This is why we can’t have nice things – Cabot Square Edition

SPVM squad cars in Cabot Square - 2013
SPVM squad cars in Cabot Square – 2013

A couple of nights back I was having a smoke in Cabot Square, arguably our city’s most dysfunctional public place, before a flick at the Forum. I think Cabot Square could be a great place, but a number of changes would have to be made, both inside and out.

As I was strolling around in the rain I noticed there was scarcely any grass, just lots of mud, gravel and poorly defined walkways. Immense and surprisingly deep puddles gave way to muddy tracks – who the hell had been driving through the park? It’s no wonder the park’s in such poor shape – someone’s been driving through it.

A couple of hours later I emerged from the Forum and got my answer – squad cars. I took the photo above, apologies for the poor quality.

I’ve seen the SPVM pull this manoever before. In lieu of parking the car and patrolling on foot, they drive through. More efficient I suppose, but it tears the shit out of the lawn/grass/paths/everything. When I was taking the pic two squad cars had lined up their driver’s side windows in the way cops do to maximize their field of view. I’ve seen the same at Place du Canada and in the middle of Place Emilie-Gamelin.

Cabot Square is one of those places that just doesn’t seem to work. Most people avoid it if they can, as it’s often overrun with drunks, addicts, pushers and a hodgepodge of local loonies. It’s poorly maintained and in the centre of an urban neighbourhood in a prolonged transformational phase. It hasn’t been renovated in a while and there’s no plan in place to fix it up (to the best of my knowledge), yet the city continues to dump seemingly unwanted sculptures there.

On the rare occasion the space is empty you can appreciate it for what it might be. It’s not hard to imagine what it would look like if the pathways were well defined, the square well-lit, with fresh, thick grassy areas, benches and picnic tables. It’s still located in the middle of a very active urban pole – there’s no reason it should look this bad and function so poorly.

But then again, we don’t treat it very well.

The cops shouldn’t drive their cars through it – it’s disrespectful, it’s actively ruining an already marred public space.

What I find ironic is that the cops who are doing this are ostensibly doing so to get the bums, drunks and roving bands of teenagers out, as it’s perceived that those groups are responsible for the damage to the square. And in the process render the space somewhat inaccesible. Who’s going to go relax on a bench next to some squad cars?

What I find odd is that Montreal police don’t apply the methods they use to patrol Carré St-Louis as they do Cabot Square. The two public spaces are somewhat similar in terms of size and design and have reputations for being a touch seamy.

But for the most part the worst you’ll have to deal with in Carré St-Louis is some young punk wannabe pushers and a couple of loud, moany drunks. Cops come by on those ridiculous tricycle Segways and bikes. There’s something disarming about police wearing bicycle helmets… I can imagine it sets a better tone of mutual respect. Such is not the same in Cabot Square, where police have been known to apply a lot more muscle, if not batons and aggressive overtones.

Sometimes I wonder whether if the difference lies in the predominance of homeless Aboriginals in Cabot Square – police in this city have always dealt with homeless Aboriginals poorly. You don’t see too many hipsters getting kicked to the ground in Carré St-Louis for drinking in public.

Cabot Square has a few other problems which, if corrected, could allow Montreal police to survey the area just as well, but without having to drive through park to keep an eye on things. If the space is ever renovated I’d hope they consider giving it the Dorchester Square treatment, which is to say better lighting and well-defined pathways to say the least. The city also elected to reduce the total number of trees in that square during it’s 2009-2010 renovation, an unpopular move that ultimately allowed for better lines-of-sight across the square.

Cabot Square could benefit from a similar makeover, as it has a rather thick hedge and decorative metal fence obscuring the view across it from nearly all points. Same story with the clutter of ill-lit and poorly placed sculptures and the bus shelters scattered around the square’s periphery. Further isolating the square from its environment are the two pavilions on its western edge; I’ve never seen the vespasienne open and the Métro access kiosk acts more often than not as a daytime make-shift homeless shelter. Together they form a kind of a wall.

Removing the hedge and decorative fence would certainly help things out a bit, as would removing some of the trees – there are so many in the square the grass doesn’t stand much of a chance to grow. The STM kiosk is massive and doesn’t nearly hold the same amount of daily traffic as it did thirty some odd years ago. It could be replaced with a Hector Guimard styled Métro entrance, as we have in Square Victoria, allowing a significant obstruction to be removed and effectively replaced. Running some kind of service from the vespasienne would also help things along, namely by bringing space-conscious small-business owners into the public sphere, not to mention the potential customers. The vespasienne in Dorchester Square is home to a bistro that seems to be doing alright – hard to imagine the same couldn’t be the case in Cabot Square.

Another issue – the bus shelters. This one’s a bit of a head scratcher as I can’t quite figure the rationale behind building many small shelters when the STM used to have one large shelter that served all the many buses stopping at the terminus. Whereas many smaller shelters invariably become public toilets, one large shelter could feature a public restroom, security and a control booth. Moreover it could be heated. Why the larger terminus building was demolished is a total mystery to me.

