Tag Archives: Québec 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.

Adieu Jean

Jean Lapierre - photo credit to La Presse Canadienne
Jean Lapierre – photo credit to La Presse Canadienne

Jean Lapierre was a gentleman. Quebec and Canada have lost an immense talent, and one of our best political analysts.

The information available at this time is that he and four family members were en route to the Iles de la Madeleine to attend his father’s funeral. The plane crashed in bad weather. All seven people onboard have passed.

The plane had departed St. Hubert and attempted to land on the islands in very poor weather. The plane bounced off the runway and then broke up.

Quebec media in general and the political community of the entire nation are in shock. Just yesterday, Lapierre announced his father had passed after a long struggle with Parkinson’s.

Jean was an expert commentator; he lived and breathed politics, and unlike many politicians said precisely what he was thinking, unafraid of any potential criticism. He was first elected at the young age of 23 to represent Shefford and fought on the side of the Trudeau Liberals in the 1980 Referendum. He’d remain as Shefford’s Liberal MP until 1990 when he left the party in the wake of the Meech Lake Accord’s failure. He then helped to found the Bloc Québécois, though in his own words he described himself as soft nationalist, wanting a level playing field for Quebec. Disillusioned, he would later leave the Bloc and federal politics altogether to begin a successful career in broadcasting.

Most people would have been happy with just that, but Jean Lapierre was not most people. He was driven, ambitious and became a voice of thoughtful consideration and conscience. He would return to federal politics in the cabinet of Paul Martin, to whom he was fiercely loyal. Lapierre would subsequently become transport minister before retiring from politics for a second time in 2007 to go back to broadcasting.

In my time working as a chase producer for CJAD I often spoke with Jean to arrange interviews. He had two regular slots on CJAD, one in the morning and again in the afternoon, and was as comfortable and effective discussing the spectrum of Canadian politics in English as in French. We was a busy man, constantly working. I only met him once, but made sure to congratulate him for his work in Chantal Hébert’s seminal work on the 1995 Quebec Referendum, The Morning After.

The first impression he made on me was that, unlike many other pundits and political analysts, he didn’t seem full of himself. He answered his own phone, he was always keen to help out with an interview or discussion. He rarely said no, unless it was to spend time with his family. He was always polite, respectful and kind when dealing with the chase producers, the lowest part of the broadcasting totem poll. I can’t emphasize this point enough: in two arenas dominated by massive, in most cases over-inflated egos, Jean was refreshingly humble and down-to-Earth. The second impression he made was that he was one of the few political analysts who could dissect the political arenas of Canada, Quebec and Montreal with equal parts expertise, humour and style. He reminded me of how politics could be fun, or at least how to see what was amusing in our unique type of politics. He was witty, insightful, sharp and above all else, interesting. I could listen to Jean Lapierre discuss the politics of Canada, Quebec and/or Montreal, in either language, and always come out informed, engaged, and more often than not inspired.

What happened to him, to his family, is an unspeakable tragedy.

Adieu Jean, on se souviendra.

The Agence métropolitaine de transport to be abolished

AMT Commuter Rail Logo

When you want news to get buried over the weekend, you deliver it on Friday afternoons.

The Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) will be abolished as of Monday. The provincial government agency is currently responsible for all transit planning in Greater Montreal, as well as the the inter-city commuter rail network.

The Couillard government will make the announcement on Monday (okay, so maybe they’re not really trying to bury the story, still, odd time to issue a press release teasing such a major change…)

Apparently the AMT is to be replaced by two new organizations: the Réseau des transports métropolitain (RTM) and the Agence régionale de transport (ART).

The new RTM will be responsible for running the commuter rail system and apparently all public transit agencies except the STM, STL and RTL (the latter two STM equivalents in Laval and Longueuil respectively).

Of note, the other organization (ART) will be the regional transit planning body, and will be run by the ‘elected officials of Montreal and government experts’.

It’s not clear whether that means city proper or agglomeration council, though I believe it’s the latter case.

It’ll be interesting to find out what precisely this all means on Monday, though perhaps we have reason to be optimistic. Local transit needs to be planned locally, though the maintenance of three independent transit agencies (in the form of the STM, STL and RTL) within this new plan is still problematic. The cost to ride the Métro should be standard regardless of where you get on. Similarly, the bus network should have a single common fare at least for Montreal, Laval and Longueuil.

That said, I wonder whether the new regional transit planning authority will continue to push the Blue Line’s eastern extension, or whether it will prioritize developing a tram system.

A lot more to come on this file I imagine. Stay tuned!

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.

High Hopes

Credit to Canadian Press
Credit to Canadian Press

Last night Quebec won. All of Quebec, all of us.

