One-Hundred Sixty Thousand Votes Standing in the Shadow of Drapeau

No wonder he smirked…

I’ve been reading Daniel Poliquin’s excellent biography of René Lévesque, part of John Ralston Saul’s Extraordinary Canadians series. It’s revealing to say the least, particularly because the author relates some fascinating perspectives on Montréal, as adopted home of the late premier. He loved Montréal very much, and lived the full-tilt lifestyle as one might expect from any seasoned local. I’m working on finding a decent citation and so far have only come up with this chronology of key dates in Montréal civic political history to address the point Poliquin brought up that so floored me. And that point is this: up until 1970 or 1971, tenants in Montréal did not have the right to vote in municipal elections.

That’s right. If you didn’t own property in the City of Montréal, and rented like the vast majority of Montréalers still do, you simply could not vote for Mayor; suffrage was limited to land-owners, a concept tracing its lineage back to the Ancien Régime. Drapeau, one of our city’s most accomplished though still highly polarizing mayors, would have been elected at least four times without the consent of the vast majority of people who lived in the city he governed. And it was was a mere forty some-odd years ago in which that changed. Today, the Mayor is elected directly by all adult citizens and upon election becomes the de facto mayor of Ville-Marie borough. The residential population of that borough is still largely, if not almost exclusively, renters who are primarily students in their twenties. Not a demographic that votes much in any election, unfortunately.

Mayor Tremblay, you’ll be delighted to know, was elected by about 159,000 voters in 2009, out of total of just over 400,000 votes cast out of a total city population of 1.62 million people. Despite the fact that there is somewhere in the region of a million eligible voters, only 40% participate, and that’s being generous. And thus, 160,000 votes might be all it takes to become the new mayor of Montréal next year, unless we somehow break into the 60% territory, which is apparently all you need to run Canada. It’s disappointing that the hard-fought victory to have the bare-minimum of universal suffrage in Montréal municipal politics would be so easily forgotten. As a city, our level of civic engagement is remarkably poor when it comes to selecting the primary person responsible for making our city as great as it can be.

And so, we elect duds.

We’re blessed because, despite it all, there are still more than enough moneyed people in this city who have the ability to effect great change, and in too many cases to list very positive change, regardless of who’s occupying the position of Mayor. Lucky though we may be, this is far from sustainable, and in order to take a leadership role within Canada, in order to more efficiently secure our financial and economic strength, we’re going to need a more engaged population creating, through the democratic process, a more able local government. We need a Mayor who is representative of the People, because a sufficient majority directly elected him or her to said post. And thus, the determining factor is no longer what money you have, what friends you owe favours to, but rather of whether the mayoral candidate can effectively channel the wants, dreams and aspirations of the citizens into a cogent plan for development. We must break with the ill-advised tradition we’ve created, in which Mayors begin their careers promising to clean up City Hall and end them in near total ignominy after succumbing to the temptations of the near total power of office. We are quite literally retarded because we simply refuse to break the existing mould.

Once upon a time I had a conversation with Phyllis Lambert about our mayors, and what she may have thought about any of them, past and present. She said what I expected her to say. Drapeau was a pseudo-autocrat and occasional dictator who started strong and ended mired in scandals of one kind or another, and every mayor who has come since has lasted about the same amount of time, always repeating the same cycle though with far less actually being done each time. Doré was initially revolutionary, and fell just as flat later on as Bourque would with the second attempt to unite all on-island municipalities into a single city.

Drapeau had tried it the first time it didn’t work, though four cities were ‘voluntarily annexed’ during his time in office.

It seems as if all mayors since Jean Drapeau stand in his shadow, and despite promising the growth and development of his era, they all instead seem to fall victim to same traps and treasons that made Drapeau infamous – graft, nepotism, exorbitant purchases, collusion and corruption in the construction industry, and myriad admittedly mis-guided ventures designed to stimulate local growth (such as the 1976 Olympics, the Floralies, under Drapeau; the Overdale redevelopment scheme, the redevelopment of the Old Port & Old Montréal, under Doré etc.) Granted some of the schemes sort of worked out in the long run, but they still left a bad taste in our collective mouth. Our last municipal election was mired with allegations of influence peddling and Mafia involvement in the corruption industry. This is precisely what led to a major drop in Drapeau’s popularity in the late 1970s (as a result of apparent bid-rigging in various Olympic contracts).

