Tag Archives: Québec Politics

Clifford Lincoln’s Billion Dollar Little-Train-That-Shouldn’t

Conceptual rendering of a Bombardier dual-power locomotive, to be purchased by the AMT

So the West Island Gazette is reporting Clifford Lincoln and a host of West Island mayors and other lobbyists are pushing the idea of an entirely new train to serve the southern half of the West Island. They are asking for one billion dollars (now that’s billion with a ‘b’ in case you weren’t paying attention) to build a new electric train that would speed West Island commuters from Downtown Montreal to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue in thirty minutes. They also want to increase the level of service from 26 trains per week to 86. Right now the coalition pushing the idea has only gotten as far as an AMT-financed report (clocking in at $22 million and change) which will be ready next year to be brought before the government for approval. When asked about the hefty price tag, Lincoln was very quick to point out that the Province has crumbling infrastructure and thus needs to invest in it anyways, and further pointed out that the province seems to be able to afford such things as a new hockey rink for the Québec City area.

I’m not impressed with Mr. Lincoln’s lack of subtlety, but if it works with West island voters who can blame him for defining this issue as a typically provincial ‘us vs. them’ kind of affair. He may think he’s doing right by his people, but I sincerely doubt this card will play in Québec City. It’s not about hockey rinks (which would be paid off on a shorter time-span and provide countless indirect jobs as most venues do); the issue is graft – and this project smells to high-hell of it.

This map details the current AMT routes and proposed routes for future development. As you may well know, the AMT and the Aeroports de Montréal(ADM) have been arguing incessantly with the provincial government about how Trudeau Airport is to be connected to the Central Business District. The Train de l’Ouest plan mentions a stop in Dorval, though not necessarily at the airport. And while it is conceivable that the train would be able to offer this key service, there’s nothing indicating that Lincoln’s lobby-group has been in discussion with the ADM about using the new train station built into Trudeau Airport.

If this wasn’t problematic enough, the speed (30 minutes from downtown to Ste-Anne’s) seems highly improbable unless the train is to be built on a segregated track, at which point it could travel at exceptionally fast speeds and not get jammed up by freight trains sharing the line, though I wonder if this 30 minutes includes stopping at any of the stations. This means building a segregated rail line next to the existing rail lines used by CN, CP, VIA and the AMT along the Highway 20 corridor. Is there enough space to do so? And would constructing this new line disrupt service on the existing lines? And remember that bit about crumbling infrastructure? The last time I checked CN and CP own the track, and not the province. Nice try Cliff.

Map of Proposed Train de l'Ouest Route

Mr. Lincoln also wants electric locomotives as a means to cut costs long-term in addition to providing an ecologically sustainable alternative to diesel-powered trains currently used on that line. While this is a wise choice for the environment, it also means the AMT will have to build new storage and maintenance facilities for the locomotives and cars. As service disruptions on the Deux-Montagnes line over the last few winters have demonstrated, while electric trains are less polluting, they require a greater degree of maintenance and have proven prone to failure if left outside in exceptionally cold weather (which is what the AMT has been doing for years – this may have shortened the lifespan of the train sets used on that line).

All of this to say that while I applaud Mr. Lincoln’s efforts to get the Province to spend money helping the citizens of the West Island, a billion dollars is just about the right amount to get the program axed entirely. What’s more, the latest AMT expansion project, the Train de l’Est, is going to cost less than half of the proposed cost of its western counter-part. You can find those details here.

I might add, the distance East is more than the distance West, and involves building new stations entirely. The Train de l’Est will use the Bombardier dual-power locomotive (ergo diesel-electric) allowing it access to Central Station as well as the newly-built double-decker passenger cars. Using the dual-power locomotives is more practical than using electric locomotives, as they can use all rail lines in the city.

So then, with that in mind consider this – what if instead of building an entirely new electric-only rail-line for a billion dollars, we invested in rehabilitating all the old branch lines and procured/developed a state-of-the-art traffic direction system? This way we use all rail lines more efficiently instead of building a segregated line for express service (effectively because express trains could be switched onto lesser travelled branches). Take a trip to google maps and try to follow the different rail lines criss-crossing the island. You’ll soon discover that there are many rail lines not presently being used, such as the one which runs from Central Station to just East of St-John’s near Hymus. If dual-power locomotives were considered for this plan, this currently unused branch line could be very cheaply converted. A small extension further West from where it currently terminates would allow this line to reach the hotel and office complex just across from the Fairview shopping centre. Developments of a pedestrian tunnel running under the highway would in turn mean West Island residents would have access to the downtown via a train station located in the middle of two of the biggest parking lots in the West Island. Dual-Power locomotives operating on this seldom-used branch line could run between the centre of the West Island and Gare Centrale and would cost a fraction of what the proposed Train de l’Ouest.

