6 Blog excerpts

Hugh McGuire and katemcdo

Friday afternoon I was invited along on Projet Montréal’s boat junket to hear Richard Bergeron’s ideas for rethinking the city’s maritime entry. I had not met the man before but he’s clearly fired up about a number of things, including the fact that the first thing you see of the city, coming up the river, is the La Ronde parking lot, which he would like to see become the site of an iconic structure of some kind. He’s also into the notion of a cable car hopping across from Montreal to the islands to the South Shore.

More pragmatically, Bergeron has a vision of Montreal’s potential for greatness. He’s a fan of middle-period Jean Drapeau. He harks back to the day when streets like Saint-Joseph were regarded as urban boulevards with a certain Parisian grandeur: one of his best points is that he can’t face having more of our major streets turn into suburban strip mall horrors like south-shore Taschereau or, for that matter, Sherbrooke Street eastward of the Olympic park. Some may criticize him because at heart a lot of his impulses are aesthetic ones, but that’s precisely why he’s getting my vote.

One more thing he said that’s stuck with me: a city can afford to bide its time till good ideas come along. He mentioned the Tremblay administration’s rush to do something with the old Francon quarry in Saint-Michel, and how it only managed to come up with the idea of constructing a mall built around a Wal-Mart. He is right. We can do better.

15 October 2009

Today is Blog Action Day on climate change – #bad09 on Twitter. Bloggers sign up and post an item related to the topic.

I’d like to pose mine as a question: what is each of the three major parties running inMontreal’s November 1 election promising in terms of climate issues?
Admittedly most major climate initiatives happen above the municipal level, but a climate concern that cities face is the processing of organic waste. This is connected to climate change because organic material stuffed into anaerobic landfills produces methane, a far more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. That’s what we’re doing now with most of this city’s organic waste, although the Saint-Michel environmental complex does recoup the methane from the landfill in the old quarry and use it to generate electricity. (Composting only produces a small amount of carbon dioxide gradually over the whole process.)

Disappointingly, Union Montreal has so far failed to post any platform on the environment whatsoever. “À venir” is not good enough when there’s just over two weeks till the election. City promises to develop composting have failed to materialize into actual services – there may be reasons for this but lack of political will is at the top of the list.
Almost as disappointing is Vision Montreal‘s program. “Environment” is not even a header. The last item on their list is “sustainable development” – a long catch-all document which repeatedly detours into Vision’s obsession with city vs. borough responsibilities and meanders on about eradicating ragweed, protecting Mount Royal, creating beach access to the river and other issues which, while possibly important in themselves, mostly don’t address the question of the city’s performance as an environmental citizen.
Projet Montréal has the most comprehensive environment page with a promise to reduce greenhouse gases by 30% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050, and another to replace one of the two weekly garbage collections with an organic materials collection. Richard Bergeron’s pet scheme – building a tram system – also has the virtue of potentially reducing emissions in town as well.

After following this campaign closely since before it began I think Bergeron’s environmental ideas are by far the best integrated into a cohesive view of the city’s future. He, like any other mayor of Montreal, may have trouble getting funds from other levels of government, but his party has built its platform over several years of consultation and he’s aware of the new directions we’ll need to take as climate change accelerates. He’s not using the environment category to patch up holes in his platform: it’s clear the party sees the issue as a central one, and not just a means of spreading around some touchy-feely PR.

It seems likely that Montrealers, along with so many others, will stand by this December and watch world powers make a mess of climate planning in Copenhagen. That means that local government may have to step up and do the necessary work, even if national or federal governments do not. It’s going to be more important than ever to vote for municipal officials who have shown an understanding of the importance of these issues.

20 October 2009

Blogging this municipal election is so much more intense than 2005: I’ve just reread my entries from that autumn to recall the mood. It’s hard to even remember that Mayor Tremblay was running then against Pierre Bourque, who was trying to get his old job back. But a few of the stories hint at troubles to come.

