A short list of what the candidates aren’t talking about…

Lachine Canal Sunset - Taylor C. Noakes, 2013

Admittedly this article isn’t based on the results of scientific polling, or polling of any kind really. It’s just a compilation of various ideas that various friends and acquaintances have recommended when asked what they thought was particularly important vis-à-vis improving and developing our dearly beloved city. In essence, it’s what the candidates aren’t talking about, though I think some of these are neat if not really smart and useful, though unconventional and unlikely to be mentioned simply because they likely wouldn’t poll well at all.

I’ll keep the individual ideas short and sweet, let me know what you think. Let’s get a conversation going.

1. Smarter, less crime-infested snow removal. After Maisonneuve Magazine threw the spotlight on bid-rigging w/r/t snow-removal contracts in the city I expected action from city hall, though so far it looks like we’re sticking to the existing plan. Snow removal is of particular concern for Montrealers given our long and generally snowy winters, so I think this one has broad appeal, especially when considering the city subcontracts numerous local construction and landscaping firms to handle snow removal on our city’s streets. Generally speaking it seems to make sense that we subcontract out a lot of this work; private construction and landscaping firms have the equipment and the equipment generally isn’t being used in winter months, so it’s particularly valuable for those firms to get lucrative snow-clearance contracts as it allows them to keep operating in an otherwise ‘dead’ season. This system is also thought to be good for the citizens in that the city doesn’t need to pay for all that expensive equipment and long, often irregular hours of work.

But this system now appears to be broken; not only are we now aware of bid-rigging, there’s the other troubling issue of the state some of these snowplough drivers are in when they’re doing the job. I’ve heard about eighteen hour days without rest being the norm rather than the exception. Granted they’re not doing this all the time, but still. Private contractors take that risk, despite government labour laws. I know a guy who did this for his father’s company for many years; he told me the training, on average, lasts about fifteen minutes and is entirely focused on the operation of the vehicle. There’s no safety training. Each year we lose at least one person, more often than not a child, during the hectic snow clearance operations that take place after every major storm.

Snow removal is something we have to contend with – it’s a fact of life – so why not get smarter about it?

For one there are systems that have been developed – and if I recall correctly are being used in some Scandinavian cities – wherein rubber mats are placed over city streets in which a heating system melts snow atop the mat and then funnels the water into the sewer system. If implemented city-wide, well, I think we may have a possible solution to our snow clearance problem.

Now if only we could figure out a use for all the snow that will inevitably accumulate everywhere else…

2. Open street commerce. Yes, the food trucks experiment is definitely a step in the right direction, but what has so far confounded me and a lot of other people is why there’s such strict regulation. There’s no question there’s a need for health inspectors and service standards, but to limit potential entrepreneurs to only those who already have a restaurant, a truck and ‘who provide products of gastronomic excellence, highlighting Quebec culinary prowess etc. etc.’ The end-result has been that it’s not quite street food, it’s expensive and more a fad or gimmick than legitimate arena for small-scale business.

Ultimately, its this latter point that needs to be addressed – a citizen should still be able to hock a product even if they can’t afford to rent downtown real estate to do so. Walk down St-Catherine’s and see for yourself – the businesses are mostly large chains, often repeated – there’s no room for small-scale operations. The city needs to relax restrictions on commerce, especially at the small-end of the scale. Taking street food as an example, I don’t care if the food is prepared in a restaurant or on the curb, and I don’t mind if it’s from a wagon, a truck, a horse-drawn cart or a 64 El Camino – as long as it meets health code standards I’m down to try it. If the rules were relaxed we’d suddenly have much more choice and many more small business operators and I guarantee you St-Catherine’s Street merchants would see major returns if only there were vendors and kiosks on every corner. We need to bring business back, and the city needs to become more of a market in the broadest sense. We don’t have to go to the extreme one might find in New York City, but I don’t think it would be so bad if we pushed a little in that direction.

3. Our very own Rikers Island. Another good idea from NYC; why not use one of the many uninhabited islands in the Montreal Archipelago as a large jail? I was discussing this one with a cousin who’s completely enamoured with all things New York – Rikers Island is a massive correctional and detention facility that houses about 14,000 inmates and is the city’s main jail for all manner of offenders. It’s accessible only by a single unmarked bridge. Now while we clearly don’t have such a large prison population, we do have several correctional facilities on-island that could just as well be located elsewhere. Moreover, removing these institutions from the island and putting them together on an island of their own not only further facilitates their isolation, but removes some NIMBY-typed obstacles from our urban environment. I think we should ask ourselves whether we want to keep the Pinel Institute or Bordeaux Prison operating where they are – near residential zones – or whether these facilities might be better off relocated.

4. Public rest facilities. Why? Because that’s not what Tim Hortons are for. They could even be their own small businesses, with attendants both keeping things clean and hocking various toiletries, smokes, gum etc. Point is, if we want this city (and the Métro in particular) to stop reeking of piss, we should probably do the bare minimum to address the problem.

5. The Forum. I don’t care who and at this point I don’t really care what, but this eyesore needs to go and get replaced with something better. The Forum, as it stands today, is a hopeless mess that somehow manges to work despite itself and looks like shit every waking hour of the day. I would personally consider it a wise use of tax revenue if the city were to simply pay for a neutral, modernist facelift. The unfortunate people who call Cabot Square their home deserve something better to spend their days looking at.

7 thoughts on “A short list of what the candidates aren’t talking about…”

  1. Thanks for your comment – and all valid concerns too I might add.

    That said, our commercial arteries aren’t the best ways of measuring our city’s economic vitality. If the southern end of Saint-Laurent is getting you down, try going farther north where new trendy restos seem to be flourishing. Or take a stroll along Parc Avenue, which seems to be doing just fine these days as the Mile End becomes a more affordable Plateau. All our streets go through development and phases of interest.

