So apparently we’re getting a very expensive bridge…

The Champlain Bridge, Montréal - not the work of the author.

…and as always, efficiency takes a back seat when it comes to stimulus spending and infrastructure development in the Montréal region.

The CBC announced a plan by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper (in case you were unaware) to build a $5 billion replacement for the Champlain Bridge over the course of a decade. The new bridge will feature ten traffic lanes and is designed to fully replace the existing Champlain Bridge, which is estimated by some to no longer be worth retrofitting or renovating after 2022 when it will turn sixty years old. Maintenance costs to keep the bridge operational until then will come up to about $25 million over the next ten years. Previous cost estimates for bridge replacement came to $1.3 billion for a replacement by a similar span, and $1.9 billion for a double-decker tunnel capable of handling a similar amount of traffic (roughly 156,000 cars and trucks use the bridge each day) on one level with buses and trains on a lower level. The projected construction time was five years for each project, which is in line with the amount of time it took to build just about every other bridge and tunnel connecting the Island to the Mainland. Moreover, adjusted for inflation alone, the cost of building the Champlain Bridge would only cost about a quarter billion of today’s dollars. Now while many argue the cost of construction has gone up, I’d still like to know just what it is about this replacement bridge that justifies a $5 billion expenditure? For additional details, see the Wikipedia entry.

Perhaps the cost was estimated based not on actual costs for materials, labour, design and construction, but instead based instead on trying to ensure everyone gets a slice of the stimuli pie. Given that Québec lost out on the Great Canadian Shipbuilding Sweepstakes, perhaps this expensive bridge project is some kind of a consolation prize. Do we not recognize that it is sounder to seek smaller amounts of tax revenue for stimulus spending than larger amounts? Is it not our responsibility to seek efficient infrastructure solutions?

Here’s the deal – in my opinion, replacing the Champlain Bridge with an enlarged replacement toll-bridge isn’t exactly helping reduce traffic congestion in Montréal, and its not entirely fair to use tax dollars to build it and then a toll to pay for it. Moreover, it may not even be necessary, and that is to say that there are many considerably wiser, more efficient ways to spend such a large sum (such as on public transit) which in turn may allow the Champlain Bridge a longer life-expectancy and a considerably smaller associated long-term maintenance costs, thus making bridge replacement a moot point.

But none of that seems to matter – once again, infrastructure redevelopment is narrowly focused, places an emphasis on the needs of the few as opposed to the many, and is more about securing large investments for an already corrupt construction industry instead of seeking to trim costs and ensure fiscal responsibility. Is it any wonder the rest of Canada thinks we get an unfair advantage?

Consider the 2009 Métro extension plan, which aimed to increase the network by a dozen stations on twenty kilometres of new track and tunnel, extending into Eastern Montreal and the South Shore in addition to closing the Orange Line loop, benefitting the residents of St-Laurent, Pierrefonds, Cartierville and Laval. That project is estimated to cost $4 billion and could potentially add several hundred thousand more individual uses per day in addition to further extending the operational reach of both the STM and AMT. Aside from the issue that the provincial plan benefits people throughout the metropolitan region, it further would lessen the strain on our bridges, meaning the Champlain’s life-expectancy (with additional preventative maintenance) could be extended beyond sixty years. All of the other bridges are considerably older than the Champlain and are still working fine, and it should be noted that other bridges and tunnels were often designed as part of larger transit schemes. This replacement bridge will carry no tram lines, no provision for commuter trains, and only a limited number of reserved bus lanes. It’s too little, too late, and designed for a bygone era. How typically Québecois.

Unfortunately, it now seems as though the STM is unable to secure funding to execute the entire plan, and so the Mayors of Montréal, Laval and Longueuil now have to petition the people and the provincial government for their own individual extensions. This is an awful situation to be in, yet here we are, bitching and banging heads against each other for a thin slice of the better idea. If the fed can justify spending $5 billion on a bridge replacement, why not spend $4 billion to help more people get around and then spend the billion left-over dollars to fully renovate and upgrade the existing bridge? How is that a sounder investment?