Early August 2005: Tremblay advisor Richard Théorêt bailed on the mayor’s party (then commonly known as UCIM) and went to work for Pierre Bourque, citing poor ethics and a lack of transparency. We were worried about where Karla Homolka was living, and MSO musicians were on strike. August 29, Tremblay launched his campaign with a few barbs at Bourque.

I posted on September 1, 2005:

This fall, the city’s going to try out a system of electronic voting as we vote for reps in the newly slimmed down post-merger city. It’s supposed to take a minute and a half to vote this way. Call me a pessimist, but I’m writing that down now, and we’ll see what actually happens on November 6.

This year, ballots will be counted by hand, by human beings.

Mid-September, Tremblay unveiled the Montreal 2025 plan, with a website which is still being updated, and went on to promise bread-and-butter items like a cleaner city and better roads. Bourque promised improvements and flowers and no new taxes. On September 22 I noted a La Presse piece about the city selling subsidized housing to a promoter, but the story link is dead. Late September, Tremblay’s election placards were investigated by the OLF for containing the word “Go”.

September 23: the official campaign opened. September 30, I made my first note of the existence of Projet Montréal.

October 2005 opened with a story about businessmen who made contributions to Tremblay’s party being rewarded with contracts. Bourque responded with a promise to form an ethics committee. A week later, though, water fluoridation briefly became the big issue. Meantime, the plan to bring the Casino to the Peel Basin was still alive, and people living nearby were protesting hard against the project.

Mid-October, the Gazette was grumbling that the campaign lacked drama. Urban crud andpotholes were the topics du jour. Clearly nobody was going to say “I like potholes and trash, let’s have more of them!” Tremblay promised more trees and cleaner water.

Mid campaign, municipal affairs minister Nathalie Normandeau changed the rules for the agglomeration council to give the mayor of Montreal the balance of power, then shebacktracked hastily.

October 28, Tremblay got pied, apparently by blue-collar workers.

The first part of the Gomery Report on federal corruption was tabled November 1, which might partly account for the lack of public interest in the municipal elections held November 6. The Mirror noted that the campaign was a snoozer compared to the big messy merged-city vote of 2001.

November 6, Gérald Tremblay was re-elected as mayor with only 35% of the electorate casting votes. Tremblay received 53% of the votes to Bourque’s 36%. Pierre Bourque called for recounts, based on multiple failures by the electronic voting machines, but the vote was not close enough for the idea to have any traction.

This blog was originally begun not long after the 2001 election, so I can’t chase its history down in the same way. I had a bad disk crash in March 2006, so none of the entries from before then are accessible to readers.’

1 November 2009

I voted late morning at École Secondaire Lucien-Pagé.

I’ve lived in Villeray since 2005 and every poll in every election I’ve seen since then has been held at this school. It’s a horrible building, a large low crawling concrete bunker of the worst sort of 1970s Quebec brutalist architecture. I walked around the entire thing today and can tell you one startling thing about it: it has no front door. There are lots of ugly fire doors and half hidden doorways of various kinds where teachers huddle for a smoke between classes, but no actual architectural feature that constitutes a presence on the street.

I walked up to the school today and saw a small “scrutin” sign on a sandwich board with an arrow pointing to the back of the building. Not only has every election used this building, they’ve all used different entrances, so I set off to the back, walking along looking for another sign. Nothing, and nobody was around. Hiked around the back and around again to the front, where I encountered two other parties of lost souls looking for the polls. We joined forces and walked around some more, and then finally saw a single 8.5×11″ sheet of paper with a single black arrow on it, taped onto a steel garbage container. This indicated the entrance, hidden from street view, where one went in to find the school gym where the polls were.

Nobody was lined up. I walked right in and voted, and then had a word with the fellow on the door about how difficult it had been to find the entrance. He insisted there was a sign outside, and walked me outside to show it to me. There it was, another 8.5×11″ sheet taped to a wall, behind a parking lot, and at least thirty yards from the sidewalk and the initial sandwich board I had fruitlessly followed to the back of the building.

