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.
Story out today in the Journal de Montréal about how the Azur Métro cars will be ‘too big and too heavy’ to operate in our Métro tunnels and that work had to be done to adjust the infrastructure so as to prevent trains from tipping over is about as good as it gets in terms of local media’s response to a slow news day.
The article is presented in such a fashion that makes it seem the STM only just found out about this and that these renovations may be somehow related to the delay in receiving the new Métro cars, which were initially due last July but now likely won’t be in service until the end of this year.
But according to the STM (and mentioned in the JdeM article), they new about the requirement to modify a 200 metre stretch of the Orange Line to accommodate the new trains from day one, and that the work has already been completed and factored into the overall budget.
If this is indeed the case and the STM isn’t perjuring itself then there isn’t much of a story in the first place. Yes, the new Bombardier-Alstom Azur Métro trains are heavier and bigger and will even consume more electricity than their predecessors but all of this was expected and understood since day one.
After all, these are entirely new vehicles. They are not carbon copies of the existing MR-63 and MR-73 trains. They’re bigger to accommodate more passengers. They utilize new technology. They will have a different layout and, perhaps most importantly, will permit transit users to move between Métro cars while the train is in motion. I think it’s safe to assume that, if you’re building something entirely new, it might not perfectly fit in a system it wasn’t designed for.
But, with all that in mind, the modification to the tunnels only seems to have involved 200 metres out of a total length of 71 kilometres.
In other words, less than half a percent of the Métro system needed to be modified for these vehicles. Peanuts. The STM knew this and made the decision to modify a portion of the tunnel rather than scrap the project and go back to the drawing board.
If we want to have a conversation about how private enterprise can’t ever seem to deliver a government project on time and under budget, this is another conversation (and one I’d say is well worth having). It seems to me that, time and again and at various levels of government, contractors working on government-sponsored mega projects are consistently late and chronically appealing for more money.
This is true about our new Métro cars, about the Train de l’Est project, about double-decker dual-power commuter trains, about fighter jets and maritime helicopters.
Every time government appeals to the private sector to work on public projects, they pitch it against an illogical assumption the alternative is to have the state build a factory and assume all related project costs. Over and over we’re told that appealing to the private sector saves money and will get the job done faster because of ‘the principles that guide the corporate world’ are ostensibly principles that prioritize efficiency and staying true to your word vis-a-vis project cost and delivery.
The private sector’s interest in government contracts big and small is twofold, but neither has anything to do with efficiency and/or cost control. The interest lies chiefly in that a) government typically continues throwing money at the project and extending deadlines to save face and b) there are no repercussions to the provider, regardless of how late or how over-budget the project is, because they typically arrange to be the sole provider for after the fact maintenance, not to mention the fact that they own type certificates and other key pieces of intellectual capital that will keep whatever’s being built working. If a government upsets the private firm, they have very little recourse and will likely pay dearly at the polls. It’s not terribly expedient for a politician to campaign on keeping government contractors in check. People respond much better to hearing how much a politician intends on spending rather than how they plan on saving money.
We want to feel wealthy, not cheap, and we want our politicians to reflect this.
Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things at a reasonable, audited cost on the timeline set by the people.
Early one morning late last week Mayor Coderre announced that a portion of the Ville-Marie Expressway will be covered over in time for the city’s 375th anniversary and by the end of the day the idea was shot down in a terse email written by the transport minister’s press attaché.
There it goes.
In the blink of an eye a reasonable, straightforward civil engineering and city beautification project gets shot to shit by a man who neither lives nor works here in our city.
And it serves to illustrate a point about Montreal; we’re not actually in control of much in terms of how our city is built, developed, renovated, designed etc.
Montreal can’t build a park over a highway used almost exclusively by Montrealers.
We don’t have the jurisdiction to plan and expand the Métro.
If an adjacent community, such as Montréal Est or Montreal West, wanted to join the city of Montreal, we couldn’t arrange it amongst ourselves – we actually don’t have the authority.
Same story schools and hospitals; the city can’t do anything to help the fact that the CSDM has to immediately close 82 schools due to contamination. The school board deals with the province on such matters. And the city can’t be expected to do anything about our hospitals – which remain open, which will be closed, who the buildings are sold to and how they’re repurposed. Nada. The city of Montreal has no say in any of it.
Our municipal politicians, of all stripes, suffer the consequences. All too often they are blamed directly for all the problems we have on these and other fronts. Because local politicians – those closest to the people – are impotent to effect any lasting change to the operational status quo, they become disinterested at best and corrupt at worst.
And the people, realizing that which is supposed to be the most accessible level of government is in fact nothing more than a hindrance to the political process, disengage from said process.
Disenfranchisement via political impotence.
