It’s that time of the year again, the time for review of the year articles, the top 10s of 2013, the political winners and the political losers. Unfortunately this article is not going to take such a clear cut stance, but it will make reference to one of the most important tends in this past year, the rise of the socialist alternative.

2013 most certainly could go down in the memories of progressives, radicals, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries as just another dull year within an infinite sea of rampant victorious capitalism. Some might say, as always amazing movements were bread in these past 365 days but none of them gave birth to anything of substance.

And such could be said of almost every year since Fukuyama, oracle in chief of the new world order, announced the  end of history. For Fukuyama and the neo-liberal guard, the fall of the wall of Berlin and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc coincided with the ushering in of a new age, a never changing age of relentless growth and prosperity, an age in which any alternative to capitalism was dead in the egg.

From the onset, Fukuyama’s divination seemed quite fragile. It foresaw a utopia on earth, but never answered the question, for whom?

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Was this the end of history? Some think so, but is that changing in 2013?

Certainly since 1989 the rapid growth of global capitalism is due to the erasing of almost every from of regulation: regulation of the financial markets or regulation of trade. In this new world the main enemy is any barrier to the complete freedom of multinationals and corporations.

In pure economic terms there is no doubt that these past decades have been fabulous for the GDP and NASDAQ and all their siblings within the family tree of economic indicators. The wild 90s and 2000s were la belle époque, but not the end of history.

For its proponents and ardent defenders the end of history was not, in any way shape or form, the end of inequality or the dawning of a more just world, quite to the contrary. For those that crafted the doublespeak rhetoric of the end of history, it literally meant that, like it or not, capitalism was here to stay. The only alternative, communism, had crumbled and thus from now on consumerism was a synonym for freedom, capitalism was liberty and inequality was the natural way of things.

On the other hand any “alternative” to the new modus operandi was thrown into the dustbin of history alongside “communism” (insert here Stalinism). Any movement that spoke of a greater redistribution of wealth or fought for the defense of the social welfare state – or as Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, the right to an adequate standard of living – was trash.

For the neo-liberal elite, the welfare state is seen as the final frontier, a regulation of society at large that must be abolished under current standards. Thus ‘left-wing’ movements, be they social-democratic, socialist or any other alternative tendency, have been struggling for relevance in this new age and some have chosen the path of least resistance and decided to implement the norms and dictates of the end of history, somehow thinking that this would make them relevant again.

Hand in hand with this loss of relevance goes the alienation of many groups in society that have lost for faith in the democratic system in its entirety. A democratic system that offers no substantial alternative breeds in itself disaffection and apathy, slow is the death of democracy as we know it.

Michelle Bachelet during the most recent presidential election in Chile
Michelle Bachelet during the most recent presidential election in Chile

And yet the 2008 crisis has planted the seeds of something new. The world has been rocked by popular discontent voiced in different ways, in very different parts of the globe. And the year 2013 was no different with continued uprisings in Europe against austerity –the dismantling of the welfare state through brutal “structural adjustments”– uprisings in Turkey against the privatization of public spaces, here in Canada protests, led by First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities, erupted against environmental degradation for short-term profit.

But most importantly, 2013 was a year in which many struggles gained concrete victories amidst great aversion.

In Chile, Camila Vallejo, Gabriel Boric, Giorgio Jackson and Karol Cariola, leaders of the student protests that have rocked the country since 2011, were elected to parliament. Vallejo was elected on a communist ticket and that party, after the last legislative elections, has the biggest percentage of seats since the time of Salvador Allende.

Still in Chile, Michele Bachelet was reelected to the highest position in the country with a whopping 62 percent of the vote, the biggest percentage for a presidential candidate in the history of the Chilean left. Madame Bachelet was elected on a platform to continue to roll back the reforms that were ushered in under the military junta of Pinochet and to implement universal free post-secondary education.

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From Kshama Sawant’s twitter, campaign for 15 dollars minimum wage

One of the greatest victories of 2013 surprisingly had for a backdrop the United States of America. For the first time since the great depression, a major American city elect an openly socialist candidate to office.

Kshama Sawant was elected bringing to the center stage of American politics the struggle for a living wage instead of a minimum wage, rent control and higher taxes for the wealthiest. The victory of her grassroots movement is the embodiment of the Socialist Alternative that in 2013 started to dawn.

In Europe, splinter left-wing groups that offer a true alternative to the neo-liberal status-quo championed by center-center right and center-center left wing political parties are on the rise. Syriza the ‘radical’ left-wing coalition of several left-wing political parties is now given the lead in the polls. Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras, has been endorsed by the European left to lead a new anti-austerity coalition in the upcoming European elections.

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Syriza founding congress picture by Eleanna Kounoupa Creative Commens on Flickr

Here in Montreal, Projet Montreal more than doubled its seats in city council and has become, for the first time in history, official opposition. A coalition of progressives from all walks of life and Quebecois left-wing political tendencies has shown the way for left-wing movements to link social movements and grassroots politics to a prominent place on the political spectrum.

For these reasons the year that is now coming to end was a very fruitful one in which the alternative to this current system of savage capitalism grew in an extraordinary manner, and announced the return of history.

For this reason we have much to look forward to in 2014.

A Luta Continua

Denis Coderre is the Mayor of Montreal. Let’s all let that sink in, the man who hangs with Club Charbonneau regulars, thinks it’s cool to lock up mask-wearing protestors and once helped make a coup happen in Haiti is now our mayor.

To put it mildly, it’s not the outcome I wanted, not in the slightest. That said, all is not bad, in fact some things could end up being quite good.

We lived through Gerald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum, so we can live through Coderre. They’re really not all that different.

What is different, and this is huge, is that Coderre does not have a majority on the city council. He only has 27 of the 33 seats required for one. Projet Montreal, with 20 seats, is now a very strong opposition, much stronger than they were after the last election.

They are also stronger at the borough level, retaining their control of the Plateau and Rosemont-La Petite Patrie and picking up all the city and borough council seats in Sud Ouest except for that of borough mayor. Projet’s Jason Prince very narrowly lost to incumbent and candidate for Marcel Côté’s Coalition Montréal Benoit Dorais.

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Projet Montreal candidates, now city and borough councillors in Sud Ouest (l-r) Craig Sauvé, Sophie Thiébaut, Anne-Marie Sigouin and Alain Vaillancourt with outgoing Projet leader Richard Bergeron in the centre

Meanwhile in Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Projet’s seat count went from one to two, which also is huge. As NDG councilor Peter McQueen found out last time, one councilor can propose motions, but it takes a seconder for them to be heard and debated and in a council controlled by an opposing party that doesn’t listen to outside voices, that can mean nothing gets through. Now, Magda Popeanu, who beat uber incumbent Helen Fotopulos in the Côte-des-Neiges district and McQueen can support each other.

Projet leader Richard Bergeron won his seat in Saint Jacques in the Ville Marie borough. It was a bold move for him selecting a colistière (or running mate, whose seat the party leader takes if they aren’t elected mayor but their designated co-candidate is elected to council) outside of the safety of the Plateau.

This move paid off, ensuring that he can sit on the council as leader of the opposition. Yesterday, though, Bergeron decided that three elections are enough and he would only keep his seat, and the leadership of Projet, for the next 18-24 months then resign from politics for good.

This inevitably will mean a leadership race, the first in the party’s history. Whomever that leader will be will have to figure out who on the council the — Projet councillors can count on for support, if Bergeron hasn’t already set those particular wheels in motion by the time they take over.

Marcel Côté, whose colistière finished third to Popeanu and Fotopulos, doesn’t have a seat on council himself, but six of his teammates do. Some of them are ex-Union as are many of Coderre’s councillors, so them siding with Projet on key issues is doubtful at best, though you never know.

Mélanie Joly got four city councillors elected: Steve Shanahan in Peter McGill downtown, Lorraine Pagé in the Sault-au-Récollet district of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Justine McIntyre in Pierrefonds-Roxboro’s Bois-de-Liesse district and Normand Marinacci was elected borough mayor if L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where her party also picked up all four borough council seats. Borough councilors don’t sit on city council, despite potentially bringing some Vrai Changement to Île-Bizard.

Even though Joly finished second for mayor, just a few points ahead of Bergeron and not that far from Coderre, she failed to get a seat on council herself. She ran her colistière in NDG against McQueen, a popular incumbent.

If, instead, she had placed her running mate in Peter McGill, where she has personal political experience (in Shaughnessy Village), she’d have a seat on council today. It’s that kind of decision that led me to believe those (including FTB’s Taylor Noakes) who were and are saying that she had no intention of staying in the municipal arena if she wasn’t elected mayor and would try instead federally with the Liberals (she has worked with Trudeau before).

Melanie Joly
Mélanie Joly (photo by Valeria Bismar)

Now, though, it looks like she wants to stick around, after all. She has pledged to run for the first seat on council that opens up and extended an olive branch to Bergeron a day before he said he was quitting.

Olive branches and parties working together are how good things can actually come out of the current city administration. True, as mayor and through mechanisms like the executive committee, Coderre wields considerable power. It’s also true that Côté councilors will probably vote with their former Union Montreal or establishment colleagues, but they are not obliged to.

The Joly councilors, Joly herself and all the independents and borough-specific candidates are wildcards. If Projet could bring enough of those wildcards into their well-stacked deck and create enough groundswell in the districts represented by Côté candidates, then they may be able to bring about positive change whether Coderre wants it or not.

I’m not saying this will be enough to, say, get rid of P6, but it might. It can’t hurt to try with that or with other issues important to Montrealers like transport or the awarding of city contracts.

I’m hopeful. Mainly because this will require a grassroots approach to politics, rather than a top-down one. And that is the type of political approach where Projet Montreal excels.

The 2013 Montreal municipal election was a sham, plain and simple.

With only 43% of eligible voters casting their ballots, we’ve scarcely improved on our 2009 low of 39% participation. 625 000 eligible voters did not exercise their democratic right to vote in our city’s most important election to date.

