Category Archives: Political commentary

Mordecai Richler’s Ghost

Mordecai Richler - 1983 - photo credit to Ryan Remiorz

In case you’ve had your head stuck under a rock for the last few weeks, a petition has been put forth by City Councilor Marvin Rotrand to have something named after Richler before the 10th anniversary of death this July. If you’d like to sign the petition, go here. Among other things considered, Fairmount Street, St-Urbain Street and the Mile End Library.

If you’d like to find out what the President of the St-Jean Baptiste Society thinks, go here. As you can imagine, the mere mentioning of this great writer’s name in certain circles got the Independence-minded swimming in circles, defiant to the last that nothing should ever honour this writer. You see, Mordecai Richler secretly hated all French-Canadians. I say secretly because he was so good at keeping his hatred hidden deep down inside that there are virtually no examples, no even shitty, half-assed examples, of his hatred for all things Québecois.

And, ten years after the man’s death, no one has found anything to nail his ass to the wall, so to speak.

That being said, Rotrand’s proposal has come under fire from the lunatic fringe of the Québec Independence movement, as there is a general perception of Richler, among certain circles, as an anti-Québecois racist.

Unfortunately, when it comes time to deal with that pesky thing called proof, the irrational and misguided Patriotes tend to point fingers in all directions except Richler’s work. there’s a feeling he may be a racist which isn’t backed up by legitimate information. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Could it be as a result of the separatist fringe’s unwillingness or disinterest to sit down and actually read his books, whether fiction or non-fiction?

I haven’t read much of his work, and don’t worry, I’m already on my own case for being so negligent. It’s a New Years resolution of mine. However, I have read his extremely controversial 1992 non-fiction essay, Oh Canada! Oh Québec!, which itself was largely based on a series of essays he penned for some major international publications, such as the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly. When I say controversial, I mean to say it was perceived as such. I personally couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about.

For many years Richler was as much the quintessential Canadian essayist as he was an author of fiction, and herein lies the source of the controversy. He lambasted politicians from both sides of the constitutional debates of the late-1980s and early-1990s, and was vilified by French-Canadians as much as the Jewish community of Montr̩al, which at one point called him an anti-Semite. He exposed the dark and, at times, plain old retarded aspects of the Canadian mentality (regardless of faith or religion Рthe ties that bind in our case can be embarrassing).

Here is a video of an interview Mr. Richler gave to the SRC back in 1991, a year before his essay hit the bookshelves. It seems as if most of the controversy arose from Richler’s claims that many key intellectual supporters of Québec independence demonstrated clear anti-Semitic tendencies. It doesn’t help our cause when we’ve gone ahead and named so many things after these people, such as Lionel Groulx and Henri Bourassa. Moreover, Richler indicates that the rest of the world – his international audience – finds our constitutional problems to be laughable. I suppose they were, especially when you consider we could just have easily have gone down the road traveled by the Balkan States at the same time. Moreover, Groulx and Bourassa were definitely anti-Semites, and they in turn were the product of the Catholic mini-theocracy which existed here prior to the Quiet Revolution (which Richler cleverly points out owed its 1960 victory to Anglophone votes from Montréal, as Francophones were still major supporters of the Duplessis Regime and the Union Nationale). More than anything else, Richler pointed out one effective truth about separatist hard-liners. They won’t allow you to criticize them, and are generally poor at being self-critical. If they were, I doubt they’d be in favour of separation.

And Lionel Groulx was a virulent anti-Semite and fascist. He may have been the first writer of nationalist Québecois history, but he also wrote that Dollard-des-Ormeaux died a martyr to our cause. In reality, he attacked an Iroquois hunting-party and paid for his violent tendencies with his life. But this has been swept aside by so many revisionist textbooks…

In any event, I implore all Montréalers to go out and read any one of his books and write me back if they can find any proof of anti-French or anti-Québecois sentiment. And remember, he was a satirist, so tread carefully.

