Hacked By Imam with Love
Michael Sabia can’t catch a break.
First he faced opposition for even being considered for the role of CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) back in 2009. It was quickly pointed out that an English-speaking Canadian, born in Hamilton, would become the head of the Caisse, the institutional investor that manages a portfolio of public and para-public pensions in Quebec, arguably one of the province’s greatest economic accomplishments. Seven years ago, former premier Bernard Landry was concerned Sabia would bring in unwanted “Canadian national culture” (whatever that means) and poison the well of the cornerstone of Québec, Inc.
Under Sabia’s leadership, the Caisse has grown considerably since losing $40 billion in 2008. At the beginning of this year, it managed net assets of $248 billion.
Now the Caisse’s leader wants to invest in public transit development in Montreal, proposing the single largest transit development project since the first iteration of the Métro was built fifty years ago, not to mention the prospect of 7,500 jobs created over the next four years. If everything works out, within four years a vast geographic area within Greater Montreal will have access to a twenty-nine station mass transit system connecting the urban core with Brossard, Deux-Montagnes, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and the airport.
And we’ll likely be riding in automated trains built by Bombardier.
Nonetheless, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, among others, is concerned the new system ignores the central and eastern parts of the city. The Parti Québécois leader undoubtedly wants some kind of commitment to the long-planned Blue Line extension towards Anjou, as the PQ got the ball rolling on studies for this long-planned extension with much fanfare back in 2012.
But let’s be real for a moment: all of Greater Montreal has been neglected vis-a-vis public transit development for quite some time, and it’s entirely a consequence of the unending public transit ping-pong match between competing parties and levels of government. The Caisse’s plan is ambitious, but right now is no more real than the Blue Line, the Azur (still haven’t rid it despite near daily Orange Line use… it’s a ghost) or a catapult to the Moon.
It’s completely unreasonable to suppose any part of the much-discussed light rail system proposed Friday is in any way, shape or form politically-motivated.
If anything, the proposed light rail system seems motivated chiefly by keeping costs comparatively low. The plan, if realized, will use existing, automated technology (likely the Bombardier Innovia Metro design) on track largely already owned by the Agence Métropolitain de Transport. The provincial public pension investor has proposed a five and half billion dollar public transit expansion project, the single most audacious plan seen in Montreal in fifty years, and is volunteering $3 billion to kickstart the program.
And this is precisely what we want the CDPQ to do: invest our pensions in necessary mega-projects that will create local jobs, employ local expertise, and are based on prior recent successes so as to guarantee a strong return on investment. The CDPQ is one of the financiers of Vancouver’s Canada Line, a light rail line that connects the city’s downtown with Richmond and the airport, opened in time for the 2010 Winter Games.
So they’ve done this before and it works, and Sabia’s recent success at the helm of the CDPQ gives us reason to be hopeful this proposal will succeed.
If the full version of the project is realized by 2020, Michael Sabia and the Caisse will have managed to out-do the comparative light-speed pace of the construction of the first iteration of the Métro, and a vast swath of Greater Montreal could be served by this system within four years.
Though the proposal does not include branches towards the eastern sectors of the metropolitan city, the sheer number of people this system could conceivably serve would be so great there would ultimately be a net benefit to all sectors of the metro region by virtue of fewer cars on our roadways and highways on a day to day basis.
Crucially, given the expected use of existing railway infrastructure, it’s entirely conceivable this system could be expanded to all corners of Greater Montreal. Moreover, light rail systems (such as this one) can share the track with larger heavy rail, such as the AMT’s current commuter train network. Either the Caisse’s LRT will gradually replace the AMT network, or they’ll share the track and compliment one another.
Either way, if this system is fully realized, we all get to breathe a little easier, and congestion becomes less of a problem.
But herein lies the rub: though the CDPQ’s plan is ambitious and headed in the right direction (both in terms of how it will be financed and what parts of the city it will connect), it needs to be integrated into the rest of the city’s mass transit systems from the get-go.
I was very happy to see that the Caisse has indicated a desire to do so in that they listed two potential stations (Edouard-Montpetit and McGill) that would allow the light rail system to connect directly to the Blue and Green lines of the Métro. This not only makes the LRT system more useful and accessible generally-speaking, it would also permit the Blue Line to connect more or less directly to the urban core, long the line’s major handicap.