At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter who you happen to be aligned with because this city is political poison to both the current provincial and federal governments. They know they can’t win here so they sew the seeds of discord in an attempt to divide and conquer the people of this city. We have no ‘pull’ for the moment, and given the Duplessis-like tactics of both levels of government we’re going to continue being pushed around, with development dictated to us.
Unless of course we do something about it.
Let’s get back to the details that spurred this article, for a moment.
The mayor proposed a scaled-back version of a Projet Montréal plan to recover the 500 metre open trench running from the Palais des Congrès to the new CHUM superhospital, between Viger and St-Antoine.
What Coderre is proposing is more modest in scope, focusing on ‘segment 1’ as illustrated above. The covered section would be turned into a large open space. Projet Montréal even proposed naming the space after noted Québec visual artist Marcelle Ferron, who designed the stained glass windows at Champ-de-Mars station.
Best of all Mayor Coderre has put Projet Montréal leader Richard Bergeron in the driver’s seat. Bergeron is in fact going to delay his retirement to oversee the project.
I think this is where things began getting interesting.
The campaign wasn’t that long ago and these two men could not have been more different in their approach. They were rivals in the truest sense of the word and represented vastly different interests. And yet, after a bit of time, they seem to have come to see eye-to-eye on this specific project. Coderre recognizes Bergeron’s obvious talents and clearly respects at least one aspect of the Projet Montréal platform.
Cover a highway, build a park. What could possibly go wrong? Two political rivals cooperating to build something bigger and better than themselves.
So when the transport minister told his press handler to fire off an email to shoot down a fundamentally good idea (and I mean good for our local democracy, environment, urban quality-of-life good) I can’t help but imagine it was done to remind the mayor of his place, of the limits of his political authority. Maybe there was more to it than that.
I believe that a Quebec run by the Parti Québécois is one which is fundamentally set in opposition to the wants, interests and needs of Montreal and the people of the greater region. The PQ is looking to win a provincial majority government by ruthlessly exploiting the politics of division, ignorance, fear and intimidation. They are hoping the politics that put Rob Ford and Stephen Harper in power would work just as well here in Quebec and I believe it was a wise gamble.
We’re Canadian after all… clearly the politics of fear work here just as well as anywhere else.
Unfortunately for the people who live here and drive on our roads, anything and everything to do with the biggest and most important ones are all conveniently outside our jurisdiction.
Keep this in mind as traffic grinds to a halt with the redesign of the Turcot Interchange. It’s a provincial area of jurisdiction. Even if we had a better idea, we can doing about it. Those aren’t city streets.
Our highways and our bridges aren’t actually ‘our own’. You’d think a city of nearly two million people could take care of such things by itself – and indeed we once did.
But over time we have had responsibilities taken away from us, and when you lose those your rights aren’t far behind.
It’s not just that the city of Montreal lacks responsibility in key areas, it’s that we don’t have the right to be involved, by provincial decree.
It wasn’t always the case, we were once a little more autonomous, though only because certain political and social circles happened to once interact here.
Our fall from our former glory as a metropolis is not a language issue or a culture issue, it’s mostly a taxation and efficiency issue.
We were once in charge of our fate and now legislation exists that cripples our city’s ability to perform and succeed. Our failures are quite simply not our own – they are imposed. The people of the city of Montreal – the citizens of Montreal – must have control over all key areas of municipal governance and expected public services. We can manage our own house. We must become masters of our own domain.
The future political divide in this province is not between languages or culture or where you were born. It is between Montreal, as it is and for its own sake, in opposition to a Quebec that feels it must define its culture through legislation. Montreal would simply prefer to be left alone, we are not interested in having our culture, our identity, screwed around with.
The Parti Québécois has made it abundantly clear, Montréal is increasingly a distinct society from the hegemonic cultural identity espoused by the PQ.
When the mayor of Montreal can’t even build a park, with his chief rival fully cooperating no less, the citizens must realize that we lack local political sovereignty in our own affairs.
And this is something that must change, forever.
We can no longer afford to run a city with our hands tied behind our backs.
By my count he’s number 43 in a list that stretches back to our city’s first mayor, Jacques Viger, in 1832, the year the city was incorporated.
To date Montreal’s mayors have been predominantly of the (at least publicly heterosexual) French Canadian male variety, though we once had a tradition of switching the lingua franca of our mayors with each election (i.e. from 1832 to 1908 mayors here alternated from Francophone to Anglophone).
The last ‘traditionally Anglophone’ mayor of Montreal, from 1906-1908, was Henry Archer Ekers, one of the founders of The National Brewery (also known as the Dow Brewery), which brewed Dawes, Dow, Ekers, Boswell and Fox Head ales, and whose siege sociale still stands at 990 Notre-Dame Ouest, a prime example of Northern Art Deco industrial architecture).
