Category Archives: Political commentary

Métro woes…

This is about as real as it gets - conceptual renderings of the proposed Azur Métro train.
This is about as real as it gets – conceptual renderings of the proposed Azur Métro train.

Here’s the deal:

In 2010 the Quebec government signed an agreement with the Bombardier-Alstom consortium to build 468 new Métro cars at a total cost of $1.2 billion, with expected delivery starting in February 2014 and continuing for four years. The first completed car rolled out in splashy ceremony in November of 2013. The first train was completed in February 2014 and the company maintained that the entire fleet would be delivered by 2018, as per the contract.

It’s now April of 2015 and only one train has been delivered, and it’s been used uniquely for testing – i.e. it is not in operation yet.

It’s assumed Bombardier will have to pay some kind of fee for late delivery, though this is far from set in stone and could easily be forgiven by the government.

If say Bombardier were to come up with reasons to further delay delivery, government might wave the fee, or do something else to prevent such a delay.

So far Bombardier has announced delays in delivery because of two different issues. First there were problems with parts of the tunnel that required a partial redesign so as to actually allow the trains to pass through. Second, announced in October of 2014, was that the automated control software wasn’t ready, so even though a paltry five train sets had been completed, they wouldn’t be put into service. In January Bombardier-Alstom indicated that the software still wasn’t ready and that they’d have to layoff 145 construction workers at a plant in La Pocatière because of the delay in developing a software an Alstom-owned subsidiary in (wait for it) Italy.

At face value these seem like reasonable justifications, but think on it a little bit.

In the first case, the work to be done was on a small section of a tunnel, and basically involved shaving off parts of the ceiling and outer walls, as that portion – for whatever reason – was slightly narrower than the rest of the system. It had nothing to do with the trains themselves, so how did that retard their construction?

In the second case, the software is just that – soft. Why can’t the new trains use the existing automated control software? Is there no way to operate the trains manually? And again, why would that delay construction of the vehicles themselves?

Today’s news is that the Quebec government will ‘loan’ $31.5 million to the STM so that the STM can then pay Bombardier for the delivery of four train sets, each with nine cars. When these train sets will be delivered is anyone’s guess – despite a lot of flowery prose – a delivery date for these trains was omitted from the STM’s press release (author’s note – thanks to Martin from Propos Montréal for pointing out it isn’t actually a loan, but an advance the STM will pay Bombardier before the total bill is due in full once the last trains are completed and delivered in 2018. So we’re paying a portion of what’s already contractually agreed upon as owed to Bombardier-Alstom for trains that are only 95% complete).

CTV reported in January that five trains had been completed, today we were promised four completed trains at a future date. Which is it? Have five been built or are four to be built?

And why is the government loaning money to the STM so the STM can then pay Bombardier-Alstom to keep production going and save 145 jobs in La Pocatière (which is located about halfway between Quebec City and Rivière du Loup, and closer to Edmunston New Brunswick than Montréal). And why didn’t the government pay Bombardier-Alstom directly as opposed to loaning money to the STM?

And what was the $1.2 billion contract signed in 2010 for if not to pay for the production of these Métro cars in the first place?

The STM press release is thick with laughable quotes from various members of the provincial government, and Bombarider-Alstom, declaring how important it is to keep the Quebec economy going and to save these jobs. Coderre weighed in (for some reason) that the people of Montréal are impatient to get the new trains, but no delivery date was specified and there’s no specific details as to what the $31.5 million will be used for.

If it’s just to keep 145 people employed, how does this fix the software problem?

And wasn’t the contract supposed to create 400 jobs, not 245 of which 145 can be ‘saved’ from temporary layoffs thanks to a mere $31.5 million loan? What about the initial contract?

The Journal de Montréal reports that economy minister Jacques Daoust had the gall to state that ‘if Quebec were in a period of austerity, we (the government) could not have made this grand gesture’.

Son of a bitch. It’s shit like this that makes people absolutely despise the Quebec Liberal Party.

Now to recap:

– In 2010 the Quebec gov’t paid the Bombardier-Alstom consortium $1.2 billion to deliver 468 new Métro cars (comprising 52 trains).

– Trains were expected to begin operation in February 2014.

– As of January 2015 no trains had been delivered to the STM; Bombardier-Alstom at first blames delays on problems with tunnel clearance, then with automated control software, and indicates it will have to temporarily layoff 145 employees at a factory in La Pocatière though fails to connect the dots as to how this will impede the construction of the trains. CTV reports five trains had been completed but, according to STM and Bombardier-Alstom officials, can’t be used safely.

