A More Civilized Approach to Montréal’s Perennial Language Debate

SJB Day, 1990 – Cartier Monument (where the Tam-Tams take place) – credit to Ed Hawco

I find this photograph very interesting. It shows people scaling the George-Etienne Cartier Memorial on June 24th 1990, when ethnic tensions between three ‘founding’ groups – Aboriginals, French and Anglo-Celtic, were at an all time high. I find it interesting because Cartier was a Father of Confederation, a man crucially important in setting up the dual language and dual political culture of Canadian federalism. I don’t think too many people know much about him, or what he represents as a French Canadian establishing vital cultural rights for French Canadians, so many years ago. He is a important as Macdonald, with whom he is often paired. The failure of the Meech Lake Accords, coupled with increasing public scrutiny and criticism of both Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Québec Premier Robert Bourassa, a local land dispute with the Mohawk of Kanesatake and a weakened economy all helped push calls for another referendum, which would occur in 1995. In turn, the Anglo-Québecois community responded by creating their own political party (the short-lived Equality Party), in addition to Anglo rights lobby groups. Ultimately, the unnecessarily provocative actions by the Bourassa and Parizeau governments would serve to galvanize the Anglo-Québecois community, likely preparing them well in advance to defeat the separatist cause during the 95 Referendum. And as we remember, it was damn close.

Fast forward to 2012 and guess what, we’re in almost the exact same position. The global economy is in a bad state, we have a very unpopular premier and an much-loathed Prime Minister – and both of these people seem legitimately disinterested in pushing a progressive agenda, supporting the distinct society of Québec, or embarking on any major plans for nation building (with the possible exception of Charest’s Plan Nord, which promises $80 billion in Northern development funding, spread out across multiple sectors. It’s an ambitious plan that seeks to expand Québec’s energy, transportation, mining and forestry sectors, and the provincial government is touting the project as being equivalent to what the James Bay hydro-electric dams did for our economy in the 1960s and 1970s, but so far it seems to be little more than a plan. In any event I digress; unemployment is still too high in Quebec and job opportunities are still limited).

And so is it any surprise that we’re falling head-long into the abyss of language bickering. It began in earnest with L’actualité’s recent inflammatory issue, which provocatively asserts the French language is severely threatened in Montréal. They based their findings on a poll which utilized loaded questions designed to make the French language and culture seem generally unappreciated by Anglo-Québecois. I was surprised, because typically L’actualité is reasonable, well-rounded and seemingly federalist in editorial orientation. But hey, money talks right? It’s not surprising that more Anglo-Québecois bought this issue of L’actualité than any other. Then Pierre Curzi had to open his big mouth and pronounce his ‘feeling’ that French was threatened in Montréal, and that more drastic measures had to be employed in order to protect the ‘fragile’ French language and culture of Québec. And then, much like his predecessor Bourassa, Charest decides to play populist by creating more language police when he should be finding a solution to the growing unrest amongst Québec’s student population.

It bothers me to no end that those who are quick to sound the alarm on language issues rarely spend any time looking up the legitimate statistical information pertinent to the issue. The Franco-Quebecois population is growing, but so too is that of the Anglo-Québecois community, albeit at a smaller rate. Immigrants are still forced to attend school at Francophone school boards, despite the availability of spaces in the bilingual ‘Anglophone’ boards, and the actual number of people who use French as their primary language of communication is rising as well. Given that the total population is growing, it should be no surprise that both languages are in use. There are more people now who can speak both comfortably, and thus do. People like Lisée or Curzi believe, apparently honestly, that if English is being used by one person, it means some the whole of the French language is threatened.

Well excuse me, but there is no doubt in my mind that the French language is safe and secure here in Montréal inasmuch as Québec. There’s no question Montréal is a French city, and as a member of both linguistic communities, I can only say that my culture doesn’t need to be supported by draconian laws or over-zealous inspectors. Curzi and Lisée’s opinions do not represent reality, just their flawed perspective of reality. It’s a populist appeal that can whip people into a frenzy, and given we have an election coming up, both of Québec’s major political parties will be playing the ‘Anglophones are threatening your cultural identity’ card. It’s bullshit and extremely destructive to our city.