This might be a good time to remind us all of the very definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result. We keep electing the same kinds of people, and they all go down the same way. Tremblay likely won’t continue as Mayor as of next year, but the question remains as to whether or not his successor will be in any way shape or form legitimately different from the membership of this Indirect Cult of Drapeau. Tremblay’s staked his re-election hopes largely on how well the private building spree announced of late actually gets off the ground, pardon the pun. If these projects stall due to a correction in the local housing market – something that local financial institutions like the National Bank and the Banque Laurentienne are actively warning about – he may fall under the weight of years of pent-up corruption allegations and a skyline of towering Ilots-Voyageurs. Plus, unlike the shrewd Charest, Tremblay will likely have to contend with whatever the Charbonneau Commission comes up with, and I doubt it will be pretty, though it likely won’t reveal anything we didn’t already know.

So how do we get away from this endless cycle of mediocrity and self-perpetuating disinterest? The number of participating voters is declining, and it’s rather astounding how few people actually decide who is going to helm the economic power of Canada’s second most vital economic region. Upsetting too, given the relative disinterest of various recent Mayors towards directly implicating themselves in ameliorating the quality of life within the very borough he represents – Ville-Marie, population roughly 80,000, mostly students, immigrants and other low-wage earners. The citizens of Ville-Marie borough are far from engaged in local politics given that so many people who work there don’t vote there and that those who do own land are likely filthy rich and not actually residing in the borough, though likely immediately to the West. Those who rent, despite having the right to vote, are hardly encouraged to do so, given the suspected transient nature of the residents.

What I find odd is that Tremblay has focused a fair bit of his years in power in adding more property owners to the collective whole of the City of Montréal, and now Ville-Marie Borough more specifically, though he’s done comparatively little to foster the establishment of what I would describe as ‘committed and engaged citizens’. Thus, no school development, few options for residents to develop their own small businesses within the borough, let alone acquire their long-lived-in properties from the people who, let’s face it, sometimes treat the residential areas of the borough as little more than slums, allowing beautiful old buildings to fall into disrepair so that they may be redeveloped, in some cases, generations later. Moreover, the buildings being developed aren’t designed to support families, but an apparently endless supply of singles and couples without children. Without the necessary services to attract and retain families within the city proper, it’s unlikely these new residents will stay, and less likely they’ll take an active enough degree of personal involvement to effect much change later on.

You’d think Tremblay would want to secure a new urban voting base…

Still, all that said, as it stands it seems as though less than 200,000 votes is just about all it would take to become mayor, a rather enticing fact. How hard would it be these days to get a largely, nominally disenfranchised urban electorate to show up and make a mark for dramatic change in this city, possibly for someone far removed from the local political establishment?

I can’t wait to meet what I hope will be an endless parade of Dark Horse candidates, each one more unique and particular than the last. Our city is due for a shake-up.

The Case for Another Olympiad

It’s been nearly forty years…

I remember watching a conversation recently, featuring the late great Christopher Hitchens and, if I’m not mistaken, Salman Rushdie and Mod-Def. I know, I know, once in a while television redeems itself, though admittedly I watched it for free online and it was Bill Maher after all. In any event, Hitchens said something that caught my attention. He was asking why it is that some people seem unable to distinguish between the ways things are and the way things ought to be. Another member of the panel was attacking Hitchens for what was nothing more than a description of a societal ill. He was not advocating for it, and this was clear to me. That said, I’ve noticed this too. It’s a semi-effective debating technique because it invariably requires the opponent to back up and clarify, which then may either lead to an opening or provide a crucial time to think of his next move. At the very least it can prevent someone from making a quick point in this era of political debate as sound-bytes.

I’ve encountered this argument made time and again when referring to any possibility of holding another Olympiad here in Montréal. Invariably I will be shouted down by those who exclaim, as if I didn’t already know, that Montréal had once upon a time held an Olympiad and that the public generally considers it a disaster given the cost over-runs, the constant problems with the retractable roof and that we can’t seem to find a permanent use for the facilities.

That’s the way things are, but it doesn’t mean we as a people can’t or should not get involved with another Olympiad. We can rather simply choose not to do what we know didn’t work in the past; it’s largely what the organizers of Los Angeles 84 did, and they wound up with the most profitable games of all time. There was a method to their madness which can be repeated.

I’ve also come across the arguments that the games are elitist, exclusionary, overly corporate in nature and serve merely to make rich people feel better about themselves. I disagree. I feel strongly that the games can be a conduit for good in this world – the competition in sport is a better use of a nation’s talents than the development of ever greater weapons to kill one another. It’s more effective at brining people together and focusing their attention on having fun, developing healthy minds and bodies and reminding us of the power of a peaceful world than pretty much any other large international event or organization I can think of.