Rounding out the necessary nod to diversity in the workplace, we’ve had several Irish and Scottish mayors, at least one born in Massachusetts (John Easton Mills) and more recently both our first woman mayor (Mairesse? Mayoratrix? Mayoress?) Jane Cowell-Poitras and our first ‘minority’ mayor, the effortlessly bilingual and arguably multi-cultural Michael Applebaum, culturally exotic only by the standards of the most militant variety of separatist Québécois supremacists.
Monsieur Blanchard is third in our year of four mayors, replacing the disgraced Michael Applebaum for a four month period until the next regularly scheduled election. I really hope he manages to somehow last that long without fucking up by getting named at the Charbonneau Commission, in which case it would be as a result of stuff he did several years ago but either way, yet another black eye for our fair city and further proof that the political establishment here is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
So there’s your défi Monsieur Blanchard – don’t fuck up. Keep your head down, kill people with kindness (but don’t lay it on too thick) and for the love of God – stay away from Italian restaurants.
Some assorted thoughts for our new mayor:
Point number one, unlike his predecessor, Mr. Blanchard should not propose to ‘clean up city hall’ or state, dramatically as had his predecessor, that a new leaf had been turned. Applebaum is up on 14 counts of fraud, conspiracy, accepting bribes etc. He’s retained former Tory MP Marcel Danis as legal counsel, and resigned the mayoralty ‘to focus on the case’.
Innocent people don’t typically tend to have a case to focus on. They’re innocent, after all. If the allegations against him are as spurious as he claims, why hire a top-shelf lawyer?
Put it this way – he might believe he’s innocent and that there’s a vast conspiracy against him. Word from the grapevine is that Applebaum was a jumpy character back when he was the borough mayor for Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace, several times indicating he thought various concerned citizens trying to jump-start the Empress Theatre as a community cultural centre were his ‘political enemies’.
I must have forgotten about all the political intrigue and conspiracy coursing through the halls of power in Cote-des-Neiges.
Point two would be to resist the awesome temptation of being bribed or otherwise caught up in shady real estate transactions, something I think is genetically programmed into nearly all politicians – criminals in sheep’s clothing for the most part, and this city, province and rather obviously the federal government have provided so many fantastic examples of late its difficult to imagine any other reason to get into politics in the first place.
It’s good to know all these ‘pillars’ of various communities are so concerned about the message they send to the ‘most precious resource’ they all seem to work into their photo-ops. Children? they could give a damn – kids don’t vote after all.
So there’s point three – no photo ops with old people, minorities, children or the handicapped. In fact, try not to have any photo ops at all – we want you to sit at your desk and do your job, and we don’t need a photograph to prove this point. A small video camera with a live feed is what I want, so all citizens could tune in and watch the mayor working.
Because we’ll no doubt need to keep our eyes on him.
I don’t know much about Mayor Blanchard other than that he’s a career local politician, was formerly of the former Vision Montreal (Louise Harel stepped aside so that a coalition government could be formed, though it looks like that just means supporting Marcel Coté as leader of something called cityhallmtl but I’ll talk more about this later), had worked as a political attaché in the latter years of the Doré administration, and had previously worked in publishing. More recently he’s been the head of the city’s executive council, part of Applebaum’s ‘coalition government’ initiative.
Personally, he’s old guard, but I won’t judge him too harshly. If he makes it through four months and I enjoy living here while he’s in power, I guess I’ll have little to complain about.
Mr. Applebaum and his predecessor’s story are already well-known. Applebaum has been implicated by the SQ and CEIC in shady real-estate deals while he was borough mayor of Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace. You’ll be delighted to know he’s allowed to vacation abroad despite the 14 charges hanging over his head.
Our last elected mayor is Gerald Tremblay (who received a whopping 159,000 votes in 2009, with less than 40% of citizens participating), who as you may remember stepped aside in November of last year after the heat from so much damning testimony from the Charbonneau Commission became unbearable. Keep in mind that Tremblay hasn’t been charged, just named. Perhaps he was truly not implicated, but just turned a blind eye. Maybe he had been threatened, or really naive. Who knows. The Commish has recessed for summer break.
I love the dedication and their ability to flat out do the opposite of what they earlier said they wouldn’t do, without any attempt to justify their switch. They don’t think they owe us an explanation. They never do.
Personally I don’t get it – an escort is just someone you pay to have sex with, hardly scandalous especially given it was the mayor’s money, and not that of the taxpayers of Laval.
Oh, wait… I think I see the problem now.
Back to the shit show in Montreal.