Disengagement in 2009 is at least partly to blame for so many crooks and criminals making their way into the halls of power, robbing the taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars, but the apparent anger did not manifest itself in our most cherished democratic tradition; expected ‘high’ voter turnout was but a minuscule bump.

Our city is only just beginning to comprehend the magnitude and implication of multiple generations of outright fraud built directly into the established local and provincial political systems, and yet, in our moment to effect change the people chose not to, by and large. And we wonder why our collective tax revenue doesn’t seem to provide for much…

If the people don’t use the democratic tools they have at their disposal there can be no hope of any positive socio-political or socio-economic change.

What’s worse is that we know low voter turnout plays directly into the strategies of these ‘vedette’ mayoral candidates. Disengagement means they keep their margins small, their favours few.

voter turnout rate montreal

Two key urban demographic groups – students and recent immigrants – are disenfranchised simply because it’s disadvantageous for politicians to involve themselves in the affairs of these groups. The establishment mentality is that this population is ‘transient’ or otherwise impermanent and thus not worthy of any attention. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people here. Do they not have an interest in this city’s future as well?

We also know that a number of boroughs (such as LaSalle, Lachine, Outremont and Anjou) voted for local independent candidates with independent borough parties, signalling a civic disengagement between the residents of these communities and the City of Montreal, an aftereffect of the municipal fusions forced through about a decade ago.

So we’re not entirely to blame for the low turnout.

But we are responsible nonetheless. Denis Coderre was elected by 149 000 people in a city with 1 102 000 registered voters.

This is pathetic.

Best case scenario Denis Coderre’s vast experience as a career politician comes in handy and he manages to keep a lid on things for the next four years. His populist bent may provide for some interesting fireworks if he intends on a values charter showdown with the premier, but of course, that won’t be so much for our benefit as his own. At best, a panis et circenses mayor, at worst, a whole helluvalot of skeletons come dancing on out of the closet.

Montreal Mayoral Candidates

Speaking of using the 2013 Montreal municipal election as a step up the career-ladder…

Melanie Joly, a public relations expert by trade, actually said she feels it’s ‘mission accomplished’ vis-à-vis her mayoral campaign, despite the fact that she came in second, lost her own district and only four of her team-mates got elected to council. By the by, team Vrai changement pour Montréal – Groupe Mélanie Joly is but two seats on council ahead of Équipe Barbe Team – Pro action LaSalle (yes, these are actual party names).

It seems to me the mission that was accomplished was that she managed to use the municipal election to develop political interest in preparation for a run on something else. There’s a provincial election looming on the horizon and a federal one too.

I can appreciate the ruthless brilliance of Ms. Joly’s plan, but I shudder to think of its hollow immorality. Are the citizens nothing but points in a political popularity contest?

We can not afford to go down this path again. How much longer can we survive as a viable city if our engagement remains this low? And what can we do to remedy the situation?

We need mandatory voting in our city before the next municipal election. If the people accomplish anything in the next four years, it will be the insistence that we commit ourselves to our right to vote, intractably.

As we all know mandatory voting is the norm in Australia, a nation not that fundamentally different from our own. There’s no reason to believe mandatory voting would be incompatible with our legal or political systems whatsoever, and the primary benefit outweighs any discomforts such a law might impose.

By ensuring total participation we would, at the very least, ensure that all voices are heard. As I imagine it, required participation would need a more engaged elections board, tasked to reach out to all Montrealers and ensure maximal participation. It would require additional advanced voting, more voting stations and, of course, the ability to abstain from voting on the ballot.

But the bottom line needs to be 100% participation, or as close as we can possibly get to it.

Anything less is playing directly into hands of the establishment, of those who wish to maintain the status quo, and worse, those who have realized the key to getting elected is not to appeal broadly or even have good ideas, but rather, to discourage as many voters as possible from participating.

If this is the direction our democracy is going (and based on provincial and federal numbers, it seems that is), then it simply isn’t a democracy at all.

How long will we wait before we act? And at what point have we gone so far down this road there is simply no turning back?

I’d prefer not to know the answer to that last question…

As this year’s municipal election campaign winds down and all the issues are assessed it has become increasingly clear to myself (and, I think a large part of the general population) that what we really need here in Montreal is a degree of freedom from undue outside influence. Time and again it seems like we’re prevented from moving ahead addressing our own needs because of various kinds of interference or obstruction.

This is the question I put to Richard Bergeron, Projet Montreal leader and mayoral candidate:

After reviewing your party’s extensive program it has become clear to me that many of your projects, especially the bigger and more interesting ones, will require the city of Montreal to gain new powers. As an example, with regards to your ambitious Métro extension project, this is currently the responsibility of the AMT, a provincial government agency we have no control over. So with all this and everything else in mind, what will you do to secure a new degree of operational sovereignty for the city of Montreal?

Okay, well, the first thing is I can’t modify the Canadian constitution, nor can I change the fact that the provinces are responsible for deciding which powers are allocated to what cities and when. The relative power of a Canadian city, any Canadian city, is an area of provincial jurisdiction, and it just so happens that of all the cities in Canada, the cities with the least amount of power are the cities of Quebec.

The federal government doesn’t have much to do or say with regards to our city. They own or have owned large pieces of land, but much of this is being sold off and redeveloped. They own the port and the bridges and certain key highways but that’s about it. The province plays a much, much larger role in our affairs.

The province is involved in many different aspects of our lives and there are ministries responsible for those aspects – be it education, healthcare, utilities etc. But of all the government agencies and ministries, none is more important than Transport Quebec.

When they make a decision it carries a lot of weight. When they decide they are going to prioritize highway construction and repairs over investments in public transit, these are decisions made to appease suburban communities over the wants and needs of the citizens of Montreal.

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Bergeron and Justice John Gomery

The MTQ made the decision to greatly increase the capacity of the Turcot Interchange, despite professional and community opinion against doing so, in large part because of highway capacity improvements they’ve made elsewhere, such as the completion of highway 30 on the South Shore, highway extensions to Valleyfield or adding another lane to highway 15. All of these improvements were designed to better facilitate car movements to and from the city, which in turn require a larger Turcot Exchange and a new bridge, which is the responsibility of the federal government.

For over a decade the province has prioritized public transit investment that also goes to the benefit of the suburbs over the city. The MTQ has invested $1.75 billion in commuter rail, but at 18 million passengers per year, the entirety of the AMT’s commuter rail system doesn’t even equal a single reserved bus lane operating in the city, such as the lane on Henri-Bourassa Boulevard.

One reserved bus line carries more people per year than an entire suburban train scheme. And yet, again, money is directed towards the suburbs, not the city. And this in turn becomes an element of suburban community branding.

The mayor of Mascouche can now tell his residents, ‘we have a train station’ as will the real-estate agents. What they won’t tell you is that scarcely more than 1% of the residents of Mascouche will use or have any use for this train.

The Train de l’Est is both over budget and well behind schedule and maybe, at best, 1500 or 2000 people will use the Mascouche train station on a daily basis. That’s a very expensive investment in an off island suburb, and it’s clearly politically motivated.

Worse, the province can use these ministries and agencies to claim innocence. They say, ‘It wasn’t us who made this decision, it was the MUC, it was the AMT.’ But do they take responsibility for the screw ups, the cost-overruns, the delays or even the foolish lack of planning? No, of course not.

It’s disingenuous when the province says that the ‘Montreal community’ is planning a commuter train extension out to the suburbs when it’s very clearly not. So I have an idea – I’ll be the mayor of Montreal and only represent the interests of Montrealers. I’m not interested in trains out to the suburbs or in supporting any more urban sprawl. I’m against this and so is the party.

How far are you willing to take that?

It can go as far as me refusing to attend the meetings of the agglomeration council, the CMM (Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal) and/or simply eliminating the Montreal delegation to the CMM. Doing so would render the CMM superfluous and it would fall because they need us much more than we need them.

I can’t and have no intention to be the mayor, simultaneously, of Montreal, Laval, Longueuil, Mascouche, Beaconsfield etc. One city is enough to focus on without unnecessary and ultimately futile outside obligations. Doing so would it make it very, very difficult for the province to continue passing the buck to its ministries and agencies when it comes to development here in Montreal.

Pauline Marois and Jean-François Lisée (Canadian Press)
Pauline Marois and Jean-François Lisée (Canadian Press)

It seems like both the provincial liberals and the péquistes have both been working against Montreal’s interests.

And it would be the same with the CAQ too. I remember meeting with Francois Legault in the spring of 2012 and he told me he’d be our city’s number one defender. I explained to him the crucial dichotomy of the city and its suburbs and how we’re losing 20 000 middle-class residents each year and, further, how the province has facilitated this exodus towards the suburbs.

And I went on to say that if he really wanted to win the election, all he had to do was campaign in the suburbs and run on a pro-suburban development platform, to forget about the 514 and focus on the 450, as this was the surefire way to get elected. And he said to me quite solemnly, ‘No, no I’d never do that. I want to invest in Quebec’s great metropolis, I understand how important it is blah blah blah.

That was in May of 2012. By the fall he was using Luc Ferrandez as some kind of a socialist boogeyman to motivate his predominantly middle-class French-Canadian base, because of course as you know, Luc Ferrandez apparently scares suburban dwellers.

Basically no matter which way you cut it, whether in federal or provincial terms, the politicians court the suburban voters at the expense of the urban citizens. We’re locked in a zero-sum game.

And as you’ve probably already noticed, when the provincial politicians do come to Montreal – what do they say? They say either Montreal isn’t French enough and the spread of English needs to be stopped, or, they say that Montreal isn’t cosmopolitan enough and we adopt official bilingualism, always, always playing one group against the other for cheap political points.

And once again we see, we’re locked in a zero sum game. Your prospective gains, as a politician, by courting the Montreal vote, is almost nothing, especially when you consider that about half the metropolitan population lives in the suburbs. So the politicians don’t say anything, don’t make any announcements of concrete plans, projects or programs when it comes to our city, and in reality once elected they put their entire focus on the suburbs anyways.