But of course Olympiads need to be clearly articulated, and should never be used to make some rich off the backs of the many. Among the many early criticisms of the London 2012 Summer Games are the horrendous living quarters provided to imported workers, not to mention over-the-top security and draconian branding and sponsorship protection measures. Suffice it to say, I can imagine many will be studying what London did wrong.

But again, this is not enough of a reason to abandon the project altogether. It should only serve as a reminder that we can and should do better.

There’s no question in my mind the best possible future use for the Big O is as the primary venue for another Summer Olympiad, and as such we should commit to organizing a committee to make regular proposals to the IOC until we get them back. This means a proposal ready to go for every possible future date, even the Winter Olympiads, though I’d prefer a Summer Games simply because they’re much larger and involve many more competing nations. That and our summers are to die for, and we should remind the peoples of the world we don’t live in igloos.

So what’s the case for another games? How can we sell this?

For one, on cost – another Montréal games won’t nearly cost as much as the first one, nor other recent examples, because most of what we need has already been built. Ergo, instead of building anew and tearing down old stuff, we’ll mostly be renovating and rehabilitating existing structures, such as the Olympic Stadium. The facilities we already have access to is rather comprehensive: CEPSUM, the Bell Centre, the Claude Robillard Centre, Montréal Aquatic Centre, Jarry Park & Uniprix Stadium, Saputo Stadium, Molson Stadium, the Olympic Pool, the Olympic Rowing Basin (get the idea). We’d need to build a Velodrome, Equestrian Park and will likely have to convert other existing facilities to handle the qualifying rounds, but I still think we’ve got most of what’s already required.

I wonder whether it’s completely necessary to build a new Olympic Village when we might just as simply purchase the use of a hotel (or several hotels) to serve the same purposes. That or we could develop a new building to serve later as a student dormitory or as a run of the mill condo tower. The point is that we need to be sure such a building is a) designed for Montréal, and not Marseille’s climate and b) has a clear post-games purpose. Such was not the case for our existing Olympic Village. But I digress.

For two, on accessibility and sustainability – all the facilities I’ve just mentioned are already, for the most part, very well connected to our city’s existing public transit infrastructure. This could be the Métro Olympics, and why not? It will be far easier for more locals to visit the games without using their cars than it was back in 1976, and we have a far more developed system than we had back then. Moreover, we won’t have to expropriate much land nor demolish many, if any, buildings, as long as we mandate that all new construction goes up on otherwise underused space, such as our ample parking lots. By setting our own high standards for environmental and economic sustainability, we could have the greenest games ever, and showcase the standards and technologies used to make that a reality. Also, given that the Olympic Park site and all these other facilities are all connected to the Métro and by extension Underground City, well what can I say – the whole city would become part of the Olympic site.

For three, on airports – we have two international airports, one of which is currently barely being used. If we were to reactivate Mirabel for another Olympiad, we would be wise to finish highway 13 and to finally connect Mirabel to the city by means of an express train. This would be comparatively costly, but would secure Mirabel as viable future alternative to Dorval for future development. Doing so would further allow us to prevent massive congestion on island.

For four, on accommodation – our city is better prepared to handle large numbers of tourists today than it was back in 1976. We have many more hotels, we have more convention space and a significant local tourism and hospitality industry which could use the business boost.

In any event, these are but a few reasons why City Hall should maintain an on-going open file on another Olympiad and commit the requisite resources to make this a reality. Unfortunately, I’m certain at least some enthusiasm for another Games would be weighed by the knowledge so many would be seeking to profit individually and opportunistically at the expense of the greater good. If we could just try really hard not to screw each other over, we may have a very profitable, low-overhead Olympiad, and share a possibly great wealth, not to mention sustained international attention all the while providing ample reasons to continue investing in our city and it’s endless potential.

Going Against the Grain РNew Construction in Montr̩al

And now for something completely different – the first privately-funded office tower development in twenty years

Montréal’s skyline is about to change dramatically.

Within the next five years, barring some massive economic calamity, either locally or internationally, the following projects are expected to be finalized:

1. Altitude Montreal
2. Tour Viger/ Tour Aimia
3. TOM Condos
4. Ilot Overdale
5. L’Avenue
6. Tour des Canadiens de Montréal
7. ICONE Condos
8. Le Rocabella
9. Ilot Ogilvy
10. Deloitte Tower
11. Marriott Downtown
12. Tour du Musée
13. Le Peterson
14. Le Drummond

We’re clearly embarking on a new cycle in urban architectural creation in this city, and as you might expect, as with all things Montréal, this too is a tad enigmatic. While other Canadian cities are being cautioned to slow down rapid expansion of single/double occupancy condominiums, Montréal seems to have been revving up over the past decade and is now poised to grow very quickly. Is this because we’ve been prudent with our development over the past decade? Or are we trying to play catch up with other Canadian metropoles?