Consider other plans, such as the use of ferries, light-rail lines across the ice-bridges, new Métro and commuter train lines or running surface trams on reserved lanes on the existing bridges and tunnels. There are many ways to cut down on the number of people bringing their cars into the city and increase the number of people utilizing public transit as their primary means to get around. But if the City can’t reign in government and guarantee an efficient use of stimulus funding, then we’re bound to develop along someone else’s politics, someone else’s vision. And as long as we congratulate ourselves for taking unfairly large portions of the communal tax revenue (as some kind of sick justification for our opportunistic federalism, no doubt), then we get what we pay for, and have no reason to pout when things fall apart. We’ve been responsible for our own infrastructure problems for years because we develop said infrastructure as though it were a consumer item, and thus the bridges, tunnels and buildings we procure are designed to artificially stimulate the construction industry by requiring near constant maintenance. And so we are literally stuck in a rut. Why is it that every Summer major construction work is required throughout the City? Are we foolish designers or are we trying to keep a bloated industry well-financed with futile self-perpetuating renovation work? We must begin designing more durably and begin employing innovative technological solutions to finally solve our frequent problems with rapid infrastructure degeneration.

It’s becoming clear to me that we are not designing with problem-solving in mind, and this will be our undoing. Technological solutions for most of the infrastructure problems we encounter on a day to day basis could be saving us incredible amounts of money, but they mean some people in the construction industry won’t make as much money as they used to. The new Champlain Bridge project smells so bad of graft and nepotism you’d think the price tag was of the scratch-and-sniff variety.

What of our privilege? What of our prosperity?

It bothers me to hear our enlightened and benevolent dictator, one Stephen Harper, prattle on and on about the comparative strength of the Canadian economy vis-a-vis other G20 and G8 nations. He goes up in front of American TV cameras to remind Americans that the good neighbour up North hasn’t been affected by the worldwide recession, and further that we’re always a sound investment. It’s simultaneously economic-nationalist gloating and a somewhat undignified plea for additional capital investment. It’s unclear to me whether Mr. Harper actually believes we’re in a privileged economic position or whether he’s simply trying to feign confidence knowing full-well we’re about to bear the brunt of our own localized melt-down. If we entertain the notion that Stephen Harper is in fact an economic mastermind expertly steering Canada through a momentary fiscal storm, then we are still left with a far bigger problem, that of growing inequities in Canada. In sum, Canada’s good economic track record has only really been good for the richest 1% of our own population, and that our middle-class is in as perilous a position now as we were during the post-Cold War economic recession and re-adjustment. I really would like to know who is benefitting the most from our apparently robust national economy. I don’t see many opportunities, I know the dollar is as valueless today as it was ten years ago (despite actually being worth quite a bit more) and I know that the educated youth are almost all royally fucked, with too few opportunities and too many (subsequently) wasted minds. With no ‘economic stimulus’, young people are left to drift, wondering why they ‘invested in their futures’ with student loans so many years ago.

But perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic. Perhaps I lack faith.

What would rekindle my faith in my Prime Minister, my nation’s economic foundation, and the elites of my nation? A single massive act of charity.

Like this? Read the rest here. Scroll down to post no. 3

The Future of the Olympic Stadium

What if this was the view from a condo tower? Would that sell?

There were public consultations held last weekend to discuss what ought to be done with the Olympic Stadium. Unfortunately I was both occupying Montréal and otherwise unaware the guided tours of the building that were part of the consultations, and so was unable to go myself. Regardless, if you’d like to participate in the online discussion and complete a survey, click here.

So what are we to do with our beloved and excessively expensive Big O?

I, for one, do not and have never supported any plans to demolish it, despite the popularity of such a flippant suggestion.