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Proposed metro blue line extension heading both east and west

You mentioned métro extensions. Not a high priority for the provincial government. Highway extensions? Absolutely. In fact they’re doing quite well building new highways – the 25 got a bridge, the 19 is being extended, the 30 is already completed. But when you ask about a métro extension, suddenly we don’t have the money or the means or it’s simply too expensive – the province will find any excuse it can to support the suburban vote over the city vote.

And in the rare case that a premier feels like she owes something to the people of Montreal, do we get our Métro extended? No. We get a provincial mandate to establish a two-year long study of a Métro extension that was planned thirty years ago and will cost the taxpayers $40 million, no debate. This is all we get.

And let me tell you something – the Blue Line extension is perhaps the simplest extension, technically speaking. The route is pretty much straight and flat, and there are vacant lots along the way where stations could be inserted. I’m exasperated – where’s the problem?

So what is the $40 million for?

To buy them time, to buy them votes. Look – we inaugurated the last station of the current Blue Line in March of 1988. At that time I had just entered the job market as a recently-graduated urbanist. What do you think my first major professional engagement was? Studying the extension of the Blue Line towards Anjou!

And I’ll go you one better, this extension was a part of the Blue Line’s original plan. And do you know how much we’ve spent studying the Blue Line extension since then? More than $300 million to study something that has already been studied and analyzed ad nauseum.

This is how the politicians keep the wheels of our construction industry turning. Ms. Marois made such a big splash too – a big press conference all to announce she’s calling for a study. It’s a farce.

I think what the city of Montreal needs is a mayor who is going to simply stop being involved in these provincially designed fictions; the CMM, the AMT, these impede our growth by giving the mayor unnecessary responsibilities. The last time a sitting mayor tried to stand up to bad planning on the part of the province was when Gerald Tremblay pushed an alternative Turcot Interchnage design and plan, one designed by me as head of the Executive Committee by the way, and he was told quite simply from his political bosses in Quebec City, ‘look, you’re either with us or with Bergeron,’ so he folded like a card table and that’s that.

Back in March of this year Ms. Marois green lighted the same damned Turcot project, the one no one likes and doesn’t make any sense, the same project so cavalierly pushed by the previous administration, and do you know what Ms. Harel said? Not one word.

Back in 2010 Ms. Harel supported the city’s alternative Turcot plan, but once Ms. Harel’s political boss became premier, all of a sudden she doesn’t say a word and has nothing bad to say about her boss. Well guess what? I don’t have any bosses, and I don’t owe anyone any favours.

I can’t be any more emphatic about this point – I don’t belong to any other political party but Projet Montréal and am extremely proud that I have no political bosses. This scares the political establishment in incalculable ways, because it means Montreal will have a free mayor, a mayor unencumbered by yesterday’s garbage.

Quite simply we live in a province whose entire history has been dominated by an old boys club patronage-heavy political system. I have no interest in this at all, and that’s why both the party and I are as clean and pure as the driven snow.

We need a mayor that sees the suburbs as competitors, competitors who, each and every year, steal 20 000 residents and taxpayers from the city of Montreal. And they do so while offering fewer services and an arguably lower quality of life. And yet we still lose. We lose $2.5 billion in investment as a direct consequence of suburban sprawl, each and every single year, and yet I’m expected to collaborate and cooperate with the suburbs and the province, to facilitate these losses? No way!

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SPVM police kettle enforcing bylaw P6 (image by Tim McSorley for the Media Co-Op)

Let’s change gears briefly. In a recent interview some comments you made about the annual police brutality march and the use of municipal bylaw P-6 left some confused about your position. I know that your party twice moved motions, which were defeated by your opponents on council, to repeal the controversial portions of P-6, those that mirrored the now repealed Law 12, and you’ve been quite clear in the past that you consider P-6 to be a violation of basic civil liberties. Has your position changed?

No. Allow me to be crystal clear: myself, my party, we are opposed to the 2012 additions to P-6, we have always opposed them, and we will continue to oppose them. Our position has not changed. There is no place for these type of draconian restrictions on the right to peaceful protest in a democratic society. A Projet Montreal administration will move swiftly to repeal these sections of P-6.

Now let’s move on to the question of the annual police brutality march. What’s your position on that?

The question of the police brutality march is a difficult one, because of the regularity with which it descends into violence and chaos. Previous mayors have ignored it, allowed it to happen and then held a press conference the next day to denounce the violence and score political points.

My approach would be quite different. I would sit down with the organizers, open a dialogue, and make sure that their protest is able to unfold without restriction, but in a way which respects public space and the importance of maintaining a safe and secure environment for all.

My administration would do everything in our power to ensure that protests unfold without violence or provocation. In the case that we fail, we will direct police to target those who have carried out criminal acts, and charge them under the law. It is important, when it comes to protest, that our police force targets the guilty, and does not criminalize an entire class of people for the crimes of a handful among them.

I don’t believe, as my opponents seem to, that we can either have the right to protest, or safe streets, but not both. I believe that a balance can be struck which respects the rights of all citizens. Striking that balance is the role of a responsible government, and it is the role I see for my administration.

I couldn’t possibly have prepared myself to meet Jason Prince.

The unyielding torrent of information that came out of him was bewildering at first – who the hell is this guy?

Turns out I was interviewing a university professor, a specialist in social economics, collective entrepreneurship and community banking and above all an individual with his ear to the ground in a manner I haven’t seen before. Jason Prince is hoping to be borough mayor of the Sud Ouest borough, one of Montreal’s most unique and complex mega-neighbourhoods and he seems to know it better than just about anyone else. But it’s his perspective that gets me.

We talked for over three hours and worked through more coffee than I was intending to consume past 9pm. At one point he began illustrating some of his ideas by drawing on the flip side of his placemat. It was magic.

By the end of it all I think we were both completely exhausted, but at the very least I left the conversation with a far, far better idea of what’s going on in my borough and what some of the big-picture grassroots issues are. If that seems inherently contradictory, I’ll tell you now you’re wrong. And suggest strongly you speak with Mr. Prince.

We should be so lucky to bend his ear for an hour or two… Utterly fascinating in every way.

What do you want for this city?

Well, there was something I was just thinking about, like an AirBnB but for apartments in our city. Like if you have an apartment in St. Henri but you’ve always wanted to live in the Mile End you could organize a swap online. Something of that sort would be kinda neat no?

That’s a million dollar idea right there…

I’ll tell you what I want. I want a bus, an articulated bus, running on highway 20 from the far end of the West Island going all the way downtown. I want it to run in a reserved lane, on an express schedule, stopping at a select number of stops. During rush hour, I want one of these buses running every five to ten minutes.

Sounds like a BRT.

Yeah, except mine will be painted bright pink.

Come again?

To attract attention. You won’t miss that, no one will. And on the side of this bus, or perhaps integrated into its outlandish overall aesthetic, would be the following three phrases, in both official languages of course: free wifi, free newspapers, free coffee.

Free coffee?

Free with your STM-branded plastic travel mug of course.

You want a barista on the bus?

Ha. Well that might be a bit much, perhaps we’ll have to start off with those super-sized carafes for the first little bit, but I can imagine such a system as I’d like to see would have new, purpose-built buses. So perhaps we could make some room for an actual person who could serve the highest-octane coffee money can buy.

This is one hell of a bus!

Yeah. I think it’s the kind that will actually get people to give up their cars. Imagine all those people sitting in traffic each and every day on the 20. Imagine sitting there going nowhere fast, and every five minutes this big pink bus just blasts past you. And each one is filled with happy people comfortably zooming off to work. No traffic, no parking, no bad road conditions and no hassle.

This. This is how you get 40-50 000 people to give up commuting with their own car. If we can offer this kind of service to car-crazy suburbia, the STM will succeed not only in securing their own prosperous future, but will further have served the public good by taking a big chunk out of our yearly carbon emissions.

And it’s such a win-win situation. Less traffic means our roads and transport infrastructure lasts longer, means your car lasts longer and costs less to maintain. It means our streets get cleared faster after a snowstorm. It means fewer accidents. And best of all it will improve air quality and the overall quality of life.

Driving is fun, no one’s going to deny that. But commuting by car in Montreal is just idiotic, especially if there are other viable options. Who has two hours a day to give up, just to crawl along in traffic? We want people to take public transit, but in order to secure new ridership, we have to offer new options.

So you want BRTs over tram systems?

No, not necessarily. I think there’s room for both. But for starters, lets get some nifty new super buses on reserved lanes on our highways. Let’s do what we can to really cut down on commuter traffic.

redpath sugar
The former Redpath Sugar refinery in St-Henri (photo mybis.net)

This borough presents a lot of contrasts and people keep jawin’ on about how it’s going to be the ‘Next Plateau’ or something of the sort. There’s been a lot of gentrification already, but the shadow of de-industrialization looms long and large. What will propel this borough into the next plateau of liveability and economic sustainability. In sum, what will bring the jobs back to the Sud-Ouest?

We need to maximize all the potential economic benefits of the new superhospital. I’ve been working on getting the MUHC to incorporate a strategy for economic development and consider the hospital’s effect on employment, traffic, housing etc.

What caught my attention is the potential for former industrial space in Saint Henri to get recycled for the purposes of medical technology companies. Unlike Westmount and Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the Sud-Ouest borough has a lot of room to handle medical technology firms, research and development labs and a host of related economic activities. In sum, there may be a silver lining to this project many thought would be another white elephant.

But aside from that, did you know there are 240 manufacturers located in the Sud-Ouest?

That’s many more than I would have assumed…

Right, because they’re all much smaller than the giants that once powered the local economy. But what’s left isn’t nothing, it’s much more than that. It’s a foundation that can be built upon.

I believe Saint Henri’s future may not be strictly residential. We must avoid a condo ghetto here and that means taking a serious look at the economic agents which power balanced neighbourhoods.