I’ve always been in favour of extending the Blue Line to Anjou if the line is first connected, by means of the Mount Royal Tunnel, to the city centre, as this will help get that line’s ridership up to where it ought to be. As it is, it’s the least used line in the Métro network. There’s no sense extending it if the root cause of its underperformance isn’t addressed first.
So if I could make a very strong suggestion to the Caisse it is this: work with the STM and AMT and ensure the whole plan illustrated above is realized as the first phase, and seek the greatest possible degree of integration with the extant Métro and commuter rail network. In this way, and perhaps only this way, will they quickly recoup their investment and lay the foundation for the Blue Line’s eventual extension.
I really can’t imagine it working out in any other way.
I’m oddly hopeful politics will not rear its ugly head and screw up this plan, as I’m convinced we can’t afford to wait much longer and that it would ultimately prove exceptionally useful in accomplishing what should be a clear goal for our city: get cars off the road and increase daily mass transit system usage. I find the Caisse’s plan very encouraging, despite my near endemic cynicism and the ample proof we’re not very good getting things built or delivered on-time.
But who knows, maybe things change.
Or maybe once in a while it takes an outsider to get us back on track.
Initially I wanted to write about how this proposed system will work in the broader scheme of things, what this might mean for homeowners living in the expansive corridor to be served by this light rail system, and what kind of organizational response is needed to provide a truly world-class mass transit system at large. But given that we’re already 1300 words in, that’ll have to wait for another time.
*One of former US Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s more colourful quotes. Agnew was the second and most recent VP to resign from office, and so far the only to do so as a result of criminal charges, these including: extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy, all while he was holding office as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland and Vice-President. Journalist and historian Gary Willis described Agnew as “No man ever came to market with less seductive goods, and no man ever got a better price for what he had to offer.”
Some late breaking good news.
It appears the now homeless former residents of the Saint Anne housing co-op in Griffintown have caught a break after several days of devastating news.
To recap, the residents were evacuated from their homes this past weekend after a massive sinkhole developed underneath the row houses at 181-191 Mountain Street. Though it isn’t entirely clear what caused the sinkhole, there’s a condo tower going up right next door and they’re presently excavating the site. Problems began developing around the start of the month when a water pipe broke, consequently flooding the adjacent pit. This led to the address closest to the construction site being evacuated. A crack noticed at the time grew and forced the subsequent evacuation and demolition.
The residents had to leave with whatever they could carry; the building had to be demolished immediately.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the co-op’s insurer has insisted the incident was a ‘landslide’ and thus an act of god. They refused to compensate for the demolition. The condo developer has also indicated they’re not responsible either.
So a small group of long-time Griffintown residents, some of whom were paying as little as $400 per month in rent, very suddenly lost everything they owned, in addition to their historically significant homes, and found themselves both homeless and somehow responsible for the demolition of their homes.
Today’s news is that three levels of government are going to collaborate in re-building the demolished homes, and that the nearby Bassins du Havre will provide temporary housing for the displaced, though details have yet to be worked out.
I should point out that the condo tower concept did involve both the integration of a heritage property as well as the re-creation of the ‘human-scale’ of Mountain Street. An antique house was removed from the construction site last year and the developer aimed to re-integrate that structure, along with a reconstructed façade of two other since demolished buildings into the new condo and office complex. Based on the conceptual renderings available, it would seem that this project did intend to maintain, at the very least, the appearance of the former working class suburb.
Today’s unofficial announcement was that the city’s housing department, the provincial housing authority and the South West borough will all participate in the reconstruction of the demolished row houses, and this is fundamentally good news, but it begs the question: what, if anything, is really being done to ensure the long-term preservation of the city’s oldest buildings?
Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montréal re-iterated a familiar lament; “…(in Montreal), there’s a disconnect between the discourse on heritage and the action on heritage.”
He’s got a point (and he is the local authority on all matters pertaining to architectural heritage); late last year city inspectors discovered unauthorized alterations and severe structural damage to the former Mount Stephen Club, one of few remaining Square Mile mansions from the late 19th century. Less than a month ago the Gazette reported city inspectors had not visited the site in fifteen months, during which time major excavation work had been undertaken by real-estate developer Tidan.
