Tag Archives: Montréal Politics

City describes its own urban redevelopment project as ‘ambitious’

Montreal from the Belvedere, November 4th 1992 (credit to John Steedman)
Montreal from the Belvedere, November 4th 1992 (credit to John Steedman)

We may have come full-circle.

The City of Montreal recently released what it is describing as an ‘ambitious’ plan to redevelop the urban core of the city – what we ambiguously, perhaps ambitiously, call Downtown (though it for the most part occupies the plateau above the old city, but I digress) – in an effort to attract new residents and increase the population of Ville-Marie borough by 50,000 by 2030.

The city wants to attract seniors, young people and families (or, in other words, everyone) to the borough, the current population being about 85,000 over 16.5 square kilometres.

The borough includes Mount Royal and Parc Jean-Drapeau, not to mention Old Montreal and the Old Port, the Village, the Latin Quarter, the Quartier Sainte-Famille, Centre-Sud, Milton-Parc, the entire central business district, the Quartier des Spectacles, Griffintown, the Shaughnessy Village, Chinatown, the Square Mile and the Cité-du-Havre.

Adding 50,000 people to the very centre of Metropolitan Montreal by 2030 would bring the population of the borough up to over 130,000. Fifty years ago, the population of this area was 110,000, at which point it was already well on its way in its dramatic late-20th century population decline. By 1976 the population was estimated at 77,000 and by 1991 the population would fall all the way to about 68,000, it’s lowest number in recent memory. The population of the borough has grown modestly in the last 25 years, with measured increases in five-year intervals ranging from 4.2 to 6.5 per cent.

For comparisons sake, the Plateau’s current population is about 100,000, the Sud-Ouest is at 71,000 and Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the largest borough by population, is about 165,000.

Queen's Hotel, shortly before its demolition, ca. 1993 - Michel Seguin
Queen’s Hotel, shortly before its demolition, ca. 1993 – Michel Seguin

Bringing Ville-Marie’s population up to 130,000 would be quite an accomplishment, though it’s not an altogether hard sell. Not to be flip, but it’s basically where everything is.

And it would also mean that the urban depopulation of Montreal, an unfortunate and enduring consequence of the city’s urban planning efforts of the 1960s and 1970s, will have been reversed, perhaps permanently.

To me that’s a far greater accomplishment than simply facilitating an existing growth trend, and I wish the city much success. I would like to see and feel a ‘downtown’ with a population roughly equivalent to the its last high-water mark, back in the 40s, 50s and 60s. If it works, it’s reasonable to assume the population of the surrounding boroughs would likely also increase. More people living in the city, within walking distance of the services they need and the places they work, is exactly what the city should be proposing and facilitating.

But again, it’s not a hard sell, and the trends are already pointing in this direction. It may ultimately be Montreal’s saving-grace; unlike other depopulated urban centres in the Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence and North-East corridor, Montreal has succeeded in enhancing the overall quality of life of its urban core and has been slowly winning back residents.

Where the Coderre administration could have distinguished itself was a concrete plan with defined targets, and in this case, prepare to be disappointed.

Former Canadian Vickers Building, ca. 1990 by Michel Seguin
Former Canadian Vickers Building, ca. 1990 by Michel Seguin

The announced ‘ambitious’ plan is remarkable in how little specific information is required to attain the quality of ambition. They want to boost the population with no clear indication where they might live, nor what kind of housing will be needed (though they did make mention of Griffintown as being poorly planned, as too many housing units are too small and too expensive… who’d have thought). The plan indicates a desire for new schools and greater access to the waterfront, both of which lie outside the city’s jurisdiction in that building schools is a provincial responsibility and the Old Port is a federal one. Coderre indicated the waterfront development would require control of the Old Port to be ceded to the city. Richard Bergeron, former Projet Montreal leader and the downtown’s appointed development strategist, wants a cohesive plan for the twenty-kilometre stretch between the Champlain and Cartier bridges, with half being open to the public, and the other half available for riverside housing.

It’s been discussed before. The mayor has spoken in the past of opening a beach in the Old Port and a vague desire to emulate other cities that apparently have ‘better’ access to their waterfronts.

Of course, there is always the matter of the Saint Lawrence’s current, not to mention the periodic direct sewage dumps… I’m not convinced we’ll be lining up to take a plunge in the drink any time soon without major physical alterations to the Old Port, such as creating breakwaters or jetties, and improving our water treatment capabilities.

Oddly, despite a steady 10% office vacancy rate, the plan also includes 800K square meters of new office space and 200K square meters of new commercial spaces. Again, this strikes me as a touch odd: Ville-Marie has a surplus of both and is already well-known as the commercial and office core of the whole metropolitan region. Do we need more of the same or better use of what already exists?

