Tag Archives: Social Commentary

Cité des Familles

Aerial Photograph of Old Montreal - credit to Mario Faubert, 2012
Aerial Photograph of Old Montreal – credit to Mario Faubert, 2012

François Cardinal asks an important question – is the city wasting its time trying to prevent the exodus of families to the suburbs?

In the last ten years, during which time the city has ‘officially’ been trying to reverse this trend, annual losses have remained somewhat constant at about 20,000 people leaving the city for elsewhere in Québec, largely outside city limits but within the metropolitan region known as Greater Montreal.

Attracting and retaining families inside the city limits was intended to reverse this trend, but so far the city has come up short. When $300,000 can get you either a detached multi-room suburban home near a train station or, at best, a single room condominium closer to the city, young families in essence have no real choice but to move to the suburbs. Services for families, aside from the daycares increasingly integrated into office towers, are virtually non-existent in the city’s most heavily developed central core.

In response to Mr. Cardinal’s question, I propose a follow-up – has the city really done anything material to secure an influx of new families?

Because if the mandate was nothing more than to advertise the advantages of theoretically living in the city as compared with the suburbs, then I can only wonder what anyone actually expected the city to be able to accomplish. Bringing families back into the city requires a major investment in civic infrastructure and a lot of hyper-precise zoning regulations to make a new urban neighbourhood from scratch, as might be the case in Griffintown or the former parking lot adjacent to the Bell Centre. Branding and marketing is enough of an investment to attract young professionals, but families need a far greater commitment.

There’s been a lot of concern recently that the city’s near-total lack of involvement in Griffintown’s resurrection may have the unintended result of creating a ghetto of single and double occupancy condos and not much else. Similar criticism has been made of the new condo towers destined to occupy nearly every available open plot in the central business district. Montreal’s downtown is not a neighbourhood in and of itself, but seems to have identifiable communities all around it (be it the Plateau, NDG, Mile End etc). Everything inside the core is reduced to a single condo project’s ‘branded lifestyle’ identity of urban chalets and minimalist sophistication; community remains completely elusive.

I would argue the Tremblay and Applebaum administrations have both done the exact same thing – nothing – to actually facilitate family living in the city, or even the actual establishment of the bare services to make the city a place where one lives a more interactive existence. Current city living is capsule living, sanitized and overtly corporate. I would hate to think there are people who may live many years in our great city and believe, based on limited experience, that our downtown is emblematic of the city. It’s anything but.

The question is whether the city can mandate the construction of family-oriented real-estate, and develop schools, clinics and myriad other services without waiting for provincial ministries to green-light the various projects. It’s curious too – provincial authorities have failed to provide adequate public schooling options in both the new suburbs as well as the city centre. Real-estate development can and will occur much faster than the province can react, and the city is all too often excoriated (and rightfully so) for not taking a leadership role in trying to maintain what institutional space we actually have downtown.

So as the city scratches its head on how to encourage people to move into the city, local school boards announce the closure of public schools in urban communities. Library branches shutter. Hospitals are put on the auction block to be re-processed, likely into condominiums, retirement homes or student dormitories. None of this helps re-establish long-term residency in the urban core.

It boggles my mind how no one is seeing the obvious connections, or why the city administration wouldn’t make the argument it’s their responsibility first and foremost to intercede given their stated intentions of downtown densification.

It’s not just the buildings of one variety or another designed with multiple closed rooms, within proximity of the diverse services required by urban families that need to be mandated into being. Schools, community and cultural space, parks, playgrounds, sporting facilities and public pools would all have to be built by the city, putting capital up front to be paid back with the new sources of taxation the city is in the process of creating. If enough new residents can be attracted to a given area based on the services available, the city succeeds in building a new and better kind of revenue generator.

In sum, why can’t the city legislate neighbourhood creation. leaving that up to the private sector and provincial government has so far proven to be ineffective. Quite frankly, it’s well beyond either’s purview.

My argument wouldn’t just be why not, but more – isn’t that what a city administration is supposed to be doing in the first place? Creating and refining the built environment?

And for all the money spent just to study the effects of new private sector densification in the downtown real estate market, and all the rest spent studying how best to expand the public transit system, spent on branding initiatives and marketing campaigns, our elected officials have come no closer to actually implementing anything. What’s spent studying potential future cityscapes could be be answered by any of the urban planners teaching at any of our universities. What’s spent on studies could build the schools or help finance the small businesses real communities desperately need.

As an example, the PQ has announced it will spend $28 million to study the feasibility of including a light-rail system to run on the new Champlain Bridge, which is supposed to cost anywhere between three and five billion dollars and may be completed by 2021, eight years from now if the project ever actually gets off the ground. That money could fund the creation of a public school as well as pay for its staff, something that would most certainly attract the attention of urban dwellers thinking of splitting for the burbs.

And furthermore, what needs to be studied? It’s common sense that a light-rail system, which may be able to haul 100,000 commuters at rush hour in twenty-minute runs from the South Shore to Downtown is a good idea worth implementing. As to how it’s to be built into the bridge, leave that up to the engineers who design it. As to cost, let it be folded into the total. If the Fed is hell-bent on financing such a ludicrously expensive bridge we may as well design it to incorporate a public transit system that can haul so many people so quickly and efficiently. It will doubtless spur a major population increase in the South Shore suburbs, and better still, will likely also serve to improve public transit access in the first-ring suburbs immediately south of the CBD, namely Griffintown, the Pointe, Technoparc, Cité-du-Havre and Nun’s Island areas. It is precisely here where the city should focus services for families, as there is room for growth favourable to urban families. There’s enough open land and low-use industrial areas we could be better off without, and the proximity to the city is really justification enough alone for the civic administration to push for redevelopment to be concentrated in this sector.

