Anyone living in the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough will tell you that unless you are construction worker with a cushy government contract, the area is a living hell. Entire blocks of main streets have been closed to construction and companies operate in flagrant violation of municipal noise and safety laws.

Everyone is afraid to phone in a complaint because of concerns of reprisals from people wielding heavy machinery. Businesses are suffering, people are losing sleep and getting noise headaches, and even buying groceries has become an obstacle course of spraying gravel and thoroughfares laden with holes, making it hazardous for the borough’s disabled and elderly and anyone with a baby carriage.

It is concerns over the borough’s construction problems and the offer of the most pragmatic solution that will likely determine the outcome of the upcoming municipal election in NDG/Côte des Neiges.

I had the privilege of speaking to one of the candidates for borough mayor, Sue Montgomery, a former journalist now representing Projet Montreal, a party running on a platform of accessibility for the disabled, cultural diversity, and administrative accountability, among other things. She is up against current Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s man, Borough Mayor Russell Copeman, and a newcomer, Zaki Ghavitian, who entered the race last Tuesday.

Montgomery welcomed me into her home in NDG. Though running for office, there is little that is politician-like about her. She met me at the door and cheerfully joked about how the humid weather impacted her curly hair. It did not feel like an interview but rather like a new friend inviting me for tea.

Here’s what we talked about.

SG: Why are you running?

SM: Part of the reason is what’s going on south of the border. I’m horrified by it like many people and I thought if good people don’t step up, the same thing could possibly happen here. Obviously I’m not running for president but it starts at the grassroots and can go up.

I’ve lived here for 20 years and I think it’s an amazing borough but I don’t think it’s at its potential. I think there are a lot of problems and I think there’s some incredible grassroots groups that are active here and I’d like to work with those groups and coordinate things better. We’re the biggest borough, but I’d like us to be the envy of the other boroughs.

What do you feel the current leadership is doing well?

I don’t think Russell is doing a bad job. He has a lot of experience as a politician. I don’t think he’s really into the job. He’s not here full time. He works downtown on the Executive Committee so he’s really only here a couple of days a week and I think this borough needs a full time mayor, which is what I would be. I have no desire to be on the Executive Committee.

What do you feel you can improve?

In terms of our borough, right now, construction is a nightmare. I would like to improve the coordination of it, the organization of it, and the communication about it. I would also like to improve communication with residents, so instead of having a thing where we meet every month at borough council meetings, I would like to hold casual once a month also in a café.

I think the borough council meeting can be a bit intimidating. A lot of people don’t understand politics – I count myself among them earlier in my life – I didn’t take a lot of interest in it. I think a lot of women and young people don’t because they don’t recognize themselves in the people who are running things, i.e. middle aged white guys. I would like to make it more grassroots, more democratic, more consultation, more discussion.

As mayor, I’m not going to have the answers. I’m going to have a lot of questions: Why are things like this? Why is it working like this? Why is not working like this? Which is my journalistic background. I have ideas, but I don’t have the answers. I think the people who have the answers are groups like Head and Hands and the NDG Food Depot, NDG Community Council, the Immigrant Workers’ Center. These are people at the ground level who know this is what we need and how do we get that.

Regarding the construction in NDG, what do you feel is the source of the problems?

A lot of this work is done by subcontractors, so there should be a mechanism to find them if their worksite is not secure for pedestrians and cyclists. We need people to go around and check that they’re properly set up.

To me it feels like there’s no accountability here. I remember being a journalist when the bridge collapsed. Heads would roll in other provinces for something like that and they didn’t here. No one was ever held accountable. I would want to know do they have a list of complaints? Do they have a list of what was done with those complaints? Was it followed up? How was it followed up? If it wasn’t, why not? Who is responsible here?

Do you think a standard protocol should be set up?

Absolutely! It’s all about accountability. You can’t just have a number people call and nothing happens. I’ve talked to people since the storm (the microburst which hit NDG particularly hard) where they’ve called in about trees and were told it would be 3 years, 5 years…

How do you feel the city reacted to that big storm?

From what I hear from residents, they were pretty impressed with the cleanup and I know that a lot of healthy trees came down. But I would like to know how many of those trees were rotten and how many of them had been reported because we were SUPER lucky that no one was injured.