And if the mayor wants the manufacturing sector to return to the urban core of Montreal, perhaps we ought to reconsider our penchant to convert every square inch of remaining industrial space into condos?

Aerial photo of Downtown Montreal ca. 1993
Aerial photo of Downtown Montreal ca. 1993

The other ‘specific’ ideas the city has in mind are all ideas that have been mentioned in the past: renovating and rehabilitating Sainte-Catherine Street; more parks and green space; more bike baths; a ‘greenway’ from Mount Royal to the Saint Lawrence; transforming disused public buildings into multi-use developments that bring new uses to old heritage sites.

None of this is really news, the city’s been talking about this for years and you’d think it would obvious and didn’t need to be spelled out. It’s hard to take the city seriously when its grand strategy for urban redevelopment consists of simply doing what we expect the city to be doing already.

Were we not already seeking to preserve public buildings with heritage value by redeveloping them for new purposes? Were we not already seeking more green spaces and bike paths? Hasn’t redeveloping Sainte-Catherine Street been a priority for every mayor going back to Jean Doré?

I agree with Mayor Coderre in that urban economic redevelopment and repopulation won’t happen without better living conditions in the urban boroughs, but the quality of life in these boroughs is arguably already quite high. Ville-Marie in particular already has great parks and is the best connected borough in terms of access to public transit. Ville-Marie is the borough that requires the least improvement in these respects: Saint-Henri, Cote-des-Neiges, NDG, Verdun, the Plateau and HoMa would all benefit immensely from serious investments to improve transit and green-space access, and given generally lower housing costs in these areas compared to Ville-Marie, it would seem to me that it would be more effective to improve the quality of life in the inner suburbs first.

City Hall ca. early 1990s - credit to Clare and Ben (found on Flickr group Vanished Montreal)
City Hall ca. early 1990s – credit to Clare and Ben (found on Flickr group Vanished Montreal)

Better public transit access and a beautification campaign could have a greater impact if applied to the Sud-Ouest, HoMa Montréal-Nord and Verdun where population density is already high and home values are comparatively low. Moreover, these boroughs already have the public education infrastructure that will draw young families. Instead of building new schools, the city could have proposed a bold plan to renovate and rehabilitate existing schools, possibly even going as far as mandating local school boards share space in existing schools. The Anglo boards have a surplus of space in well-maintained schools and the Francophone boards have overcrowded schools in dire need of renovations; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the most efficient and cost-effective solution to this problem (and one that would be beneficial to everyone) is to share the space. The unnecessary linguistic segregation of Montreal’s schools is more than just an ethical problem; it’s economically unsustainable and only serves to undermine the quality of education in the public sector generally-speaking.

Imagine a different scenario where the City of Montreal was directly responsible for public schools infrastructure, and school boards, while maintaining their operational and institutional independence, could operate from any school building (and by extension would no longer be responsible for maintaining the physical space of education).

Downtown viewed from Avenue du Musée - date and photographer unknown; ca. 1970s
Downtown viewed from Avenue du Mus̩e Рdate and photographer unknown; ca. 1970s

In a sense, access to public education would increase without having to build new schools. Students could be redistributed more evenly and all boroughs would be able to offer education in either language, proportional to the respective linguistic populations.

That issue aside, it’s evident any new residential development within Ville-Marie borough should certainly plan for the necessary green spaces, transit and education access that would be required by 50,000 additional residents. I would argue Ville-Marie borough is definitely lacking in school access, but not in parks or transit access.

All in all what Coderre and Bergeron announced was little more than the intention to hold public consultations and come up with some guidelines for urban redevelopment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but it’s hardly an ambitious plan. I’m glad the city considers intelligent urban planning worthwhile, but without any concrete proposals they’re essentially telling us they have the intent to do their jobs. Lack of precision is politically-motivated: it’s hard to effectively criticize a mayor’s accomplishments if he doesn’t have any goals.

Brain Drain

Pierre-Karl Péladeau during a press scrum - credit to Toronto Star
Pierre-Karl P̩ladeau during a press scrum Рcredit to Toronto Star

Today was just one of those days I suppose. Perhaps you’ve had them too. A day were you read the paper and see the headlines and wonder just what it is you’re doing living in Montreal. Today wasn’t even particularly cold out either.

Rather, it was the enlightened goons who (somehow) managed to get elected to represent the collective interests of Quebec, with an apparent total disregard for the interests of many of its citizens, particularly those noble enough to stick it out in what’s increasingly starting to look like a city on the verge of real failure.

And I’ve been accused of being an apologist, not only for Montreal but Quebec as well.

In case this has all been too glib allow me to get straight to the point.