– On April 2nd 2015 the Government of Quebec announces a $31.5 million loan to the STM so that the STM can pay Bombardier-Alstom for the delivery of four trains at an unspecified date as well as the continued employment of those workers threatened with layoffs.

– On the same day officials from the government, the Mayor of Montreal, representatives of Bombardier, Alstom and the STM congratulate themselves for doing something good for the Quebec economy.

The Quebec government just paid nearly $32 million to get four trains when it already paid $1.2 billion for 52 trains five years ago, and apparently Bombardier-Alstom has justified delays in both construction and delivery on a) physical characteristics of the tunnel they should already have been aware of and b) automated control software they are responsible for. And to top it all off, the new trains will be delivered ‘95% complete’ and without the new software.

People, this is your money.

Bombardier-Alstom convinced the representatives of the people of Quebec into paying more money for a subpar product that’s already a year behind in the delivery schedule, by threatening to layoff unionized workers in a riding that up until recently voted PQ.

Once again the taxpayers of Quebec have been screwed by a profit-driven multinational corporation and complicit government officials who look to score political points by creatively financing corporate failures and spinning it as an some kind of economic and political success story. We have been told by various governments for over a generation that the private sector is more efficient at getting the job done. How can such be said of Bombardier-Alstom with regard to the Azur project?

I don’t get it. We have no money to pay for schools, hospitals nor even a sufficient number of maintenance workers to keep the Métro clean, yet have $31.5 million lying around to reward incompetence at best and blackmail at worst.

Irony is Dead

These two men are protesting the same thing.
These two men are protesting the same thing.

I’m not sure who snapped this photo from a student anti-austerity demo a few days back, but in any case, chapeau Monsieur, whoever you are, for capturing the innate irony and hypocrisy of protest in Quebec.

The cop and the student with his hands up are essentially protesting the exact same thing – cuts to government services.

In the case of the cop, government’s desire to increase fiscal efficiency has manifested as proposed pension reform.

In the case of the student, government cuts to education and proposed increases to the cost of tuition are two parts of the same issue – government is transferring debt onto the backs of students, asking them to pay more for the accreditation and training only universities can provide and that are fundamental to entering and competing in our local job market.

In both cases you can argue the government’s efforts to get back in the green are being done in a manner which is unfair to civil servants and students alike. It’s unfair to ask police, firefighters and other municipal workers to contribute vastly more to their own pensions than was previously the case because at one point in time pensions were mismanaged. Moreover, almost by necessity municipal pensions should focus more on a defined benefit rather than a defined contribution. That’s always been the trade-off for the civil workforce, what you don’t get in pay you make up for afterwards with a generous pension.

This photograph is striking to me because it shows two people who should be united in a common cause, yet one is permitted to protest and the other is not.

Perhaps it’s an indication of what we as a society are willing to tolerate, but that leaves even more questions.

Why is it okay for police and firefighters to play dress up and vandalize public property (let’s call it for what it is) and not okay for students to assemble in public and demonstrate?

Why do we assume students will be violent when time and time again it’s the police that instigate violence?

Why do we give the police carte-blanche to disrupt student demonstrations when they themselves are actively demonstrating their opposition to austerity measures?

And if the students were to adopt the tactics of the police, firefighters and transit employees – such as vandalizing public property with propaganda, dressing in camouflage, starting fires in front of City Hall and then ransacking a city council meeting (etc) – would we tolerate that?

I think not.

Frankly, if the students were to apply any of the tactics used by municipal employees, we’d likely have P-6 amendments to limit the wearing of camouflage in public.

And any effort by the students to congregate in front of City Hall, let alone entering the building, would be resisted with force by the same people who allowed their firefighter friends to do just that.

It’s hypocritical, unfair, illogical and many other things too, but the bottom line is this – as a society, we tolerate strikes and various protest actions by established unions with actual political clout, and do the exact opposite with regards to students.