First of all, it’s paid for. If it had a regular tenant, such as a professional sports team that could guarantee high attendance, the costs of maintenance moving forward will pale in comparison to the revenue generated through use of the stadium. Use begets more use, and a return to the days when the Big O was also a prime location for rock concerts, conventions and congresses will come naturally as long as there is a primary draw. General usage was considerably higher when the Expos were popular and drawing large crowds. Moreover, we know with certainty that major league sports and concert venues can have a positive local influence and stimulate further economic growth in the area immediately surrounding the site. The area around the Montreal Forum has yet to recover from the loss of stimuli that went with the move to the Bell Centre, as has the area around the Big O. By contrast, the area around the Bell Centre is starting to show signs of improvement and may very well (for better or for worse) become a focal point for new development in the Central Business District (CBD).

Second; there’s nothing wrong with the facilities, the buildings or the infrastructure – it’s what’s around the Olympic Park which is partially the problem. Consider this: the City of Montréal has been concentrating recreational and leisure activities along Sherbrooke East between Pie-IX and Viau since the creation of the Montréal Botanical Gardens in the 1930s. Now, add to that impressive attraction the Olympic Stadium and Tower, the Insectarium, Biodome, Maurice Richard Arena, the new Planetarium, Saputo Stadium, Chateau Dufresne, the Olympic Pool, a municipal golf course, the Olympic Village, Maisonneuve Park and a multiplex cinema to boot. Just adjacent to the area bounded by Assomption, Pie-IX, Rosemont and Hochelaga Blvds is the Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital complex and CEGEPs Rosemont and Maisonneuve. This area is further served by three stations on the Green Line of the Métro. Ergo, when asked what I would do to help secure a bright and prosperous future for the Olympic Stadium I would say ‘consider what hasn’t been centralized here’ – it’s what’s missing that is the key.

I think the answer is principally transit and residential accommodation. With so much to offer there are scarcely any hotels in the area, no high-rise apartments taking advantage of the breath-taking views, no condominiums taking advantage of the latter in addition to the supremely well-connected location, and no commercial office space. Instead of banging our heads against the wall wondering why we didn’t bring the stadiums closer to the city, why not bring more of the city out to the stadium? With so much concentrated at this point, why isn’t the entirety of the Olympic Complex not viewed as the Eastern Gateway to the City of Montreal and ‘regional service centre’ for the Eastern core of Montréal? The space from Papineau to Assomption could stand to use increased densification along principle arteries, such as St-Joseph, Rachel, Ontario, Hochelaga, Pierre-de-Coubertin and Sherbrooke. A combination of new medium-income apartment towers and high-income condo towers lining these streets will help establish a visual link with the denser core of the urban centre and require a re-evaluation of land use in the sector bound by Dickson and Pie-IX extending South from Rosemont Boulevard to the river. By increasing population density the demand for additional community cultural and social services grows proportionally, and thus new schools, libraries, CLSCs etc will have to be built, likely occupying space otherwise zoned for light industrial activity.

This sector is lousy with old industrial spaces which no longer provide the societal anchor they once did. The industry can be consolidated in more opportune locations and the space better utilized to support a significant increase in the local population. Moreover, increasing the population while simultaneously diversifying social and cultural groups in the same area will help ‘even-out’ the neighbourhood, and provide numerous additional possibilities for small businesses and local services. So while old warehouses are turned into condo towers and elementary schools, additional social and civic services can be concentrated at the Olympic Site – there’s a lot of open space here, I can imagine space for a CLSC or library or a really kick-ass kindergarten can be worked into its master plan. The point is, build up the population significantly, and then focus that population’s attention on the Big O as a kind of meta civic centre.

To see a bird’s eye perspective of the Olympic Park and environs, click here.