So why aren’t cheaper alternatives being considered?

In sum, it seems as though this fundamentally boils down to a “let’s get what we’re owed” mentality that wins votes in West Island ridings. It’s too bad too, because a less expensive project may actually yield a green light. It stinks of opportunism and seems so outlandish and inappropriate that one is only left to assume the corruption and collusion in the construction and infrastructure redevelopment industries is about as bad as we all dared dream it was. That, or perhaps people in positions of power, lobbyists etc, are simply trying to make a buck, ultimately off the people’s backs.

Ask yourself – who does that billion dollars ultimately belong to? If you don’t ultimately think this is your money, then you can’t complain for skyrocketing costs and epidemic graft.

Using Socialism to Finance a Transportation Revolution in Canada

Our last attempt at high-speed transport in Canada: the Turbo Train, 1973 - not the work of the author.

The People have a right to move.

So too, does the State – it’s vital that the State have the ability to move large amounts of people and materiel to support the People, really, whenever the People call for it. And the People and the State are one – given that the State would not exist without the People. I find it odd that I would have to go through this diatribe, but given the state of political discourse in this country, this world, it is vital too that the people recognize the State – in a democracy – must work in the service of the collective. Yes, our society is based on Socialist principles.

A populist appeal, a vision for strategic State economic-planning and the real threat of losing our national sovereignty compelled John A. Macdonald, our beloved drunken-buffoon of a first Prime Minister, to work towards completing Canada’s first transcontinental rail link. It was done as a means to encourage British Columbia to join Confederation, not to mention that a transcontinental link was necessary for continued economic expansion and would further solidify the foundation of the fragile young state. Despite a near chronic lack of funding and the Pacific Scandal, the link was completed by the mid-1880s, and Canada was bound in a railway. Canada today has not one, but two major international rail carriers; they are in fact among the largest transportation companies and networks in the entire world.

But when it comes to moving people in Canada, well, we’re coming up short. That’s being overly polite – we’ve shat the bed. Canada, once a world leader in railway design and associated technologies & services, is today considerably behind the times. We have no high-speed link – none – nowhere in Canada do trains travel in excess of 200km/hour. In fact, most don’t go faster than 150km/hour, and that’s painfully slow given that speed of modern trains. Compared to a growing list of nations, such as France, the UK, Germany, Japan and China, Canada lags behind without something largely becoming vital to a first world transportation system – a high-speed electric train. What’s worse is that we have the technology and the industry – least to mention the wide-open expanses – to build a system that could link the nation in incomparable ways. And it would make sense that we ought to have one too – except that time and time again, the Canadian People choose the path of least resistance, and choose the party that looks best on camera. This party, whether wearing Grit Red or Tory Blue, has no real plans for high-speed rail in Canada because they exist in a state of perpetual TV-readiness; prepared to argue, never to act.

It would seem that the Canadian People, much like our American cousins, have lost sight that they have a responsibility to demand progressive action from their elected representatives. Whom they elect, they elect to fight to build what is missing, provide what is lacking – instead, our political battles aren’t over projects anymore, they’re over nuances in policy, in personal attacks and the promotion of an endless cavalcade of wars on apparent immoralities. Who has time to build a world-class high-speed train network when you’re caught up fighting for abstinence-only sex education in some rural backwater middle school, right?

There was once a time when the Prime Minister felt a personal responsibility to build a transcontinental rail link – as a means to connect the whole country though also to propel the development of smaller provincial and city networks as well – so that all Canadians could easily move around our great nation. Today, trying to do the same on VIA – if you want a berth that is – will cost you thousands of dollars and take several days. The only people who seem to be able to afford the privilege of crossing our country by rail are retired middle-class types who think it might be romantic. Good lord! Are you telling me there’s no practical need?

I think it’s obvious our country has to invest in affordable high-speed rail transit, and provide all Canadians a quick and efficient means to get across this vast nation. I think it’s a right shared by all of us, and the State has a responsibility to provide it to us. But we’re clearly going to have to make it a priority for them. Once again, the State works towards the benefit of the People – always.