I’ve talked to an arborist who told me that this borough is the most neglected when it comes to tree maintenance and a lot of the trees that came down were rotten. With climate change, we’re going to see a lot more of these storms and so that has to be a priority, maintaining those trees.

Montgomery chatted openly about the challenges she will face as the only female candidate running in the borough. Her focus is on improving access for people who rely on sidewalks, bicycles, and public transportation while making sure that the more problematic elements in CDN/NDG are held to account.

Her unpolitician-like demeanor is appealing to more cynical voters and her approachability makes her a sure contender. Whether she’ll be able to win over those who want to be led by a politician remains to be seen.

From tomorrow through August 20th, NDG residents, frequent visitors to the neighbourhood and even people from all over looking for something fun to do in the summer have a chance to discover more about this sprawling community in western Montreal and document what they learn on social media. It’s a scavenger hunt.

In particular, it’s the ScaveNDGers Hunt, officially part of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations. ScaveNDGers is an event created and organized by Sarah Ring and Aurora Robinson, two NDG residents who are also behind another successful community-based event, PorchFest NDG, a porch-based local music festival that happens every spring.

I had a chance to speak with Ring about this very unique scavenger hunt:

FTB: Where did you get an idea for an NDG scavenger hunt? Did the success of PorchFest play a role?

Sarah Ring: The city put out a call for projects last year and the NDG Community Council (Sharon Sweeney who is the center of a lot of community-driven initiatives in NDG) reached out to a lot of people, groups, organizers to brainstorm possible projects that could get funding. So being the organizers of PorchFest got us invited to that session and I assume showed the city/board of decision-makers that we could handle the job.

It was during that session that we came up with the idea of a scavenger hunt but instead of people having to unearth certain objects (like a Rolling Stones concert ticket from 1978) we thought that people could have tasks to accomplish.

Many NDG events seem to center around Sherbrooke and Monkland, but according to your map, this event incorporates all of NDG, including below the tracks and the northern parts of the neighbourhood. Do you think this will help people discover other parts of NDG they may not visit frequently?

NDG is big and we thought it would be a great opportunity for people to discover other parts of their hood. If you live in the Monkland Village, how often do you go to St-Raymond or Westhaven? Both Aurora and I live in the western part of NDG (Loyola) and it often gets neglected.

A lot of the action is concentrated around NDG/Girouard Park though Arts Week is finally moving west with Sunset on Somerled – a great initiative! There is so much diversity in NDG that some might not know about- conversely, there are a lot of cultural communities that might not be familiar with the history of NDG- this seemed like a great way to bring people of all walks of life and demographics together to make new discoveries – be it people, places, architecture, knowledge.

In this sense the community has been an integral and invaluable part of the project- from its conception, to preparation (Jason Wasserman, an NDGer who did our graphics, was in En Masse) to where we buy our supplies, and translation services to the content of the tasks, and now the participants – though it’s open to everyone not just NDGers. Our focus has all been on the neighborhood and utilizing what great resources we have here locally – you know, by the people for the people!

3. As this is an event for all ages with a strong learning component, albeit a fun one, how much of what is there to be discovered will be fresh knowledge even for adults who have lived in NDG for years in addition to being discoveries for the kids?

For sure some of the clues and facts will be known to some – that’s inevitable. There is a FB group dedicated to NDG bygone eras who have a much richer acquaintance with the past than we do. But a lot of our tasks involve getting participants to do something related to a community service (which people might not know about) or create some public art or record a story. In this sense, participants are creating new knowledge about the neighborhood that will be novel to everyone – recently arrived residents and the old timers alike.

All the images, videos (data) will be archived and preserved. So yes, some facts will not be new to some but all the teams’ results (we have about 60 teams so far!) will generate deep and meaningful connections that will outlast the project. That’s really exciting for us!

If you’re excited, too, or just a bit curious, you can sign up before August 13th at tresorsndg.com to get started

After a brief pause from local shows last week to give the proper respect due to The Hip, we’re back at it with four very cool and very different events taking place this week. All are at smaller venues with low (or free) ticket prices and none are on the same night as each other so why not go to a few of them?