I suggested he might put out a few more arrows, and he said he would consider it. I should bloody hope so. I’m able-bodied and need no glasses, but this kind of bullshit puts an insuperable barrier up for anyone frail, elderly, short-sighted or otherwise even mildly disabled.

==

Michèle Ouimet writes about anglophone blues in choosing a mayor and candidates to vote for today. She’s normally an acute observer but I think she misfires here, not least in portraying local anglos as elderly one-trick ponies of debate.

I did not vote for Louise Harel or any of her people. I did not like Vision Montreal even when Benoit Labonté was in charge, and obviously his visible fall from grace didn’t encourage me to give it more consideration. I never lived in a place directly blighted by the forced mergers, although you could say that the entire city is still living under some shadow of that blight. I have always felt, as a Montrealer, that many sovereignists longed to minimize the importance of this city as an unmanageable and vibrant multi-ethnic world they could never completely dominate, and I did not and do not welcome the idea of a sovereignist mayor coming to rule it directly.

But my problem with Harel is not the simple issue that she is a sovereignist. My problem is that her being a sovereignist, and her wanting to reopen the issue of borough powers, does not appeal to me because I’ve seen this pattern eat Quebec up for decades. It suggests four years of sterile constitutional-type debate, and my heart sinks on even thinking about it. Let her take her broom and ride away on it.

2 November 2009

The official election results page – nicely organized, I must say – makes interesting reading this morning. Gérald Tremblay is mayor with 37.5% of the vote, against 32.86% for Louise Harel and 25.67% for Richard Bergeron. Bergeron’s Projet swept all seven positions in the Plateau. Linda Gyulai reports on the mixed message sent by voters.

Few mayors can have won back their seat with so little approval, summed up in this Le Devoir editorial which points out that Tremblay mostly owes his win to Louise Harel’s inability to summon up sufficient support and goes on to warn him he’d better shape up because the parties in opposition will be on his case. In the same paper, Michel David bewails the city’s besmirched reputation and the re-election of Tremblay.

In La Presse, Yves Boisvert sings a similar tune, reminding the mayor that, though he may have won, it wasn’t for very good reasons. Other editorialists and opinion-makers concur that Tremblay may have won but he still has to win back the confidence of citizens.
La Presse is also evoking the spectre of Quebec basically taking the reins and making the city its direct financial ward which would not, shall we say, look so good.

No, the opposition politicians have their work cut out. They’re the ones that will have to keep a sharp eye on this new Tremblay administration and make it clean up its act, or else next time it will be the one hung out to dry.

14 November 2009

At the risk of poking a sacred cow with a stick, I’m going to suggest that the notion of blocking access to education for any reason will be seen, in retrospect, as slightly insane in a society where 29% of kids are dropping out of high school and, even when they reach CEGEP, many can’t pass a basic language competence test. In a world where even the most basic job postings often require a degree or a professional qualification, having nearly a third of your kids fail to even finish high school is an economic and cultural disaster, and some fundamental assumptions must be questioned if this situation is to improve.

Rima Elkouri and Pierre Foglia both have penetrating insights about what happens if, instead of fixing education, you dumb down the testing process.

==

Apropos the whole royalty thing last week, I’ve never been personally keen (most of my ancestry is Irish) but I have a couple of devil’s-advocate points to make about it.

One, it sets us apart from the U.S.

From the various things I’ve read this week I imagine that, if anything, it’s the French system of president and prime minister that dissatisfied francophones would emulate, but with a president, we’d soon look even more like a feeble copy of our friends south of the border than we do now.

Two, it creates some continuity.

I am not saying the House of Windsor has handled things particularly well in the current generation, but as I get older I begin to see some value in things that persist through the generations and are not easily dismissed by the freak of a media trend or a random scandal.

