I think Montrealers owe Gerald Tremblay and even Jean Drapeau an apology. Sure, they may have been corrupt, but at least they had the basic decency to make their abuse of city funds look, on some level, beneficial.
Denis Coderre won’t even extend us the courtesy of trying to pull the wool over our eyes. He’s paying, or rather Montrealers are paying, $3.45 million for granite shaped as tree stumps on Mount Royal, supposedly in celebration of our city’s 375th anniversary.
Drapeau: Corruption in the Details
Drapeau’s administration was responsible for building the Olympic Stadium. Yes, there were trucks driving in and out, then around the block, then back in, counted twice and paid twice or multiple times (page 6).
Was it grossly over budget and behind schedule due to corruption? Yes. Is it occasionally functional at best and a bit of an eyesore? Absolutely. Was Drapeau able to make a good case for building the thing in the first place? Yes he was.
The idea of a city the size of Montreal having an Olympic stadium that also can double as a baseball, football and concert venue is a good one. Or, at very least, it’s an idea that you can logically argue is beneficial. The corruption and waste, in this case, was all in the details.
Tremblay and the Arts: A Different Opinion
The most glaring example of corruption in the Tremblay administration (and there are many to choose from) has got to be the Quartier de Spectacles project. We’re talking no-bid contracts given to connected developers who chose to ignore rather vocal input and opposition from the existing artistic community, local business owners and historical preservationists and move ahead with their unpopular and badly conceived projects.
It took a court case and media shitstorm to stop the expropriation of Café Cleopatre, but the rest of the project has already become reality, or most likely will.
Was this a case of politicians doing favours for their friends at Montrealers’ expense. No doubt. Could Tremblay realistically argue public benefit? Unfortunately, yes.
I don’t for a minute buy the argument that we need to push independent artists out of their venues and tear down historic buildings in order to accommodate corporate art backers and uber-mainstream culture in order to be an international arts city. In fact, I find that angle repugnant and an insult to the very core of what makes Montreal artistically unique.
However, I will grant Tremblay one thing. While I didn’t and still don’t see any benefit in his plan, he was completely justified to argue that there was. One of those things where time will tell, I guess.
Coderre: Lost in the Woods
At first glance, Coderre’s granite tree stumps look…like a fucking terrible idea. An eyesore, really. Who needs fake nature when you’re surrounded by real nature?
Then you hear the price tag. Then all you hear is the price tag. How could the city be paying so much? Clearly someone’s getting the proverbial brown envelope, probably a friend of the Mayor. At least I hope someone is. If this isn’t corruption, then it’s catastrophically bad urban planning, which is probably worse.
This isn’t just some overpriced project like the Mordecai Richler Gazeebo which will cost $724 000. Sure, that’s way too much. Sure, Coderre rejected an offer of a free gazeebo to go with this plan instead. But at the very least, despite being worth nowhere near what Montreal will pay for it, a restored Gazeebo on the mountain named after one of Montreal’s most celebrated authors is a good thing.
This also isn’t like the public tree-shaped benches costing in the thousands opposition party Projet Montreal, who voted against the granite stumps on the mountain, installed on streets in the Plateau. Overpriced? Sure. Unnecessary? Yeah. But at least a tree-like bench on a city street, it can be argued, serves a purpose.
A place to sit? A good thing. Fake nature on an urban street? Sure. Kinda cheesey, but sure. But fake nature in the middle of a beautiful space full of real nature. It’s not just an unnecessary waste, it’s unwanted.
If you want to sit down on something natural, sit on a rock or, wait for it, an actual tree stump. If you want to sit on something made by humans, use a bench. There are plenty of them around the mountain and they didn’t cost a fraction of what these granite stumps will.
If you really want the sitting on nature experience but would prefer not have to sit on the actual nature that is all around you and think the city should pay $3.45 million for you to be able to do just that, then, hopefully, most likely, you don’t exist. If you do, then Denis Coderre would really like you to speak up right now.
Sure, some of these fake granite (parts of) trees are scheduled to appear in other spots in the city, like the campus of Université de Montréal (which also has quite a bit of nature in it, if I remember correctly), but it’s the ones on the Mountain that are particularly galling.
Coderre is taking a public beating on this one, from all corners of the political spectrum. And rightly so. This isn’t just corruption. This isn’t just out-of-touch, overpriced decadence. It’s something people wouldn’t want, in most cases, even if the price tag was $5.
Denis Coderre forgot the first rule of corruption: try to make it look like you are doing a good thing. If you’re going to screw us, Mr. Mayor, at least let us think that we’re enjoying it.