What the Baby Boomer political establishment of Québec fails to understand is that languages support each other. Teach a child two languages, they’ll master two languages, possibly more. We could have built a fluently bilingual society, enthusiastic to converse in both languages inter-changeably. Instead we support punitive measures to punish those who would dare not conform to the majority. If we don’t put our foot down and stop this lunacy, we will instigate another prolonged economic and political depression in Montréal. How many more of these prolonged affairs can we tolerate? The last one lasted about a quarter century.

The simple fact is that in an increasingly globalized world, multi-lingualism and inter-culturalism will become the norm, and as Montrealers we have a privileged position wherein we can exploit our society’s multi-lingualism to economic advantage. There are a lot of jobs which require fully bilingual individuals, so it shouldn’t be any surprise to the Francophone majority of Québec that the principle minorities of this province – Anglophones, Aboriginals and Immigrants, have all endeavoured to become proficient in the majority languages of the province and country. It makes business sense because it’s common sense.

Charest, the OQLF, Curzi, Lisée, the SSJB – all of these people/organizations could implicate themselves in protecting and promoting Québec culture, society and the French language if they actually wanted to, by re-enforcing French as the language of high-culture, academia, politics, etc. They could use their influence and resources to make French more chic than English, if they’re really bothered by people speaking English in public. Punitive measures will do nothing but sew seeds of discontent and anger. Is this what they really want?

I want people like Lisée, Marois and Curzi to stop pretending Québec’s culture is threatened. Of course it isn’t – it’s over 400 years old and represents one out of every five Canadians. And Montréal rivals Paris for the production of original French-language media. And parents throughout Canada push their kids to learn French so they can go to school in Montréal and have access to the best jobs in the country. No kidding! It’s almost as if anyone bitching about the status of the French language and/or culture in Québec has their heads thoroughly planted up their own ass. I’m tired of this province’s apparent leaders trying to con me into believing I’m a member of a minority group. More than seven million people inhabiting a territory as large as Western Europe with an advanced program designed to integrate immigrants from other Francophone nations is hardly a minority situation. These self-deprecating opinions are wreaking havoc on our collective morale, and are thoroughly baseless to begin with.

I’ve had enough. I’m not in the minority, I’m not threatened, and I’ll gladly continue to speak both languages and appreciate both cultures. I’ll gladly use French and English where each is appropriate, and I’ll be damned if I let anyone tell me what to do. Given the Anglo-Québecois community, Aboriginal community and Immigrant community have all adapted effortlessly into the fold of a majority Francophone province, I can only say stay the course and we’ll benefit immensely, but it remains in our best interest to ignore the bullshit when we see it. There’s no sense in throwing fuel on the fire.

Canada’s Conservatives: Historically Inept when it comes to Defence

Not the real deal, just a wooden mock-up for one of Peter Mackay’s endless photo-ops.

I hate to say I told you so…

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but guess what – the F-35 program doesn’t even meet the defence ministry’s requirements for a new fighter, and no other bids were considered. This was a cash grab to reward business partners of individual members of the Conservative government, plain and simple. Even though top defence analysts were sounding the alarm years ago, the Tories simply pressed on to acquire a paltry sixty five F-35s, at the over-inflated cost of about fifteen billion dollars.

That’s your money. Money which could otherwise be going to build bullet trains, hospitals or schools, or perhaps saving the people of Attawapiskat from freezing or starving to death.

And all that money wouldn’t have included actually purchasing weapons or engines for the fighters, these were to be leased. The fighter was also hampered by it’s single engine (typically, combat missions in Canada’s Arctic require the power and capabilities of twin engines, like the Hornet and most other fighter types used in Canada), not to mention unproven testing record and comparatively small weapons load and restricted range. In sum, everything about this project made it inappropriate for Canadian service, and several other types of fighters were available, for less money, yet were never considered. Moreover, the project lacked much local economic spinoff in terms of long-term employment, and the number of aircraft to be acquired was insufficient to meet our nation’s air-defence requirements.