Final thought, and I know I’ve said it before, but I really hope Dawson ends up occupying the Children’s Hospital when it eventually moves to its new home at the Glen Yards campus. If this were to happen, Cabot Square would transform rather quickly as it became a satellite of the college’s campus, a backyard of sorts. Even though this in and of itself might not get the city to renovate the space, at the very least the presence of a lot of students will make it a little more inviting and result in the space being used a little more than it currently is.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – The Basics

MMFA - 2012

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal) is located at 1380 Sherbrooke Street West in the heart of the appropriately-named Quartier du Musée district of the city’s downtown. It can be accessed by the Guy and Peel stations of the Métro’s Green Line and is located within proximity of the Underground City tunnel network (getting off at Guy station, one can walk underground to the corner of Bishop and Boul. de Maisonneuve; the museum is up the block, no more than a two-minute walk on the coldest of days). Frankly, it’s hard to miss.

What most people first notice is the Hornstein Pavilion, in the middle of the photo above, a Beaux Arts styled building completed by the noted Maxwell Brothers architectural firm in 1912. Today, this pavilion is dedicated to world cultures and archeology. If I recall correctly, it also houses Ben Weider’s collection of Napoleon memorabilia, including one of the late emperor’s undershirts. The Hornstein Pavilion features four massive Ionic columns and intricate bas-reliefs with a variety of sculptures and installations gathered in front. It doesn’t need the stately lettering along the edge of the roof, nor the signs out front, to make it any more obvious it’s an art museum.

The museum was previously located in the former Art Association of Montreal building on the northeast corner of Phillips Square, roughly on the same location of where that godawful Burger King stands today. The association traces its roots back to 1860, seven years before Confederation, when it was established by Bishop Fulford (this building’s name suddenly came to mind, it’s an old-folks home next to the Bar-B-Barn, steps away from Concordia).

The first major expansion of the museum was, logically enough, immediately behind the Hornstein Pavilion, and is quite possibly the least severe brutalist structure in the city. The Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion opened in 1976 and is today dedicated to design and decorative arts. It is built into the rising side of the mountain, the low, flat boxes of the pavilion jutting out like rock formations. Ivy, earth tones and set-back, dark-tinted windows enhance its natural aesthetic by reminding one of caves and crags, in actuality open-air spaces, terraces and balconies.

In the run-up to the city’s 350th anniversary in 1992 the museum expanded once more, this time across the street, reclaiming a vacant lot and repurposing the New Sherbrooke hotel-apartments, another Beaux-Arts styled building dating from 1905. The former apartment building was gutted and converted into large exhibition halls, while the vacant lot received a miniature arch in white marble, as well as an angled glass atrium, to serve as the museum’s new principal entrance. The Desmarais Pavilion was designed by noted Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. Today it houses International Art from the Old Masters to the contemporary, in addition to photography and graphic arts. A tunnel was completed under Sherbrooke Street to link the pavilions together, thus leading to the creation of another ‘autonomous’ segment of the Underground City. I’ll get back to this in a minute. The Desmarais Pavilion tends to house most of the major temporary exhibits, and has office space, a café, bookstore and boutique, and also features Safdie’s ‘ruminating’ staircase, one of the museum’s various design quirks.

The most recent development is the Bourgie Pavilion, the converted former Erskine and American Church, a Romanesque Revival building with Tiffany stained-glass windows dating from the 1890s. The Bourgie houses Canadian and Quebec art, in addition to a large performance space, and is located across Avenue de Musée on the north side of Sherbrooke Street. It too is connected to the other pavilions via an underground tunnel, though outside the avenue serves as an open air gallery of sculpture and diverse installations.

The most recent news is that the museum is set to expand again, as it has recently received a $75 million donation of Old Masters paintings from Michal and Renata Hornstein. The caveat is that a new facility must be built to house the collection, and the MMFA has indicated they’re looking to expand south along Bishop, potentially leading to the demolition of two old Victorian-era row houses. The expansion has the potential to go far enough south on Bishop the museum could conceivably be connected directly to the Guy-Concordia tunnel system. Here’s a conceptual rendering compared with how it currently looks.

I’m not crazy about this new design as I feel it’s too out of step with its surroundings. We’ll see how it works out, I have a feeling the design may change a bit between now and it’s intending opening in 2017, for the city’s 375th anniversary.


From the Chronicle Herald
From the Chronicle Herald

Well what a few days it’s been! A bit much to digest all at once – I’m still getting over Québec getting knocked out of first place in terms of public displays of corruption and general ineptness. That clearly belongs to Ontario now, though I’m confident will soon regain our status…

Call it Canadian Journalism’s Revenge.

After seven years of scandal simmering just out of reach, of dead-ends and non-answers, of finely-tuned PR and marketing shlock from government ad men, the dam’s finally burst.

A lot of people have been working very hard under increasingly difficult circumstances to hold this government accountable for its actions. Yet despite proroguing Parliament, the G20 fiasco, and numerous other contemptible acts perpetrated by the Tories, they’ve so far managed to expertly manipulate public opinion in their favour, allowing them to dodge most scrutiny relatively unscathed. As is their custom, the Tories throw various people under the bus without ever actually taking corrective action.

Adding insult to injury, the Harperites have treated both our media (and political process in general) with increasingly obvious and obscene disdain.