Consider what your life would be like if you could hop on a regularly scheduled bullet train from Montréal to Toronto and the trip took less than three hours, was perfectly comfortable, and cost a fraction of a current regular fare ticket. A high-speed line serving the Windsor-Québec City corridor would attract large numbers of riders based on novelty and geography alone – and in so doing, just such a system could potentially move massive quantities of people throughout this region each day. If the distance from Montréal to Toronto is about 600km, and some French and Japanese bullet train models currently travel in excess of 350km/hour, then it is foreseeable that a future high-speed network in Canada may reach even higher speeds. Imagine a ten-hour trip to Vancouver from Montréal? It’s technically possible now, and the sheer volume of people that could be moved by just such a system would allow significant savings for travelers, which in turn would pay back the initial investment. What’s more, a high-speed link connecting major cities across the country could itself spur the development of new provincial systems to allow even greater rail coverage.

Rail seems to me to be an inherently socially conscious means of transit. It’s big, it’s fast, it can move a lot of people, who in turn share the limited space within. Most importantly, it can be ecologically and economically sustainable, and was initially instituted in this nation because our elected leaders felt they owed it to the People to link up as many small towns and big cities to the same, shared network.

There’s no reason not to invest in rail. We need to establish a far better degree of inter-connectivity in Canada, and should further encourage people to abandon more polluting technologies in favour of the State-sponsored socially conscious alternative. We need to make it easy for people to get out and visit the country – we don’t do this nearly enough, and it isn’t getting any easier. Canadians need to realize that their nation is massive and diverse, and if it was cheap to get around I’m certain many more of us would jump at the opportunity to get out and explore it. But it will take the will of the People to elect a State that seeks to invest in itself, as that is the best method to encourage new growth and a stronger economy. We need a transportation revolution in Canada to improve all our lives, but we must also be willing to pay for it, and recognize that strategic planning does not bestow much instantaneous gratification. And perhaps this is why so few of our politicians promote it – they likely won’t be around to reap the benefits of their petitioning as their political career is a mere stepping stone into the world of corporate governance.

And that is the great sad truth of our era, and something I hope we’ll one day do without, because I’m getting sick and tired spending seven-ten hours traveling to Toronto on the Megabus. Seriously, what’s up with that twenty minute mad-dash at the Kingston Bus Terminal Tim Horton’s anyways?

This article was originally published on Forget the Box.

Like Fiery-Sunrise Slashing through the Dim-Blue Dawn…

René Lévesque & Pierre Trudeau - not the work of the author

Separatism is dead. Sovereignty is dying. I’m concerned about the latter; the former is still pointless.

These terms have unfortunately come to be somewhat interchangeable in Canadian political discourse, particularly when it comes to the perennial ‘Québec Question’, though in my eye – and in political/philosophical terms – they are exceptionally different. I would like to devote the rest of life to ensuring each individual citizen comprehends the fundamental importance of the latter, and further ensuring that each individual living in our collective society understands the suicidal lunacy of the former. We are a particular nation – the sovereign collective, the collectively sovereign – and it seems to me that our lack of self-awareness, our seeming lack of a socio-cultural foundation lie somewhere deep in this political reality. We shirk from our responsibility to understand ourselves more fully, feeling ourselves to be presently and perhaps forevermore, a mere accident; Europe’s wasted effort.

Canada is not a nation. We are a collective of nations. We have no Nationalism – and why would we? Destroying the greatest evil Nationalism ever created propelled us from Imperial Backwater to World Power in six years. Nationalism was the 19th century’s mistake, and we were justified in turning our backs on it. We did this years ago. We made ourselves post-national and post-modern back in the 1960s. The good work done then lasted us well into the first part of the last decade; no matter Stephen Harper tells you or makes you think, the Canada you live in is an inherently progressive country. Our laws, enshrined in our Constitution and Charter, make us a leading liberal social-democratic nation. And it was no accident.

I’m not going to whitewash things. We’re not perfect. But we have relatable foundation documents. We have modern foundation documents. No “Tea Party North” will re-interpret our Charter – it’s meaning and intent is clear, and it, like our Constitution and the thirty years’ worth of legal proceedings since its repatriation, remain clear, progressive, inherently liberal. Despite some stand-out historical abuses of power which have marred our country’s reputation, we have managed to create a unique and exceptionally powerful example of a liberal democracy with a social-justice bent.