In an era of heightened awareness concerning campus sexual assault, the education minister has given his own ringing endorsement to fully legal strip searches of minors without parental consent or even police involvement, so long as it’s done in a ‘respectful’ manner. If you’ve just spewed coffee out onto your laptop reading that last sentence take a moment because there’s more. The strip searches are justified in terms of the student’s security, just like every invasion of the state into the personal domain. Always for our own interests, legally speaking. The reason this is news is because a fifteen year old girl was strip searched by her principle and another woman who worked at her Quebec City high school. They were looking for pot. They found nothing. The girl was coerced into removing all of her clothing without legal representation, without the involvement of police, an without notifying her parents.

She complained to a newspaper she felt violated. No kidding. This is Quebec in 2015 and it makes my blood boil.

Especially because you’d figure Yves Bolduc would have the common sense to realize he’s opened the door to so much potential abuse of minors in Quebec schools. Did he learn nothing from the Residential Schools Scandal?

And that’s just for starters.

Then the enlightened (pure sarcasm) head of the poorly named CAQ decided to let us all know he thinks every mosque in Quebec should be investigated so as to determine whether or not the imam/congregation preaches values that are in line with Quebec values.

What Quebec values?

The discrimination of ethnic and religious minorities? Undue persecution? Are those the values of which he speaks?

François Legault co-founded Air Transat. He was an education minister during the Landry Administration. He is an accomplished individual by any standard. Yet in Quebec he can afford to make statements such as these and be taken seriously, statements that would void whatever political credentials one might have in just about any other political jurisdiction. A career-limiting move, in corporate parlance.

Not here. In Quebec saying ‘every Muslim is guilty until proven innocent’ is just fine for the leader of a provincial political party. The only other political party in all of Canada that came close to this type of nonsense was the wildrose Party in Alberta and they imploded under the weight of their own ineptitude. Is it any wonder some Muslims living in Quebec (and by that I mean Montreal, let’s be real) don’t feel welcome and may actually get pushed towards embracing the more conservative if not fundamentalist aspects of their faith? They come here expecting liberty and tolerance and discover they’ve immigrated to the part of Canada that still hasn’t accepted Canadian values as defined in our constitution and charter.

Quebec is governed by a collective siege mentality that has ruined our economy and has entrenched social, cultural, political and economic divides across the province (all of which intersect as if at a bull’s eye squarely atop Montreal).

And then, rounding out the shameful day that was February 18th 2015 in Quebec, the heir-presumptive to the throne of the Parti Québécois, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, said that a referendum would not be necessary to achieve independence, and that a PQ electoral victory would be sufficient. A few hours later his aide would insist that this was not the case, that he misunderstood the question.

Independence. Nothing’s working and we’re still talking independence.

Some days I hate living here. Some days I hate living in the place I have always called home.

I don’t know why I’m able to somehow force myself not to be bothered by it on some days, while on others it forces me into the pits of despair. I also don’t know why I put up with it. Everyone I know tells me to leave or tells me that’s what they’ll tell their children; that there are no opportunities here, and that it’s foolish and naive to think things will change for the better.

I know too many people who made the right choice and left.

How awful it is to live in a city as tantalizing and generally enjoyable as Montreal, only to be made ultimately untenable by poisonous and petty provincial politics.

A Montreal Drive-By

Greene Ave at what is now Boul. de Maisonneuve, circa 1905
Greene Ave at what is now Boul. de Maisonneuve, circa 1905

So here’s the scene.

I’m standing with a friend while she waits for her lift on Greene Avenue in Westmount a few days back. We’re across from the entrance to Westmount Square, about half way between Saint Catherine’s and de Maisonneuve. As we’re chatting we notice a jaunty little tune is coming from somewhere. I figure it’s outdoor speakers at the new Cinq Saisons epicerie just up the way, but it’s getting louder.

We look up the annoyingly empty avenue and see a brilliant light coming our way and into focus.

It’s a rented U-haul pickup truck with a boom-box strapped to the hood and a gigantic menorah protruding from the flat in the rear, all lit up with lightbulbs.

As it rolled to a stop next to us, we saw two young Hasidic men in the cab, smiling from ear to ear.

They rolled down the window and wished us a Happy Hanukkah.

We smiled and returned the sentiment. And then they drove off, just like that.

A Montreal Drive-By…

***

I suppose some might be offended by such a thing, though this certainly wasn’t the case for either of us, regardless of the fact that neither of us are Jewish. Who cares? It was, fundamentally, an expression of good wishes between strangers. It is human to want another to feel good on a day that’s significant to them. How is it any different from wishing someone a happy birthday, or anniversary?

I’m not a Christian, but I won’t take offence if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas. And simple common sense and politesse dictates one return the sentiment as you receive it. I’m not going out of my way to respond with a Happy Holidays to a Merry Christmas, that’s just silly.