So now the provincial culture ministry is suing Tidan and they, in turn, have to carefully ‘deconstruct’ the house, retrofit the foundation, and then re-build the house, adding millions of dollars to the total cost of the new hotel.
Had the building been inspected more regularly, perhaps this could all have been avoided.
There are plenty of other examples of the city administration dragging its heels vis-a-vis the city’s architectural heritage. The Snowdon Theatre has sat abandoned for three years and was recently nearly destroyed by a deliberately set fire. The Empress Theatre is supposed to become a cinema, but the city has done almost nothing to prepare it for eventual rehabilitation. Place des Nations is used as a parking lot in the summertime and in winter looks likes the ruins of a futuristic city. The Redpath House was left in such a poor state it was inevitable it would be knocked down, and far more importantly, the Lafontaine House, which much like the Saint Anne Co-op, sits precariously near two large open pits, has no plan for any future use or publicly-minded preservation, despite being the former home of the first Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada and the site of a violent confrontation during the burning of Parliament in 1849.
Lafontaine House is remarkable because its history and heritage had been forgotten entirely. For a very long time it was just a very old house in the since demolished Overdale neighbourhood. It was during the demolition of this neighbourhood (you guessed it, to make way for a condominium project) that Senator Serge Joyal discovered the stately home at the intersection of Overdale and Lucien L’Allier was in fact a building of exceptional historical value.
That was 29 years ago. Overdale was obliterated, the Lafontaine House stood, but no effort has been made at any time since to better protect it or make any use out of it. Today a hotel, apartment tower and condominium towers are going up all around it, with the onus on the property developer to maintain the house’s physical integrity.
Maybe it will become a restaurant…
Similarly, condo and apartment towers are blooming around the now demolished Griffintown row houses near the intersection of Mountain and Wellington, pictured above, which date back to 1875. Perhaps more importantly, they’re one of the very few residential buildings that actually date back to the era in which Griffintown was a predominantly Anglo-Irish working class neighbourhood, and not a marketing device used to sell condominiums.
The ‘Brickfields’ condo project is going up next door to the now demolished row houses, one of several ‘branded living’ condominium complexes that are transforming The Griff. I’m not opposed to this transformation per se; the neighbourhood was gutted and disconnected from the rest of the city for more than forty years. It’s dynamic repopulation is fundamentally a good thing. Griffintown began it’s decline with the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959 (a considerable irony, given the community came to be with the construction of the Lachine Canal and Victoria Bridge) and was subsequently re-zoned for light industry in the 1960s. The Bonaventure Expressway further cut the community off from adjacent neighbourhoods, and the parish church of Saint Ann closed in 1970 and was quickly demolished. Around that time the neighbourhood’s population had shrunk to about 800. Thirty years later it was estimated at less than 100.
Today Griffintown is on the rise – literally. The area was rezoned once again in the late 2000s for residential purposes, including medium-sized towers of between 10 and 20 floors, and the rapidly rising population was estimated at over 6,000 in the 2011 census.
While I’m in favour of rehabilitating disused parts of the city and developing parking lots into residential towers, this needs to be done in such a fashion that the architectural and urban heritage of Montreal is preserved, if not promoted. If real-estate developers are inclined to build towers and excavate foundations adjacent to properties of heritage or historical value, then extra care needs to be taken to ensure problems such as with the Mount Stephen House and the Saint Anne’s housing co-op aren’t repeated. In the case of the former it appears that the developer was both careless and did unauthorized work, but that the city was also responsible in that inspections weren’t carried out. In the case of the latter, given the spontaneous decision of three different levels of government to collaborate on rebuilding these homes, there’s the possibility the real-estate developer is not actually at fault, but also that civic authorities may have dropped the ball once again.
I suspect we’ll find out soon enough; lives were nearly ruined. These homes had stood for 142 years and it’s only now that there’s a massive excavation going on right next door that a sinkhole developed, resulting in the demolition of more of our city’s architectural heritage. Without buildings like these, it’s hard to sell Griffintown condos with an appeal to the history and working class roots of the neighbourhood.