A country needs some symbols that don’t come and go like prime ministers and pop stars. Canada’s legal system is founded on the crown, and our heraldic symbols are founded on royalty. Punt the queen and we’d have to invent some stuff from scratch: do you think a government committee could come up with something better than a rampant lion? Whatever we invented we’d inevitably want to redesign every decade or so. Better to have a few symbols that, when you scratch them, you find bedrock.

The Quebec flag? The fleur-de-lys is a French royal emblem. Try again.

Three, several well regarded nations have monarchs and nobody makes fun of them: theNetherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Japan. They’re all able to be perfectly democratic while having a monarch and nobody sees a conflict.

Four, if you think non-monarchical countries are not largely ruled on the basis of birth, you’re kidding yourself.
Five, does it not seem odd that almost all countries and corporations are structured in a pyramid shape and headed by one man? Is this coincidence? It may not be the most efficient way of heading up a country or a company but it is a pattern we fall into as a species, and monarchy is just a manifestation of it.

I don’t think the monarchy will be thrown out anytime soon, but I do think it will dwindle in importance over time for reasons we can’t see yet as the world becomes more and more networked and things are administered in wholly new ways. We no longer need to chop off heads or throw eggs. We’ve got more pressing worries.

18 November 2009

Montrealers are more concerned about the environment than residents of other Canadian cities, although I think the explanation that it’s due to the recent election campaign is not a good one. Not enough people were involved in the campaign to stir up feeling, and I remember walking in a huge environmental demo a couple of winters back when no campaign was going on.

It’s a complex issue but I think there may be a clue in the photo that accompanies the article. It’s the river. The river mirrors the state of the environment and we’re all aware on some level that it would be bad news for Montreal to be bathing in a sea of effluent. Keeping the river clean is the consequence of a whole suite of sound environmental practice. It’s just the nature of our geography.

30 November 2009

It’s the eighth anniversary of the Montreal City Weblog. I’d been thinking about how the media landscape has changed since I began this blog, but was decisively nudged by the news that the word of the year is Twitter.

The major local media have adapted to the reality of multimedia since the days of 2001 and in general their websites are faster and easier to use. I don’t think the rotating-top-story method as used by Radio-Canada and Rue Frontenac is a great solution, though. At least Radio-Canada has a stable listing of the stories to one side, but on Rue Frontenac, if you decide you want to read a story and miss clicking it, you have to wait till it cycles around again.

But newspapers never did settle on one physical layout forever and for all, so there’s no reason they all ought to settle for one interface style either.

Mobile content is also a new world since 2001. Rue Frontenac and La Presse both have very nifty iPhone apps (based on the same platform, but it’s a good one) which not only hand you the manchettes but configure the content for comfortable mobile reading. I want more of the media to go this way. The worst local example is CJAD, which has a reasonable Twitter feed of news stories but when you try to click through any link from an iPhone it defaults to a generic Astral Media Radio page. Distinct fail. It would also help if they had a local-stories-only feed, but there’s only a one-size-fits-all jumble of local stuff and general CP content.

Another iPhone fail is the CBC’s own radio app. It offers Radio One local stations for everywhere in Canada except Montreal. You can use a radio streaming app like FStream and get the station, so there’s a workaround. But the omission bugs me. I’ve emailed the CBC about this issue and had no response.

I’ve never blogged extensively from my iPod Touch, although I could if I had to. There’s an app for that too.

When I do the blog in the morning I still get up and summon about twenty tabs into Safari. But throughout the day I mostly watch Twitter. Twitter is definitely the biggest change since this blog began. No question why it’s so much more effective than, say, an RSS aggregator like Google Reader – it forces people to be terse. Google Reader does have its place, though.

I have to mention the decline in the old arts weeklies since 2001. There was a time when the Mirror, Voir and Hour had a countercultural edge but it’s seldom I find myself wanting to link to them now. (Hour’s new blog does at least have some promise.) On the other hand, I’m often impressed by the crispness of the work coming from Metro, although they’re in no sense a subversive paper. They have a few people who can get a good local story down onto the page.