Some people in this province, in this city, would take a great offence at the scene I witnessed. I fear some would have responded angrily. Perhaps there’s a reason they were cruising down a deserted Greene Avenue instead of Pie-IX or Parthenais. Regardless, though it may have been an ‘ostentatious display’ of a religion, it caused no harm whatsoever. Contextually, it made sense (inasmuch as it was an appreciably quirky occurrence), it was the last day of Hanukkah.

It was nice. It was pleasant. It’s a story to tell.

And as you might imagine, it brought my mind back to thinking about the broad implications of the proposed (and inappropriately named) Charter of Quebec Values, let alone what it actually says about the society we live in. Bill 60 is nothing but an attempt by the separatists to re-cast Québec society in their image, and according to their often incoherent set of values.

It is an act to institutionalize racism. What would Madiba have thought of this? The great institutions of the province, and of this city in particular, are lining up to defy the law in its entirety.

Perhaps even more importantly, the mayors of Montreal and Québec City, Denis Coderre and Régis Labeaume, are indicating a rapprochement of sorts, and both seem to be asking for ‘special status’ vis-a-vis the proposed legislation, in addition to a general devolution of powers from the provincial government to the province’s two largest cities. This is a particularly interesting political development – a bloc against the PQ representing the interests of about 2.3 million Québécois – and two cities where the majority of the population is opposed to the divisive and thoroughly unnecessary charter. I’m in total agreement with Jack Jedwab; when Premiere Marois says there’s a majority of Québécois who support the charter, she is only referring to Francophones. As far as she’s concerned, the Anglophone and Allophone populations aren’t ‘real Québécois’ anyways.

It’s vile, disgusting, scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel nationalist-populist politics. Gutter politics, the foulest of the foul.

The péquistes, inasmuch as the people of Québec (all of us), need to realize this fundamental point:

Neither the French language nor French Canadian culture is in any way, shape or from threatened. There are ten million French Canadians living in North America and seven million living in Canada, the overwhelming majority of whom live in Québec. The Franco-Québécois community is growing and has been growing ever since the colonial period of the 17th and 18th centuries. There are more French-speaking people in Canada than there have ever been before, but by contrast, the Anglophone community of Québec is shrinking and has shrunk considerably. There are fewer Anglophones in Québec than there were forty years ago, and of those who’ve stayed, they largely learned how to speak French and got better integrated into Québec society.

And as to the immigrants, the first generation Québécois, they too have learned French, and are integrating into our society at their own pace. They’re of a naturally independent disposition, as are the Anglophones of the province, and they’ve formed bonds in their combined efforts to integrate into the broader society and culture.

And as you might imagine, nothing burns the ass of a dyed-in-the-wool separatist more than realizing the fundamental raison-d’etre for their political existence simply no longer exists.

There was once much less integration. There was once serious racial strife. There were once abuses and institutionalized racism of a different kind. There was ecclesiastical and existential oppression, there were (and still are) class struggles.

But people evolve and things change.

René Lévesque never wanted a political party. He wanted the PQ to be a simple political movement, uniting all Québécois in an effort to solidify greater provincial autonomy and bring the provinces and federal government together to re-negotiate the constitution. What he got, he did not expect. Lévesque believed things would not change, but Trudeau proved not only that things could change for the better, but further, that the independent and progressive mentality of Québec could ultimately be integrated into Canada as a whole. That’s why he won. Lévesque didn’t anticipate Trudeau would succeed in repatriating the constitution, ratifying it without Lévesque’s personal endorsement, and then further develop the Charter. Lévesque strengthened Canadian federalism inasmuch as he pushed a serious cultural reformation in Québec, one that would have the (again) unintended consequence of making Anglophones and Allophones better integrated in Québec society.

This is why we’re now dealing with Bill 60, a proposed law that would have been laughed out of any other self-respecting legislative body.

The péquistes know there’s nothing more that can be done on the language front – there’s no threat. This is why Bill 14 was dropped entirely.

So now it’s culture and this idiotic idea that hijabs, yarmulkes and turbans are somehow threats to the stability, sanctity and perhaps even vitality of Québec’s culture and society. Bill 60 is more punitive than Bill 101, and has the potential to put many more people out of work. Crucial people too – doctors, teachers, nurses, early-childhood education specialists and all manner of social and civil-sector workers. Middle class jobs, with good benefits, denied to those who dare to wear a religious symbol, regardless of how subtle and harmless it may be.

There is fear, easily-stoked, of a Muslim invasion, of foreigners fundamentally changing who we are. There’s no empirical evidence, there never is when the PQ asserts a danger, just rhetoric bordering on hate speech and the kind of easy panic you associate with poorly educated backwoods types and siege-mentality suburbanites.

Well to hell with them.

Let the fearful be afraid, let the ignorant remain in the cave.