Increasing population density isn’t enough by itself – types of residential housing must remain diverse and new opportunities for small businesses must be created. But on top of that, some key alterations to the urban tapestry will become necessary, specifically with regards to the quadrilaterals bounded by Pierre-de-Coubertin, Bennett, Ontario and Latourneaux in addition to the one bounded by Sherbrooke, Dickson, Hochelaga and Viau. Both of these areas are principally industrial. The former could be re-designed so as to allow for a new public plaza running between the Stadium and the Maisonneuve Market with large capacity residential and commercial buildings built along its edge. I would recommend a similar plan for the latter as well – after all, what’s centralization if it isn’t apparent to anyone that there’s a centre to speak of?

Aside from a generally massive increase to population density in this sector and (by extension) an effort to better equip this sector with necessary social services, improvements to transit would further allow the area to become a more self-sustaining tourism destination. Large underground parking garages need to be built around the site to support increased tourism from within the metropolitan area, and by extension, a new Réso expansion designed to link key facilities with new residential and commercial developments in the area could also do much to help draw residents to a new community centre focused on the Olympic Park site. In other words, if it was once the dream of Mayor Drapeau to encourage urban development towards the East, we need to ask ourselves what would make the Olympic Park area seem to be part of a larger urban whole. Consider the two plans for Métro extensions in this article – both involve the placement of a new multi-line station under the Olympic Stadium (the plan to have a Pie-IX metro line has been quite popular over the years, and there’s a definite need to improve Métro access East of the CBD).

In any event, I think I covered all the bases – securing a proud and profitable future for the Big O is almost thoroughly dependent on a City plan to completely overhaul the HLM sector and instigate a kind of gentrification that would encourage a new socio-economic diversity in the area, provide better services for families and further turn it into an outward-facing urban focal point.

But if you want to get more people out there on the cheap, perhaps the short-term, inexpensive solution is simply to re-build Corridart in a new form, linking the CBD with the Olympic Park by means of an outdoor art-gallery erected along Sherbrooke Street.

Suffice it to say, this is more than just a potential election issue – the citizens must make their voices heard.

New on Sovereign Socialist – State Economic Planning for Conservatives (a primer)


This article was originally published by the Forget the Box news collective.

The ruling Tories have dropped the ball in one domain they repeatedly claim to be almost exclusively their own – supporting the Canadian military.

Let me be more specific. Tories typically talk a good game around election time about how they, and in their minds they alone, support the Canadian Forces. Both Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney began their terms in office promising sweeping reforms, new equipment procurement plans, increases to personnel levels and a general ‘re-investment’ in ‘our men and women in uniform’. Typically, statements of this nature will be bookended with snide commentary about how ‘previous Liberal governments’ have ‘gutted’ the military, leaving Canadians hopelessly defenseless. It’s a good tactic because it works; it plays off of well-established though completely erroneous sentiments and pays off for the Tories during the election cycles. And true to form, though much is promised, almost nothing is provided.

And here’s the kicker; you don’t need to be a military historian to know that when it comes to defending Canada and using military spending to stimulate the economy, no party has a stronger reputation in this respect than the gold old Grits. The dirty little secret of the Conservative Party of Canada is their defense and strategic planning legacy, which has all too often fallen short. The fact that anyone in this great nation still believes the Tories know anything about defense only demonstrates the extent by which Canadian politics is framed by the American discourse, and worse still, American stereotypes.

Historically, Conservative military spending has been very much in-line with Conservative foreign policy, which stresses Canada’s ‘military obligations’ to NATO and the United States (because the Americans apparently need our assistance) and this in turn means we arm ourselves accordingly. Under Liberal governments, the stress is placed on national sovereignty and peacekeeping. Moreover, Conservatives historically tend to buying foreign-produced military hardware, whereas Liberals find ‘Made in Canada’ solutions. And don’t forget our last legitimately Progressive conservative Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, was so consumed with eliminating the fiscal excesses of St-Laurent era ‘big government’ he axed the Avro Arrow and retarded Canada’s aerospace industry permanently thereafter – we still have yet to recover the technical prowess and ingenuity of that firm, more than fifty years after the fact. Diefenbaker’s nuclear-missile replacement was ultimately what would cost him the 1963 federal election, not to mention that he would turn around and later acquire American-made jets in 1961. Similarly today the Harper Administration is procuring 65 highly-experimental and so-far unproven fighters incapable of fully replacing the capabilities of our current fleet of 103 strike-fighters. The Canadian taxpayers are being asked to shell out $30 billion to purchase aircraft that won’t have engines or weapons, and the aircraft won’t even be built here. When Pierre Trudeau signed the order to procure 138 Hornets in 1982, he made sure to acquire the licenses as well, so that the entire fleet was built locally, and further built to a better design than their American counterparts. Our aircraft were so well built they are still outperforming more recent models of the type, and as you can imagine, given that the money stayed in Canada, the indirect economic effects were considerable. And the Tories want you to think this is fiscally irresponsible. Using a search and rescue helicopter or government jet to go on vacation, by their standards, is not.