Evan Taylor Jones

If you’re looking for a great show tonight then head down to the Wheel Club where singer/songwritier/guitarist/former The Voice contestant Evan Taylor Jones will be bringing his unique brand of soulful rock to the stage in support of his new EP The Sunray Sessions Live. Evan’s style shows a clear and deep connection with the roots of rock and Motown brought into the 21st century and given a contemporary feel.

Anyone living outside of Montreal should take note that this summer tour seems to be stopping in every city on the eastern side of this continent. So if you can’t make it tonight I suggest you check out the full list of shows on Evan’s Facebook page and hopefully find a stop near you.

Evan Taylor Jones plays The Wheel Club, 3373 Boulevard Cavendish, Thursday, August 25th, 8:30 pm (Doors at 7).

If We Are Machines + A Devil’s Duo + CFCQ and the Piss of Assurance

On Friday night you can head to everyone’s favorite dive Barfly and check out an evening of indie rock headlined by Vancouver’s own If We Are Machines. This summer the six piece psych rock ensemble is traveling from one end of the country to the other and back again on the very accurately named “Ocean Waters Tour”.

Joining them on stage will be two local acts: A Devil’s Duo (members of A Devil’s Din) and CFCQ and the Piss of Assurance making this quite an amazing lineup especially when you consider that tickets are only five bucks!

(Author’s Note: When I say the Barfly is “everyone’s favorite dive” I do so with empirical evidence, try googling Dive bars Montreal or looking up any poll for Best Montreal Dive Bar and you’ll see what I mean.)

If We Are Machines,  A Devil’s Duo and CFCQ and the Piss of Assurance play Barfly, 4062A Boulevard St Laurent, Friday, August 26th, 9:00pm, $5.

Saturday in The Park (N.D.G Arts Week)

Girouard park and the surrounding area has been full of action these past few days while in the midst of hosting N.D.G Arts Week. This multidisciplinary fest celebrating music, theatre, art, dance and much more has all sorts of events going on this week so check out their schedule and find a little something for you.

The big event for music fans will be Saturday in the Park where a mix of Hip Hop, Jazz, Funk, R&B and Soul will come together in a very open and all inclusive way. The first two hours of the event (5 to 7 pm) is an open mic hosted by Eleuthera. Anyone interested in getting up on stage should send a message and sound sample to  ndgopenmic@gmail.com.

The rest of the event (7 to 10 pm) will be a big jam session with the collective #LeCypher featuring Urban Science and whole group of artists from different genres. If you like improvised music and/or sitting in parks then this is the show for you. ProTip: bring a lawnchair!

Saturday in the Park occurs at Girouard Park, 3500 Avenue Girouard, Saturday, August 27th, 5:00pm to 10:00pm, free.

A Cosy Night with Pomme

This Monday the French singer-songwriter Pomme will be over at Le Verre Bouteille for an intimate evening of music which is a perfect way to hear a musician who describes her style as “des ptites chansons écrites dans des ptites chambres.” If this was a movie I’d say that Pomme is cast perfectly as the “cosy” acoustic artist that people want to go and hear on a Monday.

Pomme plays , Le Verre Bouteille, 2112 Mont-Royal East, Monday, August 29th, 8:00 pm (Doors at 7), tickets available through Indie Montreal, $11.85.

Know a band or an artist that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe a show FTB should cover, too? Let us know at music@forgetthebox.net. We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!

* Featured image of Pomme via Instagram

Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump may be making an appearance in Montreal this month, at least if local businessman Peter Sergakis has his way.

The infamous bar and restaurant owner has invited Trump to be the guest of honour, welcoming patrons to the grand opening of Jersey’s Saloon, a Coyote Ugly-style bar set to have two locations, one which used to house NDG landmark MAZ Bar.

“We’ve turned a community watering hole into a resto-bar where women wearing next to nothing dance on tables and pour drinks. It’s a flashback to a hypersexualized fad from the 90s that never took hold in Montreal,” Sergakis told the press, “who better to kick it off than Donald Trump!”