So with that in mind the students need to change their tactics. They have no hope of repeating the Printemps Erable, and shouldn’t want to go down that route anyways. While protests did allow for a maintenance of the tuition freeze, it did not result in any major changes to benefit the provincial economy, nor did it do much of anything to get austerity measures off the table. Jean Charest did not lose the 2012 election because of how he handled the student strike, but more because of the perceived corruption of his administration. In the end a PQ minority government was formed that lasted about 18 months and ended with the Quebec Liberals returning to power, albeit with a majority government and a presumed mandate to do what was necessary to get Quebec back in the green. The Marois administration did nothing of consequence for Quebec, and after a year and a half of gaffes and poorly thought-out social policies were thrown out of office.

Hope and change may have been the ideal of 2012, but it was far from reality.

Fast forward to today and the students have an even greater battle before them. Couillard is premier until 2018 and doesn’t have the Charbonneau Commission into corruption and collusion in the construction industry dogging him. People don’t want to pay any more taxes and increasingly view the students as entitled if not hopelessly unrealistic.

I don’t necessarily share this view, and personally believe the cost of education should be lower than it is today by a considerable margin. I also believe education access, standards and funding should be nationalized and not an issue of provincial control.

That said, the case needs to be made in a different way. Street battles with police do not and will not change public perception in favour of the students.

Whereas once upon a time a photo like the one above would shock people out of their stupor and propel societal change, the videos and photos of police brutality are now shrugged at. Too many people in this province applaud the police for ‘teaching the brats a lesson’. Too many people in this city see street protests as an inexcusable inconvenience. And too many students seem to believe Paris ’68 is a fait accomplit, waiting just around the corner to happen here.

Dare I say it, it seems too many Quebec students are beginning to view protesting as a legitimate component of the student experience, something no university education is complete without.

Obviously this should not be the case; street protests should be a last resort, not the only card to be played.

I would welcome news from the student associations that they’ll make their case in a different way, one that doesn’t resort to the same tired tactics that basically boil down to disorganized street theatre and opportunities to deploy a ludicrously expensive riot squad. By protesting, students are actively adding to provincial and municipal debt – all those cops on the riot squad are paid bonuses, overtime, danger pay etc.

And they most definitely will be paid. Their unions are stronger than the student unions by a considerable margin.

As was the case in 2012, the students’ grievance is not self-evident and there seems to be a lack of cohesive planning and purpose. If the public doesn’t even understand why students are protesting, or what they’re proposing in lieu of austerity, there’s no hope the students will ever be able to change public opinion in their favour.

The few people who will change their minds after seeing a photo like the one above won’t make waves and won’t result in societal change. If there’s a case to be made against austerity (and there is), it should be clear, concise and to the point.

It also shouldn’t prevent students from attending class.

When trying to educate the public about an alternative way forward, it seems remarkably foolish to me to begin by making enemies first on campus (by disrupting classes, such as we witnessed at Concordia this week) and then with logical potential allies.

How much do you want to bet ASSÉ never reached out to the SPVM or their union?

Operation Gamescan 76

Operation Gamescan 76 by Michael Brun, National Film Board of Canada

Operation Gamescan 76.

Roll that around on your tongue for a moment.

It was a thing. It happened here.

And if you find the name as intriguing as I do, you’re in luck. Operation Gamescan 76 is damned fascinating, especially when you consider it within the context of how we do large scale security operations nowadays, not to mention the actual capabilities of our current military. I say this because I believe Gamescan 76 was a demonstration of a high water mark attained by the Canadian military, at a time many today think it was ill equipped and purposeless.

And if you don’t give a damn about military propaganda, that’s fine too. It’s not exactly a propaganda piece to begin with. If you like archival footage of Montreal in the ‘good old days’ of the mid-1970s, then this video’s for you. The city looked good that summer.

But on to the issue at hand – what was Gamescan 76?

Simply put, during the 1976 Summer Olympics and for several months before it, this city of Montreal was a veritable fortress or modern citadel.

16,000 personnel were deployed just to Montreal and the affiliated sites of the Olympic Games, providing not only security, but communications, logistics, medical and even protocol services for the Olympics. They had combat fighter aircraft at their immediate disposal, in addition to various transports and surveillance aircraft, not to mention a considerable number of helicopters. Several large warships were deployed to provide additional support and elements of the Airborne Regiment, precursor to today’s JTF-2 and Canadian Special Operations Regiment, were on standby, ready to rappel or parachute into anywhere in and around Montreal in a moment’s notice.