Of course this is nothing new for the Conservative Party of Canada. Diefenbaker famously killed the Avro Arrow, one of the most technologically advanced fighter aircraft ever built, and in turn set our aviation industry back for a generation. We still haven’t fully recovered. It was under Mulroney’s government that our military facilities in Germany were shut down, and today we have to rent space at other nation’s military facilities. His 1987 Defence White Paper made many promises, of which none came to fruition, with the exception of some expensive VIP jets. And now Harper is following in their footsteps, promising a lot and delivering nothing, except for a remarkably large bill.

How does he keep a straight face when he says that the Tories are the greatest proponents of the Canadian Forces? Bullshit – almost all the equipment our military uses today was procured under Liberal Prime Ministers.

The F-35 debacle is just another example of typical Tory procurement strategy – use the public purse to pay big dividends to your business partners at the expense of the tax-payer; since their only recourse is to vote the politician out of office, once the transaction is completed, the politician moves on to a corporate board of directors. The institution that is the Canadian government is merely a ladder by which to enter the upper echelons of world corporate governance, and it’s paid for by the unsuspecting tax-payers.

Really makes you wonder why we don’t all refuse, in unison, to pay our taxes until we get a full explanation of why our government was about to commit billions of dollars on inadequate fighter jets, and has been unable to realize on-time deliveries of Chinook and Cyclone helicopters too. Just what exactly are they doing with the defence budget?

I’d really like to know.

Final thought. At one point the idea was that we simply acquire the newer version of the F/A-18 Hornet. The ‘Super Hornet’ is an enlarged version of the original, with modern sensors and weapons. It has two engines, can operate in the Arctic, off of aircraft carriers or improvised airstrips. We built our CF-18 Hornets here in Canada, why couldn’t we simply build the new one here as well? The CF-18 has served this country exceptionally well since the late-1980s, has flown combat missions over Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya and is ideally suited for the primary mission of aerospace defence inasmuch as they can be deployed in peace-making endeavours abroad. It is superior to the F-35 in countless ways, and we already have the local expertise to build the more modern version here at home.

Would this not be the more economically-sound alternative to the F-35 acquisition plan? Wouldn’t building the aircraft locally, according to our own specifications, support many more jobs here at home? And if we built an even better version than the original, could we not them sell such aircraft to our allies, at a profit? Would this not aid our economy in general and our aerospace industry, both directly and indirectly over a longer period of time?

Is there no more economic conservatism in the Conservative Party of Canada?

Seems that way…

Ode to Pierrefonds

The Chateau de Pierrefonds, Oise Department, France

My hometown is named after the castle in the photograph above; there is nothing even remotely as grand as this beautifully restored 13th-century chateau in all of Pierrefonds, that much I can guarantee you, but it’s certainly inspiring nonetheless. I could not possibly have asked to be raised in a more ideal suburb. Over a century ago, a local and somewhat infamous notary by the name of Joseph-Adolphe Chauret created the first incarnation of Pierrefonds as a village separate from the Town of Sainte-Genevieve. Pierrefonds, like the adjacent communities of Roxboro, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Ile-Bizard, all grew from the parish and village of Sainte-Genevieve, which itself was established in the early 18th century. Chauret had seen an engraving of the eponymous chateau, which itself is of particular historical importance given that it was an early example of philanthropic cultural heritage preservation projects we now associate with urbanism in Montréal in general. He had a thatched-roof ‘seigneurial’ residence built so as to emulate the engraving; his house was completed several years before he had a chance to vist the real thing. When he returned, the locals turned up to welcome him. Pierrefonds Québec, prior to the late 1950s, was rural, agricultural and predominantly composed of old-stock French Canadians. Gouin Boulevard runs the entire length of the community, itself traced upon the path laid out by 16th century colonial urban planners creating the ring road then known as the Chemin du Roy. Habitant Homes still dot the path, and the area still maintains a small collection of very early 20th and mid-late 19th century structures.