They’ve mocked and derided dissent, criticism and honest investigative journalism as politically-motivated extremism. Did you know the CBC was filled with Trotskyites? Neither did I until Pierre Poilièvre so-alleged when confronted with a CBC News investigation revealing the Tories are planning on spending $250 million to develop ‘plans’ for a new arctic icebreaker. Scandal here is that the immense sum won’t cover the cost of actually building anything, leading anyone with an ounce of common sense to wonder just what in the hell that money’s going to be used for.

There was once a time when mismanagement and misspending of this magnitude would be enough for a government to lose the confidence of the House and force an election. But we’ve grown accustomed to government inefficiency, excess and above all else, a total lack of operational transparency. It’s despicable. Quite frankly I’m incensed we, the Canadian people, have been asleep at the wheel for so long and let them carry on like this.

It’s one thing for a government to be unaccountable. It’s quite another thing when government is unaccountable and contemptuous of anyone who dares question their actions.

I feel a lot of Canadians have been waiting for the pent up weight of corruption and incompetence to come crashing down. It’s happened to many of the lesser prime ministers and their respective governments, and this had made me hope with utmost sincerity that the crash’s impact will be in proportion to the actual, accrued incompetence. I expect it to be big. I have no faith in the Harper administration, I think this a blot on our otherwise decent record, and I’m thoroughly unimpressed with his economic record. Selling the country by the pound does nothing to improve the economy, and the only people who haven’t been ‘too aversely affected’ by the Great Recession are the nation’s elites. In effect, Canada’s conservative movement isn’t that different than the cabal of elites that is the modern American Republican Party; a party by the rich, of the rich and for the rich, a party that governs simply by manipulating PR and chanting soundbites until anyone attempting legitimate discourse simply gives up.

So consider those currently crashing back to Earth.

Senators Wallin and Duffy, once party media darlings, they’ve both decided to take the expressway to public image rehabilitation by resigning from the party but not Senate itself.

Pamela Wallin is under investigation for over $300,000 worth of questionable travel expenses, while Mike Duffy charged the federal government $90,000 in housing expenses for his ‘secondary residence’, a house he lives in most of the year in an Ottawa suburb. Oh, he also claimed per diem expenses from the government while on vacation, and then added expensed the Senate for campaign work he did for the Tories during the last election. But as Andrew Coyne points out, Duffy’s hardly to blame – the Tories have cultivated a culture of excess and scandalously improper spending.

Then there’s Nigel Wright, a wealthy businessman and Harper’s former chief of staff. He resigned today for his involvement in the Duffy scandal – apparently he wrote him a $90,000 cheque to cover up his ‘mistake’. Government lapdog Pierre Poilièvre tried to pass him off as a wealthy benefactor who didn’t want this debt transferred onto the tax-payer,

On top of all this, CTV is now reporting damning evidence of financial impropriety on the part of Mike Duffy was removed from the disgraced Senator’s internal audit.

And if that weren’t all enough by itself, it looks like some drug dealers tried to sell a video of Rob Ford smoking crack to several trusted journalists, resulting in the story coming out anyways, and a crowd-sourcing initiative to get ahold of the video. The Toronto Star, whose investigative journalists broke the story, is now calling for Ford’s resignation.

Toronto is better than Ford, and her citizens deserve much, much better.

Ford of course is another one of those self-appointed apostles of the Harper agenda, a conservative bulldog already well-known for his troglodytic values, bully tactics and vile general comportment. His downfall won’t impact the scandal plagued federal Tories, but it does leave the Harperites without their primary roadside attraction in the 905 region.

In any event, as I said earlier, it was nice to have the pressure ease off of Québec for a little while.

Here we are, two years before the next federal election and the once mighty Tories are in full crisis mode.

The question now is whether the Canadian public demands blood. Resignations simply won’t cut it, thorough investigations must happen and the Senators must lose their jobs and benefits. The prime minister must be held accountable.

In sum, I’d like to thank every Canadian journalist out there right now who has been pushing for transparency and accountability and who’ll in all likelihood take the events of the last few days as a sign to keep the pressure on.

Things need to change – what we have is untenable.

Les amoureux de Montr̩al Рthe city at 350

Les amoureux de Montréal by Jacques Giraldeau, National Film Board of Canada

Stumbled upon this fascinating documentary about Montreal, released by the NFB in 1992.

It explores what seems to be a favoured theme amongst local documentarians – the city in a state of transition.

1992 was one of those years – an anniversary year, the city’s 350th. The city had been remodelling itself in preparation for the anniversary for the preceding six years, largely under the direction of the Doré administration.

The emphasis was principally on city beautification, though two iconic skyscrapers Р1250 Ren̩-L̩vesque Ouest and 1000 de la Gaucheti̬re Рwould join the skyline, completing a broader effort to increase class-A office real-estate in the city (the redevelopment of McGill College and the Montreal World Trade Centre occurred at roughly the same time). There are some excellent shots of the towers going up.

This is also the time the Biodome and Biosphere came to be, new parks and public spaces were created, museums expanded etc. The film seems to switch back and forth between optimism for what the future might hold and a somber reflection on an apparent loss of status. The film presents reflections on the city as love letters.