There’s no question it would sell, the question is what the city decides to sell.

Do we want condos or communities?

***

Another thought.

If you were to walk around any of the current, established, urban neighbourhoods and first ring suburbs you’d find some common housing types – notably the limestone triplex and its many derivatives, intermixed with modern apartment towers and turn-of-the-century apartment blocks, with duplexes and triplexes being by far the most common type.

In nearly all cases these buildings are comparatively old – the younger ones are approaching their centennials. Many have been renovated extensively throughout the years, some less so but well maintained nonetheless. Either way, through direct civc action to preserve our architectural heritage, coupled with an enduring public attachment (between the progeny of so many generations of working class urbanite locals) we’ve managed to protect, preserve and promote much of existing, heritage, built-environment.

Condo towers are very new in Montreal, especially in the most urban core. Up until about a two decade ago city condos were limited to buildings such as the Port Royal or Westmount Square, and with time development in that sector generally focused on converting old industrial properties into condominiums. About a decade ago buildings such as the Lepine Towers, Roc-Fleury and Crystal de la Montagne went up, leading to today’s boom.

Point is, all this is recent, and despite all the new construction, we can for the moment relax – we’re not going to look much like Vancouver or Toronto anytime too soon.

But to really guarantee against this we can’t redevelop every unused or underused property in the city into a shiny glass tower or a big brown box. We should save some space for new versions of the city’s iconic limestone triplexes.

I don’t think it’s so nutty an idea. It’s a building design that works – it has for a hundred years. Perfect as a flop house for students inasmuch as a three bedroom home for an urban family. I’ve lived in several such buildings over the years, and have spent time in countless more.

Why not build newer versions of a proven design?

You could live your entire life in Montreal duplexes – from your student days in a rented basement room, to starting out in your first full apartment occupying the upper floor, to swallowing up an entire duplex with your family until you eventually live upstairs in your retirement, renting the bottom floor to supplement your income.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Montrealers who have done just this over the past few generations.

It occurred to me, walking down Bleury from Boul. de Maisonneuve the other day, that we should maybe try to focus urban residential development to favour a re-introduction of this building type, though perhaps a four or five-floor model complete with a storefront base (designed for independent businesses owned and operated by residents). Bleury is but one example of an unfortunate phenomenon we have here in the city of urban streets that have lost buildings to parking lots, often leaving the tallest building on a given block still standing (in Bleury’s case a monolithic building stands completely abandoned on a prominent public space, but I digress). Rue Guy is still disfigured by the sea of parking spaces lapping at the base of the Tour Guy. Mansfield has the double problem of being largely defined by an open parking lot and the ass ends and loading docs of so many monolithic buildings. And in all these cases more traditional buildings stood not a half century ago.

Convincing real-estate developers to construct such buildings may not be an easy proposition at first, but legislation could make it a requirement. Buildings like these could not only help re-populate the urban core, but further still, offer truly unique examples of multi-functional building design, one that could accommodate much needed families.

L’Affaire Jennifer Pawluk and the Nuances of Social Media

The offending image, since removed.
The offending image, since removed.

A local activist and student, the aforementioned Ms. Pawluk, was arrested after posting a photograph of the above image to Instagram. She was questioned and released on a promise to appear in court (ergo, not formally charged). She is accused of criminal harassment as the above image is of Montréal Police Commander Ian Lafrenière, the head of the police’s public-relations team (here’s his profile on the SPVM website, which lists him as a Sergeant. This may be the single most Québécois English-language webpage in the world, but that’s another issue).

He’s their spokesperson.

Not the pricks swinging their dicks and busting heads out in the street.

And the image is of him, his name, a bloody bullet hole in his forehead, and the tag ACAB (all cops are bastards).

Of course – what a logical image. Killing the mouthpiece of the police force is a surefire way to investigate and eliminate police brutality and corruption, not to mention ease tensions between cops and activists.

This is the kind of message I’d have included if I had been in her shoes, or something to that effect which could be said in 140 characters. Or maybe nothing at all.

What I most certainly would not have done would be to include hashtags of two different, common spellings of the commander’s surname, nor include the SPVM hashtag, or Montreal as spelled in two languages. I think that’s where documentation crosses the line into making a statement, and this statement advocates cop-killing.

Whether an individual would be incited to act upon seeing this image isn’t really the issue. I see it as simply being this – people have the right to feel threatened, even the cops, and they have the right to have their concerns addressed.

Put it this way – imagine an abusive boyfriend posting an image of his ex in the style of the cartoon Lafrenière. It circulates on Facebook and catches the attention of a police officer. We’d expect the police to intervene (and from what I’ve heard our police force takes violence against women and children very seriously, but I digress). Lafrenière has the right to feel as threatened as he wants; whether he can prove a legitimate threat is another thing, but I don’t think this will ever make it to court. He’ll eventually withdraw the complaint and we’ll forget about this. Pressing on would be very foolish on the part of the Montréal Police or Cmdr. Lafrenière.

Also, I certainly wouldn’t have reminded those who follow me on Instagram that all cops are bastards while also hash-tagging the cops. That’s a fight I’d rather not pick.

It’s like calling a cop a pig to his or her face. Yes, you’re technically allowed to do it – you can do whatever you want – but you can’t turn around and blame the cop who punches you in the nose in turn.

We can’t act like the cops are so far removed from society they wouldn’t pick up on these kinds of things. Ostensibly, that’s what we’re paying them to do – pick up on the details. I think it’s silly not to expect the police to react very negatively to such a thing, and if she’s already been ticketed for whatever the fuzz busts people for these days (standing, waiting, looking etc.) then she should expect the police to be watching her. They saw an opportunity to pick her up for questioning and they did so. From their point of view they’re giving her a scare that may prevent people from circulating similar images in the future (directed at anyone, for that matter).