Rebuilding these homes is a nice gesture, but they will not be the same homes. Whatever heritage value they had has mostly been lost.
What a gift it would be, for our city’s 375th anniversary, to finally establish a heritage policy with real teeth, such that we could ensure the long-term preservation of our city’s built environment.
Without heritage, Montreal has very little cachet.
So it’s come to this; not even a full week has gone by since ‘sexbargate’ put NDG back on the map, and already the lawyers have been called in.
Projet Montréal City Councillor for NDG, Peter McQueen, has received a cease and desist letter from Peter Sergakis, the restaurant, bar and night club proprietor noted for his opposition to smoking bans on outdoor terraces as much as his predilection for refiling old liquor bottles.
The letter was received at the Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough office Friday, the day after the proverbial fan was hit by flying excrement…
Sergakis wasn’t keen on talking when I called Sunday night; he said the bar in question, tentatively called Jersey’s Saloon (doubtless so named for all the glitz and glamour of the exciting New Jersey shore) will open ‘in a week or two.’ He then said he had to go back to bed. It was 8:00 pm.
McQueen was more talkative. He said he’s looking forward to Monday night’s borough council meeting and what decision borough mayor Russell Copeman might take on the issue. The meeting will be held at 7:00 pm (Monday April 4th) in the Cummings Auditorium, at 5151 Chemin de la Cote-Sainte-Catherine. If you want to weigh in on whether NDG needs this bar, feel free to lend your two cents at the meeting.
Given this website is typically read by people with severe ADHD problems, a quick recap. There once was a bar named Maz, and it was a dive that had basically catered the exact same clientele for roughly sixty years. Late last year the proprietors announced it would be closing, as they wanted to retire and couldn’t find anyone interested in running the place. Sergakis stepped in with plans to expand and renovate and create a new western-themed bar & grill. Everything was on the up and up until a video started making the social media rounds late last week, which featured a provocative young woman pouring some unknown liqueur upon her midriff.
A quick side note, she likely needs more experience serving drinks, as alcohol is chiefly ingested orally by mammals, and not via the bellybutton.
Rookie mistake… the important thing is that we’re all learning together.
Anyways, back to the matter at hand.
The promo video gave McQueen and a cavalcade of local yentas the distinct impression this would be a sleazy kind of place that wouldn’t fit in with what NDG ‘is all about’. To get an idea of what the video was like, the helpful minds over at the Postmedia Gazette figured they’d splice in their interview with McQueen with frames from the promo video (and take note, the Gazette had McQueen hold both the mic and his own umbrella for their interview; very professional looking…)
The yentas, and McQueen, did the chat show circuit last Thursday and Friday. McQueen referred to the proposed bar & grill as a ‘sex bar’, Sergakis claimed he didn’t know what that meant, and most of us did so much blow over the weekend we’ve completely forgotten what all the fuss was about.
Oh wait, now I remember: sex bar!
If I suspend reality and let my imagination get the better of me, a sex bar could really liven things up in NDG. I can imagine the long cue of sweaty, video-game addicted virgins excited to punch their v-cards in a straightforward, transactional fashion… the way Capitalist Jesus would doubtless prefer.
But alas, it’s not to be. McQueen admitted to me no such thing really exists (aww, shit) and that in no way should anyone think this is going to be a strip club (which would require a special license the city isn’t handing out any more, and either way wouldn’t make it past the borough’s zoning committee anyways). It isn’t even a revival of the ‘sexy serveuses’ bar from the late 1980s, as those women were typically nude (and occasionally served breakfast!)
But that didn’t stop McQueen from using the term ‘sex bar’ throughout the interview. He staked his claim NDG is family-friendly and, based on the promo video, this kind of a bar, in his opinion, doesn’t fit in with the neighbourhood. But that being said, NDG doesn’t have a civic code that defines what’s allowed and what isn’t. He also felt it necessary to bring up a few other points, which surprisingly included that there’s not much parking around the proposed bar’s location.
That one caught my attention; it’s rare to hear a member of Projet Montréal talk about how a given business needs more parking. McQueen clarified he suspects much of the clientele will be coming in from outside the neighbourhood. He went on to say that he already gets plenty of complaints from residents about teenagers smoking grass in Girouard Park (author’s note: some of them might be unemployed thirty-year-old journalists) and he’s concerned the specific marketing approach taken by Sergakis is only going to draw in the wrong crowd and lead to more complaints.