Also, Rue Frontenac’s been so refreshing. Those guys can really run a paper when they’re not working to the Quebecor scandal-of-the-week model of journalism.
I wish there were more bloggers observing the local scene critically and consistently. I know it’s hard and often unrewarding in the short term, but this city needs it.
Now I’ve only got two years to figure out how to celebrate the blog’s 10th anniversary. I’m thinking gold lamé.

==

A slightly flustered Gazette blog entry quotes a Josh Freed column so lame and Josh Freedy that I didn’t link to it, about how the official word “baguel” and the word “Longueuil” are supposed to rhyme. Anyone who thinks this, even for lame comic purposes, has a cloth ear for language: baguel and Longueuil do not sound alike. I am not enough of a linguistic scholar to give you theIPA for each word (Wikipedia says the city name is lɔ̃ɡœj), but let’s just start with the fact that in “baguel” you’re pronouncing that final L, whereas “Longueuil” involves a really choice diphthong that even francophones only use occasionally, and does not involve a terminal L. This is not a rhyme.
As for toponymy, Andy Riga goes on to quote some guy in a weekly paper who doesn’t like anglos to refer to Nuns’ Island. But the thing is this: people have been naming places around Montreal in English for a couple of centuries. We realize that those names won’t be used in official business now, but there’s no sensible reason for ordinary human discourse to be limited to official nomenclature. It’s not natural.
In other words, it should be fine for an anglo to meet a friend at the corner of Pine and Park, or to live on Nuns’ Island if they have the inclination. I’d be thrilled to know more about the names for parts of town in other languages too – il fiume San Lorenzo! El Oratorio de San José de Monte Real (the site of el corazón del Hermano André)! Bring it on!

12 January 2010

National Post commentary on the Halle Berry story misses the point. First, other passengers were not annoyed by seeing the actress escorted past the line: the incident was spotted by one alert journalist, and any outrage was expressed after the fact. Second, nobody had noticed Berry and her family in line: commentators seem to forget that, dressed down, most stars can pass unnoticed. An airport queue is hardly a red carpet. The story does not involve fans mobbing the actress or causing her distress.

The point is this: it was a security line. An airport cop made a reasonable judgement that this famous actress was not packing explosives in her pants. I strongly suspect this kind of VIP treatment happens all the time but is done discreetly and is rarely noticed. If irked at the idea, people should remember that if a famous person gets escorted away, that’s one more party that doesn’t have to be processed in the long, tedious security search line.

I’m not defending the idea that fame should let you jump every queue, but in this case, and in the more recent case of Gildor Roy, it’s a reasonable assumption that the famous and successful have no reason to sow terror on airplanes. Also, a large part of security processing involves simply checking identity, and a famous person’s identity is already established, as is their bona fides. Let them clear out of the way so the rest of us can inch a little closer to our destination.

25 January 2010

Nathalie Collard writes feelingly about the state of the Main, specifically the bit between Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal still failing to rebound after the long dig that pushed a lot of folks out of business.It’s a part of the city known for its ability to survive both the good times and the bad, but the one-two punch of lengthy roadworks followed by a recession has left a lot of storefronts empty (the doorway above used to be that of a trendy clothing boutique, Dex).

Old, potentially beautiful features like the onetime falafel resto at the corner of Pine, at left, could be lost by neglect and lack of care and investment. Collard is right: we need to act fast or there could be permanent damage from which the street can’t recover.

(I was thinking of doing an entry about some of the eyesores on the upper Main above the tracks, but there’s no doubt that it’s less travelled than the Plateau section, so I’ll leave that till later.)

30 January 2010

The Gazette reports on the appearance and disappearance of a Facebook fan page for Kimveer Gill, the Dawson College shooter. In sheer quaintness of reporting this item’s up there, reminding us that Westmount is a “tony neighbourhood,” telling us Facebook did not return their calls, commenting that the alleged perpetrator of the page – one Mark Kyy – did not turn up on a search of the phone book.