I’m hopeful the entente cordiale between the mayors Coderre and Lebeaume leads to something really meaningful. They have the power to either make the bill completely unpopular and impossible to make into law, or, barring that, gain the special status our cities’ deserve.

***

I’m reading The Watch That Ends the Night, an impossibly brilliant book by the late, great Hugh MacLennan. In it, he describes Montreal in the early 1950s as follows:

‘In the West End are the old English families, and in the East End there are the old French families. And in between them a no man’s land of international people with international concerns. They occupy the centre of the city, and don’t have much to do with either of the other communities.’

There’s still a lot of truth here, though I would argue that in the last sixty years, the biggest thing to change is that the cosmopolitan middle ground has extended quite a bit in all directions away from the centre of the city, and at least on this island, the French and English camps that really were once two solitudes have integrated, at the very least, into the cosmopolitan aesthetic so popularized by those living in the ‘no man’s land’. And none of this has made us any less culturally whole, nor any less socially distinct.

We are what we are, as we are and have always been, so why are our politicians trying to forcibly change us?

I hope we’ve got some fight in us left, this bill cannot pass.

Oddball Ideas for the New Mayor

Denis Coderre - credit to The Gazette
Denis Coderre – credit to The Gazette

Denis Coderre was sworn in as the 44th mayor of Montréal last Thursday, along with the city’s estimated 50,000 councillors (I kid, there are 102 councillors, and I’m not altogether certain we’re over-represented, but I digress).

Coderre said everything one would expect from an in-coming mayor. He promised to bring honesty and integrity back to the civic administration, return our city’s pride, work for the people and turn a page. Whether there’s any sincerity in these statements remains to be seen – Montrealers are understandably suspicious of municipal politicians these days given that our last two (who made similar promises) are implicated in a vast system of organized corruption, collusion and fraud that only served to further handicap the citizenry and the city’s financial well-being.

Mayor Coderre’s inauguration was over-shadowed by the veritable gong-show going on in Toronto and Rob Ford’s unintentionally hilarious declaration that, given the apparent orgy of cunnilingus taking place in his own abode, he had no reason to state to a female staffer (or prostitute, it’s not entirely clear) that he wanted to ‘suckle upon the life canal’, as it were.

If you haven’t seen it yet, get out of the cave, this may be the single greatest statement in the history of Canadian politics to date.

I’m being fantastically ironic of course. This is the greatest statement in Canadian political history:

Every time I watch this clip I’m struck by the patience and intellectual sophistication of the exchange. At the very end, Trudeau says to the reporter ‘I see you’re playing Devil’s Advocate, it’s a hell of a role…’ to which the reporter is left momentarily speechless. Contrast this with the relationship between the vast majority of today’s politicians and the press in general – it’s passive aggression from the former and undue reverence and politesse on the part of the latter. It seems the relationship was more respectful, and mutually critical, forty some-odd years ago.

There may yet be hope not all is lost – the Rob Ford scandal came to light because he pissed off so many people, and a lot of good journalists too. Andrew Coyne summed it up perfectly: the Rob Ford mess is a monster born of divisive and condescending populism.

Nail’s head, meet hammer hit…

But back home for a moment and our new mayor.

Mr. Coderre has an opportunity to turn a page and I would encourage him to do so. I think people want to see action, but not just in the form of establishing an office of the Inspector general, as he has proposed to do. Ergo I would strongly encourage our new mayor to start doing things – perhaps small things – and build up a list of real, actual, accomplishments. I want a checklist of reasonable, sensible and above-all-else realizable projects for the new year, and I want things done on time.

The people can be helpful in this case; the mayor has said he will work for the people, so it stands to reason that the people help him draft such a list.

So I put the question to you; what would you include on a list of simple, straightforward improvements for the city of Montreal?

My trouble is that I all too often think in terms of mega projects, so I’ll try to steer clear of such grandiose ideas in my own list.

1. Fix Place Émilie-Gamelin and Cabot Square. These are two large public green spaces roughly equidistant from the downtown core, and they’re both pretty beat up. New landscaping, lighting and design (and perhaps on-site services) are only part of the equation; both spaces can at times seem ‘overrun’ by the homeless. Our parks, plazas and public spaces must remain open to all; they cannot be a last resort, a place where the unwanted go. I would encourage the new mayor not only to beautify these spaces and better integrate them into our socio-cultural fabric, but further endeavour to develop new facilities to house the homeless and offer drug treatment. Long story short, no more needles in our parks, and no more police handling the homeless situation.

2. Reserved bus lanes, bike lanes and BRT systems. Probably the easiest improvements to public transport a mayor could make without implicating the province or adjacent cities, though these would need to be involved to truly make a dent in the broader, metropolitan traffic problem. Within the city the STM could develop more reserved lanes and, potentially a Bus Rapid Transit network that could alleviate some congestion on the Métro (which is now getting a bit out of hand, in my opinion). Key streets, avenues and boulevards for either reserved lanes and/or a BRT network: Pie-IX, Papineau, Jean-Talon, René-Lévesque, Sherbrooke, Saint-Antoine, Parc, Cote-des-Neiges, Décarie, Van Horne, Cote-Vertu, Gouin.