Let’s take a look at what’s on the horizon.

Waldorf-Astoria Montréal proposal rendering. I really like the set-back integrated into a courtyard all while keeping the scale of Sherbrooke in front. Top notch if it gets off the ground.

To begin with, all that’s mentioned above doesn’t include several other major projects, such as the Superhospitals (all three of them), the idea floating around that St-George’s Anglican Cathedral will develop the land immediately behind it (likely for condos) and everything being built in Griffintown, Ile-des-Soeurs and Saint-Laurent, nor any of the smaller, or perhaps just less visible projects throughout the urban core. Then there’s the possibility Rio-Tinto Alcan may build a new headquarters next to ICAO, occupying a prestige position on the last vacant lot facing the rehabilitated Square-Victoria. The rumour I heard was that Guy Laliberté was considering developing a circus museum and Cirque du Soleil head-office in the architecturally significant Maison Alcan. Rounding out this short list of perennial maybes is the highly anticipated Waldorf-Astoria, which has been batted about for almost a decade, and is to occupy the parking lot adjacent to Tour Guy near Concordia, to say nothing of the on-going discussions for the redevelopment of the Bonaventure Viaduct Corridor.

TOM Condos, to be located on Union South of Ste-Catherine’s on the site of the former Bluebird Café

Suffice it to say, if the economies of Canada, Québec and Montréal stay stable and continue to grow, there’s really nothing stopping all of these projects from being realized by the time of the sesquicentennial of Confederation. Almost everything going up is residential and aimed at single or double occupancy condominiums offering branded lifestyles and various luxuries and amenities. I’m inclined to believe that the market here may not be completely saturated, but this means the city will have to a) install support services to help stimulate the creation of a viable community and b) market the hell out of a bigger-picture urban lifestyle and living scheme. This is a tall order, pardon the pun.

I suppose if it’s lit like this I can grow to like it.

There’s at least two major hotel projects here, though if I’m not mistaken they’ll also have condo units within, a popular arrangement of late. There’s also the first privately financed corporate office tower going up in twenty years to be built on the site of the former CPR Accounting Office on Saint-Antoine. From the looks of the conceptual art, it seems as though Cadillac-Fairview (owner’s of the Windsor Block, Windsor Station and apparently all the land around the Bell Centre) are planning on making good use of the mostly unused courtyard inside the walls of the station. This idea works very well for the occupants of Place de la Cathedrale, and I’d like to see this space crawling with humanity in a manner somewhat akin to what I expect Windsor Station was like. That said, it’s Saint-Antoine that could use the traffic stimulus, but that’s another matter.

So here’s the thing about this perspective. It’s not from a street, but rather the Black Watch’s parking lot across de Bleury.

The rest however, are all luxury condominiums in a market that many think is already over-saturated with condominium properties. The novelty now is that these are residential towers of impressive height, though generally not overwhelmingly impressive in terms of design. Le Peterson is neat with it’s undulating facade and what seem to be some rather nifty looking balconies, but I wonder how well we’ll be able to see it given that it’s surrounded on most sides by other large construction. In order to build Le Peterson several smaller buildings will be destroyed, and I dare say I think it will look weak, diminutive, compared to much larger and imposing masses of the late neo-Classical and sorta Art Deco Caron Building to the left and the neo-deco Hilton tower behind.

Apparently they’ll let residents skate on the ice once a year…

The others, such as the new Canadiens tower, or Roccabella or l’Avenue will be in more direct ‘competition’ with each other and all seem to be unique enough from their neighbours to set them apart (they don’t seem to be entirely cookie cutter, overly corporate designs), but of course getting a good view will be increasingly difficult as time goes on. Within five years four massive new projects will have been built in a line along Rue de la Montagne, with the Bell Centre serving to act as a major pole for development. The other major sectors for development will include the northern extension of the International Quarter and empty lots on side streets on either side of René-Lévesque West of Stanley. Given that it will increasingly difficult to get a good view of any of the downtown landmarks, I wonder if we’re not overloading admittedly underused spaces on the urban fabric. And will these new buildings look distinct enough, impressive enough, to join the ranks of the current skyline? We currently have a bit of an architectural cornucopia. Will this be maintained? If the Roc Fleuri, Crystal de la Montagne or Lepine Towers are any indication, we can expect a lot of blah. The renderings give me hope, but the reality may not be as clear and crisp.