The Harper Administration has indicated that they consider national sovereignty and northern sovereignty to be synonymous, but aside from playing capture-the-flag with the Danes and Russians, the Tories have done nothing to further defend the Arctic. And defending the Arctic is much more than a routine sovereignty exercise for the Canadian Forces – its about ensuring our territorial waters aren’t used by American, Russian, British, French or Chinese ballistic missile submarines, about securing our resources from irresponsible foreign development and further ensuring that the Arctic ecosystem isn’t further damaged by international shipping and global warming. He said he would procure armed icebreakers – that was five years ago and nothing has happened since. Same thing with the proposed new joint support ships, amphibious assault ships and the upgrades to our existing fleet – lots of talk, little walk. What’s more distressing is that under Stephen Harper’s reign the Canadian Forces have been either selling off or otherwise shedding perfectly good military equipment; the common denominator being that the equipment was procured by ‘previous Liberal governments’. A case in point would be the sad fate of HMCS Huron, one of a class of four guided-missile destroyers with the potential to be used as a platform for a ballistic missile defense system, among other things. Extensively upgraded in the mid-1990s she was still fully serviceable when mothballed in 2000 due to personnel shortages. Instead of keeping the ship in such a static, still usable state, the decision was made by DND officials to tow her out to a Pacific Ocean weapons testing facility and sink her in 2007. Similarly, none of Canada’s four submarines are currently serviceable, and the Harper Administration purposely removed the long-range missile capabilities of these ships. The subs like the destroyers were procured by previous Liberal governments. So to were the reconnaissance vehicles used by the army, the coastal patrol boats used by naval reservists and most of our air defense equipment, all of which seems to have been ‘phased out’ by the Harper Administration. It seems these days that their only success has been to re-affirm our historically British military ties by denigrating our national sovereignty by re-affixing the Royal stamp to two out of three services. A great PR victory, but ultimately as useless as tits on a bull, to use a favoured Western Canadian expression. In sum it has come time for the citizenry to question this apparent Tory dominion on all things defense related. Time and time again they have proven themselves incompetent and fundamentally disinterested in using such large allocations of tax-payer revenue to better developing our high-technology and heavy-manufacturing sectors. It’s time to set the record straight on the Tory defense legacy.

Scenes from a Saturday Morning in Old Griffintown & Little Dublin

Tour de la Bourse and Delta Downtown from Chaboillez Square

If you like what’s above, click here for more photos from a neighbourhood in transition. Or you can select the seventh series in the photographs tab above.


Scenes from Occupy Montr̩al РPhotographs VI

Occupy Montréal, October 15th 2011

To see a series of photographs from yesterday’s Occupy Montréal demonstration, click here, or click on the photographs tab above and go down to collection VI.

I’ll write up my thoughts on the day later on. Still decompressing from an adventure filled Saturday. Gotta say the SPVM was really acting cool and professional yesterday. Frankly it was impressive and unexpected. I saw a police commander and a little kid making goonie faces at each other. It was hilarious and heart warming. It was a really good demonstration of solidarity, and one of the best protests I’ve ever been fortunate enough to participate in.

More later.