It can be ironic in hindsight, albeit understandably so given the context of the city at that time. Early on the narrator bemoans the ‘loss of port and rail, the over-reliance on cars and how we’ve fallen behind in public transit’.

Today we would see things a bit differently – 1992 was 21 years ago after all, and times and attitudes really do change. Today’s public transit network is fairly sophisticated and broader than it was back then. We’re still over-reliant on cars but at the very least urban depopulation may have been somewhat successfully cut back. As to the port, well it moved further east, out of sight but hardly out of mind. And we’re still the rail king of North American cities, not to mention the interaction between these elements of our infrastructure maintains our position as a leader in transportation.

This film is heavy on design and architecture in a way that reminds me of what seemed to be a trend from the era. I remember a host of books published at the time, not to mention the recent arrival of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and all of it coming together in a kind of architectural reawakening, as though the citizens saw the gems that lay before them for the first time.

Like we all suddenly realized ours is a good looking city only when the film crews starting popping up all over the place throughout much of the 1990s.

In any event, have a look – I’m sure you’ll enjoy. A must for all Montrealophiles.

Sainte Louise Harel РLes m̻mes causes produisent les m̻mes effets

That's the most relaxing smile I've ever seen...
That’s the most relaxing smile I’ve ever seen…

Well, the first post on this site from someone other than myself. My first contributor!

And he’d prefer to remain anonymous…

Perhaps it’s best. He’s been working for the city for a while now, and has the pulse of the city like few people I know (though, given his job, it’s not surprising he’s so knowledgeable, few would care to ask his opinion. There are many people invisible to politicians). We got into a conversation about the merits of Louise Harel as mayor, and he lent me an earful about her and Vision Montreal.

I asked if he’d write an article to express himself and he obliged under the condition of anonymity.

So without further adieu, may I present you l’Heptade du Sainte Louise Harel…

1. Benoît Labonté et l’aveuglement volontaire de Louise Harel

Suite à un différent avec Gérald Tremblay, Benoît Labonté, maire de l’arrondissement Ville-Marie, a quitté la formation politique Union Montréal en septembre 2007. Il est devenu chef de Vision Montréal en 2008, au terme d’une campagne à la chefferie à l’évidence très coûteuse : lancement en grande pompe en mars au SAT, conclusion sur une scène circulaire entourée d’écrans géants au plasma en mai à la TOHU. À l’hiver 2009, il s’est lancé en pré-campagne à la mairie de Montréal, à nouveau en dépensant à l’évidence beaucoup d’argent, notamment pour la location de panneaux publicitaires géants dispersés un peu partout dans les stations du métro. Le 3 juin 2009, il a cédé la chefferie de Vision Montréal à Louise Harel, dont il devint le président pré-désigné de son futur comité exécutif.

Vision Montréal était à l’époque un parti politique sans le sou. Mais alors, d’où tout cet argent dépensé lors de la campagne à la chefferie puis de la pré-campagne à la mairie pouvait-il provenir ? En octobre 2009, en pleine campagne électorale, on allait apprendre que l’entrepreneur aujourd’hui tristement célèbre Tony Accurso avait été le principal financier de Benoît Labonté. Plus tard, on apprendrait qu’un autre entrepreneur, Lino Zambito, a pour sa part financé la campagne électorale de Benoît Labonté. Si à ce jour ces deux noms, Tony Accurso et Lino Zambito, sont les seuls à être sortis publiquement, on a toutes les raisons de suspecter qu’ils ne furent pas les seuls à avoir financé Benoît Labonté.

Louise Harel n’a jamais raté une occasion de faire état de l’aveuglement volontaire dont a fait montre durant tant d’années Gérald Tremblay, soulignant qu’en contrepartie de son titre de maire, il avait ni plus ni moins que remis les clefs de la Ville à un groupe de personnages douteux, Frank Zampino, Bernard Trépanier, Martial Fillion, Robert Cassius de Linval, Robert Dutil et autres. Or, c’est exactement ce que Louise Harel comptait elle même faire avec Benoît Labonté. Ainsi, les tandems Tremblay-Zampino et Harel-Labonté paraissent parfaitement interchangeables.

Le 14 octobre 2009, le scandale Labonté éclatait. Louise Harel soutint alors « ne pas avoir de doutes sur l’intégrité de son second » (Rue Frontenac, 16 octobre 2009). Le 18 octobre, désormais convaincue de sa culpabilité, elle lui demandait de se retirer de la campagne et l’expulsait de Vision Montréal.

L’aveuglement volontaire dont a fait montre Louise Harel vis à vis de Benoît Labonté jette un doute suffisant autant sur son jugement que sur ses mœurs politiques pour la disqualifier en tant que candidate à la mairie de Montréal.

2. Louise Harel doit rembourser 180 000 $ en lien avec l’élection de 2009

L’artile 447,1 de la Loi sur les élections et les référendums dans les municipalités (LERM) stipule qu’un électeur ne peut consentir un prêt supérieur à 10 000 $ à un parti politique, non plus que se porter caution d’un prêt supérieur à ce montant contracté auprès d’une institution financière. L’article 475 stipule pour sa part qu’une municipalité rembourse 50 % de leurs dépenses électorales aux partis politiques ayant obtenu le minimum de 15 % du vote.