As far as renaming something in his honour – I have a far better idea. Use whatever money which would otherwise go to renaming something instead to finance a film production of any of his novels. That way, everyone can see his work for themselves, and it would clearly honour his memory while simultaneously making it available for all to see. that, or buy everyone a copy of Solomon Gursky Was Here

The problem with lobby groups…

This story from CBC’s Montréal affiliate caught my attention because its an issue I’ve been considering for some time. The Métro of Montréal was not originally designed for the disabled, and the STM has been trying to fix this problem for the last few years. You’ll notice there are elevators at the main junction stations (Lionel-Groulx and Berri-UQAM) in addition to Bonaventure Station, a principle downtown station with excellent access to the Underground City. Not exactly convenient for the disabled among us. However, its not as though the disabled are completely without transit options. Aside from the fact that most of the Underground City is accessible (with the exceptions of the Métro network) notice that the STM’s bus fleet is largely wheelchair accessible, and there is an adapted transit network, both public and private.

It seems as if the City isn’t planning on sticking to its former time-table, with three new elevators installed at three stations per year until the whole system is deemed ‘accessible’. They have taken a shaky first step several years ago by removing seats from Métro cars (which really only mean they could jam more passengers in during rush-hour since the system still isn’t suited for wheelchair access in general). The lobby group RAPLIQ wants the City to do more to make the Métro accessible, though, with elevator costs coming in at an estimated $15 million per, its unlikely too much money will be set aside to accomplish a full renovation of the system anytime soon.

What bugs me is this: exactly how many disabled people actually live in this city and have a legitimate need to use the Métro? If it were 1% that would mean there are 16,000 fully disabled people needing elevator access. Since I’m guessing the actual figure is less than 1%, we need to use the existing adaptive transit infrastructure as well as possible. Simply put, if RAPLIQ feels as though adapted transit isn’t up to par with their expectations, then perhaps the change ought to be made to the existing service, as opposed to the actual Métro stations.

A suggestion for an interim solution: individual-use lifts which can be fitted over existing staircases with a call-box to the service kiosk. It’s not ideal, and may prove to be a bit of a hassle for the STM employees called out to help people get down into the Métro system, but it will certainly be less expensive than an elevator. Moreover, the current elevators being used are awfully small, especially when compared to much larger express-elevators used in other major transit systems that can transport 40+ people at a time. If the STM wants to continue installing elevators in the Métro, then they should only consider very large capacity systems at a certain number of high-traffic systems. But, given how few disabled people actually live in this city, it makes me wonder whether this money wouldn’t be better spent on extending the system or hours of operation. That would benefit far more people, more often, than elevators.

Judith Woodsworth pulls a Sarah Palin @ CON-U

For the second time in three years, Concordia University is sans president. Another one bites the dust, and much like other presidents and VPs from the past few years, she will receive a major severance package to quit. The Gazette’s Peggy Curran indicates that it seems as though Ms. Woodsworth was under rather intense scrutiny from within, and was in essence pushed out.

Hmmm, $700,000 to quit your job? Is there any wonder why the youth of today have so little in common with The Man, and so little respect for those who run our institutions? The Man thinks it deserves to be rewarded for not completing their job. Just like how Palin quit being Governor of Alaska to eventually have her own reality TV show. Think about what stories like this actually say: don’t worry if you can’t do your job properly, you can always quit and make double what you would have normally earned. Talk about abusing the trust and faith of the people; this kind of thing only happens at the top. Down at the bottom, whether in a factory or in class, failure costs you. Why do we constantly reward the failures of our elites with big-time payouts?

Of course, being from the corporate side of modern academia, who could blame her for graciously accepting the pay-off and jumping ship? I mean, she needs to be free to move up the corporate ladder no?

Just in case anyone was wondering, her $700,000 Christmas gift could have paid the equivalent of 20 scholarships for full time study. I guess we can be thankful that, unlike in the USA, Ms. Woodsworth will be heavily taxed for her ‘earnings’.

Lambasting Larry Smith

Apologies for the delay, glad to say I just finished exam season and have a lot more free time. And wouldn’t you know it, the Irony Gods threw me a solid. Larry Smith became a senator, announced his intention to run as an MP, and put his foot solidly in his own mouth, all in the span of the last week. Quite an achievement indeed.