But we can’t take it for granted.

The Orange Crush of May 2nd 2011 demonstrated a sea-change in Canadian and Québec politics. Québec decided with one vote to forego the continued widespread support of a regionalist-bloc party and instead threw their support behind the dedicated agent of social-democratic change in Canadian federal politics. In essence, the people of Québec indicated that they are prepared to work with all Canadians to ensure Canada does not deviate too far towards neo-Conservatism. This event has heralded the end of sectarian/regionalist federalist parties: no longer can the CPC play the old Tory Populist card of appealing to Conservative rural voters in Québec and the West. The CPC is an alliance of regionalist, non-integrationalist thoughts and perspectives, manifested as a political entity. It is a party of division that succeeded by re-enforcing division. And yet from this we find unison, and surely the Tories could never have expected almost all of Québec to decide, almost overnight, to throw their support behind the NDP. Neither could they have imagined NDP support would grow – nationally – to the point where Jack Layton would retire his two main rivals. He is the undisputed leader of the national opposition, and his powerbase is primarily in Québec, though curiously all of the major cities as well. The May 2nd election was an event of national importance: there are indeed ties that bind and unite this nation. The cities are pan-nationalistic. Québec is the minorité-majeur. The NDP is the future of Canada and the sovereignty of all Canadians is the only major national concern moving forward.

Separatism must die – and it seems that this is the case. The Bloc is a shell of its former self, and péquiste stalwarts are dropping like flies. It’s no longer in vogue for the young and it’s losing whatever academic or economic credibility it once pretended to have. And at the end of the day it is not about whether or not it’s just for the people of Québec to have their own stolen piece of Aboriginal land, their own coins or trade agreements. It’s about what each of us owe to the other in the land we share. It’s about biting the bullet and getting involved, paying your taxes and working hard to support the welfare-state that keeps us safe and secure. It’s also about recognizing where these ideas come from, what their genesis was, and why we live the lives we do.

Canada wouldn’t exist without Québec; neither in our past nor our future. And in this relationship, where Québec sits as a kind of first-amongst-equals with regards to the other provinces, Québec has serious responsibilities – to lead, to mediate, to demonstrate the ancient wisdom of our people, to demonstrate our intractable nature and commitment for the betterment of all Canadians. A separatist is fundamentally a nationalist-capitalist, disinclined to share. A sovereignist by contrast seeks to establish a confederation where sharing is the law, and we all take a little to maximize our collective freedoms.

And as we hit the mid-point of 2011, with news-reports coming in at an increasing rate of police abuses and contested civil rights from all corners of the decadent West, we must ask ourselves just how separate we really want to be. Because, when the state turns fascistic – even if only by a small degree – it is the collective sovereignty of the people that is fundamentally threatened. And the response can never hope of succeeding if it is divided.

This article was originally posted to Forget the Box.

Orange Crush

NDP Leader Jack Layton embracing his wife, MP Olivia Chow - not the work of the author, possibly the work of the Toronto Star

So we’ve all had a few weeks to digest the election results, and here’s the bottom line:

1. The percentage of Canuckistanis who got out to vote was still a dismal 61%, only 3 percentage points higher than the record low of 2008.

2. Jack Layton brought down two rival political alternatives to the Conservative Party of Canada; both the Liberals and the Bloc Québecois lost their leaders in the process, neither of whom were able to get elected in their own ostensibly safe ridings. In the process, the NDP created a viable national alternative to the CPC (consider that there are NDP ridings held in practically every major urban centre in Canada, with Montréal leading this Orange Crush.

3. The Tories have their much coveted majority, but it is a tenuous majority at best. Why? Simple – though there’s been much fear as to the prospect of a Tory majority, a quick look at the CPC’s power dynamics and structure reveals that the voter base is detached from the brains of the operation. In effect, the CPC is a party which is led by a Western Bloc (old Reform/Canadian Alliance territory out West) of social conservatives while the brains of the operation still lie somewhere between Bay Street and the 905 Area Code, ie – the ostensibly fiscal conservatives who were expertly terrified into voting Tory as a backlash against supposedly liberal NDP spending. In other words, Bob Rae. Should the Tories try to push forward the socially conservative agenda we all fear lies at the heart of their voter base, they may sufficiently alienate themselves from the more socially liberal Tories of Southern Ontario. And it is precisely these 905 voters who may just as easily vote Liberal the next time around. That being said, I doubt Harper will push through anything overly draconian on the Canadian public, lest they want a repeat of 1993 in five years time.