The phone book, forsooth.

Mark Kyy still has a Facebook page, though, where he wishes happy birthday to Cho Seung-Huiand notes his membership of such groups as “I WISH I WAS DEAD!!!”, “Free Armin Meiwes” and “Fuck Haiti.” All pose? A cry for help? Could be either.

22 February 2010

The sudden reappearance of the Outremont convent condo conversion on city hall’s agenda is expected to be contentious this evening, because the same project was submitted to the public and roundly criticized before.

Looking at the picture you can see it’s a massive although not especially beautiful building. What occurs to me, though, is that in coming years the Quebec government is going to need a lot of space to warehouse the horde of aging baby boomers that are coming with demographic inevitability. It should be snapping up buildings like this and getting them ready; instead, it will wait till the existing system is overwhelmed, waffle on building vastly expensive new “green” buildings, fidget endlessly over public vs. private funding, and by the time the buildings are built it will be too late.

(I went to high school in a building which had been enlarged with the worst of Quebec 1970s brutalist concrete architecture in response to the baby boom surge – about ten years too late. Government, gotta love it.)

La Presse also has a look today at the many churches and convents that are no longer needed here for their original purpoase. I maintain that those buildings should be regarded as at least partly publicly owned, because the public subsidized them for so many years. At least some of them ought to be turned into facilities for the public good.
Later note: Nathalie Collard also has a blog entry today about keeping Mount Royal public, and not turning over major installations to private owners.

26 March 2010

The Gazette draws some political lines in the sand here with Mike Boone’s delineation of a future struggle for the Royal Vic in which he pre-emptively tars anyone who would defend the buildings as public property as a “nutter” and mentions his confidence in the “enlightened stewardship” of this city as concerns great public landmarks.
I suspect I have been effectively trolled, but this is ridiculous. Among other things, the discussion of the fate of the Vic may well begin in the next municipal administration. Whatever you think of Gérald Tremblay, he will almost certainly no longer be mayor, the city’s political landscape could be quite different, and the attitude of its leaders to heritage properties an unknown quantity when this debate occurs. In any case, the Tremblay administration has been no better than any before it in managing heritage buildings. Many are still rotting away, and others are allowed to pass quietly into private hands, even when they were built and sustained by decades of public money. There’s no enlightenment in any of this.

Boone also blurs two issues. One is that the Vic is a public building, and should remain at the service of the public. People are managing to forget that we’re soon going to need more extended care beds. The baby boom demographic that created a new school rush in the 1960s is just as inevitably going to require a surge in old folks’ homes – and, as these will be the folks whose savings have been hardest hit by the recent recession, many of them will have to be housed on the public dime.

By the time the Royal Vic ceases to exist as a general hospital (if that time ever comes), its space will be needed for extended care, and it’s worth a fight to keep the building within the public sphere and useful to the city in the way its originators intended.

The other issue is the urban fabric, in this case the question of Mount Royal and the traffic along its flanks. Building a busy condo complex on its very edge (Boone flaunts that “the backyard view is Mount Royal Park”) would flout every promise made over the past decade to preserve the mountain’s nature. Going for a walk on the mountain will no longer be a guarantee of a fresh breeze in summertime. It’ll be a chance for a lungful of upscale car exhaust.

Remember too: if the building can be privatized, there’s nothing stopping the city from handing over part of the park as an annex to the new condos, and fencing it off from public use.

Seeing these potential problems is not to become the kind of person Boone invites us to mock. In fact, I don’t think that kind of person exists except in his confused mind. The only thing he may be right about is that a struggle may be on the horizon about the fate of the craggy old building.

 

Table 2.1: Number of libraries, by country

Country Number of libraries
Brazil 5,097
Lithuania 1,335
Philippines 1,124
Chile 526
Ghana 257
Bangladesh 68
Total 8,407
Source: 2010 and 2007 IFLA World Reports  

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