As to bike lanes, the more the merrier. We’ve got a good foundation but could go much, much further, and I’d argue more bike lanes should be separated from vehicular traffic by means of a simple concrete curb. Regardless of how well Bixi’s doing, Montrealers are increasingly turning to their bikes during the more temperate months to quickly traverse the urban core. And why not – it’s cheap, efficient and great exercise. Any measure to make it safer will assuredly encourage greater use.

3. A pedestrian mall. There’s an interesting correlation between the potential success of commercial retail enterprises and the degree of foot traffic passing through a given area. For anyone looking to start a new business, knowing where the people are walking is a crucial consideration when choosing a location. But notice I didn’t say anything about vehicular traffic or parking spaces. Our most successful commercial arteries are often clogged with cars looking for parking where they’re almost assured not to find any. Banning cars outright from some key streets would consequently result in making them more walkable, increasing foot traffic and the potential land value of rental retail properties at the same time. Saint Catherine’s Street seems to me to be a logical choice for our city’s first true year-round pedestrian mall. The street’s Gay Village section is routinely closed to cars each summer, parking spaces have been removed elsewhere so restaurants could install new seasonal terraces and the section passing through the Quartier des Spectacles is also routinely shut to cars – all without having any real negative effect on the street’s commercial viability.

So why not go all the way? From Atwater to Papineau, shut the street to vehicular traffic but keep it open for buses, delivery trucks and other municipal, emergency service and/or utility vehicles, widen the sidewalks and introduce street-side commerce in the forms of vendor stalls, kiosks and seasonal terraces. Allowing the No. 15 bus to barrel down the street unencumbered by vehicular traffic may make it a suddenly very popular route and would only add to potential foot traffic on the street.

4. Expand the Réso. Not the Métro, since this is quite out of our hands, but the intricate network of tunnels that link downtown office buildings, convention centres, universities, hotels, Métro stations and even apartment/condo towers all together, forming an insulated city-within-a-city. For as much as I enjoy walking around my city, there are times when the local climate is less than conducive to this. It’s not just the cold, but snowstorms, seasonal torrential rain, heat spells, early darkness – the Réso provides an alternative and comfortable method of getting around the city.

There are many potential new areas for expansion, namely every single condo tower going up around the Bell Centre, the new Overdale development adjacent to Lucien-L’Allier. The MMFA could be linked with Concordia, which in turn could expand its tunnel network south towards the Faubourg and Grey Nun’s Mother House. Other smaller connections, like the Forum and the Seville condos to the Atwater Métro branch of the Réso, or a connection between McGill University and the northernmost portion of the Peel and McGill station sections also make a lot of sense to me. Aside from providing an expanded convenience, it further provides a safe and secure environment to walk around in, not to mention possibly provide new opportunities for small-scale commerce.

5. Turn the Faubourg into a public market. I may be wrong, but I think this is an excellent location for a public market, much in the same vein as the Atwater or Maisonneuve markets. At the very least the city would maintain the building to a higher sanitary standard than the current owners, and there’s a substantial urban population living within walking distance of the Faubourg work. I think much of its current woes stem from moving away from being a market to trying too hard to become just another shopping mall with a slightly more interesting food court.

In any event, just some oddball ideas – what do you think?

Well that was disappointing…

La Grande Jatte Moderne - Mount Royal, Autumn 2013

Now that I’ve had a bit of time to digest the results, here are some thoughts on the 2013 Montreal municipal election.

Ideas didn’t matter. The election was entirely personality-driven and, once again to our detriment, over-focused on the person who would become mayor of the city, and not the representative at the district or borough level. In four boroughs – Outremont, Anjou, LaSalle and Lachine – parties that were borough-focused swept both the councillor and borough mayor positions. They have since indicated they will not form any kind of alliance with the mayor-elect. Independent borough parties now represent approx. 185,000 ‘Montrealers’. This represents about 11% of the city’s population who may be, for entirely political reasons, disconnected from the central administration. The three independents are all formerly of Union Montreal (insert obvious joke here…)

Voter participation came in at 43%, or 477,000 people in a city with 1,102,000 eligible voters. This means about 625,000 people who could have voted did not. 57% absolute disengagement (no participation), and an unknown degree of partial disengagement among those who did vote as a consequence of widespread political illiteracy vis-a-vis the design and function of our local electoral system. That the top two candidates managed to gain as many votes as they did, some 273,000 split between them, representing 57% of the votes cast, without any kind of grassroots local representatives or party architecture in place. The two mayoral candidates that represented parties РCot̩ and Bergeron representing a Union-Vision coalition and Projet Montr̩al respectively Рonly took in 178,000 votes between them, or 37% of the 477,000 cast.