We need to establish target goals and a preferred mix of activities and then plug in what’s needed to accomplish what’s best for this borough. While the MUHC hasn’t formally agreed to any specific economic spin-off model for the new superhospital, if elected, I’d certainly make it a priority to get them to adhere to a mutually beneficial model, one that allows Québec Inc. to plug into the MUHC and use the Sud-Ouest for new economic activity.

What does the Sud-Ouest need, more than anything else, from their next mayor and from the next municipal administration?

Access to good quality, affordable housing. Whatever the borough’s future, affordable housing must be maintained.

It’s unfortunate that the Régie de logement isn’t working as well as it used to, that the former administrations provided so many loopholes for developers to completely ignore the real housing needs of the city and that the CMHC doesn’t actually build affordable housing any more.

They don’t?

Nope, haven’t for some time either. And Harper’s mentioned he wants to scrap it outright, which could lead us to a mortgage crisis like they had in the States. But that’s another issue.

You’ve seen the signs up all over town. You’ve read the candidate profiles on FTB and followed the coverage elsewhere. You’ve seen the polls and hopefully voted in the poll we have in our sidebar (if you haven’t there’s still time).

Now, CBC and McGill University have hosted an English language debate with all the major party leaders. If you don’t know how you’re going to vote or you’re backing a candidate and want to see them shine, it’s worth watching. It runs about an hour.

What did you think of the debate? Who won? Did it change your opinion?

I recently sat down with Projet Montréal Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough mayor candidate Michael Simkin to discuss his and the party’s plans for one of Montreal’s most dynamic and fascinating boroughs. I discovered one of the most unique candidates in this city’s electoral history (and I’m saying that as a historian…)

Who were you prior to this electoral season?

Well, I suppose the most accurate way to describe myself is space lawyer. To my knowledge I’m the first space lawyer to ever run for local office.

Space lawyer?

Yeah I have a law degree from McGill, one of the very few graduates from the Institute for Air and Space Law. Before that I was working on becoming an engineer, which brought me to NASA in the late 1990s to work on the X-33 advanced space plane project, a kind of next-generation Space Shuttle.

Go on…

Let’s see, after being called to the Québec Bar I worked for the Canadian Space Agency’s space sciences group but my project was scrapped (as with much of our nation’s scientific research) by the Tories. I was lucky to be re-assigned to Environment Canada as a Sr. Climate Change Advisor, but have since taken a leave without pay to run for local office.

Are you mad?

Ha ha. No. I recognize that’s not what most people would do, but look at our situation here. This city needs a major change if it wants to get back on its feet.

What drives you?

Two things. First, I’m driven by trying to understand the world around me and further by trying to improve it. This is what got me into engineering, law, municipal politics, heck, even my ‘theatre therapy’ project.

Sherbrooke Ouest NDG
Sherbrooke Street in NDG (photo WikiMedia Commons)

How do you have time for all this?

Easy. I always work with others. I always work in groups; collaboration is the key. It’s easier and produces better long-term results.

What’s your connection with the borough?

I was born and raised here in NDG and I currently live but a few blocks from where I grew up. This is my home, my community and I’m exceptionally proud of it. Growing up we weren’t very well off, but this community always provided. You know, it’s funny. Michael Applebaum’s father used to run a shoe store and he’d sell factory seconds to people who really couldn’t afford to pay the full retail price. He helped us, he was totally selfless. When Michael Applebaum was arrested on suspicions of fraud I remember remarking to myself how far an apple can fall from the tree, no pun intended.

What did you do as a lawyer?

I only worked in law for about 18 months but during that time I was primarily involved in defending consumers as I worked for Option Consomateur. Among others I was involved in the push to change the rules regarding cell phone contracts, so that consumers wouldn’t be locked in to ridiculous three-year contracts. I also participated in a parliamentary committee on access to food and good nutrition.

Is food security a concern for you and the party?

Absolutely. I want to establish a food policy for the borough and the city, this was adopted by the party.

I was involved in establishing the first food co-op at McGill when I was studying there when I realized that the joke about students subsisting on little more than Kraft Dinner was not so much a joke but a reality for thousands of students. People assume that if you’re studying in university that you’ll be smart enough to eat properly but the problem lies in lack of access to good food at a reasonable price. Students don’t generally have immediate access to market-fresh food, let alone the money to pay for it.

Food security and the right to quality food is of vital importance to our city and the well-being of its citizens. I’ve noticed that the French community is way more food-conscious than the Anglophone community and perhaps this is changing, but for the time being, we would be wise to adopt initiatives coming out of the broader Franco-Montreal community.

Decarie autoroute
The Decarie expressway which intersects the CDN/NDG borough (photo WikiMedia Commons)

What kind of initiatives are you talking about?

We have to address socio-cultural aspects concerning food and further educate the public about nutrition. In terms of the right to food, we need to look well beyond food banks and the stigmas that come with them. Community kitchens, as an example, are an engaging way to move forward on this issue.

What are the people of CDN-NDG most concerned about?

Corruption, and as a direct consequence, from what I’ve seen and experienced firsthand, there’s a lot of suspicion about anyone running for office these days. All politicians are suspect and the people think (perhaps, at least initially) that those in the running are simply looking to exploit the same machine that was involved in so much fraud, bid-rigging, collusion etc.

Now, all that said, admittedly it isn’t too difficult to demonstrate Projet Montréal’s integrity – that speaks for itself, no PM members were ever picked up by UPAC or have testified in front of the Charbonneau Commission. We’re clean, and after breaking through people’s initial resistance to speaking with politicians, we make this point clear.

Personally, I believe it’s time to abandon the notion of career municipal politicians. So I won’t seek a third mandate if I’m lucky enough to win the next two elections. Eight years is enough, after that it’s time for fresh blood.

How do you think you’re doing? How’s the party doing?

Recent polling aside, I think the party’s in a very strong position. That so much of our program has been copy-and-pasted into the programs of the other parties is indicative that, at the very least, our opponents recognize we have the ideas that resonate with the electorate. Further, that both Coderre and Coté have been running robocalls against us is also indicative we’re seen as a real threat to them. As for myself personally, I think I’m leading in CDN-NDG and am very happy with the response I’ve been getting.

What do the citizens of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace need?

A lot. Citizens need police to respect their own operating norms and stop using racial profiling. As you might imagine that causes a lot of headaches in our borough given the large immigrant and visible minority populations. We obviously need better quality roads but we further need many more bike paths so we can encourage alternatives to using your car (which in turn helps the roads last longer).

The citizens have often spoken about the lack of community space and the poor condition of local parks, both of which need to be prioritized. Further, our parks can be too focused on supporting the needs of children and families during the day, but there are other people who’d like to use these spaces too. We need parks with activities geared towards everyone. On top of that, people are asking about green roof initiatives, urban agriculture etc.

It’s a big borough with a large and diverse population, so naturally there’s a litany of needs.

Anything in particular that really strikes a chord with you personally?

Yes. We have way too much subpar housing in my borough and it sickens me. We have people here living in apartments that technically, legally, should not be habitable.

Whether it’s electrical problems, mildew, mould, cockroaches or bedbugs, CDN-NDG has a housing problem that’s been callously ignored for far, far too long. Michael Applebaum, in his role as borough mayor, was completely useless in getting anything done in this respect.

From what I know about 20% of rental housing in our borough is listed as subpar and as borough mayor I would consider this a pressing priority. We have a moral obligation to make sure people have access to quality apartments, regardless of how much is paid in rent.

We need standards and the means to enforce strict regulations. It’s unacceptable that citizens here are forced to live in such awful housing and all for what? So a slumlord can save a few thousand dollars on repairs?

If I recall correctly, 80% of all the rental units available in the entire borough are owned by five people. You see the problem? And you better believe those people have strong connections with the old order.

We have to tackle this housing crisis head-on. Whether it comes in the form of outright expropriations or simply forced repairs that get added to the annual property tax evaluation later on, either way, this is something I consider very important. It is inexcusable that anyone in a city such as ours should be forced to live in such decrepit, infested apartments.

* Michael Simkin playing the piano in Girouard Park photo courtesy of Projet Montreal CDN/NDG

Peter McQueen is a character, there’s no two ways about it.

He has an air about him like he’s a bit fed-up. His eyes dart around him; we’re at the Shaika in NDG. He sees people he knows and cracks a quick smile, registers a polite nod.

I’m taken with it off the bat; it’s not the kind of permanently chiseled smile most career politicians always seem to be wearing, always a half-beat away from an overly enthusiastically hearty laugh. Mr. McQueen is more genuine than that, but I nonetheless sense a frustration emanating from him. I’ve seen it before – it’s the frustration that stems from trying to earn the public’s confidence enough to do a thankless job and then realizing the public is not so much interested in solutions as they are in griping about god know’s what.

It’s a kind of world weariness I associate with a lot of Projet Montréal candidates, especially the more interesting ones. They have every idea of just how insurmountable the wall of public apathy can sometimes be.

I sat down with the incumbent Projet Montréal city councillor for Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG) across from Girouard Park on a simply stunning autumn day. He swiftly moved from idea to idea, cracking jokes and smiling before getting serious and pensive. I felt like there was a small engine quietly purring in the back of his mind working on other problems and issues altogether and yet I never felt like I had lost his attention.

Girouard Park
Girouard Park in NDG

To put it mildly, it was a sight. I would encourage all residents of NDG to have a word with him.

A veteran city councillor, Mr. McQueen is running his second municipal election and is hopeful his party will break through in the city’s West End. When he was first elected in 2009, he was the only PM representative of the western part of the city, but this time around the party is far more visible and is looking to make major gains in many boroughs.

McQueen grew up in NDG and lives there currently; by his own admission he has spent much of his life there and feels particularly attached to it. He’s an alumnus of the prestigious Liberal Arts College of Concordia University and prior to his career in politics worked for nearly a decade as a tabulation manager in a polling firm, before starting his own home reno business. He further ran as a Quebec Green Party candidate (twice, in 2007 and 2008) and while he didn’t win, he earned the highest score of any Green Party candidate in the province.