Peu après la campagne électorale de 2009, Louise Harel a personnellement cautionné un emprunt bancaire de 230 000 $ et a convaincu 14 élus de Vision Montréal de cautionner chacun un emprunt de 20 000 $, pour un total de 280 000 $. Vision Montréal a ainsi disposé de 510 000 $ à injecter dans la campagne. Or, la loi ne permettait qu’un cautionnement de 10 000 $ par individu, soit 150 000 $ pour Louise Harel et les 14 autres élus concernés chez Vision Montréal. La différence entre 510 000 $ et 150 000 $ est 360 000 $ : ce dernier montant a constitué un financement illégal de la campagne électorale de 2009.

Se prévalant de l’article 475 de la loi, Vision Montréal s’est fait rembourser 50 % de ses dépenses électorales, incluant pour les 360 000 $ de financement illégal. Les contribuables montréalais ont ainsi payé 180 000 $ en trop à Vision Montréal.

Avant de prétendre concourir à la mairie de Montréal en 2013, Louise Harel doit commencer par rembourser à la Ville ces 180 000 $ payés en trop à Vision Montréal par les contribuables montréalais suite à l’élection de 2009.

3. Louise Harel doit rembourser 108 165,27 $ en lien avec l’élection de 2009

Vision Montréal a investi 1,2 M$ dans la campagne électorale 2009. Ne disposant pas de tant d’argent, le parti a contracté une dette auprès d’une institution financière. Suite à l’élection, les contribuables montréalais ont versé à Vision 50 % de ses dépenses électorales, dont les 180 000 $ vus plus tôt. Ce versement fermait la comptabilité de l’élection de 2009, c’est-à-dire que les contribuables montréalais ne devaient plus rien à Vision Montréal en lien avec cette élection.

Vision Montréal ayant vu ses financements autonomes diminuer drastiquement suite à tous les scandales dans lesquels baigne la politique montréalaise depuis 2009, ce parti fut incapable d’assumer les charges de sa dette électorale de 2009. Louise Harel a alors pris la décision d’utiliser à cette fin l’Allocation aux partis et les fonds de Recherche et secrétariat alloués par la Ville à Vision Montréal. Les contribuables montréalais ont de cette façon continué de payer pour l’élection de 2009, ce qui est contraire à l’esprit de la loi. En 2010 et 2011, Vision Montréal a ainsi versé à son institution financière 108 165,27$ au titre des paiements d’intérêts sur sa dette électorale de 2009.

Avant de prétendre concourir à la mairie de Montréal en 2013, Louise Harel doit commencer par rembourser à la Ville ces 108 165,27$ payés en trop par les contribuables montréalais en lien avec l’élection de 2009.

4. Louise Harel doit rembourser les 25 000 $ à 30 000 $ reçus de Lino Zambito

Le 15 octobre 2012, comparaissant devant la Commission Charbonneau, le promoteur Lino Zambito a reconnu que lors de la campagne 2009, il avait remis à Benoît Labonté une enveloppe contenant entre 25 000 $ et 30 000 $ d’argent comptant. Louise Harel s’est toujours montrée fière d’avoir expulsé son bras droit de Vision Montréal aussitôt qu’elle a su ses liens avec Tony Accurso : Benoît Labonté a certes été expulsé, mais Vision Montréal a conservé l’argent qui lui avait été remis illégalement.

Avant de prétendre concourir à la mairie de Montréal en 2013, Louise Harel doit commencer par rembourser à la Ville ces 25 000 $ à 30 000 $ versés par Lino Zambito à Benoît Labonté au cours de la campagne électorale de 2009.

5. Louise Harel se reconnaît coupable de 18 fraudes et paie une amende de 8 500 $

Le DGEQ (Directeur général des élections du Québec) a poursuivi Louise Harel et Vision Montréal relativement aux 510 000 $ de cautionnements illégaux de la campagne électorale de 2009.

Durant deux années et demie, Louise Harel a soutenu qu’il s’agissait d’une « erreur de bonne foi », alléguant qu’elle ne connaissait pas les dispositions en cause de la LERM. Chacun sait que nul ne peut prétendre ignorer la loi. L’argument de la méconnaissance de la loi est d’autant plus irrecevable de la part de Louise Harel qu’elle est avocate de formation et qu’elle a 35 années d’expérience politique.

Le 20 juin 2012, Louise Harel s’est rendue à l’évidence et a résolu de plaider coupable à 18 constats d’infraction à la LERM. En conséquence, elle a été condamnée à payer une amende totalisant 8 500 $. Michael Applebaum, alors président du comité exécutif de Gérald Tremblay, a immédiatement évoqué sa démission : « C’est inacceptable qu’une ancienne ministre des Affaires municipales, aussi chef de l’opposition à l’hôtel de ville, n’ait pas respecté la loi électorale. Je crois que Mme Harel devrait commencer à questionner sa présence au conseil municipal » (TVA Nouvelles, 21 juin 2012).

Toute personne de bonne foi admettra que s’étant avouée coupable de nombreuses fraudes électorales, Louise Harel s’est disqualifiée en tant que candidate à la mairie de Montréal.