4. The NDP Caucus is one of the youngest and most diverse in Canadian history, and it’s about fucking time. I fully expect this Opposition to doggedly attack the CPC on every single piece of legislation put forward. Herein lies the strength of the NDP; I think the NDP will probably act far more in unison than the CPC, and that’s as a result of the leadership accepting diverse and differing opinions amongst the elected representatives. While the Tories attempt to stifle independent thought by tactlessly badgering the membership into towing the party line, the NDP does not. Which do you think will give way first? It’s difficult to become egomaniacal in an environment that thrives on difference of opinion and a pursuit of common ground. In other words, the NDP may be able to convince other parties to vote their way, and may be able to convince so-called ‘red tories’ on the other side of the aisle to pursue a more socially-responsible agenda. Again, this is an NDP strength; they are stronger for representing a broader potential electorate. We can’t get caught up in a fundamentally incorrect view that only the CPC will be pushing forward any new legislation; the NDP will do this as well.

5. The biggest issue is Québec, and Québec has spoken in a fashion as distinct as the culture represented therein – a massive push for a federalist, though intriguingly sovereignist (read – individual sovereignty), social democratic party. In other words, Harper’s attempt to unify two competing ‘thought-blocs’, the Western and Québecois, has failed miserably. This was key to Mulroney’s breakthrough in 1984 and has been part of Conservative thinking for some time, as both rural Québec and the rural West share similar socially Conservative views. Well, not any more, Québec has taken a major gamble, and it is unlikely Harper will do anything to provoke any sort of political reaction from a province and people now diametrically opposed to CPC ideology. Rather than make us weaker (by not having many Tory representatives), the CPC will likely have to pay special attention to the NDP as champion of the Québec vision for Canada.

In any event, just what I think moving forward, let me know what you think. As you can tell, I’m still pretty optimistic.

Milice patriotique du Québec wants to sell guns in HLM

Photo credit to Andrew Chung/ Toronto Star

So everyone’s favourite local militia wants to sell weapons in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, as the local newspaper reported recently.

The MPQ runs a recruiting station there, which happens to double as the militia’s primary source of income – a military surplus store. Nothing illegal here; the group claims to be sovereignist and available to help ‘the people’ in a time of crisis, such as a natural disaster or in the event of an external attack. They also claim to be apolitical, and say they are present to respond to the will of the people.

Not the duly elected government mind you, the people is who they respond to.

Of course, it doesn’t seem as if the actual authorities, such as the Canadian Forces, the Sureté-du-Québec, the RCMP or the SPVM would be able to handle the kinds of emergencies they envisage. Perhaps they feel those organizations are not the true defenders of the people.

And the last time I checked, natural disaster training is very different from playing soldier out in the woods and firing paintballs at human targets. Just what exactly does this militia aim to prove, and who do they serve?

And why do they want to sell weapons in HLM?

I’m getting uneasy.

Here’s why. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, scores of private militias, gun-clubs, survivalist groups and a host of other really shady pseudo-military, pseudo-law-enforcement organizations began patrolling the streets of New Orleans. They shot ‘looters’ indiscriminately, as they were paid by wealthy locals to guard gated-communities and to protect the wealthy whites from the blacks of New Orleans. As we all know, the lives oft he privileged whites have returned to normal. Better than before some say, as signs popped up around New Orleans proclaiming that ‘we are taking our city back’. The ‘we’ in the case of New Orleans are the wealthy, exploitative white minority.

This would likely not have occured if President Bush had handled Katrina properly, such as by deploying troops, national guard and FEMA immediately. It also didn’t help that the NOPD actually called on various local militias to assist in keeping order in the immediate aftermath. See this article to read more on the horrifying human rights abuses in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Time to ask ourselves whether, as a society, we have enough faith in our own security forces or whether we feel it is appropriate to have parallel powers which could respond to any ‘catastrophe’ (as they define it) based on the demands of the ‘people’ (which could be whomever they choose). It’s kind of like a synagogue in the West Island that happens to employ guards to protect the building and patrol the grounds, even though they’ve never been threatened with vandalism or violence, and the local police would be able to handle any potential problem with considerably more efficiency than unarmed rent-a-cops. Or is it nothing but smoke and mirrors?

As always i want to hear from you? What will the people do about the MPQ?