Growing on me, but I hope there’s a drive to go more ‘stately’ and ‘accomplished’ so that it stands out when compared to what will be across the street.

Namely this, the Tour ICONE project.

Among these projects, almost all are being constructed on parking lots or otherwise undeveloped properties. There will be at least one big demolition when the Hotel de la Montagne comes down (though I sincerely doubt they’ll use explosives – it comes to mind that it’s been a long time since we’ve destroyed a high rise in this city) to make way for the Ogilvy expansion, and one major re-development of an existing, albeit unused, office tower (this would be the new Tour de la Musée condo project, an element of the city’s Sherbrooke Street redevelopment scheme). A few heritage sites are going to be implicated, including the aforementioned cathedral, the LaFontaine Mansion and Ogilvy’s, though all of these are to be integrated into new construction. At least they’re supposed to be. Despite all the new residential construction in various downtown locales that are arguably currently uninhabited, there is almost no development to support the influx of people. It should be noted that the apartments will be expensive and likely not terribly large – based on the number of units per building, I can imagine most if not all will only be able to comfortably accomodate at most three people, and even that might be a stretch.

Ilot-Overdale – 25 years late, not bad, though more of the same

Given a lot of the advance branding seems geared towards the apparently thousands of eager young property owners seeking refined urban living ‘experiences’ it perhaps should be surprising that the city wouldn’t be responding to private sector development plans with public services development. There aren’t any parks planned, nor city-sponsored beautification and branding schemes. No schools, no librairies, no daycares, no public art, no community or cultural centres planned as far as the city is concerned – this is all private interest development and geared towards what might be an unsustainable demographic. If there’s any hope of establishing a uniquely Montréal community within, perhaps integrated in to, the Central Business District, we must demand that the city provide the necessary infrastructure to support some economic, social and cultural diversity, and this cannot be left in the hands of the private developers. A key example – the retail commercial space likely to occupy the bases of all these buildings. Will they provide for small, private entrepreneurial business opportunities or more of the same corporate chains. Will the city mandate such space be reserved for people who may in turn purchase condos in the buildings where they run their businesses? I can imagine this may be of interest to the city because it could help anchor these developments into how we conceptualize the city, and how we understand the inter-relations of neighbourhoods. Still, it will take much more than independent cafés, bistros and dépanneurs. A school, a playground and the other requisite provisions for families should also be implemented by the city, again, to help make sure this is a success. Without citizen driven development in these respects, these new towers run the risk of failing with an adjustment in the housing market, an economic panic, or any number of other possible disrupting factors. In my opinion, the city has a big role to play here that goes well beyond simply having a consultation and rubber stamping a developer’s plan. But I digress.

Still leaves a lot to the imagination this way… given it’s proposed height, I would hope it’s more of an icon than ICONE

Of all of the new proposals I find this one to be one of the most impressive looking, though again, getting the full view will be difficult as this particular perspective is in fact quite impossible, there are buildings in the way. I like the massing, the upwards yet non-phallic thrust (more akin to a fountain, in my eyes) of the three distinct volumes and the pedestal like positioning of the tower on the base. Also, you’ve no doubt noticed the local preference for L-shaped buildings (squat horizontal base with off-set towers, think of the new Hilton, the new Marriott, Tour Viger etc.), and I find l’Avenue’s arrangement to be far more impressive. But again, we keep running into a problem that plagues all tall buildings – there’s often not enough space to get a good look.

Tour Viger/ Tour Aimia concept art – I like the relationship between the base and the tower, but I wonder if it won’t look too constrained when viewed from Square-Victoria

So where does this all leave us? Well, for one, though it seems as if urban development is finally really beginning to take off, there are both municipal and provincial elections looming, the latter is supposed to happen before the findings of the commission into corruption in the construction industry are released. The former will happen some time next year, and you better believe Tremblay will be looking to win based off of his record putting up shiny new building in the downtown core. As much as I’d prefer to use other metrics to judge our mayor, I think it’s safe to assume, if within a year ground is broken on all these projects (and in fact, some are completed), Tremblay will cruise to an easy third term in office, and take his place among the previous overseers of major development, namely Drapeau and Doré. We judge based on how our leaders alter our skyline, and hopefully the Charbonneau Commission doesn’t stop any of these projects from going up. Of course, I would hope that moving forward business is on the level and the city thinks seriously about how it’s going to stimulate community development, as that may make this haphazard plan a real success. That said, I’m still cautious and curious to know why all these towers are going up now, and how they came to be authorized in the first place. But I know like Tremblay and Charest knows, new residential towers aimed at young, fashionable, hard-working people set a bar, attract attention and may raise morale long enough to solidify additional investment and development.