Mélanie Joly declared herself to be something of the ‘real winner’, indicating it was “mission accomplished” vis-a-vis her mayoral campaign, this despite the fact that she lost the mayoralty with 129,000 votes to Coderre’s 150,000 (indicating 27% and 32% of the votes cast, respectively, though only 18% and 14% of the voting population). She says she’ll be sticking around and will make a run at the mayoralty in 2017, but I have a strong suspicion this was a test run for an entry into federal politics, likely as a star Quebec candidate designed to appeal broadly to Quebec women, youth, urbanites etc. (and that’s not a half bad mix either – it’s NDP territory, presently). Certainly Alexandre Trudeau’s out-of-nowhere endorsement helped what should be lauded as a truly brilliant campaign, but what kills me is that it may not really have been to lead this city in the first place. I’m not comfortable with the idea that my city’s municipal election, and a crucial one at that, is merely a tool for which political legitimacy can be tested and polling data gathered. What about actually choosing people to solve our problems and make tomorrow brighter than yesterday?

Equally disconcerting was how little the race really changed from day one. Denis Coderre came out ahead in the first poll and it was accepted as a fait-accompli that he would be mayor. Also disturbing, the boroughs with the lowest participation rate (running from 25% to about 42%), which included Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the Sud-Ouest, Ville-Marie, Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Saint-Laurent, represent about 483,000 people, or 29% of the city’s population.

I suspect Coderre’s ultimate appeal is that, perhaps some, feel he’s particularly well-suited to defend our interests against the PQ while maintaining a crucial link to the Federal Liberals. Should Justin Trudeau be elected in 2015, Mr. Coderre’s relationship with the party could come in handy and potentially result is some newfound federal interest and investment in our city.

But that’s a best case scenario.

Mr. Coderre is a career politician and that should be taken into consideration. He goes which way the wind blows.

But he’ll also soon be tested. The imbecilic Parti Québécois has decided to introduce the possibly unconstitutional, draconian, punitive and politically-motivated Charter of Values, ostensibly designed to defend the equality of the sexes and the secularism of the state while in actuality accomplishing nothing more than to sew needless rifts in Quebec society. Coderre said he won’t tolerate the proposed Bill 60, but it remains to be seen what he can and/or will do about it.

The only real light at the end of this mess was that Richard Bergeron would not be the last leader of Projet Montréal, that within one to two years a new party leader will be chosen, and lead the party in the 2017 municipal election. I’m not happy to see him gone, he has every reason to stay on and try again. After all, he built the party from nothing to 28 councillors, and that’s not too shabby, especially given he did it in three elections. But what matters is that Projet Montréal will live to fight again. It’s the most legitimate political organization this city has, and I’m glad it’ll stick around.

Francois Cardinal, an optimist, suggests that Denis Coderre should offer Bergeron the job of STM president (in addition to other interesting job opportunities). I couldn’t agree more.

Final thought: in order to avoid the myriad problems caused by widespread (and politically manipulative) disengagement, we should endeavour to secure a compulsory voting act for the city before the next election. I’d like to see what kind of civic administration we’d have with near 100% participation.

Your City, Your Candidates – Cindy Filiatrault

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You know the deal – series on Forget the Box. Stay tuned for Sud-Ouest borough mayor candidate Jason Prince and my one-on-one with Richard Bergeron. I’ll try and get a half decent summary going at some point soon. In the meantime, you can have a look at how the candidates responded to questions on their commitment to open data (from Montreal Ouvert). Interesting stuff; definitely worth considering where these people stand on the their commitment to putting knowledge in the hands of the electorate.

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I had a delightful opportunity to meet Cindy Filiatrault recently, Équipe Mélanie Joly’s candidate for borough mayor in the Sud Ouest borough (which, for the uninitiated, includes Saint Henri, Point-St-Charles, Griffintown, Little Burgundy, Ville Émard and Cote-St-Paul). We met up at a crowded café St-Henri, realized there were no seats left as the joint was jam packed with insolent hipsters and then proceeded to walk down a bustling Notre Dame West to the Green Spot Diner.

On our way over, we passed a comic book shop celebrating its one year anniversary and something called the Quebec General Store which seemed to be having a going-out-of-business sale. There were boarded-up storefronts and dive bars next to businesses that are keen to welcome their first clients. Indeed, I couldn’t think of a better place for a stroll.

Notre Dame West is, like many of Montreal’s commercial arteries, a bit hit or miss, though if you continued walking east from where we were (and by that I mean if you cross Atwater) you discover the gentle lapping waves of a different kind of gentrification. For all that the Sud Ouest is, it is a study in contrasts.