What encouraged you to get involved with municipal politics?

Traffic planning around the new MUHC SuperHospital. It was poorly planned starting day one. I couldn’t believe what they were proposing, how backwards some of the plans are, and given what we know now about some of the people up at the top of the organization, well, you can understand why I felt motivated to try and instigate a change.

What are the people complaining about, what do the citizens want?

Well, I’ll start by telling you about complaints. I need people to stop shooting the messenger. This goes for everyone in this city, not just the people of NDG. The people of Montreal need to distinguish between the person who caused bad news and the person reporting bad news. If there’s one problem we (Projet Montréal) have to deal with all too often, it’s that some citizens get angry at us and accuse us of being part of the problem when all we’re doing is mentioning that various problems exist in the first place and need to be addressed.

I can imagine it’s draining…

It can get you down; we persevere though. To answer your question more directly, the people of NDG need better traffic solutions for the MUHC site, inasmuch as better public transit access in general for the borough.

This is a well connected borough though, isn’t it?

In some respects yes, but a major problem we’re discovering is that high-volume public transit systems, like the commuter trains and the Métro, are overcrowded by the time they reach NDG. This means that we have more people using their cars to get from NDG to the city, as an example.

The trend was supposed to go in the other direction; people living in first ring urban residential areas are supposed to be transitioning permanently to public transit, but public transit hasn’t fully kept pace with the needs of the citizen. If people in NDG think traffic is bad now, wait until the MUHC is completed and work on the Turcot begins. For areas like NDG and Cote-des-Neiges, better public transit access and new systems are vital.

New systems, like a tram?

A tram is one possibility, but it’s also just one part of a larger more comprehensive traffic cocktail, if you will. Bus Rapid Transit is also effective and would be more effective along certain routes.

Empress Theatre
The Empress Theatre in NDG

 

But NDG is a kind of transitional neighbourhood. It’s not the suburbs and it’s not the city, it’s something in between that supports a larger population than that which actually resides here. Ergo, we’ll eventually need an entirely new transit system to meet new needs and fill the connectivity gap between the Métro and the bus. Already one of the major challenges we face is an unending stream of morning rush hour Métro trains over-crowded before they get to NDG, and this is leading some NDG residents to go back to their cars, which now have to operate on roads being torn up at seemingly all the major choke points.

What are your plans for the borough?

I’ll list them for you:

– A pedestrian and bike bridge over Décarie to Vendome
– Keep Upper Lachine Road open so that the 90 and 104 buses can continue using it
– The road over Décarie leading towards Monkland Village from Villa-Maria Métro station needs a taller fence, the current one isn’t up to code and people are at risk of falling into the trench. In fact, the entire ‘entrance’ to Monkland Village could be improved
– Girouard Park needs some attention – it’s the only large park in Eastern NDG and it’s been neglected for far too long
– Finally, we need to improve the safety around our borough’s elementary schools. Many local kids walk or bike to school and so I’d like to see new safety measures put up, be it in the form of more crossing guards, speed bumps, higher speed limits and the like.

How will you maintain a balance between our dual need for urban gentrification inasmuch as our need for sustainable communities and affordable housing?

Mostly by maintaining our current stock of rental units and preventing conversions. That said, we also could do some work improving the image of the cheapest parts of NDG. I hear people talking about Fielding and Walkley streets as if they were desperately poor and havens for all manner of criminality. The truth is, both Walkley and Fielding’s bad reputation is entirely overblown.

A new community centre and community restaurant on Fielding could do a lot to turn things around. But that’s us as a party: we come up with simple, straightforward, community focused solutions for a myriad of problems experienced by urban residents of Montréal.

How are we going to crack the 40% participation rate?

We need a mid-weather day, not too cold, not warm either, cloudy, maybe a hint of drizzle but no rain, overcast with occasional, fleeting sunny breaks, about 10-15 degrees out. Given the date of the election, these are the ideal conditions to get people out of their homes and in to their most sacred and the most basic method of participating in a democratic society.

I’m hopeful that our non-combative, patient and compassionate approach resonates with the voters. We didn’t have any robocalls because we’re not interested in telling the voters what they’ll get if they vote for us. When Projet Montréal calls, it’s a real person and that person wants to ask you what you want, what you need and what you think.

That’s what this city needs – politicians who’ll listen.

I sat down recently with Christian Arseneault, Projet Montréal city councillor candidate for the Loyola district of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace.

Describe yourself, your district and your attachment to the district.

Wow, where to begin? Among others, I was born and raised in the Loyola district, also known as Western NDG. I went to Loyola High School and continue to live in the district, even though I no longer live at home. Western NDG is my home and I’m pretty happy there. It’s a nice place to live. As to my experience, I’m a recent graduate of Honours Poli Sci (McGill) and have previously worked on Kathleen Weil’s campaign during last year’s provincial election.

How would you describe your district to someone who knows nothing of our city, or NDG for that matter?

It’s comfortably close to everything you need while retaining the all that makes Western NDG an ideal place to live, namely that it’s tranquil, relaxing, a good place to raise your family. It’s suburban without being in the suburbs. Furthermore, it, much like the borough and the city as a whole, is very multi-cultural. NDG is about people from all over coming together and living in peace. We have no strife here, no linguistic debates. That’s all so alien to how people actually live here.

Unfortunately, despite all the good people and the good lives they live, we’re also ground zero for corruption.

How’s that?

Michael Applebaum created something of a monster in NDG, as we’re becoming increasingly aware. It’s not just those god-awful condominiums in Saint-Raymond, there are hints and allegations something’s crooked with the new NDG sports centre too. As an example, though it was originally supposed to be designed for international swimming competitions, for some reason the building was completed shorter than what was originally intended and now cannot be used for such purposes.

Little things that snowball into one big mess. This is Applebaum’s legacy to Montreal and there’s nothing I’d like more than to change this; I’m tired of our elected officials cutting corners and profiting off of half-assing it.

Montreal_West_-_AMT_Train_Station
The Montreal West Train Station, half of which is in the Loyola District of Western NDG

If elected, what would you do for your district?

There are two ‘big’ pet-projects I have for my district. First would be to improve the area around the Montreal West train station, which is actually half in NDG. That area is called ‘Westhaven’ but it’s anything but.

In fact, after speaking with the people who live there, it’s becoming apparent to me that this is one of the most casually ignored parts of the city. It’s run-down and poor and could use some attention. It’s unfortunate just how much of a barrier a train line can actually be and so for those on the wrong side it’s as if they didn’t even exist for scores of local politicians who have come and gone throughout the years.

I think we need to fix the major congestion problems around the station as part of a broader initiative to revitalize the area. We should also extend Bixi service out there and further extend the bike path network. It has the potential to be a transit hub, given that two bus lines originate from the station and it’s so close to Loyola campus.

My second plan would be to stimulate a ‘revitalization’ of a stretch of Somerled between Grand and Walkley and try to drive the creation of a ‘Somerled Village’ modeled on the popular Monkland Village but more affordable, less corporate. I think local political leaders need to help steer development and this area could use some extra attention. We definitely need new poles of attraction for local businesses.

What will NDG be like after four years of Projet Montréal governance, assuming your party were to sweep CDN-NDG?

It will be a safer borough to live in, especially for pedestrians and cyclists. We’d definitely pursue some road and intersection redesigns, not to mention installing protected bike paths.

See, what people really need to understand is that improving our streets isn’t a zero-sum game. It’s not a bike path in lieu of cars, it’s not reserved bus lanes in lieu of cars. Increasing access to bike lanes and improving public transit makes those alternatives work better and this in turn gets people to leave their cars at home.

Fewer cars on the streets mean less congestion, and guess what, as a motorist who loves driving around our city, this is good for everyone. Unless we’ve forgotten, driving is a real pain if all you’re doing is slowly crawling along the street.

I also want NDG to pioneer openness and transparency in its affairs, which shouldn’t be too hard given that Michale Applebaum was one of the least transparent, most paranoid borough mayors we ever had the misfortune of having run our affairs. We want televised council meetings and want all pertinent city information put online, well in advance of scheduled deadlines and/or meetings – it’s vitally important the people have access to all the information we’d use on a day to day basis.

That prior administrations would have the gall to tell the people they wouldn’t understand what it means and thus can’t see it is very disturbing. I can guarantee you this is certainly not how Projet Montréal would operate. Ultimately, I want to throw all the lights on, and make it impossible for anyone or anything to escape that light – we must conduct our business out in the open and be held accountable for the decisions we make.

What would you like to see removed from the map, be it figuratively or actually?

I’d bury all the highways deep underground. It’s part of PM’s mandate to continue covering the Décarie and Ville-Marie expressways, but honestly, why stop there? We should do like Boston and stick all the highways underground covering all the exposed parts.

They’re so ugly, shitty, awful in every way. I really can’t wrap my head around the decision that was made in the 1950s to cut big long trenches through prime real estate, dividing up the city into odd pieces.

Why didn’t they think what this might do to the look and feel of city life? It’s awful. I’d love to no longer have to see any of them ever again.

The following is an excerpt from a featured interview with mayoral candidate and Projet Montreal leader Richard Bergeron by FTB contributor Taylor Noakes which you can expect to see in full next week. Given that Bergeron’s interview with Radio X this past Saturday raised many eyebrows on the left, we are releasing his responses to two questions which address what he said on the air (along with a French translation because of francophone interest in the topic).

Forget the Box: In a recent interview some comments you made about the annual police brutality march and the use of municipal bylaw P-6 left some confused about your position. I know that your party twice moved motions, which were defeated by your opponents on council, to repeal the controversial portions of P-6, those that mirrored the now repealed Law 12, and you’ve been quite clear in the past that you consider P-6 to be a violation of basic civil liberties. Has your position changed?