Operation Gamescan 76 was and likely still is the single largest peacetime Canadian military operation, ever. What’s particularly interesting to me is that it was done without withdrawing forces deployed in West Germany (Canada had a mechanized brigade deployed in support of NATO, supported by its own air wing and occupying two bases at the time, representing about 5,000 personnel), the Sinai, Golan Heights or Cyprus (three large peacekeeping deployments we were involved in at the time, representing several thousand more troops and their equipment). At the time the bulk of our local air force was operating in support of NORAD and most of our Navy was Atlantic-centric and almost exclusively focused on hunting Soviet submarines. And yet despite this absolutely massive deployment of Canadian Forces personnel and major equipment assets, we could still manage to pull together 16,000 military personnel and provide them all the equipment they needed to ensure Canada’s first Olympic Games would not suffer the same fate as Munich four years earlier.

Munich. The brutal murder of Israeli athletes by masked terrorists, captured live by television cameras and broadcast into tranquil living rooms the world over. What was supposed to be a triumph for liberal, reformed post-war West Germany became a spectacle so tragic and awful some commentators honestly thought the Olympics as an institution would crumble. Who would risk hosting a Games if terrorists could slaughter athletes on the six o’clock news? Who would pay for the security that would be required to prevent such a thing from happening again, who had the expertise to handle such an immense project scope, and who could be reasonably expected to deliver on all fronts?

It was obvious at the time that the Canadian Forces would take on the job so as not to overburden local law enforcement, leaving the bulk of the Montreal police and Sureté du Québec to focus on their day to day affairs.

The military would secure the city, the island, the key nodes of transport, command and communications, and most importantly the Olympic Park and its affiliated sites. The out of town troops took up residence in public schools closed for the summer, the depot at Longue Pointe housed all Games-related equipment and was humming along twenty-four hours a day. The military was deployed to all the airports in the region at that time (there were five by my count, including Mirabel, Dorval, St. Hubert, the Victoria STOLport and the old Cartierville airport, the latter two no longer exist), and patrolled the highways and port as well. Throughout the documentary I marvelled at the fact that the overwhelming bulk of work was carried out by soldiers armed only with walkie-talkies, binoculars and metal detectors.

We had several thousand people employed to literally ‘keep an eye on things’, and several thousand more coordinating and communicating everything they saw.

What really strikes me is how few guns you see in this documentary. When you do see Canadian soldiers well equipped with the latest fighting gear, it’s principally when deployed abroad. Throughout the doc the Canadian Forces look pretty geeky – it seems as though the bulk of the security apparatus in 1976 were lanky young men in their late teens or early twenties, in their dress uniforms (no camouflage), without any prominently displayed guns or offensive fighting equipment.

In other words, it was discrete. Subtle security. The documentary points this out several times.

Quite a contrast to security at the most recent Canadian Olympiad. Fewer than 5,000 Canadian Forces were deployed to two sites at the 2010 Vancouver Games, backed up by 5,000 law enforcement and about the same number of private security contractors. Security was armed, armoured and obvious. I would argue the collective whole of modern public security is menacing and invasive, and based on the video evidence offered here, it seems efforts were made to make the military look and behave truly as an aid to the civil power. It seems that they were keen to demonstrate the military being used differently, and to not offend the public by appearing overly menacing. The images of armed soldiers patrolling city streets during the October Crisis were still quite fresh in people’s collective memory.

So what we have here is archival footage of how they struck a balance. Yes, a massive amount of Canadian military strength was available and operational in Montreal at the time, controlling a security, communications and logistics operation of epic proportions we’d have trouble, I’d argue, doing again today. It just wasn’t particularly intrusive given its size.

It was the era of less is more I suppose. Government didn’t want images of men with rifles in newspapers or on television. Today the opposite is true; remember the G8/G20 Summit in Toronto? That would have been unfathomable in any Canadian city in 1976.

Today our government wants to empower a formerly outward facing spy agency to turn inwards with all the power of your local police force, and quite possibly make dissent a crime worthy of prosecution. Protesting may be considered terrorism, for your security (as the mitten-wearing class in Ottawa tells us day after day – limitations to our freedoms and liberties are always being done for our security…)

Forty years ago the military could provide security with binoculars and radios. Today the police has become militarized while the military and the state’s intelligence services are being used for police purposes. We are told constantly that we are not secure, not safe, and that an attack is eminent. We are even told that recent attacks in Ottawa and Saint Jean sur Richelieu were terrorist attacks, though the culprits in both cases had no ties to international terrorism and both were known to have suffered from severe mental illness.