Over too many cups of coffee I discovered a borough mayor candidate with some fascinating ideas, but perhaps more importantly, a real sense of attachment and conviction.

What are your plans for the Sud-Ouest?

Oh man, where do I start? Broadly, and I mean this with regards to the whole city, we need to make all pertinent data open to public scrutiny. And I suppose we’d need to hire a few people to compile this data too.

What kind of data are you looking for?

Well, I’d like to know what effect green roof initiatives have on reducing the effects of air pollution, not to mention an air quality break-down by borough too. Add to that list all public contracts so that the public can see where their money is going and how it’s being spent.

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Notre-Dame Ouest in St-Henri (image WikiMedia Commons)

So you don’t just want transparency, but a more engaged and active distribution of information?

Pretty much. Anyone can say they are being transparent, but I want to have free, unencumbered access to everything I need to make an informed decision on how our elected officials are doing. Currently, we’re all in the dark.

But you know, it goes a lot further than that. The city has to actively promote the services and programs it has that aren’t being used. There are myriad programs available to help small entrepreneurs, but it’s very difficult to find the pertinent information. Why?

A lot of these programs aren’t used simply because there’s no one at city hall making it a priority to get the word out. And perhaps the less I say about the city’s website the better.

Some politicians would argue making all information available for public consumption is going to bog down the political process because they’ll wind up having to explain a lot to people who really only want to kvetch about god knows what and will stick to their guns even if it’s apparent the information or data they have has been incorrectly interpreted or understood

So be it. Politicians are there to communicate openly and directly with their citizens. We can’t afford to keep the citizenry in the dark and the paternalist style of governing, the ‘dumbed-down’ approach has got to go.

I think all Montrealers are sick of being talked down to by a lot of rich, crooked, old white men. Besides which, I work in communications, you work in communications, and we both know that complex information can be made simple to understand.

Either way, look at where we’re at right now. Everything happens behind closed doors, the public is kept in the dark, the people have nearly zero faith in their politicians.

If there’s a reason why we’re pulling ahead in the polls, it’s because we’re the antithesis of the old order. We’re young, vibrant, energetic, connected and placing a strong emphasis on using technology – the technology that unites us in nearly all other aspects of our lives – and apply it to increase civic engagement, stimulate transparency and govern based on a real-time assessment of the people’s interests.

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Cindy Filiatrault campaigning with Melanie Joly (image via Melanie Joly on Twitter)

Tell me something more concrete, more Sud-Ouest focused. What does this borough need to flourish?

Decontamination and revitalization.

Good answer.

Thanks!

Expand on that, please.

Much of this borough was industrial for a hundred years prior to the major phase of deindustrialization that swept through with the closing of the Lachine Canal. As a result, factories closed, but what they left behind is still in the ground.

As a post-industrial city, we need to keep track of what pollutants are where and in what quantities. We also need a plan to decontaminate the ground to ensure the health of our community.

Much of the borough is built on former industrial land and wedged between what was once an industrial canal on the southern edge and one of the busiest highways in Canada on the northern edge. Is it any wonder life-long residents of the borough have higher respiratory ailments?

Tell me something I don’t know about your borough.

You know Dave McMillan?

Not personally, but he owns Liverpool House and Joe Beef, right?

Right. In the winter he clears the snow from the alleyway behind his restaurants. He clears it by hand because the city doesn’t. And you know what he finds with nearly every shovelful of snow? Needles. That alleyway is littered with them but it’s thanks to Dave McMillan they get cleaned up.

That’s really gross. There’s a park just on the other side of that alleyway and a library and a community centre too

Exactly my point. On Notre-Dame it’s all fixed up, gentrified, you’d never expect that just on the other side is the borough’s reality of poverty and social pathologies related to mental health problems, drug addiction etc. Drug addicts shouldn’t be anywhere near areas used by families and children, even if it is an alleyway.

So what do we do with potentially homeless intravenous drug addicts in the Sud-Ouest?

We need a safe injection site in the borough and I’d push for it. How are drug addicts ever going to overcome their addictions if they’re forced out of sight into the nooks and crannies of the city?

These are people too. They should have a place to go where they can shoot up with clean needles, with supervision and access to help if they want it.

It’ll make our streets safer and we won’t have to worry about kids accidentally sticking themselves with dirty needles on the way to a baseball diamond or the local library. It’s a matter of basic respect for your fellow human beings. Frankly, I’m surprised we don’t already have one here.

Where would you bring tourists to give them a taste of this large, diverse borough?

I’d bring them for a walk along Notre-Dame, so they could see our past, present and future.

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This Sunday, starting at ten in the morning city-wide. Get up, get into it, get involved.

Until then, Happy Halloween!