Richard Bergeron: No. Allow me to be crystal clear: myself, my party, we are opposed to the 2012 additions to P-6, we have always opposed them, and we will continue to oppose them. Our position has not changed. There is no place for these type of draconian restrictions on the right to peaceful protest in a democratic society. A Projet Montreal administration will move swiftly to repeal these sections of P-6.

FTB: Now let’s move on to the question of the annual police brutality march. What’s your position on that?

Bergeron: The question of the police brutality march is a difficult one, because of the regularity with which it descends into violence and chaos. Previous mayors have ignored it, allowed it to happen and then held a press conference the next day to denounce the violence and score political points.

My approach would be quite different. I would sit down with the organizers, open a dialogue, and make sure that their protest is able to unfold without restriction, but in a way which respects public space and the importance of maintaining a safe and secure environment for all.

My administration would do everything in our power to ensure that protests unfold without violence or provocation. In the case that we fail, we will direct police to target those who have carried out criminal acts, and charge them under the law. It is important, when it comes to protest, that our police force targets the guilty, and does not criminalize an entire class of people for the crimes of a handful among them.

I don’t believe, as my opponents seem to, that we can either have the right to protest, or safe streets, but not both. I believe that a balance can be struck which respects the rights of all citizens. Striking that balance is the role of a responsible government, and it is the role I see for my administration.

________________________________________________________________________

Forget the Box: Dans une interview récente, un commentaire que vous avez fait sur la question de la manifestation annuelle contre la brutalité policière a laissé certains perplexes. Je sais que votre parti a fait deux propositions – défaites – pour abroger les dispositions controversées de P-6, celles qui rappelaient la loi 12, maintenant abrogée. Dans le passé, vous avez clairement déclaré que vous considériez que le règlement P-6 violait les libertés fondamentales. Est-ce que vous avez changé d’avis?

Bergeron: Non. Je vais être clair : mon parti et moi sommes opposés aux amendements de 2012 à P-6, nous l’avons toujours été et nous continuerons de nous y opposer. Notre position n’a pas changé. Il n’y a pas de place pour ces restrictions draconiennes au droit de manifester dans une société démocratique. Une administration de Projet Montréal agira rapidement pour abroger ces amendements.

FTB: Parlons maintenant de la question de la manifestation contre la brutalité policière. Quelle est votre position à ce sujet?

Bergeron: La question de la manifestation contre la brutalité policière est complexe, compte tenu qu’elle dégénère régulièrement dans la violence et le chaos. Les maires précédents ont ignoré ce problème, ont permis qu’il arrive et ont tenu une conférence de presse le lendemain pour dénoncer la violence et marquer des points politiques.

Mon approche serait différente. Je m’assiérais avec les organisateurs, je dialoguerais et je m’assurerais que la manifestation puisse être tenue sans restriction, mais dans le respect du bien public et de l’importance du maintien d’un environnement sécuritaire pour tous.

Mon administration ferait tout en son pouvoir pour s’assurer que les manifestations aient lieu sans violence ou provocation. Si nous échouons, nous demanderons à la police de cibler ceux qui ont commis des actes criminels et les condamner en conséquence. Il est important, dans ce contexte, que la police cible ceux qui sont coupables, sans criminaliser tout un groupe pour des délits isolés.

Je ne crois pas, contrairement à mes adversaires, que l’on peut défendre le droit de manifester, ou des rues sécuritaires, mais pas les deux. Je crois que l’on peut trouver un juste milieu pour respecter les droits de tous les citoyens. Trouver ce compromis est le rôle d’un gouvernement responsable, et ce sera le rôle de mon administration.

This is part of an on-going series putting the spotlight on local candidates, electoral districts and municipal politics in Montreal. It is our intention to interview candidates from all parties.

As to the style of this and other interviews, the answers are not direct quotations. Who wants to read a transcript besides NSA analysts anyways? I prefer to paraphrase, though I’ve been careful to fully capture the spirit and content of each response. Ergo it’s not verbatim but as close as I can make it. I hope you enjoy.

***

Mary Ann Davis has lived in Verdun for over twenty years, having moved to Montreal as soon as she could get out of Thetford Mines. As a child, her father had taken her to Montreal on a business trip and in Phillips Square together they sat munching on ice cream cones. She vividly recalls taking in all that was around her, enjoying the comings and goings of so many people and deciding that this was the city for her.

Ms. Davis is a union organizer, LGBTQ activist and Projet Montréal candidate for Verdun borough mayor.

West Vancouver Park on Nun's Island in the borough of Verdun (photo Wikimedia Commons)
West Vancouver Park on Nun’s Island in the borough of Verdun (photo Wikimedia Commons)

What’s the big issue, for you and the people you wish to represent, that will define this election?

Nun’s Island needs a new school. The current primary school on the predominantly residential and upper-middle class island is the largest in the province with over 900 students. A new school has been officially required since 2007 but there’s been too little movement on the issue.

The biggest problem is that there’s little available land left on the island and all of it is in private hands waiting to be developed into townhouses and condo complexes. With more than 22 000 residents living on the island, we believe a new school is a major priority.

The current borough government wants to place the school in a park, adjacent to two of the island’s major thoroughfares. The site is too small to accommodate the large new school which is required to serve residents’ needs, meaning if the current plan goes ahead, we’ll be right back where we started, needing another school, in but a few years’ time.

We think this is profoundly irresponsible. Moreover, Nun’s island will soon need a secondary school as well, given current demographic trends. We feel it’s far better we plan for those future realities now rather than deal with the consequences later on.

What has the current administration done about this issue?

The current Union Montreal borough administration has not handled this well. They made it a needlessly divisive issue; people are being harassed, tires have been slashed. Keep in mind that the Verdun borough mayor’s office has been raided by UPAC three times; it’s clear to me someone may have some significant real estate interests.

There’s enough undeveloped land on Nun’s Island for between eight and ten thousand more apartments or condos. That’s a lot of potential tax revenue. But Projet Montréal has thoroughly studied this issue, has analyzed the OCPM’s 71-page report and we’ve come to a different conclusion: private land should be used for new schools.

It’s ridiculous to put a too small school in the middle of a park. Other lots have been offered by private developers, so we’d really like to know why the current Union Montreal government is so insistent on the location the OCPM deemed insufficient.

How has Verdun changed since you moved here?

Well, the first week I lived here there was an arsonist on the loose.

So it has improved?

Ha! Yes, by leaps and bounds. There were parts of Verdun you simply didn’t walk around late at night by yourself back then, today Verdun’s nothing like that. Real estate speculators keep indicating it’s one of many ‘next Plateaus’ in our city. There’s certainly been some gentrification, but this has been problematic as well. Verdun is an affordable inner-ring suburb and I’d like to keep it that way.

Wellington Street in Verdun (photo by StudyInMontreal.info)
Wellington Street in Verdun (photo by StudyInMontreal.info)

Tell me about the community you wish to represent, what are their needs?

Verdun is now a very multi-cultural community, with large Chinese, Haitian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Rwandan communities. We also have a surprisingly large Latino community.

But all too often I find these diverse communities living in silos – I’ve been walking around visiting apartment buildings where only one ethnic group can take up an entire building. That needs to change.

Further, many immigrants feel completely disengaged from civic politics, some have even been incredulous when I told them that they had the right to vote in our municipal elections. Can you believe it?

What do you want to accomplish if elected borough mayor?

Aside from solving the public school problem in Nun’s Island, I want to revitalize our main commercial arteries with more locally-owned small businesses. We also need to avoid a ‘condo ghettoization’ of Verdun and secure low-cost housing.

I’d also like to get citizen committees up and running on specific issues, be it new schools or what our needs are vis-a-vis the Champlain Bridge replacement. Ultimately, we need a far more engaged citizenry, so that we can resuscitate Verdun’s greatest single characteristic – its community spirit.

Is Montreal a gay sanctuary?

From my perspective, yes, absolutely, but we need to be aware of how recent this is. When I first moved to Montreal I did so because small-town Québec wasn’t terribly interested in being open and inclusive towards homosexuals.

But we absolutely must remember that, even as recently as twenty years ago, gay-bashings were far more frequent and the Montreal police even had a ‘morality squad’ which was all too often employed in raiding underground gay clubs, beating the shit out of people, and/or patrolling Mount Royal ticketing men for ‘cruising.’ It’s probably very surprising for young people today to hear such things.

What changed on a local level?

About twenty years ago the gay community in Montreal got organized and began pushing for reforms. It helped that there was a human rights commission set up to investigate anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, not to mention all the bad press the Sex Garage raid produced. But things really picked up when the gay community began concentrating in what is today the Gay Village and local politicians realized that the LGBTQ community as a whole was increasingly wealthy and far better connected.

Once politicians realized we were organized and resourceful (not to mention swimming in disposable income), they became sincerely interested in ‘the gay vote.’ The rest, as they say, is history.

***

Montrealers go to the polls November 3rd 2013. For the love of all that’s good and holy, please go vote. Make sure your name’s registered by calling Elections Québec.

This is part of an on-going series putting the spotlight on local candidates, electoral districts and municipal politics in Montreal. Though it’s our intention to interview candidates from all parties, so far our efforts have been hampered by the lack of established political parties in the city.

We’ll do what we can to present a broad spectrum of candidates and issues of concern to all Montrealers, though so far we’re limited to only one citizen-driven political party with established local representatives who actually want to talk. I hope this changes, though on a personal note, I’m less than enthusiastic about candidate-driven ‘political parties’ organized top-down rather than from the grassroots. I should emphasize this is my personal bias, and not the opinion of Forget the Box.

As to the style of this and other interviews (not all of which will be done by me), the answers are not direct quotations. Who wants to read a transcript besides NSA analysts anyways? I prefer to paraphrase, though I’ve been careful to fully capture the spirit and content of each response. Ergo it’s not verbatim but as close as I can make it. I hope you enjoy.