2144 de Bleury concept drawing – apparently this has been approved, but I can’t tell if this is supposed to sit next to Le Peterson or if it will replace it.

What more can I say – the stakes here are huge. I’m intrigued by this news and contemplative of where this might lead, but cognizant of what can go wrong, and has gone wrong in the past. For the most part, aside from some uninteresting designs and the repetition, I still think there may be a lot of real value here if the city takes a more pro-active approach to developing a master plan with long-term stability and value development clearly in mind.

Very interesting document issued by the City explaining their perspective on these projects

Heat Waves and Watering Bans and Environmental Degradation (oh my!)

The Beaver – not just a euphemism any more!

Yes, it’s sweltering out. I know. We know. We all know. It happens. It will dominate the local s’news until it’s replaced by exciting Smartphone coverage of the raucous thunderstorms apparently on route to light up the night sky.

The thing here is that I often find the perennial complaining about the heat to be an insincere form of back-handed self-flattery. See? It’s not really that cold up here, it can be downright tropical in fact… And it misses the point. We do have a say in what kind of weather we have, and we could be doing much, much more to help stabilize local climatic and environmental conditions. The way the news tells it, whether NBC, the CBC or the local yokels trying to fill the air before the half hour they dedicate to sports coverage, you’d think we only just became aware weather exists in the first place, and that we had never had a heat wave before, never had major forest fires or droughts. This is subtle refusal to acknowledge human beings are having a direct and often detrimental effect on weather patterns and the environment. Climate change is real – but it also runs both ways.

I refuse to complain about the weather out of principle – do you not remember five months ago when we were freezing? When we collectively put on anywhere from five to twenty pounds of insulation au-naturel so that we don’t otherwise parade around in snow suits and balaclavas? I can remember and I hate the cold, but especially Winter’s such as the last one. Too little snow, far too many bone-chilling days and high winds, not to mention that awful tease we got in mid-March when for a week it was as though we had skipped Spring altogether. Of course I made the best of it when I had a chance – we all did. But I can’t escape the fact that for all this talk and apparent knowledge about the weather and climate and the peculiarities of our regional meteorology, geography and ecology, we seem to forget, constantly, what has happened recently.

Does it not strike us all as odd that every summer now has record breaking heat waves?
That every summer carries the risk of and most cases increasingly destructive forest fires?
Or that the water quality is poor and seemingly, always at record-low levels?
Or how about that the French seem to think us Québecois talk about the weather incessantly?

I know general interest news stories tend to repeat themselves, but it seems to me that something’s not quite right with our weather patterns, in that it seems we’re not getting the clockwork weather systems we once got used to. Winter used to start earlier, Spring used to be longer, and all seasons seemed to have been much wetter not so long ago. And even if we are currently facing a rare meteorological phenomenon, you’d think we be smart enough to employ various measures to protect ourselves. Water levels, wet-lands and heat waves all have something in common – they’re all implicated in ground-water retention, and we have the means, at the very least, to develop new and expand on existing wetlands within the Greater Montréal region.

As I sit here waiting for the inevitable and highly exciting lightning strikes I can’t help but notice my burnt suburban lawn, nowhere near as green and healthy as it’s supposed to be. Ferns and other plants have shrunk, our vegetable patch isn’t producing and as far as I can tell, the phenomenon seems to be adversely affecting my whole neighbourhood, if not a good chunk of the region. The water levels are at ten year lows, watering bans are in full effect as a consequence (though I’m surprised to see who seems to be ‘above the law’) and the news coming in from les régions (indeed, all of rural Canada and the US) is that this year’s harvest won’t nearly be as bountiful as had been hoped. Locally, this not only means higher food prices, but an additional complication to regional economic stability. Never underestimate the primacy of agriculture in our economy, it’s remarkably multi-faceted and forms a core component of the region’s economy.

So then what’s to be done? Something’s amiss when the confluence of two rivers and multiple tributaries in a land overwhelmed by freshwater lakes can’t provide enough water for a city of our size spread out as we are across a very large geographic area. Though I’m by no means an environmental scientist, I would argue that there nonetheless seems to be a correlation between environmental degradation (particularly of wetlands) and the constantly recurring adverse weather and climatic conditions. As I write this a brief downpour has wound down and a temporary humidity has set in. Tweets have indicated the heat wave isn’t expected to break for several more days. We seem to alternate increasingly between dry heat spells and sudden torrential storms, as opposed to a more regular cycle of cooler daytime temperatures and far more precipitation across all seasons.