We won because the party that promised another doubtlessly fruitless referendum and an unbearably regressive plot to institutionalize discriminatory hiring practices in the civil service lost, and lost big. Twenty-four seats in the National Assembly lost, including that of current party leader Pauline Marois.

Ms. Marois has so far indicated she will resign as leader of the Parti Québécois, as is the custom of Canadian political party leaders upon such a staggering defeat.

And to think we thought the race was ever close…

The problem from day one was that the PQ was so fully focused on the charter and a referendum they became blind to the actual wants and needs of the people of Quebec. They are precisely the kinds of issues that generate a lot of talk but won’t necessarily translate into actual gains. Sure, they mobilized people, but they mobilized the base, the die-hards. Neither of these issues could possibly attract more voters, especially not in the province’s two major cities. In the end it was all bark and no bite.

The PQ failed to realize aggressively campaigning on these issues would backfire as they would invariably open the party up not only to harsh criticism but perhaps more damagingly it would end up exposing the PQ’s weak flank – their ideologues. The dogmatists of the party have a bad habit of propagating hate-speech, slander, fictions great and small and even conspiracy theories to advance their cause, and as the ideas sank in popularity the hysterical rhetoric of the PQ’s backbench came to the fore.

Suffice it to say it’s a good argument in favour of tight message control.

Marois, Lis̩e and to a lesser extent Drainville spent much of the campaign clarifying and re-clarifying two focal points of the campaign that were specifically vague to begin with Рit was generally understood the PQ had no plan in place to kickstart constitutional negotiations, nor any idea of what kind of judicial trouble Bill 60 would get them in to.

And so there was no time left to speak of real, concrete plans to improve life in this province, opening the door to Philippe Couillard to define his own message as one that appealed to all the critics and Doubting Thomas’ of our province vis-a-vis independence and the charter, and all of us who’re most concerned about the economic wellbeing of our home province.

As the campaign entered the mud-slinging phase of the last week and a bit, all he had to do was pretty much the same as when he started and it was a sure bet he’d end up on top. The only good response to hysterical attempts at character assassination is not to acknowledge them. That’s strength, real power. It is literally rising above the fray and it conveys a powerful image.

So now that he’s Premier-Designate (because, of course, all Premiers are idiotically not elected directly by the people, but are rather appointed by the lieutenant-governor based on election results), we can all take a breather. A neurosurgeon for a federalist premier, one who acknowledges our primary position within Confederation, our influence on national affairs since before Canada was even a country, and the fact that knowledge of more than one language is both beneficial to the individual and in no way threatens the knowledge of the mother tongue. This is the man who will govern us for the next four and a half years.

I wonder how many of us secretly breathed a sigh of relief last night. I’m not fond of the Quebec Liberal Party though I did vote for a Liberal candidate I’m proud to say won her seat in the National Assembly. I breathed a sigh of relief not because I have any particular trust or faith in Philippe Couillard, but because I know he’s smart enough not to campaign on the politics of division and fear. I’m relieved because I trust people who have worked serious, professional, high-stakes jobs over career politicians.

Unfortunately, history is not on the side of the Quebec Liberals – most former Liberal premiers have started strong but wound up finishing wallowing in the mire. Coincidentally, so have most Montreal Mayors and Canadian Prime Ministers too. Perhaps the problem has more to do with the extant political system and how parties work than they do with the leadership.

So far Mr. Couillard has promised to create the most transparent government in Quebec history, to focus on job creation, and has pledged to work with the other provinces so that Quebec can take a more prominent role in national affairs. He will seek to develop new bonds with neighbouring provinces, and has also promised to cooperate with Quebec’s ‘big-city’ mayors to ensure metropolitan status carries a greater share of local responsibility and operational autonomy.

Denis Coderre, ever the shrewd politician, welcomed ‘the stability of a majority government’ without directly endorsing Couillard or the Quebec Liberals.

Mr. Couillard has also indicated former Premier Daniel Johnson will oversee a transition process, that he will work with all parties to develop programs and policies that address a wide spectrum of concerns, and that he will go ahead with the PQ’s proposed dying with dignity bill.

So far so good, especially on that last point. More than gesture to the PQ, it acknowledges a fundamentally good idea – inasmuch as human beings can control the creation of life, so too should they have control over their own deaths. It is a fundamentally humanist and progressive concept, and as you can imagine I’m all for it.

As to the rest of Mr. Couillard’s promises, I’m hopeful he’ll win me over and carry on with the work he laid out for himself. Concerning his key promise to improve the economy, apparently the Canadian Dollar rose modestly upon the news of the decisive Liberal victory.

I’m sure our local real estate market is also feeling rather bullish.

And now that this mess is all over with, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.