Maire – tear down these eyesores.

I’m sure there’s some money to be made scrapping the metal.

The Future of Institutional Space in the Mountain Domain

Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal - circa 1895

Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal – circa 1895

An important public forum will take place at the Maison Smith up on Mount Royal Thursday night beginning at 18h00 and dealing with the future of the soon to be vacated hospitals within the ‘Mountain Domain’.

The forum will be presented by Les Amis de la Montagne and will feature three presentations, one on the mountain itself, another on the Plateau Mont Royal’s plan for the Hotel Dieu and another concerning McGill’s plans for the Royal Victoria Hospital. Presenters will include municipal councillor Alex Norris, McGill University external relations VP Olivier Marcil and Marie-Odile Trépanier, urbanism professor from the Université de Montréal.

I’ll write more on the specifics later, but for the time being it seems like the Royal Victoria Hospital will be annexed by McGill University.

Not the worst idea in the world. McGill apparently needs the space and annexing the Vic makes a lot of sense given that the university has grown up all around it, not to mention that the hospital is part of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

In other words – this was expected.

The hospital was a gift from two prominent figures in our city’s history, the cousins Donald Smith and George Stephen (later the Lords Strathcona and Mount Stephen). They were the men principally responsible for the creation of the nation’s first transcontinental rail line, but it is the Royal Victoria which is arguably the greater legacy. For as central and important as rail has been in our city’s economic development, I don’t believe it equals the global significance of the medical innovations that have come from this institution, nor the building’s role as a local ‘lieux de mémoire’ for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Montreal moms.

Though the deed to the land initially stated the land be used in perpetuity in the service of the public as a medical institution, the remaining heirs have relinquished this requirement. Instead, they have simply requested that the soon-to-be former hospital be used to serve the public interest.

Enter McGill University. If the choice is between handing these buildings over to the university or developing the land into luxury condominiums I’d be the first to rig up and hoist the Martlet flag from the turrets of this masterpiece of late-Victorian Scottish Baronial institutional architecture.

That said, I’m concerned McGill will use this space for dormitories and not classrooms.

I’m also concerned the new MUHC Glen Yards campus will not be able to fully replace all the hospital beds it currently operates. The MUHC has acknowledged the new superhospital will indeed provide fewer beds than currently available in the extant hospital system.

So, with this in mind, is it really wise to eliminate all hospital operations from the Vic?

Is it not possible to keep at least one pavilion open for public medical purposes while handing over the rest to the university?

The hospital has a particularly strong link with the women of our city, principally owing to the strength of their maternity ward. Why not keep the main pavilion operating as a maternity and women’s hospital? It’ll ensure more beds are available and permit at least part of the building to retain its original function.

As to the Hotel Dieu, I’ve heard murmurings that at least one proposal would seek to have the rather expansive facility converted for the purposes of becoming an old age home.

This isn’t an altogether bad idea either given our aging population and the shrinking retirement assets of the working and middle classes. Private elder care is outrageously expensive and public facilities leave a lot to be desired as is, so converting a hospital into a massive retirement home seems opportune. It’ll certainly cost less than building a new structure and you can make the argument that, as far as institutional buildings are concerned, it’s well suited and well situated for the purpose.

But what of the old Shriner’s hospital, or the Montreal General? What of Hopital Notre Dame facing Parc Lafontaine, or the Thoracic Institute, or the Children’s?

Not all of these facilities are strictly speaking within the ‘Mountain Domain’, but they do represent the entirety of institutional space that will become available for repurposing over the next few years.

Which is why limiting the public conversation to those hospitals closest to Mount Royal Park seems illogical. All these spaces need to be considered in terms of the broad demands for public institutional space in our city.

We need more space to teach and to heal. We could use a lot more space to create and to exhibit our creations. We badly need space for the elderly, but not nearly as bad as we do for the homeless.

In any event, if we had a municipal institutional space oversight and coordinating committee I think our city would be able to strategize more effectively, respond more appropriately to public demand and ensure these prized properties serve the public interest to the best of their abilities.

Unfortunately, such is not currently the case.