I can’t make up my mind on this one.
Depending on who you ask Sergakis is either a creepy misogynist who hates the homeless or a hard-working entrepreneur who crawled his way up from the bottom and, despite his age and wealth, still scrubs dishes and tends the grill at his establishments, if and when necessary.
For his part, I’m fairly confident McQueen has his constituents’ interests at heart, but he fundamentally needs to realize we live in a capitalist, free-market society (for better or worse) and that consumers always have the final say in that they vote with their wallets. If the residents of NDG don’t go to this bar, Sergakis will either have to re-tool or ship out altogether.
McQueen told me that if Sergakis opens any other type of bar, there’s no problem.
Which in turn means the issue comes back to the waitresses and bar maids, what they’ll be wearing and how suggestive, flirty and/or provocative they are with patrons. Any attempt to regulate this ‘for the public good’ is inherently problematic; the state has no business telling people what they can and cannot wear and in which contexts individuals can be suggestive.
In an attempt to gain some greater understanding of what’s at play, I took a stroll down Sherbrooke Street on a Sunday night and realized the proposed Jersey’s Saloon is just a few doors down from a maternity and neonatal clothing store that’s well-known as being a ‘safe space’ for breastfeeding mothers.
I can feel worlds about to collide…
Generally speaking, I’m a fan of urban exploration.
However, there’s a few golden rules we should all keep in mind when it comes to exploring the secret and unseen parts of the city: don’t leave any trace behind, don’t hurt yourself, don’t inconvenience others, and above all else, don’t negatively impact the place you’re exploring.
Say, as an example, by starting a fire that may threaten a vintage theatre and the residents of the adjacent apartment complex.
But if you are so inclined to start a fire in an abandoned building, for the love of all that is good and holy, please share a video or photographs of your illegal deeds on social media, so you can be found and eventually prosecuted.
At this point you may be asking; “but who on Earth would be so foolish to do such a thing?”
The answer: teenagers. Boneheaded teenagers. And apparently some hotshot young videographers as well.
In an astounding coincidence, on the very same day that photographs, like the one above, emerged online of several teenagers apparently starting a fire on the second floor of the abandoned Snowdon Theatre, this video of several people galavanting through the Métro tunnels was posted to YouTube and widely distributed on local social media networks.
Montreal police are now both searching for the teens suspected of starting the fire and have opened an investigation into how the Métro tunnels (and trains) were accessed by the creators of ‘Lowest Point in Montreal’.
In the latter case, the film crew accessed one tunnel while the Métro was still in operation, and then proceeded to make their way into the rear conductor’s cabin of an operational train, locking the door when accosted by an STM employee. As La Presse notes, there’s a safety issue inasmuch as there’s a security issue. It was just last week that Daesh sympathizers detonated bombs in a Brussels Métro station; the film crew in the ‘Lowest Point’ video had access to Métro controls, the track, and service tunnels and the various equipment kept in those tunnels. My guess is they were probably down in the tunnels for more than hour, and evaded STM security throughout.
Unless of course these are off duty and out of uniform STM employees who happen to be urban exploration enthusiasts; that would be one of those ‘everything worked out better than expected’ conclusions I don’t think is terribly likely.
I’m torn, really. I feel creeping adulthood and my gut says “don’t go exploring Métro tunnels”, especially not when the trains are actually in operation. It’s immensely dangerous, not to mention inconvenient for thousands or tens of thousands of people who may be affected by a temporary line closure. I think the code ‘900-02’ announces a suspected infiltration of the tunnels; if either an STM employee or the system’s CCTV system suspects there’s someone in the tunnels, they have to call it in, close it down and investigate.
So while I find this video intriguing and interesting, I can’t in good conscience recommend others do the same. The risk is far too great.
That said, the STM could probably make some coin offering after-hours behind-the-scenes tours of the city’s transit infrastructure. I would pay good money to get a guided walking tour of the Orange Line, and am certain many others would too.
It’s remarkable to me that two different groups of people, in the same city and at essentially the same time, both recorded acts of trespassing and other illegal activities and then posted it to social media, seemingly oblivious the video or photo evidence could be used against them.