For Sergakis, this is a follow-up to far right French Front Nationale leader Marine Le Pen speaking at another one of his bars, Station de Sports in Montreal’s Gay Village. The connection wasn’t lost on the bar and real estate magnate:

“I didn’t get enough traction with far-right drinkers by inviting Le Pen,” the businessman lamented, “hopefully Trump will change that! Or, at the very least, we could get Milania, she’s hot!”

When asked about the invitation, Trump was enthusiastic, stating that it was a good reason for him not to build a wall along the US border with Canada. While he emphasized that his attendance would depend on his campaign commitments, he made it clear that if he did not show up, Montrealers should blame “Muslims and China.”

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton didn’t have anything to tell the press, though reports indicate she has asked Sergakis how much a speaking gig at his new bar paid. Trump’s principal GOP opponent Ted Cruz, meanwhile, said: “What? Who is this? Forget the what? How did you get this number?”

It was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, though, who hit the proverbial nail on the head:

“Oh, April Fools, funny, now let’s get back to the real issues!”

***

Seriously, though, while the Trump part was a joke, Peter Sergakis did harbour Marine Le Pen when she was in Montreal and is planning on turning what was MAZ Bar in NDG into a Coyote Ugly-style resto-bar, or at least he was until yesterday, when the promo video for Jersey’s Saloon was removed from YouTube and rumous surfaced that he had changed his plan.

Maybe it was the rather vocal opposition to his plan, or possibly the fact that he realized it was the wrong location and year for this concept to take hold (Don’t get me wrong, I love burlesque, but this is not burlesque. I also have no problem with strip clubs, but this is not a strip club. It’s just a cheesy idea and not in a good way). Or just maybe this was itself an April Fools joke executed a few days early. We may never know.

Also, Donald Trump is still the frontrunner to be the Republican candidate for the presidency. And no one in the party or his campaign has said April Fool’s on that one yet!

 

NDG, yesterday you outdid yourself. You welcomed summer to Montreal in the best way possible: with a truly grassroots and community-based music festival experience.

It just made so much sense. Of course an idea like PorchFest would work in my old hood. NDG is known for its abundance of musicians, laid back weekend attitude, and strong community feeling. Plus it has some rather nice porches.

There’s no need for an over-hyped, over-commercialized festival here. NDG residents can go downtown if that’s what they’re looking for. In the Deeg, it’s all about hassle-free good times, partying with neighbours and, of course, great music.

On my first early afternoon Porchfest odyssey, I had the perfect musical travelling companion, my mom. A long time NDG resident, she felt right at home walking around the streets she knew all too well, now emboldened with a musical party vibe that was always there, just not in such an obvious way.

This wasn’t an event tailored to a specific age group or musical genre. There were children, seniors and every age in between. There was folk, rock, electronic-styled music with real instruments and even a punk band doing an acoustic show. We didn’t catch the punk band and almost caught the electronic act, but we took a wrong turn.

Multi-Generational Appalachian Country in the Early Afternoon

Our first step was a glorious mis-step, as we headed down the wrong street and caught an excellent show. Now, to be clear, our error had nothing to do with the listing of events provided by PorchFest organizers. They offered as clear a guide as possible of when and where each of the 60+ acts who had signed up were performing.

No, in our excitement, we mistook Wilson for Melrose and caught a performance by Stephanie Flowers and the Sticky Finger String Band completely by accident. This multi-generational country band was fronted by a 12-year-old with incredible musical talent for someone her age or any age. They will be playing the Montreal Folk Fest later this summer.

While their style may have sounded bluegrass, they made it clear to the increasingly growing audience that it was, in fact, country music from the Appalachian region of the US and, in fact, a precursor to bluegrass. What was made clearer was that this band knew how to play and really capture a crowd with their music.

The stage Stephanie Flowers and her band played on was actually the front porch of an apartment building. It was used by multiple acts throughout the day. Before we arrived, FTB’s Jesse Anger caught The Guillaume Jabbour Band playing in the same location. He liked what he heard and took a pic of the band and the spot:

PorchFest NDG (1)
The Guillaume Jabbour Band

Backyard Rock Rocks

While, for the most part, this was a front porch-centric event, we were fortunate to catch a show on a back porch and, more to the point, sit in a back yard to take it in. It was a performance by Les Skidoos Jaunes, a local rock band playing cover songs in both English and French, occasionally changing instruments. Full disclosure, the drummer is my brother. I guess you could say it was a real family affair, as is PorchFest overall.