Construction during the pre-war years was focused on summer homes built near Rivieres des Prairies, easily accessible by the train station in Roxboro. But during the post-war residential construction boom, the prospect of regular commuter train service to the expanding downtown of Montréal led to rapid residential, low-density growth. Much of what constitutes the Pierrefonds of today was built between the mid-1950s and early-1970s. All the houses are roughly the same size occupying similarly sized lots. It’s verdant, with many parks, green-spaces, playgrounds and public pools. Many of the residential streets turn back in on themselves, minimizing thru-traffic. Today it forms the largest single component of the West Island in terms of population, estimated at just over 60,000. Given its history, it is probably also the most francophone West Island community on the island of Montréal.

It is a profoundly middle-class, multi-ethnic community, closely integrated with Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Roxboro and Ste-Genevieve. Unfortunately, it lacks its independence, though there is undoubtedly a local character, given that many residents are themselves first or second generation middle-class and it’s in many ways emblematic of both the independent West Island communities and City of Montréal bedroom suburbs. It is modern in design with plenty of rural stylistic influences – the choice to leave many streets unlit and the rather spacious lots (in comparison to the generally modest bungalows) are well-stocked and over-flowing with flora throughout the temperate months. From what I’ve experience having lived most of my life here, I can only conclude its an ideal, if not superior suburban community and a more-than-ideal place to raise a family.

Unfortunately, for a variety of factors, Pierrefonds has a bit of a bad reputation. The generally bored SPVM West Island detachments seem to believe all gangs operating West of Highway 13 emanate from one part of Pierrefonds or another, and the merger hasn’t done much for community spirit. There are parts that are run down, but they are in the minority compared to the large sectors of stable, happy and prosperous detached homes. The schools are good and crime is almost non-existant. There are many local small businesses and some important cultural and community centres serving a large and diverse population. Perhaps most importantly, Pierrefonds is exceptionally well-served via public transit, making it an attractive location for white-collar families. Downtown is a mere twenty-five minutes away.

Let me be the first to say, nothing of consequence may have ever happened in the place I grew up in, and like many other parts of North America, it exists as a community to the degree by which the community invests in it. If we are to be more than we currently are, we’ll do so collectively. If not, we’ll simply exist as another component of the expanding City of Montréal; no harm, no foul.

But it makes me wonder, in these times of transition and change, what was necessary to establish Pierrefonds as more than simply a place where one lived? What made it so balanced, so equal, so ideal for suburban family living?

It’s odd – I used to joke about Pierrefonds as being nothing particularly special, even going so far as to over-emphasizing it’s ‘street-cred’ as it was perceived to be a ‘rough’ part of the West Island. Horseshit in hindsight. It may be one of the most ideal communities to raise children on the whole island of Montréal.

Come see for yourself I suppose, we have the largest nature park on the island. Stop by Vivaldi for supper (a shockingly excellent Italian restaurant on Gouin West). I really have no idea how to end this article, nor where precisely I’m going with it. So I’m going to end it abruptly here.

The Greatest Comment in the World

“Yeah, nice picture. When I was a kid, moving with my family back from Vancouver, we took the train, and we booked passage from Vancouver to Westmount — not Montreal (Windsor Station, which was the next stop). That was 1971.

I more or less like your blog. But I will stop visiting if you don’t stop your reprehensible habit of putting an accent on the first E of Montreal.

It’s incomprehensible. Why would you do that? That letter (the e with an accent, which has its own name in French and is not considered the same as a regular E — they pronounce “e” euh; and “e-with-the-accent-aigu” eh.

Stop and go back and delete the accents. It’s like we don’t belong in Montreal. You are on the wrong side with this evil habit of yours.”


This comment is attributed to a Snead Nesbitt.

I’ve never had a comment like this. Judge for yourselves.

Where to begin?

Montréal is a French name, and according to English usage rules, it’s appropriate to use the accent.

And I’m half English and half French, so I feel pretty comfortable expressing myself in both languages. You know, the two official languages of Canada.