Kristian Gravenor has weighed-in on the Snowdon’s fire, but places the blame for the building’s slow demise ultimately on the city and borough government. In his opinion, neither have been proactive with regards to saving this building, and he suspects the borough will now announce it can’t be saved, and that as such it ought to be razed to fast-track new construction.
Gravenor insinuates that there’s “…a conscious or subconscious will to eradicate this beautiful Art Deco building and what it symbolically represents.”
I would like to hope he’s wrong, and that this is simply a matter of local government lacking in vision and hoping for ‘free market’ solutions to solve problems that clearly fall within the public domain.
But when you consider that the Snowdon is the latest in an unfortunately long list of landmark Montreal theatres abandoned to ignoble fates without even an iota of effort by municipal officials to save them, it makes you wonder. This isn’t a new problem, it dates back forty years to the destruction of the Capitol Theatre, arguably the grandest of them all. More recently, the Seville and York were pulled down (to build condos and a university pavilion, respectfully), while the Snowdon, Cartier and most importantly, the Empress, lie abandoned and in ruin (and there are maybe a dozen more scattered elsewhere about the city).
In a city known for its nightlife, live entertainment and general cultural engagement, why is it very nearly impossible to renovate and rehabilitate old theatres and make them useful elements of the community at large?
Jean Lapierre was a gentleman. Quebec and Canada have lost an immense talent, and one of our best political analysts.
The information available at this time is that he and four family members were en route to the Iles de la Madeleine to attend his father’s funeral. The plane crashed in bad weather. All seven people onboard have passed.
The plane had departed St. Hubert and attempted to land on the islands in very poor weather. The plane bounced off the runway and then broke up.
Quebec media in general and the political community of the entire nation are in shock. Just yesterday, Lapierre announced his father had passed after a long struggle with Parkinson’s.
Jean was an expert commentator; he lived and breathed politics, and unlike many politicians said precisely what he was thinking, unafraid of any potential criticism. He was first elected at the young age of 23 to represent Shefford and fought on the side of the Trudeau Liberals in the 1980 Referendum. He’d remain as Shefford’s Liberal MP until 1990 when he left the party in the wake of the Meech Lake Accord’s failure. He then helped to found the Bloc Québécois, though in his own words he described himself as soft nationalist, wanting a level playing field for Quebec. Disillusioned, he would later leave the Bloc and federal politics altogether to begin a successful career in broadcasting.
Most people would have been happy with just that, but Jean Lapierre was not most people. He was driven, ambitious and became a voice of thoughtful consideration and conscience. He would return to federal politics in the cabinet of Paul Martin, to whom he was fiercely loyal. Lapierre would subsequently become transport minister before retiring from politics for a second time in 2007 to go back to broadcasting.
In my time working as a chase producer for CJAD I often spoke with Jean to arrange interviews. He had two regular slots on CJAD, one in the morning and again in the afternoon, and was as comfortable and effective discussing the spectrum of Canadian politics in English as in French. We was a busy man, constantly working. I only met him once, but made sure to congratulate him for his work in Chantal Hébert’s seminal work on the 1995 Quebec Referendum, The Morning After.
The first impression he made on me was that, unlike many other pundits and political analysts, he didn’t seem full of himself. He answered his own phone, he was always keen to help out with an interview or discussion. He rarely said no, unless it was to spend time with his family. He was always polite, respectful and kind when dealing with the chase producers, the lowest part of the broadcasting totem poll. I can’t emphasize this point enough: in two arenas dominated by massive, in most cases over-inflated egos, Jean was refreshingly humble and down-to-Earth. The second impression he made was that he was one of the few political analysts who could dissect the political arenas of Canada, Quebec and Montreal with equal parts expertise, humour and style. He reminded me of how politics could be fun, or at least how to see what was amusing in our unique type of politics. He was witty, insightful, sharp and above all else, interesting. I could listen to Jean Lapierre discuss the politics of Canada, Quebec and/or Montreal, in either language, and always come out informed, engaged, and more often than not inspired.
What happened to him, to his family, is an unspeakable tragedy.
Adieu Jean, on se souviendra.