I remember avidly reading various publications issued by the COBP and the old anarchist bookstore (among other tracts I consulted when I was an activist) concerning what to do when confronted by police. This was later confirmed by books such as David Simon’s amazing Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

The only answer anyone should ever give to a cop’s question is: I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

Like a mantra until the cops get you your court-appointed civil-defender.

It’s what you should do, it’s what I hope Ms. Pawluk did.

Because that at the very least would have been a smart move. Calling Lafrenière out was a foolish move, one which has now earned her some kind of an arrest record, which may or may not come back and bite later on.

And all of this is aside from the key issue – even if you didn’t articulate the message, be mindful of what you might re-articulate. In this context, even though I don’t think she was personally indicating she would consider utilizing violence against a civil servant, she nonetheless gave her appui to the notion violence (or perhaps the aesthetic of violence) can be a useful political tool.

The reason our protest movements go nowhere is because violence, be it physical or rhetorical, is all too often used as first, rather than last resort. It discredits the message and erects needless walls, isolating those advocating social change from the society they seek to change.

Annual Fistfight with Police Ends in Multiple Arrests

Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay Condemns SPVM Police Brutality Parody 2

Once again Montréal was the scene of it’s much beloved annual fistfight between students/activists and the city’s police, leading to a record-breaking 250 tickets being handed out, an as yet undetermined number arrests and several officers taken to hospital for treatment.

Mayor Applebaum could not be reached for comment, but a pre-typed statement indicated he had absolutely nothing to do with unethical and preferential re-zoning legislation, resulting in a multi-million dollar residential development project he most assuredly did not personally benefit from. His press-attaché noted that he had recently become an admirer of MP Peter Penashue’s method of answering unscripted questions from the public.

I kid – no one asked him what he thought.

Who could possibly care – all this was expected anyways.

The Anti-Police Brutality Coalition’s seventeenth annual anti-police brutality march was over pretty much before it got started, which I can imagine any sensible person might suppose, given the heightened police presence in general as a consequence of long-running and utterly futile demonstrations against education-specific austerity measures employed by our most recent minority separatist youth-parliament.

In fact, it seems as though police from the GTA were called in to bolster SQ and SPVM ranks, something I’m sure didn’t sit all too well with a bunch of activists who are convinced of a broad state conspiracy in which all police forces are working together to clamp down on dissent etc. etc.

Yes, we live in more of a conservative state than we’re generally used to, but it is not a police state.

And though the Montréal police do not have the best of reputations when it comes to apparent ‘over-zealousness’ (to use a term recently batted about the local press) in dealing with demonstrators, to do have a very real problem killing people needlessly, be they poor, young, immigrants or orderlies walking to work on a sunny summer morning.

That said, the COBP should know better by now that they have no hope of holding any kind of peaceful demonstration if the people they attract have no actual interest in having a peaceful demonstration.

Among other things, they know full well that the law states the planned march/demo needs to be approved by the SPVM ahead of time. While I’m certain the opinion of the membership is that doing so would be a waste of time, I’m also willing to bet they didn’t bother just to cover their own ass.

In any event, apparently the cops were more than ready for it and employed what I would consider to be excessive force in quickly dispersing an already illegal demonstration. Considering the actions of some of the protestors (but by no means a small number) – including blocking irate drivers rather than simply letting them pass – police action doubtless had the tacit approval of the working classes too busy getting on with their jobs to participate.

I didn’t see much but considering how many local journalists covered the events, I feel like I was in the thick of it. Kudos to all the brothers and sisters out there reporting and recording for posterity the very minutiae of our lives. Once we sober up we might be able to make sense of it…

***

Is it me or this all a bit nuts?

For COBP, does it not discourage the general public from taking their issue seriously (and let’s face it, there aren’t too many organizations out there who are actively engaged in at least drawing attention to police brutality, save perhaps for Julius Grey (for those who can afford his rates) and the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations’ Fo Niemi, who is specifically focused on race-relations)?

Where are their lawyers?

Where’s their legal fund?

When do they hold their fund-raisers or issue their press releases?

What relationship do they have with the voting public? Which local politicians and elected officials also care about this problem of police brutality and have the interest of COBP in their hearts and minds when they’re developing legislation?

If these seem like ridiculous questions (as they might pertain to COBP) then I think you get my point – they exist but to use ‘direct action’ against the police as a single entity instead of using public appeal to push out the truly rotten apples in this bunch.

But of course, if the organization is opposed to very concept of policing in the first place (an easy position to take when one grows up in the nearly-no-crime suburbs, but I digress) then there’s simply no chance an event like this will go anywhere but South.

As for the police, the sheer number of police who are available (and seemingly enthusiastic about such operations) is disturbing – but maybe not for the reasons you think.

Montréal police make, on average, $19.50 an hour, and work about 65 hours over two weeks. They are close to the very bottom in terms of police salary nation-wide (ballpark $33,000 per annum for the young cops who handle the bulk of the work, especially the dangerous stuff). These are, predominantly, family-oriented people who live in the suburbs, and signing up for riot duty is a surefire way of making a little more green to help pay all the bills a typical nuclear family might incur. Toronto cops make three times as much as their Montréal counterparts.

What I find disturbing here is that we have an abundance of police officers who require more work, shitty work, and further still that there’s clearly a burn out in process if police need to be ‘imported’ from at least three different forces in the GTA.

This is bad news. On top of all of this is the anachronistically-named Policeman Brotherhood’s request that the ‘test-schedules’ implemented a year ago become the new normal (something beneficial to the load of new parents on the force, and a plan which has been rejected by the city leading to the possibility of more ‘fashion-protests’ wherein the police don’t wear their new all-black uniforms) and union boss Yves Francoeur’s on-going feud with the city’s director general Guy Hebert, asserting the latter wanted to sack SPVM police chief Marc Parent.