You see, our dear Mr. Smith, ever the everyman, announced publicly he views the $132,000 he’ll make as a Senator, a dramatic, catastrophic pay cut. I can only imagine the kind of money he made as coach of the Alouettes.

If you’d like to make a charitable donation to help Larry make it through this tough holiday season, visit Save Larry Smith.

If you’d like to publicly humiliate Mr. Smith for his egregious statement, possibly via tar-and-feather method, the intrepid appointed Senator has stated he won’t just waltz into cabinet, as some suspect. He believes he must earn a spot in Cabinet and so will run as a Tory candidate in the Lac-St-Louis riding.

Hmmm, so he’s got a problem with being appointed to Cabinet, yet no problem with being appointed to Senate. is it me or is this guy completely unaware of the world he lives in?

Montréal needs more Conservative representation like a hole in the head. Moreover, it’s been solid Liberal turf for more than twenty years. While this doesn’t necessarily guarantee a win next election, I would hope that most West Island residents see this for the ploy it is. Its clear right out of the gate that Mr. Smith is not an appropriate representative of the people of Montreal’s suburbs. The Tories are remarkably absent from representing Canada’s major urban centers, and with mouthpieces like Larry Smith, they only further spoil their image and demonstrate the vast differences between them and the overwhelming majority of Canadians. That they have the balls to call Liberals or NDPers elitist is simply beyond the pale. Yet, I’m not pessimistic as many Canadians are, and I’m hoping this holiday season for a Tory defeat comparable to the disaster of the 1993 federal election.

As the video points out quite clearly, nepotism is ripe in the Conservative Party of Canada, and the Senate is more and more of a joke with every appointment. They’re driving themselves into the ground. I couldn’t be happier.

Concordia students reject sketchy Faubourg acquisition project

The Faubourg Ste-Catherine

Now that Concordia students have voted against the Concordia Student Union’s proposed student centre at the Faubourg, let us take a step back and consider this project objectively, as I’m certain this issue will be back on the table with the next CSU general election. I had the privilege of being elected by the students of Concordia back in 2006 when I ran with the Experience slate, and the Faubourg project was a major motivating factor in my resignation from the CSU in October of that year. Since then I’ve completely abstained from any involvement with Concordia student politics, as I’ve yet to see any change in the culture of nepotism and self-entitlement that was so painfully apparent back in 2006. Keep in mind, this culture has been stimulated by the Concordia administration for years, and projects like the Faubourg are so rife with inherent corruptions and conflicts-of-interest, they stand more than anything else as a testament to a shared political impotence on campus. If something isn’t done soon, any hope of maintaining an institutional memory of self-criticism will be lost, as the Faubourg project already demonstrates. Perhaps it will be the job of future generations of Concordia students to form a critical opposition from scratch, but I would hope we could avoid the intervening years of navel-gazing.

To begin with, the entire scheme reminds me of the expression ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ – why are the indebted students being asked to provide the funds for university real estate? Whatever money the CSU has collected through fee-levies – an estimated $7 million so far – is literally a drop of water in an immense bucket when compared to the long-term acquisition, renovation, reparation and maintenance of a major piece of downtown property. And let’s not mince words – there are no other properties being considered. Aside from the fact that a proposed student centre would require a generally large and continuous piece of property, it would necessarily have to be within the Quartier Concordia. There are few empty lots within the neighbourhood, so new construction is pretty much out of the question (not to mention, if it costs an estimated $50 million to renovate the Faubourg, a new building would be entirely prohibitive based on cost alone). That said, if there are few open lots for new development, there are fewer buildings whose owners are seeking to self-off their property for total re-development. So if the CSU or Concordia administration ever tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the students again by insinuating there are multiple pieces of property under consideration, you’ll know this is bullshit – categorically.