I like how I’m both incomprehensible and reprehensible. Someone was using a thesaurus no doubt.

And Windsor Station is in Montréal, not Westmount.

A Great Week for Local Swine

Sweet Christ, I can’t believe this shit is still happening in 2012.

I have respect for police and law enforcement who respect the law and don’t abuse people. I will address them by the title they deserve, office, constable, what have you.

That said, I’ll gladly and enthusiastically substitute a variety of porcine alternatives to deal with the shmucks in this article.

Since 9/11 we here in the West have allowed our civil liberties to be walked all over, so much so that it has taken its toll. Racism is up, common sense is at an all time low, and we’ve stacked the deck against us in the hopes it might prevent terrorism.

Now we know better, but it’s too late. We’ve given ‘law enforcement’ a carte-blanche to do whatever they want, and as you might imagine, the bottom-feeders of the SPVM and other local police farces have been getting a lot of work lately.

In case you missed it, black men can’t drive their girlfriend’s car and call the cop buddy – that’ll get you a $75 ticket (video above).

A few days ago a report concerning a Crown Prosecutor in Longueuil, Valérie Cohen, who believes it is okay for police to pull over someone if the ‘race doesn’t match the name’, as in the case of Joel DeBellefeuille and David Levesque. I guess they should have thought about that before their parents chose to give them names to help them better integrate into Québec society.

And then of course we have Francis Grenier, out of the hospital but it’s still unclear as to whether he will get to keep his right eye. You see, the pigs discharged a grenade launcher in his face.

I’m amazed by the comments I’ve seen, heard etc over the last few days. Grenier was playing a goddamned harmonica for fuck’s sake, and yet there is remarkably little sympathy from the establishment. Ted Bird (remember him?) tweeted something about how he hoped the cops would ‘kick the shit out of the protestors’ at today’s anti-police brutality march.


Yes, really… unfortunately.

I see this kind of shit all the time, from editorial pages to forums and the like.

Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but there’s something very wrong when our society tacitly accepts agents-provocateurs and then encourages the ‘identifiable’ police to beat people senselessly.

Imagine if no police showed up to the anti-police brutality demonstration?

There wouldn’t be any violence. The Black Block is imaginary, invented.

It doesn’t exist.

Call this the start of a personal campaign; I will force the SPVM to admit they use agents-provocateurs at the anti-police brutality march so as to create a riot.

They’ve never caught any members of this group, no pics, no nothing. The simple fact is that they get to inflate their budgets this way, get to buy new equipment and, once again, your civil liberties go down the shit pipes.

I wish I could simply say this is sad day, but we know the reality. This is our lives now, the People dropped the ball and our worst fears are being realized.

Here’s what the local media has to say about the annual head-stomping festival and our yearly reminder we are losing our rights living in this police state.

Sometimes I really hate this city.

Inefficient by Design: Montréal Public Transit

I should start off by saying that this is not a criticism of the STM; I think they mostly do good work and I’m impressed with what they’ve done in terms of branding, marketing and communicating an idea that public transit in general and the Métro in particular as a chic, conscientious and cost-effective element of Montréal urban living. There’s always room for improvement and I’d like to see a system wide renovation of stations, but that’s an issue for another day.

The inefficiency I’m referring to here is the the fact that the Greater Montreal region is served by multiple transit agencies, companies and corporations with what appears to be little effort at organizing from a top-down perspective to ensure excellent coverage across multiple modes throughout the region. And if we, as a society, want to limit the amount of vehicular congestion on our roads by developing a truly world-class public transit system, we must ensure the highest degree of operational efficiency possible. In addition, such a system would always have to be the preferred method of transit within the city and to and from the cities and suburbs, in order to guarantee high general use. If we want our city to grow in population and prominence, then we need to plan for the public transit system which will encourage people to live here precisely because they could use such a system. It’s a marketing tool inasmuch as it is a vital social service, and it requires bird’s eye perspective planning. Ergo, it is time to establish a common fare, across the region and across services. I would further recommend instituting an ‘interconnectivity’ system, wherein, as an example, buses are scheduled to arrive and depart from train stations in such a fashion so as to allow passengers to transfer from one to another within a five minute window. A single transit security force would also be preferable to multiple distinct organizations with differing mandates and training, as would a single maintenance and utilities division. Streamlining transit operations across the metropolitan region would be beneficial for workers as well, given that they would be able to form larger unions with greater bargaining power and a larger pension plan, among other things.