It seems that nearly all of our mayors in recent memory started with high hopes and ended their careers in one kind of scandal or another. Tremblay advocated an end to forced mergers and promised local small government and commonsense solutions. Prior to him, Pierre Bourque promised to actually deliver on civic improvement initiatives his predecessor didn’t deliver on and cut ‘big government’ waste. He committed political suicide by pushing through forced mergers with the help of the PQ, a measure which literally blew up in his face and sunk his political career. Bourque’s predecessor, Jean Doré, won in a landslide against Jean Drapeau in 1986 (along with the Montreal Citizen’s Movement) by promising to be a more people-focused and less dictatorial mayor than the former Grand Chief Drapeau.
He further promised not to get mixed up in the costly mega-projects characteristic of the Drapeau Era, instead preferring to cut waste at City Hall while developing grassroots initiatives to improve city living. He ended his two terms in office caught up in a failed real-estate mega-project (the Overdale Debacle) and was deemed an unfit leader because of an apparently lax attitude to running a tight ship. It didn’t help that he had a $300,000 window installed in his office, nor that he razed a low-rent but viable neighbourhood for condo projects that were never built and had a police force running wild beating up gays and viciously murdering minorities while turning a blind eye to the biker gangs.
Prior to Doré we have Jean Drapeau, a comparatively ‘good’ mayor in that he presided over the city’s last prolonged period of sustained development and growth. Drapeau began his thirty year career as mayor first in the mid-1950s, when he was a crusading urban reformer who won on a platform of eliminating corruption and vice (sound familiar?), largely by tearing down slums. Drapeau greenlighted expropriations for mega projects throughout his tenure, leading to the elimination of the Quartier de Mélasses (where Radio-Canada is today), Griffintown, Goose Village, a sizeable chunk of what was once Chinatown’s northern extension (where Complexe Guy-Favreau and Complexe Desjardins stand today) and what would eventually be converted into an arguably still working 1950s social housiong project, the Habitations Jeanne-Mance. He’d be defeated by Sarto Fournier in 1957 (Fournier was very well connected to Union Nationale boss and Banana Republic dictator Maurice Duplessis, the super-villain who ruled Québec before the Quiet Revolution) but would be returned to power three years later as part of the well-tempered societal modernization of Quebec and Montreal in the 1960s. Drapeau changed his campaign tone too – from now on it would be about putting Montreal on the map. He’d be greatly assisted by Liberal premier Jean Lesage and later premiers Bourassa and Lévesque, in addition to Prime Ministers Pearson and Trudeau, all of whom were very, shall we say, Montreal-focused. It’s good to have friends in high places – makes me wonder what goodies might float our way with a Montrealer as Prime Minister in less than two years…
From 1960 to 1986 Jean Drapeau was mayor and not universally liked (though, somehow, he managed to cultivate over 80% of the popular vote and faced no serious opposition during his time in office). Under his tenure the city grew and changed dramatically. Drapeau was instrumental in delivering the Métro, the modern city centre we enjoy today, Expo 67, Place des Arts, the Olympics and even the Montreal Expos baseball club. No mayor has done as much for our city before or since his reign (and at thirty years, what a reign it was).
But for all the good he did it is weighed down by his own corrupt practices. Mafia involvement in the construction of Olympic facilities and corruption within the unions were primary factors contributing to the massive cost overruns associated with the games. There are a number of apartment towers throughout this city built with concrete originally intended and ‘delivered’ to the Olympic park construction site, yet re-directed by those in the know. Drapeau was responsible for the nearly-criminal act of destroying Corrid’Art and his slash and burn style of urban redevelopment was not only inelegant but often antagonistic to the people’s interest.
Drapeau may have even ‘cooked the books’ during an election in which his opposition was eliminated after being infiltrated and broken up by the Montreal Police, rendering votes for his opponents ineligible and giving Drapeau a victory with over 90% popular support. Those were the days…
As a city, we need to decide what we want in a mayor, so that we don’t get sucked up into a pointless popularity contest that delivers nothing but more of the same. We need to establish our own metrics for judging a mayoral candidate’s chances of winning, and not fall prey to sophisticated marketing techniques that sell us yet another hands-off mayor. Perhaps most importantly, we need a mayor who fundamentally understands this city, its people, and what makes it great. We need to decide what kind of mayor our city needs, now and for the next ten years. Do we want a builder? Do we want a reformer? Do we want an architect? Do we want someone who’s politically well-connected? Do we want a renovator, a renewer or a redeveloper?
I think we all should spend a moment a think about what we want in a mayor – not just the qualities of the person but most importantly their plan for this city, whether it be growth or renewal – before we head to the polls in November. Otherwise the best we can hope for is another Drapeau, and his breed are rare these days.
But if we ask ourselves first what we want in a mayoral candidate, and define the context of the election before the candidates or media has a chance, the people ultimately manage to wrestle a bit of control over the rhetoric and could maybe make this election about something, rather than simply being the inconvenient selection of our next underwhelming mayor.