Since we know the Faubourg is, for the time being, the only property being considered by the university, let us consider it. It’s a very old building, originally constructed in the 1920s as a car dealership. It was thoroughly renovated between 1984 and 1986, at which time the Faubourg tower was constructed. Originally, it was designed as an urban market in the same vein as New York City’s Fulton Seaport Market or Baltimore’s Harbour Place. The neighbourhood needed the Faubourg at the time, and it stimulated the renaissance of the Shaughnessy Village, in conjunction with the development of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the LaSalle College building and Concordia’s Library Building. The new project featured office space, a 200-room hotel, condos, a fitness centre, cinema, an international market and many restaurants. Since about 2005 however, the Faubourg hasn’t quite been itself and it seems as though the current owner is quite motivated to sell it off. Enter Jonathan Wener, the man who has been pushing the CSU to acquire the Faubourg ever since he proposed the project to the CSU executive at his ostentatious summer home in the Laurentians back in 2006. I don’t know if Mr. Wener will receive a commission for his role in securing the sale, though I think he’d be remiss not to pursue one. Besides, he made a pretty penny selling the old student centre to Jacques Villeneuve – a bad precedent was set years ago. As he explained it to us four years ago, the student centre could be whatever we wanted it to be, insofar as all student activities were concentrated in this space. Also, the retail space would have to be maintained as is, with the CSU and administration apparently splitting the profits. It was not entirely clear what would happen with the Faubourg Tower, in which Concordia rents considerable space. According to the new plan, the university would also maintain administrative offices in the Faubourg, so whatever space is left over for the students would probably end up being quite small when compared with the overall surface area available in the building. Regardless, we were encouraged to imagine all the potential of this space, which was proposed to us in a manner designed to encourage special interest groups on campus. As I was going through the blueprints for the new Faubourg student centre, I was puzzled to see a large space labelled ‘Muslim prayer space’. Then it became quite clear what was going on – we were not being asked to consider a real estate project as much as we were being told how to sell it to the diverse political organizations on campus.

The university has diligently crafted a new image for itself since the Netanyahu protest got our Hall Building on CNN back in 2002. The new word on the street is that Concordia is the United Nations of universities, where people come from all over the world and participate in the shared pursuit of objective truth blah blah blah. I like the fact that this is generally true, but when it comes to the politics of multiculturalism, we couldn’t be more behind the times. While university spokesperson de jure Chris MoTa likes to point out all the different nationalities and cultures on campus by referencing the clubs sanctioned by the CSU, she does the university a disservice when she applies the same spirit of disingenuous tolerance when performing verbal and logical gymnastics necessary to defend the presence of Scientologists in the Library Atrium. The fact is that we are hardly a unified or cosmopolitan university, we are instead highly divided and played against each other, every single year, during the CSU election. The parties each have their base of special interest groups on campus, and preach messages that would appeal to their base. There are few organizations that can truly claim to be inherently multicultural and open to all students, despite the fact that all campus organizations must be that way according to our own bylaws. Instead, we have excessive division, and those groups that are truly open and engaging are often in the minority and on the side of the political ‘left’ on campus. And so when it comes time to discuss a student centre, the exclusive special interest groups are appealed to with promises of special space in a special building just for them. Enter the Muslim prayer space. The MSA is by far one of the largest and best-organized student groups on campus, so much so that winning their vote is crucial to winning the CSU election. Is it any wonder we were encouraged to speak often about this space (I guess its more realistic to put a large prayer space for the MSA in the basement of the Faubourg than it is to ‘suspend’ a thousand-person auditorium on its roof)? What the students ought to be looking for in a student centre is a space for shared experience, cultural exchange and intellectual openness, and not a gallery proving our ‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance’ of one-another. As a favourite South Park character once pointed out, you tolerate a cold; cultures are meant to be embraced, they’re meant to be inclusive. How the CSU and the university treat the MSA is simply repugnant, and disingenuous to the open spirit of Islam, as they are both complicit in a divide and conquer method of managing the student body politic.