6. Louise Harel continue de faire du «financement sectoriel»

L’article 431 de la LERM fixe une limite de 1 000 $ par année aux contributions d’un électeur à un parti politique municipal. Seules les personnes physiques ayant statut d’électeur sont autorisés à financer un candidat ou un parti politique.

Dans l’esprit de la LERM, la limite de 1 000 $ a été fixée dans le but de permettre à un candidat, à ses proches désireux de l’encourager, ou encore à un militant vraiment convaincu de la valeur du message véhiculé par le candidat et/ou par le parti politique auquel il appartient, de contribuer significativement à une campagne électorale. Les trois années de scandales qui culminent présentement avec les audiences publiques de la Commission Charbonneau ont mis en lumière divers stratagèmes couramment utilisés pour contourner la loi. L’un d’eux consiste pour les partis politiques à tenir des activités de financement ciblant les entrepreneurs, firmes de génie-conseil, bureaux d’architectes, firmes de communication ou cabinets d’avocats dont l’admission est fixée entre 500 $ et 1 000 $ par individu. Dans le jargon politique, on parle alors de « financement sectoriel ». Les entreprises privées qui dépêchent une ou plusieurs personnes à de telles activités de financement s’attendent à un retour d’ascenseur sous forme de contrats publics une fois le parti politique en cause arrivé au pouvoir.

Le financement sectoriel est aujourd’hui dénoncé par l’ensemble de la population montréalaise autant que québécoise. Louise Harel n’a de cesse d’assurer avoir assaini les mœurs financières historiquement douteuses de Vision Montréal. Pourtant, elle continue de tenir des activités de financement sectoriel, grossièrement maquillées en « rencontres thématiques » et autres « déjeuners-causeries ».

En juin 2011, Louise Harel a tenu une telle activité ciblée sur les promoteurs actifs dans le secteur Griffintown de l’arrondissement Sud-Ouest, contrôlé par Vision Montréal. Elle a récidivé en janvier 2012, en ciblant le même groupe de promoteurs. Ces deux activités ont rapporté 14 500 $ à Vision Montréal.

Quand La Presse a publié cette information, le 12 novembre 2012, Louise Harel a admis que ces activités contrevenaient à la Loi sur le lobbyisme, puisqu’aucune des personnes présentes n’était inscrite au registre des lobbyistes. Soraya Martinez, directrice générale de Vision Montréal, a pour sa part soutenu que les individus présents « sont venus comme citoyens et non comme promoteurs ». Quant à Benoît Dorais, maire de l’arrondissement Sud-Ouest, il a soutenu avoir simplement « échangé avec des entrepreneurs. Ce sont des citoyens comme les autres, au même titre que la coiffeuse qui m’interpelle au IGA » (Le Devoir, 13 novembre 2012).

Toute personne de bonne foi admettra que par sa persistance à tenir des activités de financement sectoriel, a fortiori dans le climat actuel de perte de confiance du public à l’endroit de la classe politique, Louise Harel s’est disqualifiée en tant que candidate à la mairie de Montréal.

7. La double rémunération publique de Louise Harel

Dans le contexte des scandales à répétition des dernières années et de la tenue des audiences publiques de la Commission Charbonneau, la classe politique municipale toute entière fait l’objet d’un lourd discrédit. Le 12 décembre 2012, Louise Harel a choisi d’en rajouter en dénonçant la faible contribution des élus montréalais à leur régime de retraite : Finir de briser le lien de confiance entre la population et leurs élus municipaux, que ne voilà un bon moyen de se faire du capital politique ! s’est-elle dite.

Les élus montréalais cotisent 25 % à leur régime de retraite, la Ville 75 %. Louise Harel propose que ce soit 50 % – 50 %. Tout le monde est d’accord avec cette proposition. Le problème ne se situe pas au niveau du message, mais de la messagère.

Le régime de retraite des élus municipaux montréalais correspond à 2 % de leur salaire annuel pour chaque année de service. Ainsi, un simple conseiller qui siège huit ans au conseil municipal aura droit, à partir de 65 ans, à une rente représentant 16 % de son salaire, soit environ 9 000 $ par année.

Considérons maintenant le cas de Louise Harel. Elle touche 120 000 $ de retraite de l’Assemblée nationale (Canal Argent, 4 mai 2011), en plus des 107 000 $, allocation de dépense incluse, que la Ville de Montréal lui verse à titre de chef de l’Opposition officielle. Cette double rémunération publique lui assure un revenu de 227 000 $ pour l’année 2012. Mieux, ses quatre années passées à l’Hôtel de Ville lui procureront un supplément de retraite de 7 500 $ par année. Si donc elle devait quitter la politique municipale au terme du présent mandat, elle toucherait une retraite totalisant autour de 130 000 $ par année.

Qui encaisse une rémunération annuelle de 227 000 $ et est assurée de toucher 130 000 $ par an après un mandat à la Ville est drôlement culotée de dénoncer ceux et celles qui devront se contenter de 9 000 $ par année au terme de deux mandats.