There’s been talk coming from the local chapter of the Suzuki Foundation recently of expanding or otherwise developing a local green belt specifically to counter-act this problem. And that’s where our furry national symbol comes into play. A simple re-introduction of beavers as part of a larger preservation/conservation and rehabilitation plan would help retain significant quantities of groundwater. In fact, a few beaver colonies strategically located may be able to replenish natural aquifers, meaning lack of rain won’t matter as much given that Spring meltwater could be held over a longer period of time. More trapped groundwater, such as in marshlands, swamps, natural beaches etc, mean more water for irrigation, be it for agriculture or simply keeping the grass green. But it’s all the other goodies that come with building new wetlands – more biodiversity, cooler temperatures, less erosion, cleaner air and cleaner water, to name but a few benefits.

We need to get on this right away. A comprehensive plan for the entire archipelago and metropolitan region needs to be put into action so that we don’t completely destroy the naturally lush and historically bountiful eco-system we’re encroaching on. Low-density residential housing development, both on and off-island needs to come to a halt, and remaining green-spaces need to be treated properly and for what they are – the circulatory and respiratory systems of an interconnected mass of humanity.

Now if only we can convince the powers at be that investing in environmental rehabilitation is worthwhile, for the greater good, over a long term.

I fear it is precisely for those reasons, and the fact that we can’t make a buck off of it, that nothing will come of this.

And we’ll continue to be ignorant as the problem is perennially presented to us as something out of the ordinary. We seem to suffer from collective short-term memory loss, especially when it comes to ecological issues. What do y’all think?

More Thoughts of Trains and Mirabel

Mirabel Scale Model

As you doubtless already know, I’m a big fan of Mirabel International Airport, and dream of day when it’s fully operational, ideally as the original plan intended.

I’m also a big fan of eliminating waste and the various inefficiencies that plague our lives and make living in large urban centres unnecessarily taxing. I’d one day like to poach White Elephants…

We have a strange problem in this city – we repeat our mistakes and forget past problems. It seems to tend towards a vicious circle in which too little actually gets accomplished and waste accumulates at an impressive rate costing the citizens immensely. And because this has been the status quo for so long, our ‘leadership’ doesn’t know what else to do.

Mirabel failed for three main reasons. Planned highways weren’t built, an express train connecting the airport to the Central Business District via Mount Royal Tunnel never got off the drawing board, and we, as citizens, allowed failure to be an option vis-a-vis the airport’s fate. Curiously, we built a train station and a rail line, we just never connected the two. Today we have the exact same problem at Dorval.

An on-going dispute between the AMT and the ADM has resulted in yet another airport in Montreal lacking an express train to and from the city. And as opposed to not having the requisite highways, we instead have over-burdened highways in dire need of repair and upgrades. Public transit options are inconsistent, inconvenient or otherwise lacking, though the STM’s 747 service performs admirably on the no-frills end of the spectrum. For all the money and time that has been wasted trying to figure out a solution to the differences between the ADM and AMT’s vision for transit expansion, we’ve come no closer to a solution. Yet, if we had simply directed our efforts at completing the links to Mirabel as planned, perhaps starting with an express train, we’d likely have access to one hell of an international airport right now.

In my opinion, the facilities at Dorval have several problems which will likely get worse as time marches on. It’s effectively topped out in terms of how much more it can expand, largely as a consequence of the rather exceptional amount of growth all around the airport over the course of the last forty odd years. A further consequence of the growth of both airport capacity and the sheer volume of people living and working in and around the airport is the exceptional congestion eating away at the highways around and leading to the airport. All of these forces working together have made airport operations at Dorval unnecessarily complex from a logistical perspective, which is partially responsible for the numerous delays in adequately connecting this effectively urban airport to the city it serves. Railways or subways or mono-rails – no one can reach a conclusion on how best to attach the airport to the central business district directly, and so we soldier on as an apparently global city without an amenity that goes for granted in any other large metropole.

It is based on these reasons that I ask whether it truly is better for a large city such as our own to strive for the convenience of an on-island, semi-urban airport when congestion and political bickering slowly increases the amount of time it actually takes to get to and from the airport. Think about it – the number one complaint about Mirabel was how far it was from the city (a fact exacerbated by the failure to complete highways 13, 19 and 50, which meant that all airport traffic was funnelled through a single highway which also served as a pole for northern ring development) and the further failure to complete the planned city-to-airport express train, designed to cut travel time down to 20-30 minutes from Central Station to the train station built into the main terminal at Mirabel (which, like so many other once-useful things in this city, is today used as a parking garage). Ask yourself how long it takes to get from the city to Dorval as is. Without traffic or too many stops maybe you can get there in 20 minutes using public transit, but we all know to bank maybe three times the amount of time if traffic is expected. The airport certainly serves the West Island excellently, but it doesn’t anchor the far greater geographic area Mirabel only briefly served.