With this in mind, we become aware of the danger of allocating limited student space to a specific function for a specific group. And if the student centre is supposed to cater to all the specific needs of all the specific groups on campus, well, you realize just how quickly we’d render the limited space in the Faubourg quite useless. Its utterly futile to think everyone an be pleased all the time, and therefore, all student space must be, by its very nature, designed to encourage and foster a new collaborative spirit. So, multi-religious prayer space is fine, and the MSA can sign up with the Wiccans, Rastafari and Evangelical Christians on campus to share it. And of course all of this is aside from the fact that we ought to be more focused on the inherently open and objective arts and sciences than the various dogmas of different religions. By providing prayer or meeting space for any religious organization on campus we are tacitly supporting division between students in general, and a divided student body is much easier to control, far easier to please with bread and circuses.

I think a student centre is, in the long-run, a genuinely good idea, but the students should not be asked to pay for it, neither should we make any money off of it – let us be free of this corrupting influence. Whatever new plan is put forth by the university administration, we should be quick to counter any element of the plan designed to divide the student body and foster the development of special interest groups, as the building must reflect the spirit of the student body through form and function. And if the politically inclined on campus ever want their university to reflect a more progressive nature, a more philanthropic character, we can start by getting a lawyer to help the CSU free that seven million dollars for the student centre and have it used instead to provide thousands of poor Montrealers full university scholarships. The university is filled with people who can all talk a good political game, but its time for the self-congratulatory rhetorical auto-fellatio to stop. I’d recommend putting our money where our mouth is instead.

Sadly, this isn’t a joke…

Remember those fascists over at the SSJB Youth Wing and the Jeunes Patriotes du Québec? Well, it looks like they’re not entirely alone, as there’s a new group of right-wing extremists, and I’m not talking about Maxine Bernier’s half-hearted attempt at a comeback. These happy fellows are members of the Milice Patriotique Québecoise and seem to be well-acquainted with members from the RRQ and the rest of Québec’s backwards facing minority, which seem to have a fetish for death and destruction. If you listen to these people, they will tell you the Canadian Forces are preparing to invade Québec, slaughter the innocent, rape the land and inflict a genocide against the French. I thought it was a joke, but it seems to be somewhat legit.

Above is a video they put out, demonstrating their ability to play soldier. They are very good at playing soldier, my guess is that they’d put most 10 year-olds to shame with their impressive knowledge of crawling, running, kneeling, pointing, map-use and camouflage colour-coordination.

On a more serious note – do these people pose a threat to our society? A recent CBC Montréal story indicates that the group itself is purposely vague about who they feel threatened by, though its website and ‘promotional’ videos make it pretty clear they feel threatened, oddly, by the supposed presence of CSIS infiltrators and equally aggressive Anglo-extremist groups. Here’s a link to the Anglophone Patriots of Quebec, 17 members. And this is the seemingly dormant blog of the Defense Association of Anglophone Quebec. The MPQ also refers to a letter put out by the ‘Anglophone Assault Group’ which apparently sent a letter to Le Devoir in 1996 listing the sovereignists they intended on assasinating. The only reference I could find on Google was a reference in an article published in 1996 in Protem, the Glendon College newspaper (Glendon in a bilingual liberal arts college associated with York University).

All told, it seems as though this whole sordid affair is little more than a bunch of grownups feeling threatened by ‘the other’ and resorting to childhood fantasies of war, heroism and all that other shit. I can’t imagine these organizations are anything more than loose affiliations, but still – it makes your skin crawl.

The question is how best to respond to organizations of this type – extremist nationalists of any variety base their entire public image on the pretense of directed aggression against a self-described minority and the societal ideal of an individual willing to risk their lives in defense of the defenseless. But when the threat is imagined, there’s no limit to defensive posturing, no act nor preparation too extreme. In essence, it’s a carte-blanche for self-perpetuating extremism.

So I guess the bigger question is why these groups are reported on in the first place? I’ve always been critical of major anglophone media outlets in Montréal for covering the activities of the separatist fringe – drawing attention to them will only increase the fear, and the fear is ultimately baseless since these organizations have about an ice-cube’s chance in hell of carrying out a military action in defense of the people of Québec. Again, there’s no threat.