Louise Harel soutient qu’elle n’est pas en situation de double rémunération publique puisque sa retraite de Québec « proviendrait plutôt des cotisations qu’elle a payées durant sa carrière » (TVA Nouvelles, 13 décembre 2012). Cette affirmation est fausse dans une proportion de 78 %, puisque les élus de l’Assemblée nationale ne cotisent que 22 % à leur régime de retraite (Le Journal de Québec, 15 janvier 2011).

Rappelons que Pierre Bourque, fondateur de Vision Montréal, le parti que dirige Louise Harel, a renoncé à son salaire d’élu lorsqu’il est devenu maire, en 1994. Se disant satisfait de la retraite de 72 500 $ qu’il recevait de la Ville, il a créé la Fondation du maire de Montréal pour la jeunesse, à laquelle il a remis 700 000 $ au cours de ses deux mandats (La Presse, 13 décembre 2012). De Pierre Bourque à Louise Harel, c’est une certaine éthique du service public qui a été liquidée à Vision Montréal.

En estimant acceptable de toucher deux revenus publics, l’un versé par l’ensemble des contribuables québécois, l’autre par les seuls contribuables montréalais, Louise Harel a fait montre d’une avidité qui trahit l’héritage de Pierre Bourque et la disqualifie en tant que candidate à la mairie de Montréal.

An Ocean Liner to Boost Casino Revenue

Really wish I had taken this - props to whoever did. The Casino, previously the Québec and French pavilions of Expo 67.
Really wish I had taken this Рprops to whoever did. The Casino, previously the Qu̩bec and French pavilions of Expo 67.

So Loto-Québec is planning on introducing drinking on the floors of the province’s four casinos, as part of a broader effort to update and modernize the casinos to increase revenue and draw higher attendance. Currently both are down, prompting the péquiste health minister (?) to state “it’s time we got our heads out of the sand and ensures our casinos can be competitive.” As it stands, Québec’s casinos are the only casinos in North America where the consumption of alcohol is not permitted on the gaming floor.

The plan is that, by getting on board with open drinking on the gaming floor, many more people will visit and revenues will increase. Gérard Bibeau, the head of Loto-Québec believes nearly $100 million in lost revenue could be generated (though it seems he’s basing this calculation on the idea that attendance is down specifically because drinking isn’t permitted. I would hope attendance is down because a sufficient number of people would rather save their hard earned money rather than risk it). Bibeau suggests that the $100 million figure represents what could have been pulled in by the casinos if not for a 4% drop in attendance over the past few years.

Hmmm. What’s been happening that might convince people to stay away from casinos for the past four or five years…?

Loto-Québec’s prohibition of drinking while gambling on the casino floor is certainly particular, especially when you consider that it’s not a prohibition on drinking and gambling in the wider sense. Anyone can drink and gamble themselves into oblivion at video lottery terminals (VLTs) located in every dive bar in the province – and plenty have (though officially the bartender is supposed to discourage this, if I’m not mistaken). And from my experience working in dépanneurs I can tell you drinking and gambling certainly go together, though it has never been my experience that these activities ever did anyone any good.

But I digress.

Many moons ago it was a lovely Tuesday night in the suburbs and my buddies and I were bored. We were young, temporarily unimaginative yet also cognizant that we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with ourselves. So we piled into a car and took off for the Casino de Montréal. It was my first and last time there and I broke even, winning and then losing $100.

The first thing I really took notice of was a geriatric sitting in a pink jumpsuit, slumped ever so slightly over on one side, an oxygen tank leaning against her high chair. She had a neon yellow elastic chord attached from her jumpsuit pocket to a debit card locked into a one-armed bandit, pressing the button as though in a trance.

These are not the people we want in our casinos (admittedly I’m making a jugement call here, but she did not appear to be a high-roller; she looked like a senior citizen gambling away her pension cheque). Adding drink to the mix will make this problem worse. We want other people’s money – tourist money.

When the Casino de Montréal opened in 1993 it was a bit of a big deal. It’s a surprisingly large casino by Canadian standards, featuring over a hundred gaming tables and 3,200 gaming machines, not to mention the bars and restaurants (three and four respectively) as well as the cabaret and assorted meeting and banquet facilities. As intended, it’s open all day every day of the year and is located far from the city, isolated from the pedestrian and public transit pace of the downtown core on Ile-Notre-Dame. It came to be a year after the city’s 350th anniversary as part of a series of civic improvement projects instituted by Mayor Doré. In this particular case, it allowed for two iconic Expo pavilions to be preserved and rendered permanent. As such, it is peculiar for a casino, as it features low ceilings, natural sunlight and openly encourages its patrons to step away from the tables to smoke, drink and socialize.

When it opened, it was supposed to be classy. The restaurants were top-notch, the chefs and wine selection unbeatable. There was even a dress code – jackets and ties for men, no hats, no jeans etc.

I think this is something we should maintain. Everything about our casino, as initially intended, was almost designed to de-emphasize the gambling. It’s not a big gray box. It doesn’t disorient the patrons by omitting windows. It invites patrons to step away from the gaming, to go outside and get some fresh air. These are design elements we should continue to value.

There’s no doubt our casino and state-regulated gambling is useful – it funnels money from the people’s pocket back into the government purse. Loto-Québec is a provincial crown corporation whose mandate is ‘to operate games of chance in the province in an orderly and measured way’ and I would argue strongly they do a generally good job, even though I’m morally opposed to the practice in the first place.