In 1976 government spent no amount of time trying to convince the people we were threatened by terrorism. They spent their time coming up with films like this to show the discrete and sophisticated ways by which they assisted in actually providing high level security to the nation’s gleaming metropolis.

As I mentioned above I find this film infinitely fascinating, at least in part because it seems to be evidence of a far better use of government resources to achieve a superior end result.

And it wasn’t even that long ago either… how far have we let things go since then?

Gutting the City

Dix-30 aerial photoAn aerial view of Quartier Dix-30 in Brossard. Not my work. Ceci n’est pas une ville.

We need a Dix-30 styled “innovative multi-use urban project” like we need a gaping hole in the head.

For one, there’s nothing innovative about shopping malls.

For two, TMR’s industrial park is hardly urban.

For three, it’s projects like these that lead to boarded up windows on Saint Catherine or Saint Lawrence.


Let’s back up a bit.

There’s a firm that’s aiming to build a massive brand new shopping, entertainment, hotel and office park at the intersection of highways 15 and 40 in the Town of Mount Royal’s industrial park.

They’re calling it 15/Quarante and so far have refused to go into anything but the absolute vaguest of details. It’s the same company, Carbonleo Realty, who’s responsible for the Quartier Dix-30 shopping mega complex built in Brossard to much undeserved fanfare a few years back.

Now this same company is looking to repeat its success on island, on a significant portion of real estate currently occupied by factories and warehouses.

And who needs that right?

Instead they plan on replacing the means of production with the means of mass consumption and build big box stores.

They’re also indicating office towers and – get this – a concert hall – are all in the works.

I’m telling you right now: there will never be a concert hall located in TMR’s industrial park. That’s bullshit right there. Multiplex movie theatre – sure, why not, that could happen.

But concert hall?

Nope. Not ever.

For one there’s no way public money would serve to build in TMR what has just been built in a more sensible location at Place des Arts.

As to office towers, again, I’m very skeptical. A landing corridor passes right over that highway junction and it’s debatable whether Montreal on the whole needs more office space.

I can imagine there’s plenty of reason to suspect a mega mall in the style of Dix-30 would work (in that it would make money for the Town of Mount Royal and for the developer); there’s already a lot of that in that area anyways and there’s interest in redeveloping the old Blue Bonnets race track into a large residential project. The mall proposed would thus be located close to a large body of people and at a major traffic junction. How could it fail?

This is precisely what the people at Decarie Square, Place Vertu, the Cavendish Mall and that other short-lived mall further south on Decarie (that was abandoned throughout much of the 1990s) were thinking. The rules of retail and real estate are the same – location, location, location. And superficially it makes sense they would choose to locate the mall in the area they’ve chosen.

The first problem I see is that adding a mega mall will only exacerbate congestion. Without a considerable public investment in redeveloping the surrounding roadways the proposed mega mall runs the risk of being inconvenient to get to despite its proximity to major traffic systems and residential areas.

The second and bigger problem is that projects of this size wind up destroying independent businesses and obliterating established commercial thoroughfares. If we want more successful small businesses on The Main, on Saint Catherine, on Saint Denis, Queen Mary and Notre Dame West, we can’t allow for more big box stores and shopping malls. It’s really just that simple. I think the single greatest economic challenge to Montreal in the last forty years is the threat posed by large multi-national retailers who sell high-volumes of attractive garbage at unbeatable prices. We should have legislation on the books to keep such companies out of our city simply to maintain competitiveness and entrepreneurialism.

Simply put.

If you are a capitalist you should be against projects like this and just about every ‘big box’ retailer operating in our city.

They are literally undermining the economic foundations of our city.

Yes, it’s true the Economist ranked Montreal as the world’s second best city to live in (absurdly taking a back seat to Toronto, the city fun forgot).


As much as I love Montreal, we need to face reality and acknowledge we got the high rank simply because it’s cheap to live here and broadly speaking we enjoy a high standard of life. It was not because of any local economic or political dynamism, that’s for sure.

A Brookings Institute study that came out roughly around the same time as the Economist report put Montreal in 285th place out of 300 major world cities in terms of economic productivity.

And more locally the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses put Montreal dead last in terms of best cities for doing business in Canada.

Given the state the world’s in right now, sure, Montreal’s a great place to live to ride out the storm.

We know we have an enduring economic problem in this city, and have been particularly vocal of late, bemoaning job losses, folding restaurants and boarded-up windows.