While I don’t think the SPVM will strike as they did back in 1969 (leading to an as-yet un-matched orgy of violence, chaos and destruction in our fair city), more student unrest could result in such drastic action. And why not? All we need is for the police to say they won’t work for a defined period of time and we can sit back and witness the city tear itself to pieces, seemingly for the sport of it.

It would be as silly and needlessly destructive as maintaining an annual anti-police brutality that habitually results in police brutality. It takes two to tango after all.

A thought: next year, what if COBP held a candlelight vigil on St-Jean or Canada Day, in front of City Hall, or in Place Jacques-Cartier (or any other high-tourism location), as opposed to what they currently do, which is in essence to bring a knife to a gun fight, giving the police every reason to use irregularly strong force and then decry the actions COBP instigated.

There are saner ways to achieve social change.

In any event, for your viewing pleasure, a CBC report from the 1969 Murray Hill Riot.

Those were the days… people used to get killed in Montréal riots. It occurs to me that there’s a part of the current student/activist mentality that yearns for the street battles of Paris, Chicago or Prague circa 1968.

That was a long time ago, and time’s have most definitely changed. Their issues are not our own, their methods useful for purposes we no longer have. But there’s nonetheless a palpable sentiment public demonstrations, marches and rioting is all part of the process on the road to social progress.

I doubt it – at least with what I’ve seen here, and I came up in my more formative years in precisely this environment.

Yes, there’s a lot to be royally pissed off about, far more today than eight years ago in my opinion. But we’ve known nothing but widespread and regular public demonstrations for a considerable time. Most have been peaceful, but there seems to be a troubling number that quickly turn south and further isolate the movement for social change from the general, and voting, public.

Such a situation is untenable. If violence is to be avoided, those organizing against state-sponsored violence must do all they can so as not to elicit it. Again, as I said before, we don’t live in a police state.

So why provide the justification for a such a state to exist? We, the youth, have no power but our ability to use modern communications technology to make our point heard, quickly and often with devastating effectiveness. In the last weeks, we saw how idiotic PQ policies quickly wound up making our province an international laughing stock and yesterday saw the birth and death of Amir Khadir’s equally idiotic notion we should commemorate the terrorist and murderer Paul Rose.

We can’t find a better way of getting our point across?

Are we even trying?

Changing the Game

Admittedly, not our proudest moment as Montrealers
Admittedly, not our proudest moment as Montrealers

We need to change the question of Québec independence.

From the ground up, in fact.

For nearly forty years Montréal has been on a veritable decline – in terms of economic security, long-term investment, population growth and relative political power among others – and the single driving force of this decline is the as-yet unresolved (and I would argue fundamentally dishonest, historically inaccurate and politically hypocritical) issue of Québec separation.

We’ve been lucky – the decline has been steady and, at the best of times, appearing to be on the way out. It certainly helped that, since the creation of the Parti Québécois most of the significant prime ministers – Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien and Martin – have Québec roots and strong personal connections with Montréal. But alas, it’s 2013 and the City of Montréal finds itself in a perilous state. Now the prime minister is a schmuck, a mail-room clerk with a spending habit, decidedly anti-Québécois in manner and speech. We also have a separatist dimwit premiere trying to impose austerity measures, something I would have figured ran counter to progressive, perhaps even historically Keynesian economic approaches valued by the PQ. A considerable portion of the local population is now thinking about greener pastures elsewhere, a brain drain is occurring, militant student protesters clash with police in our city’s streets, we have no faith in municipal officials and our initial enthusiasm about Ms. Marois (thinking she might, at least, focus on the economy, progressive social values and seek to run a corruption-free government) has all but disappeared as we begin to see her true colours as a vindictive and short-sighted wannabe iconoclast.

We have a place-holder mayor and our public focus, of late, has been on the over-zealous actions of a state-sponsored public annoyance while we wonder whether the Charbonneau Commission has anything more than quick wit and a sharp tongue-lashing in store for the criminal shit-stains who have robbed us of an immense wealth in tax-revenue with kick-backs and socks stuffed with cash.

Our city isn’t just held hostage by an unstable political situation, it’s that such a situation is being purposely maintained, and has been for quite some time in fact, quite to the benefit of the organized crime element in the city. As long as the political situation remains unstable, political parties of every shape and size will seek to attain some new leverage by feeling compelled to bend or break rules to secure a militant voting base.

Is it any wonder our best and brightest refuse to involve themselves with politics? It’s a losing proposition, particularly if you actually value clean government over whatever bribe might get waved in your face. The altruistic among us leave – if we can’t get our shit together here why even bother trying to create a more perfect and just society, we were best suited to make it happen, and look at us now. Forty years of stasis.

At the provincial level it seems as though one party is in bed with the mob while the other is in bed with the unions that work for the mob. The rest don’t owe anyone any favours and thus aren’t likely to get elected, even in a province as progressive as our own. This situation trickles down to municipal level, especially when it concerns Montréal – that from where nearly all the money flows. Either way you slice it, it’s the people who wind up fucked.

This has been going on for far too long, and I know I can’t be alone thinking we fundamentally need to change the question, change the political situation, so at the very least it is the people of Montréal who force and shape the issue.

As long as the question of Québec independence remains unresolved, we cannot hope to grow, to develop, to progress as a city. We’ll remain stuck between the apparently competing interests of Québec and Canada. We’ll remain hostages.

If the twentieth was the century of nation-states, then the twenty-first shall be the century of great cities; already we’re seeing the development of an entirely new network of key cities that focus the world’s cultural, social and political development, a trend that will assuredly grow as cities begin to implement new methods to lessen their negative environmental and ecological footprints. A lot of progress will flow forth from cities the world over, and I want Montréal to regain its position as a global city, a leading city, a city that defines itself and future orientation, rather than one caught between outside interests attempting to settle scores from a quater-millenium ago. Our greatness cannot and will not be denied.