  2. Before I begin, let me mention how interesting I find your blog.Great to see some positive ideas for Montreal. I do not share the belief that Montreal is doing fine though. Walking down St. Laurent on Sunday was a harsh realization that many of the store front property had vacancies. This is not the sign of a thriving metropolis. As you mentioned above, investors do not like political uncertainty which is the specialty of the PQ. It is hard to be proud a Montrealer these days and more importantly, I don’t think the future is very bright either. Quebec has suffered tremendously since the 70’s and the continued globalization of the world leaves Quebec at a crossroads. Either play ball with the world economy and lift the people out of their current dire economic situation or continue to stifle growth, investment and prosperity by implementing laws like Bill 14 and the much discussed charter of secular views. I know what I would choose for Quebec but then again I am the minority, an educated anglophone living in a francophone majority in a world where multiculturalism thrives.

  3. I totally agree about the need for confidence -and Montreal is a great City – I have the mileage on my car to prove it! A positive outlook is totally justified and hats off to you for yours!

  4. Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll look it up and maybe review it as well.

    If there’s one thing I’m particularly passionate about, it’s changing the way Montrealers, both current and previous, view their city. I think we’re way too quick to judge the city on the whole far too harshly, often without really looking at what we have.

    Case in point, it’s clear we’re moving out of a period of unfortunately high corruption, but because we’re dealing with crimes that happened several years ago today, we seem to think we’re still corrupt.

    For one it’s not the people who are corrupt, but a small clique of politicians, criminals and business-types who formed a conspiracy to defraud taxpayers through bid-rigging schemes.

    The city gets on despite them and their crimes, just like Toronto getting on despite epidemic gun crime and Rob Ford. Note that Montreal’s gun crime levels are at record-breaking lows for North America’s six-largest city, but I digress.

    Now is the best time to invest in Montreal, and I want private investors to come here and realize the potential. Montreal is a global city when it’s investment community is confident. When we lack confidence in ourselves, things start to unravel. Ultimately, given the level of public scrutiny vis-a-vis our politicians, real estate market and construction industry, now’s probably the best possible time to build and develop without getting ruinously ripped off.

    It should also be noted Montreal may be on the verge of a significant population boom. There’s an existing trend seeing an increasing number of young families and young couples staying within the city limits rather than emigrating to the suburbs, one which will increase with developments to public transit infrastructure inasmuch as boosts to the city’s nightlife and cultural offerings. This trend will be pushed with inevitable increases in the cost of gasoline. The exodus to the suburbs is now a trickle compared to what we saw during the 60s and 70s (though we should take note the City of Montreal ended up absorbing those some of those suburbs later on), and as lifestyles evolve I think the city is very well positioned to turn this trend around completely. Old Montreal, the Old Port, Gay Village and the Plateau saw major revivals in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the last decade that shifted over to the Mile End, NDG, St-Henri. Real estate speculators are now talking about Parc-Ex, Villeray, Petit-Patrie, Little Italy, the rest of St-Henri, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Cote-des-Neiges as the next likely locations for large-scale gentrification. That’s a lot of room for investment with a near guarantee of a positive return.

    But it needs confidence.

    For those humble people detached from back room deals at City Hall, Montreal is, as it always has been, a dream to live in. We complain too much, but most of us deep down in side know how good we have it.

  5. Thanks for your response – good to hear about your upbeat views and you are right about areas that are much improved. When I grew up there we did not have the refurbished old port or bike trails along the canal. As you probably suspected, my comments were based on my nostalgic views based on a different time. Again thanks for your blog. Btw – you had a recent post about the Sun Life bldg- I just finished reading a mystery novel by John Farrow called River City where the crime scene is in the Sun Life bldg and the novel takes place in Montreal – a good read!

  6. Thanks for the comments, glad you enjoy.

    Montreal is in a far better state than most people realize, especially if they don’t actually live here. Cabot Square needs a major renovation, and I’m not crazy by what happened to the Forum, but the area in general is changing for the better. Don’t forget we’re in a period of global economic recession, and political instability doesn’t make for a good investment climate.

    But it should be understood that small pockets of the city that don’t look as good as they once did isn’t indicative of an overall trend. If anything, more parts of Montreal are in better shape than they were int he late 1970s and early 1980s. St-Henri, as an example, is changing in great new ways. The Old Port, Plateau, Mile End, NDG, Cote-des-Neiges, Verdun even – all of these neighbourhoods are in better shape, and can offer a better standard of living, than what was available back then.

    In sum, had I the coin, I’d be buying as much property as I could in Montreal, or start a café or restaurant. Montréal’s doing just fine.

  7. I really enjoy your blog – I am a former Montrealer who grew up in St Henri and left to study in Ontario (Law School) I ultimately wanted to be close to Montreal so I now live and work in Ottawa. I do enjoy visiting mtl regularly but things have changed so much since I left – not sure I would ever consider living there again. In any event – your most recent blog talks about public restrooms and the mtl forum. I recall Atwater bus terminus (now Cabot Square) having public facilities and they were great and safe – that whole area was so bustling in the seventies and earlly 80s – having a bus terminus there (because the green line ended at Atwater) made the whole area very active – even Alexis Nihon Plaza. I have visited the area and it has really gone downhill though there is some still promising activity such as the new condos happening. Keep up the good work – at times I reminisce about the greatness of the city when I grew up – the Olympics and Expo 67!

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