And yet, we do nothing to fight that which is driving these failures. The answer to some of our economic problems lie in protectionist legislation at the municipal level.

Every time a new McDonald’s, a new Starbucks, a WalMart, Home Depot, Tim Horton’s or Target opens up, small businesses fall by the dozens, and with it goes a crucial component of our city’s economic foundation. The city needs to stand up for competitiveness, choice and entrepreneurialism by promoting small business over volume retailers and corporate chains.

It’s the highly localized investment capital generated by small businesses that form the real backbone for long term economic growth, as family run businesses are passed down from generation to generation and local legacies are established. In the long run the city benefits from the regular returns of these businesses far more than could possibly be expected from high volume retailers and franchises that are notorious for short shelf lives.

In sum, malls die and are emblematic of unsustainable economic policies. The downtown core has already demonstrated the adverse effects of ‘chain and franchise’ dominance, and as a result feels increasingly alien. Sainte Catherine is more a poor man’s Times Square than something iconically Montreal; the neon used to advertise theatres, cabarets and restaurants. Today it advertises the exact same stores I find in the shopping malls of suburbia or the Underground City.

And it’s for that reason that I rarely find myself on Sainte Catherine or shopping downtown. Too little choice.

The last time I can recall spending an afternoon ‘out shopping’ was last summer on Bernard in the Mile End. I went across town from where I was living at the time and walked along the street, stopping in several stores (all independently owned) and making a variety of purchases, some planned, others more spontaneous. Then I got a bite to eat at a local bistro, had an espresso and then met up with a friend to have a drink on a terrace.

Yes, conceivably I’ll be able to do all this, and possibly more, at the proposed TMR Mega Mall.

But I wouldn’t on principle no matter what kind of branded lifestyle or savings it promises.

I don’t think I’m alone either.

In any event, I don’t know how to close this, so here’s Glenn Castanheira of the Saint Lawrence Merchant’s Association discussing why he thinks it’s a bad idea on CTV Montreal… and Castanheira again in debate with the Mayor of the Town of Mount Royal, Philippe Roy.

Nine Reasons Why the Métro Blue Line Won’t be Extended Above Ground

Ceci n'est pas une système de tram
Ceci n’est pas une système de tram

Call it a problem of thinking aloud…

Last Wednesday Denis Coderre was musing about public transit expansion and improvement when he let slip that he thought it might be possible for the Blue Line’s projected expansion to be moved outdoors.

His argument was simple – the average cost of at-grade light rail is roughly a quarter of what it would cost to extend the Métro underground.

And this is true, to a point.

However, there are several reasons why the Métro cannot be expanded outdoors, which I’ve listed here:

1. Our Métro trains aren’t designed to be used outside. This is true of the existing Métro trains as well as the new Azur trains (production of which has been delayed six months because the automated control software doesn’t work – the trainsets were ordered in 2010); ergo, if the Blue Line were extended above ground, the line would require an entirely new set of trains designed with outdoor operations in mind.

2. It’s because the system is ‘sealed off’ from the elements that we’ve been able to get so much service out of our Métro trains. The oldest trains have been in service since 1966. They would not have lasted nearly as long had they had to contend with snow, slush, corrosive road salt etc. (not to mention the wear and tear on the exposed tracks and the problems inherent with using an electrified third rail at ground level). We want the Azurs to be inservice even longer than the MR-63s and MR-73s – exposing them to the elements they weren’t designed to encounter will likely result in a shorter operational lifespan.

3. Alternatively, it is possible that an entirely new train be created to operate both inside tunnels and above ground, and this hypothetical train could operate exclusively on the Blue Line. This would be expensive. It would also prevent any future ‘interlining’ initiatives (wherein trains could hypothetically switch lines while in operation, offering more potential routes) and eliminate an efficient aspect of the Métro’s original design. If the whole reason behind considering the above ground extension option is cost effectiveness and efficiency, this is the wrong way to go about it.

4. Subterranean mass transit systems are subterranean for a reason. Usually, the presence of buildings above ground is the chief motivating factor for burrowing underneath. This is pretty elementary. It’s also why subway systems are typically found in the most densely populated parts of the city. So we need to ask ourselves – where is this above ground extension supposed to go? The AMT’s plan has been to follow Jean Talon Boulevard east from Saint-Michel station towards a likely terminus at the junction of highways 40 and 25 at the Galleries d’Anjou. If it’s too expensive to tunnel underground, how expensive will it be to expropriate the land necessary for a new above ground rail line?