An illustration of the maturity of progressive Québécois politicians
An illustration of the maturity of progressive Québécois politicians

I want the brain-drain to end, I want an end to the instability. Most of all, I don’t want our city to continue having to go hat in hand to various levels of government seeking funds to grow. Enough is enough, we have nearly two million people within the city and another two living in bedroom suburbs that simply would not exist without the city’s economic power. Why are we not in control of our own destiny?

Is it not time for us to be masters in our own house?

I propose we change the debate – permanently – so that Canada and Québec work for us, and we cease to be the battleground for this ridiculous war of attrition. Let’s be real – don’t tell me these student demos concern the rise in tuition exclusively – this is just as much an expression of extreme public distaste for the Harper regime and the ‘out-of-left-field’ development of a socially-regressive and economically incompetent conservative element in Canadian politics.

But we cannot be a permanent political battleground, which is why we must forge ahead and seek to do what is best for ourselves first and foremost. I’m not advocating that Montréal seek to make itself a sovereign and separate entity – far from it – but it wouldn’t hurt us to steer the conversation, and possibly seek to create new revenue streams and strategic wealth reserves so as to throw a bit of weight behind our demands, our interests as a city and metropolis.

So how do we change the conversation?

Either Montréal will become Québec’s metropolis and economic capital or it will be rejuvenated as Canada’s cosmopolis and international city. But it’s high time the matter is settled permanently so that we can get on with our lives and start planning our city’s future.

That, of course, is far easier said than done. The spineless Parti Québécois has so far fell so short of numerous campaign promises it is now focused nearly uniquely on punitive measures designed to limit the Anglo-Québécois community to a permanent underclass. Provisions in Bill 14 to change the bilingual status of numerous ‘historically Anglophone’ communities is quite literally erasing their existence and making it impossible for their presence throughout much of Québec to be sustained.

Hitting Montréal right in the pills are the provisions that demand all entreprises over ten employees to conduct all official business in French. For the innumerable start-ups and small businesses that actually drive the local economy, this may prove the final straw; why stay here when your clients are all in Silicon Valley?

The PQ wants to go further still by making it impossible for Francophones and Allophones to attend bilingual ‘Anglophone’ post-secondary institutions (literally telling adults where they can go to school, and what languages they can choose to be instructed in). And despite massive cuts to education and healthcare, there’s apparently more than enough money to continue funding the OQLF, who rather than do anything to encourage people to speak French, send petty, short-sighted zombies to harass local small businesses, charging them if they dare display a sign in English (which now includes the On/Off switch on microwaves, signs that say WC above the loo, the words pasta, caffé, steak).

Used Without Permission
Used Without Permission

All of this isn’t just bad for Québec’s Anglophones mind you, it’s bad for Montréal as well. Montréal’s future as an integrated cosmopolis is largely dependent on how the Francophone majority interacts with the Anglophone minority, and how both communities seek to pursue enhanced cultural integration. The inter-married, multicultural and multi-lingual among us should be particularly prized as a clear sign of the future – languages can coexists, even at an official level, with no cultural loss or societal deterioration. Those come about when we retreat into our silos and define ourselves in terms of opposition. It screws up literally everything we’ve been working towards over the course of the last 371 years.

Quick aside, I was overjoyed to see how quickly all this OQLF bullshit went viral, attracting international scorn and further serving to remind the world of what a pathetic laughing stock the PQ really is.

For a party that claims to wish to defend the ‘European’ or ‘Latin’ in North America, it’s remarkably poor at recognizing most Europeans have openly accepted multi-lingualism and it hasn’t had any negative effect whatsoever on the sanctity of the myriad languages spoken in Europe. For a party that suggests it is emblematic of a bright future for Québec, it’s remarkably poor at understanding modern communications and social media technologies as well. Perhaps this explains their inability to recognize our nascent high-technology start-ups, the ones that function principally in English and are focused on international business development, are so crucial to our future economic success.

In any event I digress. The future of Québec and Canada is a question Montréal wants solved, needs to have solved, in order to free us to grow, to become the great leading city we’ve always been destined to become.

I call on our potential mayoral candidates to state not a cop-out position of official neutrality on the issue of Québec separatism, but rather state a defined position that the problem must be solved immediately, and that until the issue is settled, Montréal will do what is best for its own citizens.

A member of the RRQ makes a compelling and insightful argument for the merits of an independent Québec state.
A member of the RRQ makes a compelling and insightful argument for the merits of an independent Québec state.

I would go so far as to recommend Montréal begin setting aside money as a permanent source of capital (much like the current Mayor of Atlanta did, setting aside a $100 million war chest of sorts to use as equity for a variety of long-term development projects). But we should take it a step further, seeking to unify all school boards into a single city-administered public education department and finally desegregate our schools, followed by mandatory bilingual public education (French being the majority language of instruction regardless of mother-tongue) in addition to taking a leadership role in maintaining decentralized public healthcare services. We already know superhospitals are an obsolete concept, and we should reconsider gutting our historic hospitals and selling them off to condo developers – these are our properties, our resources, and they ought to be ours to administer and use as we see fit.

Montréal must do what is best for its citizens, first and foremost. If we are unique amongst Canadian cities we should be cognizant as well of our uniqueness among Québec’s cities too.

Remaining in the middle, caught between competing interests gives us nothing but fodder for our media, and countless reasons to hate on each other, returning to solitudes and silos, something we once turned our backs on as regressive, counter to our nature.