***

The Peter-McGill district is defined (working counter-clockwise from the north) by the mountain, Westmount, the 720/Guy/Notre-Dame in the south (i.e. including everything up to Little Burgundy and Griffintown), with an eastern edge created by University, Pine and Parc. It includes Concordia and McGill, the remnants of the Golden Mile, much of the modern central business district not to mention a multitude of institutions. St-Catherine and Sherbrooke streets run down the middle of the district.

It is a demonstration of the incredible contrasts of our city. The juxtaposition of so much diversity in a part of town you could walk across in half an hour makes it a fascinating place to want to represent.

Consider the district has a very high median income, over $70 000 per annum in 2009, yet also a significant homeless problem, at about 10% of the local population in 2006 (and I’m assuming both these figures have increased since). Moreover, an incredible 45% of the district’s residents live below the poverty line (many of which are students).

Though only 22% of residents speak French at home, 63% are bilingual in both official languages. Immigrants represent 44% of the local population, the majority of them Chinese, though immigrants from Lebanon, Morocco and France are also well represented in the district.

What’s curious about Peter-McGill, is, first, that small-scale enterprises seem to thrive near the large residential sectors of the district and second, that the district has large depopulated areas, notably in the central business and retail district towards the eastern edge of Peter-McGill. Suffice it to say there are a lot of competing interests here and it will be a difficult task for any potential candidate.

I met up with Jimmy Zoubris, city councillor candidate for Projet Montréal in Peter-McGill district, at one of my favourite local cafés, the Shaika in NDG.

What do you like about the city?

This. Small, independently owned and operated cafés, bistros, restaurants. These are a rarity in the suburbs, but in the city, they’re everywhere.

Trendy little coffee shops are competing one-on-one with major chains and it often looks like the little guy’s winning. There’s a lot of potential.

It’s certainly what my district could use more of, especially as you get closer to the downtown core. Projet Montréal wants to empower entrepreneurs and support the development of more small businesses. Too much of the downtown is dead after five or six.

IMG_1162

You’re a small businessman and we’ve spoken before of your thoughts concerning the necessity for a better business climate for small-scale entrepreneurs; what can the city do to improve the situation?

People don’t like empty storefronts on our main commercial arteries. It’s a peculiar problem. It doesn’t mean one business has driven others out of business and are winning capitalism, it means property values have increased out of step with actual business revenue.

And like a virus it can spread to a whole block; remember what Saint Catherine’s from Fort to Lambert-Closse looked like a few years ago? It was a ghost town!

Projet Montréal wants to change all that and so do I. The city has the resources to initiate buy-local campaigns and develop web portals and social media sites and applications for local businesses and business development.

The city needs to pay attention to merchant’s needs, especially on the small end of the scale. Simple improvements to sidewalks, be it by repairing old cement, or installing recycling bins and benches, whatever, improvements like these can do a lot to help local businesses.

And on top of that, the city should probably become more involved in promoting the creativity and uniqueness of local goods and services, and the fact they’re so much more available to urban citizens than suburbanites. Facilitating a better business environment that supports local entrepreneurs is one part of a broad plan to reverse population loss to the suburbs.

What do you like the most and what do you like the least about living in your district?

Like? Well, for one thing the nightlife. It’s not just Crescent Street, on the whole we’re well equipped with a wide variety of restaurants, bars, bistros, nightclubs to suit all tastes.

It’s the part of town that seems to be on all the time, and I don’t mind that. For a lot of Montrealers this is an exciting, entertaining district.

As to what I like least, it’s the class extremes, too much obscene wealth next to abject poverty. We have about 2000 homeless in this district, that’s a problem that’s been ignored for far too long.

What do you propose to fix it?

The city should take the lead, partner with established charities like Acceuil Bonneau and work to increase their capacity, possibly by securing abandoned residential and institutional properties that haven’t sold in many years. Coincidentally, there’s an abandoned old folks home across from the CCA that hasn’t sold in over a decade. No doubt we should definitely collaborate with established charities and see if we can help them help others better.

There are well over one hundred thousand students living in what most would consider to be ‘downtown’ Montreal or in the most urban first ring suburbs. It’s clear they’re politically motivated, and yet the youth don’t participate in Montreal municipal elections. What’s Projet Montréal doing about this?

For one we have 19 candidates under the age of 35. Granted, that’s not exactly young, but we’re doing what we can and as you might imagine, we have a lot of volunteers under the age of 30.

Richard Bergeron proposed a few years ago that the city open week-long voting booths in the CEGEPs and universities to facilitate voting for Montreal’s students. It’s no different than absentee voting anywhere else, and we certainly have the technology to make it work. But Union Montréal struck down the idea, instead permitting those who own property in the city to vote even if they live and pay municipal taxes elsewhere.

It’s sickening really, and it’s a kind of disenfranchisement as well. Of course, the political establishment in this city has been leery about the student vote since the early 1970s, when the party created by the students nearly ousted Mayor Jean Drapeau.

What would you like to see wiped off the map or otherwise expelled from Montreal?

What a question! Ha! Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll answer it in two parts. For one, I’d like to officially banish Jeff Loria (chuckles all around, Jeff Loria is the art collector who ran the Expos into the ground). I’d put up a sign telling him to go back home to Florida (more laughs).

As to what I’d like to see disappear, definitely the big gaping hole where the Ville-Marie Expressway divides Old Montreal from the rest of the city. It has to be covered. Even if nothing’s put on top of it and we leave a big open field of grass, it would be a major improvement over how it currently stands. My understanding is that the Palais des Congrès is looking to expand on the western edge of the remaining trench and the CHUM will expand on the eastern edge, the city should step in and cover the rest.

We need to stitch this city back up, it’s been divided – physically, culturally – for far too long. Projet has a plan to change all that.

Welcome to a series of profiles on candidates running in the 2013 Montreal municipal election. We begin with Sujata Dey, Projet Montreal‘s candidate in Darlington.

I found myself in front of a community centre/library in a converted office block on a muggy summer Sunday afternoon. High up on Cote-des-Neiges Road, the mountain still forms the backdrop looking towards the city, with the road crawling out from the gap between Mount Royal and Westmount like a river pouring forth from a waterfall.

Cote-des-Neiges Road is a never-ending torrent of humanity, the eponymous borough well represented by its main thoroughfare. The borough, Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, is the most populous of Montreal’s many boroughs and is arguably one of the most cosmopolitan and integrated neighbourhoods in all of Canada.

The Cote-des-Neiges component is itself more heavily and densely populated and has served, nearly consistently since the end of the Second World War, as the ‘first neighbourhood’ for many generations of immigrants. This is as true today as it was more than sixty years ago.

I was there to cover the nomination of Ms. Sujata Dey, a businesswoman with deep roots in the community, as Projet Montreal city councillor candidate for the Darlington district of the aforementioned borough. Darlington, the northernmost part of Cote-des-Neiges, is also one of the poorest and most ignored parts of the city. Suffice it to say, Ms. Dey wants to change all that.

The room was packed with some seventy people who, historically, have been all but ignored by the city’s former political machines. Sure, some of the people here may be paid lip service in the immediate run-up to the election: a photo-op, a promise to encourage diversity or something along those lines. It doesn’t tend to go much farther than that.

Cote des Neiges street in the Darlington district
Cote des Neiges street in the Darlington district

Regardless, the room was full, the people attentive. I’ve been to a lot of nomination meetings; few have had this kind of turnout.

I would have assumed these people would be the most disinterested, not for lack of understanding or being able to devote the necessary time, but simply because they’ve been ignored for so long. It goes to show the conventional thinking – much like conventional politics in general – isn’t worth much.

The people gathered care. They were willing to sacrifice a precious day off to do their civic duty and implicate themselves in the process by which we might actually turn things around in our city.

Ms. Dey made a fully bilingual presentation; two languages are required to cover all bases, so to speak, with children translating into other languages in whispers for their grandparents. She mentioned she wants an ethics code, greater operational transparency, a system of checks and balances – some people’s eyes lit up, incredulous.

Why doesn’t this exist already? Why does it always seem that Montreal is missing the bare minimum requirements for a sustainable democracy?

Ms. Dey pushed on into new territory with a point made by several Projet Montreal candidates: she wants an audit. Audit the borough, audit the city, audit the departments, audit everything to see precisely where and how we’re wasting so much of our tax revenue.

The idea of an audit is wise, though it would be a hard sell. That said, it could result in a cheaper government to run.

Again, it makes me wonder why we’re not already doing it on a yearly basis. Cries of corruption in municipal politics and local construction firms date back to before the war. Despite its historical precedence, I would argue strongly that we not consider inherent corruption as an element of our culture.

Ms. Dey continued, pointing out the lack of vital community space for such a diverse, growing population. As an example, she mentioned that the Filipino Chess Club was thrown out of their former informal home – a Tim Horton’s.

In communities such as these, the demand for community space far outweighs what’s available, another victim of ‘traditional’ thinking which stipulates, ignorantly, that recent arrivals don’t have time for trivial social gatherings. The reality is quite different.

Recent arrivals not only need a lot of community space, but they actually make good use of it. Every room in this office block turned community centre was occupied; once we were done we were hurried out so the room could be converted for a reception.

The lack of available space is itself not too far removed from another point underlined by the candidate: most people who live in Darlington don’t know who their representatives are, simply because they haven’t bothered to introduce themselves to the locals. It’s hard to mobilize for a higher quality of life when you have not only never met your municipal representative, but further still, that the individual in question spends half the year golfing in Florida, or is otherwise ‘too busy’ to meet with his or her constituents.

This is on purpose. Our governments have been of the ‘laissez-faire’ variety that tends to shun civic engagement of any kind, largely because that gets in the way of private real estate interests, which, as we’re now becoming aware, seem to have dominated Montreal City Hall for about two decades.

The people of Darlington are committed citizens, engaged and neighbourly. They have no interest in private real estate deals. They need jobs, they need a housing plan, they need community-focused politicians to take on the slum lords who’ve rendered so much of the area’s so-called ‘affordable housing’ roach infested, leaky, mouldy and more.