5. Alternatively, if the above ground extension were to be simply a tram line running on Jean Talon Boulevard, why go to the trouble of integrating it into the Métro system? Call it a tram and have people transfer onto the Métro at Saint-Michel. Again, if keeping costs down is the ultimate goal, creating a Métro line that requires its own trains and operates both as a subway and a tram is not the way to go about it. It would require a substantial investment in new technology and infrastructure, and the Blue Line simply doesn’t generate enough traffic to merit it. The Blue Line is underused – it is the only Métro line to use six car trains rather than the standard nine car trains.

6. Trams are fundamentally different from the Métro and have different service expectations. Our Métro trains don’t have to contend with traffic, their routing and speed is centrally controlled by a computer. Unless the tram line is grade separated or otherwise runs on an express right of way, it would have to deal with traffic congestion on the street it runs on. Automated controls wouldn’t work with half the line having to deal with street traffic. Again, this would be an expensive alternative to what’s already assumed to be too expensive.

7. The mayor is right to be thinking with an eye to efficiency. Yes, tunnels are expensive and yes, light rail systems offer an efficient alternative. There’s considerable interest in developing a mass transit system based on standard gauge railways – which Montreal has in excess – and, based on the most recent news, will be building more of. Light rail’s main advantage is that it uses the same tracks used by heavy rail – freight, passenger and commuter – but can also be integrated into the existing roadway network. The other advantage is that a hypothetical light rail system would likely be electrically powered by overhead wires, the same method currently favoured by the AMT for its commuter rail lines. But integrating light rail with our existing Métro system would likely be a step too far, presenting a multitude of new costs. For this reason we should be prioritizing tram development over the Blue Line extension generally speaking.

8. But this doesn’t mean we should rule out the Métro altogether. If the province has earmarked $1 billion to be spent on the Métro, spend it on system improvement first. Before expanding, we need to assess what we have and bring it up to the highest possible standard. If there are deficiencies in the current system design, fix those defects first. Consider how few of our Métro stations are universally accessible. Or the complete and total lack of public washrooms. And let’s face it – some of our stations are downright ugly and most are aesthetically dated. Renovating and improving what we have could help encourage greater use and fundamentally, this ought to be our primary concern. Moreover, is the Blue Line the most deserving and requiring of expansion? Wouldn’t it be more effective and useful to close the Orange Line loop instead? Or to improve the tracks so as to permit line-switching, in turn allowing for express Métro trains?

Isometric view of Edouard-Montpetit Métro station's original design

9. And if the money is to be spent specifically on the Blue Line, wouldn’t it be wiser to increase the line’s usefulness? One of the reasons I suspect is responsible for the generally lower usage rate and smaller trains on the Blue Line is that it doesn’t connect directly to the downtown core, but rather serves to move people to either side of the Orange Line. Originally, the Blue Line was supposed to be connected to the Mount Royal Tunnel at Edouard-Montpetit station, permitting Métro users to transfer onto commuter trains underground for the five minute trip to Gare Centrale. If there was ever an improvement to make, this is it. It would give the Blue Line an entirely new raison-d’etre, cut down on passenger congestion on the Orange Line and Parc and Cote-des-Neiges bus corridors. Most importantly, it would provide an excellent impetus to Blue Line expansion in both directions, given that the Métro primarily serves to move citizens between the urban first ring residential neighbourhoods and the Central Business District.

Now, all that said, a few things to consider. The Blue Line extension project was a PQ initiative and so far all it is is a feasibility study whose results are due later on this year. The AMT is not actively planning a new Métro Line, just doing a study on an extension project that dates back to the mid-1980s. I’m not sure what it is they’re studying for the umpteenth time. The current Liberal government is not actively pursuing the Blue Line project – the official line is ‘wait for the feasibility study’.

Light rail seems to have a bright future in our city – based on the recent ‘agreement in principle’ with the Caisse de Dépot et Placement concerning infrastructure project financing, rail systems will be prioritized in the near term (such as the Train de l’Ouest) and light rail will hopefully be integrated into the new Champlain Bridge and airport express projects. Light rail is an attractive and generally uncomplicated option.

So let’s not re-invent the wheel trying to integrate outdoor rail systems with a very unique subway.

I don’t think we can handle any more feasibility studies.