Our city will only succeed when our own citizens recognize their inherent, personal sovereignty, and the sanctity of our own society and culture.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

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If you’ve been following the news of late, you may be asking yourself just how the PQ got elected back in September. I honestly don’t know with certainty why, but I’m fairly convinced the PQ’s victory is a direct consequence with popular displeasure with the PLQ under Jean Charest. The printemps érable didn’t help Charest either, as police brutality by the SPVM was viewed by the public at large as an extension of a dictatorial and aggressive state. Moreover, sticking his neck out and forming UPAC and the Charbonneau Commission, while ostensibly the right thing to do (and I should point out, Charest is not implicated in the slightest), was political suicide because, frankly, people are so goddamned stupid these days they equate the person calling for an investigation with the person complicit in the crime.

Unless I missed something, Charest hasn’t been implicated, indicted, or in any way involved in the on-going corruption scandals plaguing Montreal’s construction industry, yet was popularly believed to be exceptionally corrupt.

Curious that.

And now, not quite six months after Charest was unceremoniously booted from office by the slimmest of margins, the PQ under Premier Marois isn’t doing much of a better job. In fact I’d argue it’s doing a worse job.

But what’s truly amazing is just how well the PQ is destroying its own credibility. Or at least it seems rather impressive to me.

What preoccupies me is whether the PQ will undermine itself quick enough to provoke a strong public reaction against them, or whether they’ll so masterfully weave bullshit into a cohesive nation-building myth they actually manage to secure enough interest to actually call a referendum on Québec sovereignty (which as you might imagine, could mean just about whatever the fuck you want it to – every single Canadian citizen is 100% sovereign – our Constitution and Charter clearly define our rights and responsibilities, a proper social contract; without handing you bags of money I can’t imagine how much more the PQ plans on making you, me, or any of us for that matter).

So all that said, let’s take a quick gander at how the PQ is undermining itself. If nothing else, hopefully a series of outright idiotic incidents will make the collapse of the separatist movement in Québec a comic affair we’ll all share in laughing about later on.

Oh, and for the record, I’m exceptionally proud of the socially-progressive identity that has been crafted in Québec, particularly over the last fifty years. I believe the elusive Canadian identity can at least in part be found in the culture and society of my home province, whether the SSJB and PQ like it or not.

I’m also seriously thinking about joining both these organizations. The SSJB was once far more ‘federalist’ in political orientation (or at least Canadien Supremacist, if I may coin such a term).

Without further delay…

Step 1: Keep beating a dead horse. Even though support for Québec independence is low and the PQ has a minority government by the slimmest of margins, Premier Marois insists that “just as soon as we have the winning conditions” a referendum (presumably on the future of constitutional relations in Canada, but really, who the fuck knows) will be called and (apparently) Québecois will unanimously support the move for an independent Québec. The more she pushes the illusion of the necessity of Québec independence, the more she defines herself as a one-trick poney, something most Québecois may not approve of – after all, assuming she ever got her way, she hasn’t demonstrated she could lead an independent nation. This is largely because of…

Step 2: Alienating your support base. Such as the once-cohesive student protest movement that actually forced last fall’s election. Cutting $124 million from the post-secondary education budget while also not finding a viable solution to post-secondary education costs to the student is indeed a terrible situation, far worse given that it seemed the Charest administration brought in the tuition hike specifically to avoid the cuts. And what’s really puzzling here is that one would assume a liberal, if not to say progressive political party like the PQ would be in favour of more Keynesian economic theories, including managed deficit spending, as a necessary evil so as to maintain open access to high-quality universities. But no, not only are there cuts, now it seems as though there isn’t even a guarantee of possible future re-investment in education. If there’s anything a society should go into debt for, it’s without question the education of the next generations.

Which brings us back to alienating the base – it doesn’t help Marois much when Parizeau gets on her case for poor economic judgement. Remember, Parizeau is the economist who was supposed to have all the answers to the numerous questions about how Québec’s economy would work if we were independent. For the over 40 crowd, he may be seen as more ‘with it’ than the current administration, which is kind of all over the map. This can be illustrated by…

Step 3: Public demonstrations of disinterest, disengagement or flat-out pandering. Too much to list here, but I’m suspicious when cabinet ministers suddenly find money – $46 million to be precise – despite announced cuts and active cuts in related sectors, in this case education and healthcare.

Then there are the overt displays the PQ quite simply isn’t serious about governing. There’s no excuse for sleeping through Question Period. If you’re too sauced to pay attention, don’t bother showing up, but let’s be real, if you can’t manage to stay awake during what typically amounts to be a combative, argumentative session of political theatrics, you might not be cut out for the job. If Daniel Breton has trouble sleeping (as I and countless hundreds of thousands of other Canadians do), then he should see a doctor, take sleeping pills at night and coffee during the day.

There’s really no excuse for ‘being confused’ about simple government procedure and knowing how you want to vote on a given issue, yet somehow the PQ managed to vote against its own interests and support the opposition party’s motion which heavily criticized the PQ’s planned mega cuts to education. Being on the verge of tears in front of the TV cameras didn’t boost my confidence in our elected officials much either.

And then of course there was the ill-conceived trip to Scotland and, worse still, the failure to adequately prepare to be interviewed by the British Press. As you might expect, what Ms. Marois wanted to say and what was not the same thing, and though some logical or rhetorical incongruities may happen from time to time when discussing or debating large complex issues, the simple fact remains that Ms. Marois did not explain herself properly in either language – and if she had chosen to answer in French, for clarity’s sake, I’m certain the BBC could scare up a translator. Or perhaps Ms. Marois is so caught up in PQ rhetoric she actually believes Anglophones are insulted by French.

Québec independence is a joke – is it any wonder Alex Salmond tried to keep his distance, and opted for closed door meetings?