The band was joined on stage by Blake Adams and other members of the Adams family who were hosting this event. They were also offering up hot dogs and freshly squeezed lemonade and only asking for donations to the NDG Food Depot in return.

As Les Skidoos expertly played through their varied repertoire of more recent and older rock tunes, more people arrived via the alley and took their spots in the backyard. Near the end of the show, the crowd taking in the event was bigger than ones I have seen at some bar shows booked months in advance on good nights.

PorchFest NDG (2)
Les Skidoos Jaunes (also in featured image)

People were really getting into the music and the scene, singing along and even dancing a bit. Not bad for a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Once the Skidoos had finished playing and the official PorchFest show was done for this particular porch, my mom had had her musical fill and left. I decided to stick around. Mike Dawson was doing a set on the balcony and there was a real jam vibe happening.

This meant I didn’t get to catch some of the acts playing in western NDG. Come to think of it, there were quite a few acts I would have liked to catch but didn’t get the chance to: FTB Fundraiser veterans Po Lazarus and some former members of the United Steel Workers of Montreal performing together to name but a few.

No, it’s not possible to catch all of PorchFest. So much is going on in such a short period of time. Regardless of what specific acts you get to listen to, though, one thing you will experience is the overall feeling of a community coming alive culturally on a beautiful summer afternoon, and the first one of the year at that.

As for those acts you missed, well, there’s always next year. And that’s not some hollow promise, but rather something to get excited about.

* Photos by Jesse Anger

In our fourth FTB Podcast, we discuss we discuss the closing of Le Bull Pub at the hands of Peter Sergakis, the new Star Wars trailer and Porchfest NDG.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

    Panelists

Jay Manafest: Hip hop artist, organizer of Mic Check

Thomas O’Connor: FTB film reviewer

Cem Ertekin: FTB and McGill Daily news editor

Sarah Ring: Writer and Porchfest NDG co-organizer

 

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

Montreal is a town replete with festivals. Some are big and corporate, some are smaller and more grassroots. Some are focused on indoor venues, others occupy entire streets. And then there’s PorchFest.

“It’s a music festival that takes place on people’s front porches,” explained PorchFest organizer and NDG resident Aurora Robinson, elaborating that “it’s a community oriented music happening that’s brought to fruition by and for the members of that community.”

Robinson got first-hand experience of the PorchFest concept when she lived in Somerville, Massachusetts, across the river from Boston, one of the growing number of communities with a ProchFest. In Somerville, residents looked forward to this event every year.

“When I came back to NDG,” she noted, “I missed it, and then realized that NDG would be a great place to have one.”

How Does it Work?

The concept of PorchFest is simple. In a nutshell, people sign up to play, either on their own porches or on a friend’s porch and are included as part of the PorchFest lineup. Organizers expect musicians to find their own porches, but, in some cases, if they really can’t find their own, they can help.

“One of the things that separates it from other music festivals is that it’s uncomplicated and inexpensive and not reliant on any kind of corporate sponsorship. It gives experienced musicians a chance to give something back to their neighbourhood, and it gives emerging musicians a chance to play in a low-stress, friendly environment, or maybe even try out performing in public for the first time,” Robinson said, noting that “it’s also a great opportunity to meet your neighbours.”

Why NDG?

Just what makes NDG an ideal location to host the first PorchFest in the Greater Montreal Area? For Robinson, it’s simple: “Nice porches. Great musicians. People who like music. Streets that are nice to walk down. These are the essential ingredients to a successful Porchfest, and NDG’s got ’em all.”

So far, they’ve already got quite a few musicians interested. Some of these are pros, others new to playing music in public.

“The seasoned musicians are perhaps attracted to the idea of a very low-maintenance performance that gives back to their own community,” Robinson speculated, “and amateurs are looking for chances like this to be heard. We don’t have any bands that you’d hear on pop radio, of course. But that’s not at all the aim of Porchfest anyways. We don’t want everyone crowded around one or two porches, blocking traffic. We want people moving around, discovering local talent!”