The alternative is only the proliferation of additional transit agencies operating in the metro region as it grows and as the demands of residents, whether living in the City of Montréal proper or any of the surrounding satellite cities and towns, turn towards demanding better public transit services within their own regions. I’ve advocated in the past that the West Island communities would be wise to unite so as to create their own public transit service using trams, which in turn would allow the STM to consolidate their operations within the city and save them the high maintenance and operations costs of bus operations in sprawling suburban regions. That said, I feel a united West Island transit agency would be best employed as a lobby group, and even if such a system were to financed by the West Island communities, I would nonetheless argue in favour of a common fare, inter-connectivity and many other integrating elements. If we want change, we should be willing to put up the capital and subsequently negotiate preferential terms for integration, beneficial to all. But I digress…

Québec transport minister Pierre Moreau has indicated that the public transit agencies of the Montreal region will not be merged into a new version of the Agence Métropolitain de Transport, the Québec government-owned corporation that handles commuter trains and some express buses in the Greater Montréal region. Nor will the AMT be handed over to the control of the municipalities of the region of Montréal, something advocated by Mayor Tremblay. Moreau has indicated that, as he sees it, the new AMT should also involve itself in road planning.

An example of the AMT’s focus on road planning with public transit in mind, and the region’s key axial corridors

Tremblay’s proposal would put the AMT, as is, into the hands of the cities, towns and villages of the metropolitan region, but so far there’s no indication as to whether this would be done solely so as to make the AMT more directly responsible to the communities it serves or whether there would be an effort to stream-line the different public transit agencies of the region into a single all-encompassing, region-wide and single-fare system. I would argue that this ought to be the case for efficiency’s sake, as otherwise we’re left dealing with multiple service providers and multiple communities – there are too many moving parts. We need to streamline the service while incorporating multiple independent viewpoints in a separate over-sight and planning organization. Imagine a Transit Congress making legislative and executive decisions regarding transit development, with proportional, elected representation, administering a single regional system? It’s the ‘best of both worlds solution’ allowing for operational standardization and integration, while further supporting direct community involvement in the decision making processes.

Across the region we’re paying far too much for over-crowded buses and trains, which are all too often late or delayed. Most AMT stations, unlike the one pictured above, are nothing more than cement slabs and unprotected benches and kiosks. Development is retarded because we don’t have an agency which can actually negotiate with Canadian National, Via Rail or Canadian Pacific, and thus projects like the Train de l’Ouest is caught in total deadlock. Meanwhile, the Train de l’Est project is so over-budget the former president of the AMT abruptly resigned after an inquiry was called into, you guessed it – corruption in the construction industry. The Train de l’Est is actively killing the public’s consumer confidence in public mass transit, and this is coming on the heels of the over-budget Laval extension, the endless discussions around implementing gas-taxes and tramways and the never-ending road-work, all of which work together to undermine the public’s trust in government’s ability to get things done.

I think we need a new solution, one which recognizes the needs of the whole as well as the parts, but which is ultimately striving to provide excellent coverage and excellent service across the entire region. There will always be specific local requirements that need to be addressed when you’re building a comprehensive public transit plan – such as which systems should be used and where they need to grow, station-community integration, proximity to schools etc. – but all of this works in tandem towards a single comprehensive goal – to secure public confidence in the publicly-funded mass-transit system so as to raise the common standard of living and the value of metropolitan properties.

The ability to quickly, efficiently and cheaply cross great distances within an urban area in the comfort of a well-designed, clean and secure public transit system is quite literally what distinguishes the very finest cities from your run of the mill cities, and we should demand as citizens united nothing but the very best in this regard – it will only serve to enrich us long-term.