She’d be wise to watch out for strange bedfellows. Though the Scotland trip was poorly received and French Socialist President (and Malian saviour) François Hollande has already stated he doesn’t want to get involved, there are plenty of rightwing and far-right nationalist parties throughout Europe who share, at least on paper, a desire for greater independence for their ‘oppressed and marginalized peoples’. In Flanders, a right-wing party that seeks to break up Belgium once and for all. Elsewhere in Europe, nationalism has far more sinister tones and implications.

I suppose I’ve made some kind of a point, but I need to end on this:

How much is this actually costing us? Not just in terms of tax revenue wasted pursuing this pie-in-the-sky ‘goal’, but in terms of lost morale, population decline (whether as a result of putting off starting a family because of politics or losing your progeny to an unstable and stifling socio-political climate), diminishing investor confidence?

We’ve been dealing with this go-nowhere issue for more than 30 years (it’s been at least that long since anything of consequence actually happened, and there I would point to repatriation of the Constitution, the Federalist victory in 1980, Bill 101 and the dual Charters of rights, liberties etc as the major successes to come out of that era. We’ve ben waiting for the other shoe to drop for a long time.

And it’s gotten us nothing and brought us nowhere. Contemporary PQ politicians don’t even bother laying out a plan, presenting their transition procedure, or even philosophize about how we’d carve out our academic and intellectual sovereignty in a world that’s getting smaller with every great technological leap forward.

To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, we’re driving towards the future, but our leaders (if you can call them that) keep their gaze uniquely focused on the rear-view mirror.

Do we let this go in the name of political correctness, or as a result of catastrophic laziness, until we don’t recognize you we are nor what we’ve made of ourselves?

Does a nation have to grow up?

Pensées & Observations

Have been exceptionally busy with work – of all the times to not be able to fully devote myself to all the going’s on of our fair city!

First of all – how about that flood?

I suppose my question is – why was she trying to cross McTavish? Did she get stuck there or did she figure it wasn’t nearly as strong and made a break for it? And why not turn around?

I guess we’ll never know – what would any of us do in such a situation as discovering you’re in the midst of a raging torrent of water where once a walkway stood? I think she hit it out of the park on the way down – is it me or does it seem she has her hand extended as if to say, (dare he say it?) …yolo!

A magic carpet ride to Sherbrooke Street.

Buddy’s comment at the end of the video irked a few who came out and said on social media it’s a damn shame no one did anything to help her, and how it’s indicative of x,y and z social pathology etc etc.

What could anyone do? McGill doesn’t come equipped with throw lines and life jackets (though I suspect some over-zealous helicopter parents will doubtless soon request it). Perhaps a human chain could have assisted her, but it could just as easily could have resulted in many more people tumbling down McTavish.

In any event. No harm no foul, one hell of an anecdote and 15 minutes of fame. Bully for her.

***edit – Feb. 17th 2013***

Had to replace the video and as you can see it looks like she was swept down from far higher up McTavish, but I can’t help but feel this may be done on purpose; it almost looks like she’s trying to surf down. If I were trying to get across, or had somehow been pulled down by the deluge, I doubt I’d be as calm. Certainly a lot more flustered, panicky even.

***

Nothing like a freak flood to brighten one’s mood.

Though I was quite literally at the epicentre of major downtown flooding when it occurred, I only saw the aftermath, having been far too engrossed in the task at hand (that pays the man).

The truth is I really didn’t notice it at all.

Leaving late at night my twitterfeed informed me of water infiltration at Gare Centrale and Place Ville-Marie, and that alternate routes should be considered. My hat’s off to the AMT tweeter who quickly responded to my questions (in both official languages); excellent customer service. I decided to have a look anyways, figuring I’d continue on to Bonaventure if the Deux-Montagnes Line was fully down and out. A detour through PVM’s expansive underground corridors led me to a tunnel I had never walked through, despite about a decade’s worth of regular commuter train use. The corridor on the easternmost edge of PVM running towards Gare Centrale is unique – softly lit, a long, well-proportioned, satisfyingly rectangular tube with tasteful black and white photographs all long the way detailing the evolution of this veritable heart of the city. Emblematic of what I’d call the best parts of the Underground City. The shopping centres are a bit much.

So bully for me I guess. I love how this city manages to keep me on my toes, and leave something left to discover after all these years.

For reference, this is where all that water was gushing out of. There’s a reservoir under Rutherford Park, and if I’m not mistaken it’s absolutely massive (37 million gallons). The four foot diameter pipe that burst is apparently a solid 100-125 years old, and the reservoir’s last major renovation occurred in (wait for it) 2008-2009. And a pipe burst in 2011 that also sent a torrent of water down McGill’s elegant spine, though it was not as severe. If I had to guess the on-going construction work around the reservoir on Docteur-Penfield may have had something to do with it, though Rad-Can indicates the wild fluctuations in temperature may have also played a role. They also note that Louisbourg Construction is involved in the multi-year $1.3 billion renovation of the complex.

Hmmm. Perhaps when public probes into corruption in the construction industry hit a little too close to home, accidents start happening. Isn’t that what the mob does? Protection rackets?

Interesting fact; the reservoir was built in 1852 and remained uncovered for just over 100 years. It was built after a devastating fire in the mid-1850s, replacing the former primary reservoir where Carré Saint-Louis stands today. It’s pump-house is Chateau-styled, in keeping with much of the architecture of the upper McGill Campus, and it uses the stone face of the mountain as its walls on three sides. When they were blasting it open large chunks of rock flew off and penetrated the roof of the Administration Building.

Ah, the good old days.

***

Hot off the digital presses, a story by local journalist Christopher Curtis concerning panic on a commuter train stalled in the Mount Royal Tunnel during Monday’s inondation.