On the STM’s Wasteful Renaming Policy

ICAO Headquarters, Montreal - credit to Provencher Roy

ICAO Headquarters, Montreal – credit to Provencher Roy

Recent news is that the STM will temporarily lift its self-imposed moratorium on renaming Métro stations so that Square-Victoria can be re-christened “Square-Victoria-OACI”.

The rationale is that it will help convince the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO or OACI in French) to continue operating from our fair city, this after an audacious attempt by the Qatari government to convince the UN body to move its operations to the Persian Gulf state last year.

We need to keep in mind that Qatar withdrew its bid after a roughly week-long (and uncharacteristic) lobbying blitz orchestrated by the Federal Tories (with considerable cooperation from the then separatist government of Quebec) that ultimately resulted in a near unanimous decision by ICAO’s member nations to refuse the unsolicited Qatari proposal outright.

Kudos on a job well done. It just goes to show that with the right motivation even the most diametrically opposed governments can cooperate fully to achieve a common goal. It’s clear to everyone concerned ICAO is better off staying in Montreal where it provides about 500 ‘big league’ jobs to our city’s knowledge economy, not to mention an immeasurable amount of global clout. That ICAO is located in Montreal says something about our city. In my eyes, it says we’re a safe bet, a solid investment, the kind of city where the world comes together.

Based on the response to Qatar’s push, I’d argue the world knows and appreciates this as well. Quite frankly I’d be astonished if the international community permitted ICAO to be moved to an absolute monarchy where dissent is punishable by life sentences and where hundreds of thousands of South Asian migrants are worked to death building sports stadiums in de facto slavery.

Say what you will about the quality of our construction industry here in Montreal, at least we don’t use slave labour.

In any event, the point is this: the Qataris have a long way to go before they can make a serious bid, so why is the STM going to the trouble of re-naming Square-Victoria Métro station at all?

Is ICAO looking to move? Do they really need to be convinced to stay?

If ICAO were actually seriously considering moving from Montreal, are we to believe all it would take to get them to change their minds is renaming a Métro station (by making it longer and more cumbersome)? Give me a break.

Despite this, the STM is going forward with their plan to rename the station – with zero public input. Total cost: $125,000

According to the STM the cost pays for printing new Métro maps, new signage at the station as well as new audio recordings of the station’s name. I can imagine the overwhelming bulk of the sum is in fact going towards printing.

I think this is supremely wasteful. It’s unnecessary and it won’t accomplish anything concrete. Worse, the public wasn’t consulted – this is a unilateral decision of the STM – and, as if this wasn’t bad enough, the STM’s renaming policy is still in effect for all other Métro stations, despite public interest in getting other stations renamed.

It wouldn’t be quite as bad if the STM were to instead select a certain number of stations and solicit the public for suggestions on how they should be renamed. In doing so, not only would they have directly engaged with their clientele, but they would ultimately get a greater value for the money they’ve allocated to new printing.

Keep this in mind – the printing costs will remain about the same even if a dozen stations were to be renamed.

So with that in mind let me put it to you – what stations would you rename?

There are two proposals that come to mind already. First, there’s been pressure from Jewish and Black communities for several years to rename Lionel-Groulx. The reason is that, despite the Abbé Groulx’s contributions to writing the nationalist interpretation of French Canadian history, he was also a ell-known anti-Semite who founded a local fascist organization. As you might expect this doesn’t sit well with many people. Oscar Peterson, the ‘Maharaja of the keyboard’ who helped solidify this city’s position as a focal point for jazz music, is often mentioned as a preferred name choice, given Peterson’s legacy and his attachment to the area the station is located in.

Also, if I recall correctly, the Gay Village merchant’s association has proposed changing Beaudry station’s name to ‘Beaudry-Le-Village’. I’d prefer it simply be renamed Le Village.

I’d also like most of the religious station names, like Assomption or Pie-IX to be renamed, and I’m not too keen on First World War French generals (De Castelnau) or battle sites (Namur, Verdun) either.

Anyways – let me know what you think; which stations would you rename and why?