What a sick city we live in. I would’ve expected nonsense like this back before the war, but today? In 2013? Ça n’a pas d’allure!

Ms. Dey was the only candidate Projet Montreal nominated for the district but the party took a vote anyways. It left an impression.

Whereas other groups would do this by acclamation, Projet Montreal actually went to the trouble of recording the vote. In that sense, Ms. Dey was elected to represent the party, a small yet nonetheless telling detail. The fact that there was a vote actually attaches the candidate to the people she aims to represent.

I’m sure some would deride this as mere pageantry, but I see it otherwise. At the very least it’s thorough; it doesn’t cut corners.

We should expect nothing less from our elected representatives; we go to the polls November 3rd.

Editors note: While this site is international in scope, and offers contributions from writers across North America and overseas, our home base is indisputably Montreal. As part of the continuing expansion of the News and Politics section we’ll be getting our noses dirty in the arena of municipal politics, assigning writers to cover contentious council meetings, report on local happenings that affect you and dig deep to find the Montreal stories you won’t find anywhere else. Today we welcome veteran reporter, editor and activist Wendy Kraus-Heitmann to the fold. Enjoy!

Montreal City Hall

Recently, I’ve had the privilege of becoming more involved in municipal actions and political activities here in the city of Montreal. I currently sit as the Sud-Ouest Borough representative for Citoyens Responsables de leurs Animaux de Compagnie, a group dedicated to changing and modernizing Montreal regulations concerning companion animals. This has required me to attend municipal and borough council meetings, make presentations and offer moral support.

One of the most striking things I noticed at these meetings is they are overwhelmingly white, male, and frankly: old. Montreal is a young, dynamic multi-cultural and multi-coloured city. There are no shortage of women here either. And yet face after face invariably belonged to a white male over 50 (often older) in a business suit. And not because of decorum. There’s a difference between a man who wears a suit because he has to, and a man who wears a suit because it’s just natural to him. While I’ve got nothing against suits and actually rather appreciate a finely tailored one, I’m pretty sure Montreal doesn’t have enough Professional Suits per capita to merit such a high level of representation.

With very rare exception, the women were pretty much older, white, and in suits as well. Despite 50% of islanders not speaking French as their first language, the representation of anglo and allophones is abysmal. While the same could be said about provincial and federal politics, recently great strides have been made in these areas. Students have been getting involved straight out of school and more women now sit in the House of Commons than ever before. So what is happening on the municipal level?

Council Chambers

Nothing it seems. Municipal politics, except for some excitement over Projet Montreal a few years ago, seems to be largely absent from the young and non-white radar. Question period, a beautiful concept enshrined in law where at the beginning of every municipal and borough meeting the representatives are required to take and answer questions from the public, is largely dominated by the same older people complaining about the same petty issues (not that vandalism and noise aren’t important but don’t we have more?) and being brushed off. And that doesn’t just end with council; I recently attended the Annual General Meeting for the Point St. Charles Community Clinic (the only CLSC of its kind in the province where it’s actually a non-profit corporation and run by the community) and probably 90% of the room was people over 80, despite the community being full of youth and families.

And yet during provincial and federal elections, my facebook newsfeed will be exploding with articles, updates, impassioned pleas, and buddies turned candidates and campaign workers. Strangely, many of these same people can’t name their city councillor and borough rep.

Photo courtesy of spacingmontreal.ca

The issue certainly isn’t that people don’t care. We live in a protest and complain culture in Montreal. The issue certainly isn’t that people are generally pleased with the status quo, as conversations about inconvenient transport, bixi overspending (how exactly does one fuck up a bike sharing service in Montreal?) and potholes hang over every terrasse conversation like the scent of cigarette smoke in summer. Community initiatives are always going on where people are planting renegade gardens and looking for compost groups and sharing cooperative vegetable growing resources. So how are we missing out on this critical aspect of civic involvement?

Meetings are held monthly for the borough and the city as a whole. In addition, the agglomeration council (a council of Montreal plus the demergered suburbs) meets monthly. Meetings are usually held at 7pm (lately there have been some times where they have been held at 2pm, despite the time on the city website still reading 7pm, so be careful and double check). If you want to be on the list to ask a question you’ll need to be there between 6 and 6:30 to get on the list, and many boroughs only allow residents to ask questions so you’ll need to give your address. All the information for various borough city halls and meeting times can be found on the Ville de Montreal website, and we’ll be covering more meetings in this space. As excited and passionate as people are in this city about anything political, the only thing I can think of is that a lack of promotion is preventing people from recognizing the potential for municipal and local community level involvement. So let’s get to work.

A more compact Turcot interchange design (http://www.montreal2025.com/pdf/Turcot_medias.pdf)

Before I write about the event I attended on Thursday I want to remind readers of the urgency of the situation of the Turcot Interchange.

As I write this many lanes on the structure are closed for emergency repairs, snarling traffic, adding to motorists’ stress and pumping extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Much of the underneath of the structure is covered in wire mesh to prevent chunks of it from falling right off. Though some readers may not sympathize with motorists’ issues, giant chunks of concrete falling from heights of up to 100 feet in the air isn’t exactly good for anyone.

Former candidates Richard Bergeron and Louise Harel with Mayor Gérald Tremblay (montrealgazette.com). They all endorse Montreal's new plan.

The event I attended on April 29th was a presentation of a newly-completed alternate proposal of the Turcot Intersection and yards in response to that of the MTQ (Ministère des Transports du Québec) plan that has been highly criticized by local residents, environmentalists and others. Noteworthy is that this new Montreal plan has been endorsed by all three main City of Montreal party leaders, Gérald Tremblay, Louise Harel and Richard Bergeron, as well as Westmount Mayor Peter Trent (Westmount borders directly on some of the work to be done).

Absent from the meeting was anyone at all from the Charest Liberal party, who have final say in the matter and who stated their rejection of the new plan practically before it was released.

Sud-Ouest borough Mayor Benoit Dorais, (courtesy of ville.montreal.qc.ca) spoke to a full gymnasium.

It was Sud-Ouest borough Mayor Benoit Dorais who convened the meeting, aimed at informing borough residents of the new plan as well as endorsing it. The meeting was hosted by Dorais and a panel of experts and follows the release of the plan last week. Residents turned out in droves, nearly filling the CRCS Saint-Zotique recreational facility’s gymnasium. The meeting started off with Dorais explaining the opposition to the MTQ Turcot plans and the issue of the MTQ proceeding as if there was none. Criticisms of the MTQ here are many.

There is that expropriation of homes in the Tanneries part of St-Henri and condos nearby. The MTQ plan places much priority on increasing car traffic and little on public transit and would actually increase the area taken up by the interchange itself. The MTQ did not look at best practices nor interchange scenarios that were readily available and have been proven successful in cities such as Chicago and Shanghai. In fact they actively sought to discredit some international planners’ recommendations. An initial cost estimate of 800 million dollars by the MTQ has grown to 2.5 billion and does not seem to be gaining precision with time.

Montreal’s new project can be viewed at http://www.montreal2025.com/pdf/Turcot_medias.pdf and was presented by Alain Trudel of the City of Montreal.

I’d like to point out that yes, the new plan does look like a roundabout. However it is actually nothing close to that. The concept basically uses the clover leaf interchange model and compacts it by having the traffic circles piled one on top of another. The north-south and east-west highways remain uninterrupted and there are no out of the ordinary mergers, exits or lane changeovers.

The Montreal plan succeeds in their main goal of reducing the land covered by the interchange. It adds many possibilities for decreasing the need for single occupancy vehicles, such as adding a tramway linking downtown with parts of Lachine and LaSalle, new AMT train stations and links to western parts of the island including the proposed airport link, keeping much of the highway infrastructure raised to allow for easy mobility between bordering neighbourhoods and designating highway lanes for taxis and public buses. This means that this plan strongly facilitates cuts in greenhouse gases.

Speakers at the event also pointed out that this new structure would be rather unique in design and could become something that Montreal is known for, like the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. They also presented many unique opportunities in other areas of the Turcot Yards such as creating an expanded parkland south of the Falaises St-Jacques, allowing some of the area to return to its natural wetland state, creating unique connections to the Lachine Canal for non-motorists and general infrastructure beautification.

In terms of project economics, the new Montreal plan takes into consideration return on investment. This philosophy was used in the development of Montreal’s Quartier International which has since won international awards. Spinoffs from having more Turcot Yards land available for development and using infrastructure beautification would generate more tax revenues, allowing for this project to pay for itself in a shorter time than the MTQ plan.

Since both sides, Montreal and Quebec City, may have their merits (remember Quebec City not wanting to build another raised structure?), a project of this magnitude must include much more collaboration between the two than is happening. I think we’d all like to see this before the existing monstrosity begins collapsing on the roads and people underneath.

The Montreal municipal election results are in, or at least most of them are. Some great things happened that really set Montreal on a course of progress. Meanwhile, other things happened, or rather didn’t happen, that keep us right where we are, in a mire of corruption and pro-corporate cronyism.

It all depends on how you look at things, or rather how see the glass of water (insert water meter scandal joke here). Forget the Box now offers you two different views of what happened, take your pick:

The glass half full

The scene at Le National was electric. There was hope in the air and people were celebrating. It wasn’t the victory everyone had hoped for, but it was progress and quite a bit of it, at that. A few weeks ago Forget The Box endorsed Projet Montreal and Richard Bergeron as the party capable of bringing new, progressive ideas to City Hall (read more)

The glass half empty

Despite eight years in power with not much to show for it except a trail of corruption, Gerald Tremblay will remain the mayor of Montreal. This means that projects he has given the green light to will most likely continue, including former petty thief and fraudster, now thug developer Christian Yaccarini’s Quadrilatere St-Laurent. The mayor seemed pretty adamant during his last administration (read more)