Apparently the train was stalled with no power, lighting or ventilation for twenty minutes, and some people started freaking out. Admittedly, it would get pretty uncomfortable pretty quick, what with those train cars jam-packed with 1500 or so commuters, all cranky and hungry and what all. But twenty minutes? I suppose it’s an eternity if you have to take a piss, but otherwise it seems kinda quick.

Question now is how to make the high traffic tunnel a little safer. Some want emergency exits, while others point to industrial fire-fighting equipment and better lighting as the answer. Either way it’ll cost a lot and few seem inclined to move on it – Marois has other priorities. (I recommend listening to the podcast – like nice old time CBC radio news.)

***

I had a neat experience – also transit and weather related – last Wednesday. It was the coldest it’s been as long as I can remember, and more significantly a prolonged deep freeze at that. Truly miserable when compared to today’s balmy hint of springtime. My early-morning commuter train stalled on the Deux-Montagnes Line at Montpellier Station; I snapped off a picture, tweeted it, and by the end of the day had done an interview for the CBC. Managed to turn a pain in the ass commute to very small scale media domination – photo got tweeted about, put up on the old cathode-ray, interview was broadcast twice on the radio – it happened very quickly and was fascinating to watch unfold.Photo’s here.

What concerned me is that we are all told to get off the train and go to the other side of the station for the next one, a train which, as we all expected, was completely full. The next two were as well. People huddled in the waiting room and café adjacent the station while others waited for slow moving buses and others still crowded into the small kiosk of a shell station. I milled about in the freezing cold waiting for cab that never showed. When I spotted a group haggling over who called the cab I lept at my opportunity, stating unequivocally that it was mine and I was getting the hell out of there.

Twenty-five dollars later I had managed to get from Montpellier to de la Savanne Métro station; the cabby told me not to waste my money, that the Métro would be far faster trying to get across town at 9:30 in the morning. By the time I reached Lionel-Groulx, already pissed at the lost productivity (I had taken a train to get me to ork for 8:00) I heard the dreaded ‘attention a tous les passagers’ as I was half way from one side to the other, the Métro doors of the orange line train slowly closing behind me. Fortunately it was in the other direction, at the other end of the Green Line. My heart was sunk anyways – such an ordeal and so far from ideal.

Many thanks to the fine people at the CBC for making it so worthwhile…

***

Urbania‘s Anglo edition is a must-read. Visit their site for free content but I recommend actually having a physical copy. It’s an exposé on Québec’s duality as seen through the looking glass – a minority’s viewpoint of a hidden minority, a series of revelations about the nuances of Québec society on the whole and with special respect to an Anglophone community that is increasingly seeing itself as Québecois. The magazine does a superb job crafting an intelligently designed report on the complex web of inter-relations, demonstrating, in my eyes, the immense socio-cultural wealth we glean from Québec’s special relationship.

In their cheeky and rambunctious style, Urbania threw open the door and welcomed a potential new readership base most francophone media would otherwise ignore. I think they’re on to something – Anglophones in Québec are sufficiently proficient in French all they really need to take it a step further into fluency is to be extended a hand to read something hip. I’m impressed. I’m more than impressed. From what I’ve heard the academic community specializing in the philosophy of inter-culturalism is also quite impressed.

So bully for us.

***

I’ve come to the realization that should Québec ever vote to secede from Canada, there’s really no reason why Montréal should find itself as no longer being a part of Canada. I don’t mean to argue in favour of the partition of Québec (the Cree, Mohawk and Inuit have already made their positions quite clear on the matter, and ultimately I think it’s their call to make given our hydro dams are on their territory, but I digress), but simply to say that Montréal is as much a part of Québec as it is Canada, and that we would not recover economically from the population loss, wealth transfer, reduction in property values and loss of key Canadian corporations, including the substantial crown corporations and federal agencies operating out of Montréal.

So why even bother going down that road? The people of the region don’t want to be stuck (again) between the opposing views of Ottawa and Québec City (and frankly we’ve been held back by both for too long as is), and have deep cultural, social and economic links stretching across provincial and national borders. So if Québec were to pull-out of Confederation, so be it, I won’t be happy, but there’s no reason Montréal can’t be shared by both. Berlin without the Wall; a post-modern solution to what is in essence a festering 18th century scab we just can’t help ourselves from picking at.

Let it be.
Let it be.
I’d like to see how this city moves and shakes when all the pistons are firing and we’ve abandoned our inefficiencies, our indifference and our self-imposed incompatibility.

***

A couple weeks back, a conversation between two people on the commuter train (yes, I do nothing but ride the rails all day in a suit and tie, as you might expect) I saw one of those quintessential Montréal moments. Two middle aged people, colleagues, a man and a woman. He with Baltic features and a former Soviet Bloc accent, she multi-generational Chinese-Canadian, the two of them having a splendid little conversation in both English and French. And manke no mistake – they were both speaking both, interchanging as if on a whim. Both spoke both languages with such fluidity I couldn’t tell which they used more frequently. Fully intelligible and intelligent too. They say bilingualism is good for the brain.

***

Last points – two recent small business discoveries I’m quite keen on.

Crossover Comics at 3568 rue Notre Dame West (a hop, skip and a jump from Lionel-Groulx) – excellent selection, affable, knowledgeable staff, highly recommended.

&

Freak Lunchbox, a confectionary funhouse at 3680 the Main. While it’s pricey and very easy to spend a lot of money there, you’ll have a blast doing it. Excellent place to pass by if you’re off to see a flick and want something to nosh on that’s actually considerably less expensive and more satisfying than most multiplex offerings. They also have a lot of high-sugar treats most of us generally don’t have access to. Highly recommended for people seeking the ideal gift for the ‘hard-to-buy-gifts-for’ people we all know and love, as well as those who enjoy 1980s power pop.