I suppose it’s not so bad if it’s rich people who’re losing their money – they can afford it.

But all too often casinos wind up preying, even if indirectly, on the poorest elements of society – they people most desperate for a financial break are all too often those with bad finances and who exercise poor jugement with their money. And whereas there once were controls – like the dress code and limitations on drinking on the playing floor – these have been shelved to accomodate the poor yet regular patrons who provide the bulk of the casino’s revenue during a prolonged period of economic instability, such as we’re experiencing right now.

But my question is this. Is this really the best way to increase revenue? How much extra coin could this actually produce?

And why look to locals as our main source of casino revenue?

And why isn’t Montreal’s casino generating money specifically for our own needs? The city could use revenue generated by the Casino de Montréal more immediately and doubtless more efficiently. As an example, with new legislation, the Casino de Montréal’s revenue could be re-directed towards costly and necessary infrastructure improvements to local schools (you’ll no doubt recall many local schools have severe mould and asbestos problems). Or to provide scholarships and bursaries for post-secondary education. Or to help defray the massive cost overruns of the new hospitals. or to improve public transit. The list goes on. As it stands today this money is sent to Québec City, where I suppose it’s moved back into general revenue.

This doesn’t help us much at all, yet Montréal is on the hook for nearly every negative repercussion from casino operations in the city – everything from the social problems associated with gambling addiction in our poorest neighbourhoods to the inevitable suicides and road accidents that happen on the otherwise deserted junction of Ave. Pierre-Dupuy and the Pont de la Concorde.

So let’s do something different.

The city ought to take in a greater share of our casino’s revenue, but we can’t argue this position unless we’re willing to provide our own plan to increase attendance and revenue. Thus, I would argue strongly that the city should look to acquire the single greatest missing piece from our casino’s master plan – a hotel – and assist in redeveloping the Casino de Montréal with a new hotel & resort component. This in turn could be part of a larger plan to increase the use and revenue generated by all the diverse functions of parc Jean-Drapeau.

But where would we build a hotel? Ile-Notre-Dame doesn’t have much space to support a large hotel, and construction may render the island temporarily unusable.

Permanently mooring a cruise ship or ocean liner within proximity of the casino presents us with an interesting possibility to get everything we need for a major casino expansion without having to build much. It would allow us to rather suddenly put a lot of hotel space more or less in the centre of the city’s park islands. Rather than building new we simply tow a full expansion into position. It would look good, it would be exceptionally unique and would further serve to provide a lot of direct financial stimulus for our otherwise underused (and at times worn-down) parc Jean-Drapeau.

Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau
Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau

And wouldn’t you know it, we could park a cruise ship or old ocean liner right here between the inter-island bridges. One would fit perfectly (though we might have to dredge the channel and temporarily remove one of the bridges) and I think in a broader sense fulfill a grander scheme for the park islands. I’ve often felt that this grand playground lacks any unifying cohesiveness – it’s simply the space we put all the stuff we can’t place elsewhere. We’ve purposely concentrated a lot of diverse entertainment in one space and have done well in maintaining that space’s utility within the public conception of the urban environment. Yet it’s still very detached, isolated even, from the rest of the city.

I feel a floating hotel solves more than one problem, using the location’s relative isolation to its advantage. For locals and people from the region, it could provide a much-needed ‘urban resort’, a place to get away from it all that’s oddly located in the middle of everything. For foreign tourists or families on vacation, it provides a hotel in a controlled environment almost exclusively dedicated to family friendly activities. Re-instituting the dress code and prohibiting drinking from the gaming floor in this newly expanded casino could serve to help sell the image of a classy and unique vacation experience catering to a wide variety of tastes.

Think about it – Parc Jean-Drapeau is a large multi-use park with a considerable natural component, occupying roughly the same amount of space as Mount Royal Park (2.1 square kilometers). It features, among others, a beach, an aquatics centre & rowing basin, manicured parks and trails, an amusement park, a historic fort and a premier outdoor concert venue. Placing a hotel in the middle of it, associated with the aforementioned casino, would surely drive up revenue not only for the casino but everything else going on at the park as well. It could conceivably make the park more useful during the winter months and provide sufficient new revenue so as to redevelop the Biosphere, Helene-de-Champlain restaurant and give the whole place a facelift too. And I don’t think it would take much of anything away from the city’s existing hotels as, from my experience, parc Jean-Drapeau is nearly exclusively used by locals, being perhaps a little too detached for tourists.

SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova
SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova

For your consideration, this rather handsome looking (and famous) ocean liner, the SS United States, can accomodate 5,000 people and is in desperate need of a buyer to keep her from the breakers. The idea of permanently mooring an ocean liner somewhere in the Old Port isn’t entirely new either. Aside form the fact that it’s already been done elsewhere, our own Mayor Drapeau wanted to use an ocean liner to house Olympic athletes during the `76 Games, with the idea being that the ship would be converted into a floating hotel, casino and convention centre afterwards as part of a broad facelift for the Old Port. His preferred vessel was the SS Normandie.

Definitely worth reconsidering, in my humble option.

If you happen to be looking to buy a cruise ship, look no further.