We forget that Mirabel was once fully operational and Canada’s Eastern Gateway, offering direct service to numerous world cities directly, with an impressive number of foreign flag-carriers choosing Mirabel as their preferred landing site in Canada. And for good reason too. It was modern, well-designed, exceptionally efficient and designed to eventually grow to six runways, six terminals, a STOLport and an estimated annual traffic in excess of 50 million people.

With the planned highways and rail lines, in addition to the completion of a ring-road system (such as the connection of highway 640 to highway 30, extensions of highway 10 etc.) Mirabel’s strategic position could have offered service to an immense region, including Eastern Ontario, the National Capital Region, Québec City and the Eastern Townships, as well as the Northern parts of Vermont, New York, New Hampshire – a region in excess of seven million people today, and likely able to drive airport usage up towards that 50 million mark. Though these plans in large part never came to fruition (or else were developed after the airport ceased passenger operations), they’ve nonetheless already been laid out, and they still make as much sense today as they do back then. Dorval is chiefly designed to serve the City of Montreal, not the Greater Montreal Region, and it’s the regional population base, and how they get around, which will determine whether any future attempts to revive operations at Mirabel will be successful. Moreover, given the population distribution around Dorval, we must ask ourselves whether we actually want large aircraft taking off and landing from the middle of a large residential area. If an accident on take-off or landing at a Montreal airport is to occur, wouldn’t it be best the crash happen far from the populated city, ideally in a large open field?

But getting back to my initial thought. We’re still at square one. We’re still bickering about how to attach the airport to the city, though this time the argument is whether a train should serve the airport uniquely or whether it should serve commuters as well. If we migrated back to Mirabel, we’d likely run into the same problem, again. This in turn leads me to question why we have a system wherein the airport authority and the public transit and provincial transport agencies aren’t all working together to a) find mutually beneficial solutions to common problems and b) seeking to ensure maximum connectivity, not only between the airport and city but between the airport and the much larger region it initially served. The question shouldn’t be whether to build a new West Island commuter train or a new train to the airport, but rather how we’ll build both as part of a much more comprehensive strategy. Move to Mirabel and at least the AMT and ADM won’t be arguing about West Island transit options, but this may in turn set the Train-de-l’Ouest project back a bit. What a curious trap we’ve built for ourselves – and all because we chose to accept this notion that Mirabel shouldn’t have been built in the first place.

Goings on about the town… Rope + Thread = Ism, the Biosphere, Fireworks

Interesting art happenin’ happening at the beautiful Sainte-Brigide de Kildare Church put on by iqgallery called Rope + Thread = Ism. It runs until July 14th and is a massive local artistic collaborative effort with over 60 contributors. I haven’t been yet, but will soon, and will post a review afterwards.

More info can be found here.

In other news, it looks like the Biosphere is getting the axe, what with it being a museum dedicated to the environment of the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River and our present federal place-holder government is doing just about all it can to trivialize environmental science and wreck our once pristine natural environment. Worse, the iconic geodesic dome will become the operations centre for our local Environment Canada office, which apparently is being forced to vacate their property in the West Island. I can’t imagine how Environment Canada is going to fit their operation into the Biosphere, and god knows where they’ll stick all those satellite dishes and meteorological radars. Unless the plan is downsize and eliminate the tools necessary for monitoring the environment altogether.

Shit. Methinks I uncovered a sinister plot.

In any event, go see it while you have a chance. Looks like this unique scientific and cultural facility will close its doors by the end of the year, just twenty years old.

And finally, Fireworks season has begun. I highly recommend seeing them from La Ronde if you can swing the ticket price – up front and personal it’s really quite enjoyable and you get the added benefit of taking in all the music and crowd reactions etc. But, if you don’t have the coin don’t fret – you can enjoy the weekly conversion of Pont Jacques-Cartier into a pedestrian bridge just for the occasion (I think it’s only about an hour or so on Saturday nights when the official fireworks are being lit off, not sure of the details but worth investigating if you happen to be in the Centre Sud or otherwise close to the bridge).

Repeated emails sent to the city weren’t returned because for some reason; every time I try emailing the city through it’s “contact us” page, I get redirected to a Bad Gateway message.


And I’ve tried switching up computers and my contact info too – is it me or do you think they did it on purpose so as to avoid having to deal with the public?

Try it yourself. Include the words “I want to create a new political party to contest the 2013 election” – let’s see what happens.