The deadline to sign up for PorchFest NDG is Monday, April 6th and the event happens Saturday, May 2nd. For more information: porchfestndg.com

Lioubov, mender of all coats, taperer of pants, hemmer of lock, seamstress of my heart—you are my one good reason for ever, ever stepping into NDG.

And today is no different. I carefully descend the neatly snow-swept steps into Elvis Shoe Repair and Valet Svc., your undisputed domain, and find you there as I left you—foot on Singer pedal, as warming as a hearth. I have come the long, winding road from St-Henri on the Canal for a bit of your needlework.

It’s been a fair five years now since you worked those first miracles on my new-old-stock JCPenney deer wool pea coat—a back stitch that got stuck and slit in a door I was holding open for some old spinster at Akhavan—still seamlessly mended and taken in for my slight frame, hanging now, worn out, in my closet.

Since then, it’s been many seasons of trousers entrusted. Anything from trusty 501s and occasional chinos—and ill-advised 532s and canvas work pants, both Swayze-inspired, and high-waisted—to be tapered dramatically and hemmed neatly.

And though I recall your professional skepticism those first few pairs—“you will not be able to take them off!”—I mostly sojourn in those memories mirthfully, all those times I made you take the measuring tape out, snickering all the while, showing me the extra half inch you had tacked on at the leg opening. You always abided and redid the work when I pointed it out—smiling, a clothier before a coxcomb—and finally learned I meant it soon enough.

I daresay you’ve since come to accept and cherish the fruits of my dandyism, though you’ve still got some kick and hijinks in you. Your snark, like your red-dyed bob, is a reassuring constant.

Today, for instance, is a mere hem job, but here you are again, rifling through the pockets of what I’ve brought you, tssk-tssking and snorting, pulling euros and loonies out of change pocket, bills and raffle tickets out of others: “You need a woman for such things! Like that pretty Ukrainian-looking girl with you once.”

Your recollections are always a bit of flattery, no doubt, and while I think the matter over as you’re clothes-pinning me into privacy in the change room, I don’t think I’ve met a woman I’d trust with my trousers quite as well.

I mean, would she stand me up on a sturdy wooden pro-grade thingy and dutifully tuck four months of creased double cuff inside my left leg, tugging at it like so, testing for leg clearance? Would she giggle and ask:

“You gonna make these tighter, like the other ones?”

Would she call me a “stilyaga” when I told her:

“Well these are my loosest jeans! But no, not this time around.”

How we laugh and laugh. How you kindly repeat it—Stilyaga—for mental note.

I mean no woman I meet will tell me she was a pharmacist in the empire. Hardly any other woman will make such buttery smooth work of 19oz selvedge—so tightly, solidly sewed, perfectly hemmed. No young, plush, daring partner will ensnare me in talk of those two X Masses on the horizon: Coca-Cola Xmas around the corner and Orthodox Christmas two weeks down the road. They have plenty else to wonder at, but they aren’t even of your world.

I mean, yeah, this single thing, new as it is, wouldn’t mind a little bit of that Ukrainian-looking friend, that part-time lover, or another. But my hems and tapers will likely be yours as long as you’ll have me. My altered heart is plucked with your Singer, Lioubov. And that’s that.

So now that you’re telling me you’re thinking of reverting to a home-based operation, chopping out a box for your productivity with your arms, explaining about all that time one can waste—time I’ve all too well laid as such—I’m not thinking of those women, or a woman, or the woman. The only thought on my mind is how to not lose you. My gams and clotheshorse tucks would never forgive if I did.

Leaving NDG with the finished work, I’m already longing for the next bit I’ll entrust you with. Maybe those black boot-cut relics I could resurrect for those many stilyaga days ahead. Maybe a German army parka to streamline. Or something new. Whatever it may be, I know you won’t disappoint. And that’s means a helluva lot, right now.

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.

In an FTB SmartPhone Community Report, Emily Campbell speaks with Projet Montreal City Councillor Peter McQueen (Notre-Dame-de-Grace) and community activist Marlo Turner Ritchie who aren’t impressed with traffic plans surrounding the new McGill University Health Centre Super-Hospital. They and other local pedestrians, public transit users and cyclists don’t want to be cut off from an entire neighbourhood…