Your City, Your Candidates – Cindy Filiatrault


You know the deal – series on Forget the Box. Stay tuned for Sud-Ouest borough mayor candidate Jason Prince and my one-on-one with Richard Bergeron. I’ll try and get a half decent summary going at some point soon. In the meantime, you can have a look at how the candidates responded to questions on their commitment to open data (from Montreal Ouvert). Interesting stuff; definitely worth considering where these people stand on the their commitment to putting knowledge in the hands of the electorate.


I had a delightful opportunity to meet Cindy Filiatrault recently, Équipe Mélanie Joly’s candidate for borough mayor in the Sud Ouest borough (which, for the uninitiated, includes Saint Henri, Point-St-Charles, Griffintown, Little Burgundy, Ville Émard and Cote-St-Paul). We met up at a crowded café St-Henri, realized there were no seats left as the joint was jam packed with insolent hipsters and then proceeded to walk down a bustling Notre Dame West to the Green Spot Diner.

On our way over, we passed a comic book shop celebrating its one year anniversary and something called the Quebec General Store which seemed to be having a going-out-of-business sale. There were boarded-up storefronts and dive bars next to businesses that are keen to welcome their first clients. Indeed, I couldn’t think of a better place for a stroll.

Notre Dame West is, like many of Montreal’s commercial arteries, a bit hit or miss, though if you continued walking east from where we were (and by that I mean if you cross Atwater) you discover the gentle lapping waves of a different kind of gentrification. For all that the Sud Ouest is, it is a study in contrasts.

Over too many cups of coffee I discovered a borough mayor candidate with some fascinating ideas, but perhaps more importantly, a real sense of attachment and conviction.

What are your plans for the Sud-Ouest?

Oh man, where do I start? Broadly, and I mean this with regards to the whole city, we need to make all pertinent data open to public scrutiny. And I suppose we’d need to hire a few people to compile this data too.

What kind of data are you looking for?

Well, I’d like to know what effect green roof initiatives have on reducing the effects of air pollution, not to mention an air quality break-down by borough too. Add to that list all public contracts so that the public can see where their money is going and how it’s being spent.

Notre-Dame Ouest in St-Henri (image WikiMedia Commons)

So you don’t just want transparency, but a more engaged and active distribution of information?

Pretty much. Anyone can say they are being transparent, but I want to have free, unencumbered access to everything I need to make an informed decision on how our elected officials are doing. Currently, we’re all in the dark.

But you know, it goes a lot further than that. The city has to actively promote the services and programs it has that aren’t being used. There are myriad programs available to help small entrepreneurs, but it’s very difficult to find the pertinent information. Why?

A lot of these programs aren’t used simply because there’s no one at city hall making it a priority to get the word out. And perhaps the less I say about the city’s website the better.

Some politicians would argue making all information available for public consumption is going to bog down the political process because they’ll wind up having to explain a lot to people who really only want to kvetch about god knows what and will stick to their guns even if it’s apparent the information or data they have has been incorrectly interpreted or understood

So be it. Politicians are there to communicate openly and directly with their citizens. We can’t afford to keep the citizenry in the dark and the paternalist style of governing, the ‘dumbed-down’ approach has got to go.

I think all Montrealers are sick of being talked down to by a lot of rich, crooked, old white men. Besides which, I work in communications, you work in communications, and we both know that complex information can be made simple to understand.

Either way, look at where we’re at right now. Everything happens behind closed doors, the public is kept in the dark, the people have nearly zero faith in their politicians.

If there’s a reason why we’re pulling ahead in the polls, it’s because we’re the antithesis of the old order. We’re young, vibrant, energetic, connected and placing a strong emphasis on using technology – the technology that unites us in nearly all other aspects of our lives – and apply it to increase civic engagement, stimulate transparency and govern based on a real-time assessment of the people’s interests.

filiatraut joly
Cindy Filiatrault campaigning with Melanie Joly (image via Melanie Joly on Twitter)

Tell me something more concrete, more Sud-Ouest focused. What does this borough need to flourish?

Decontamination and revitalization.

Good answer.


Expand on that, please.

Much of this borough was industrial for a hundred years prior to the major phase of deindustrialization that swept through with the closing of the Lachine Canal. As a result, factories closed, but what they left behind is still in the ground.

As a post-industrial city, we need to keep track of what pollutants are where and in what quantities. We also need a plan to decontaminate the ground to ensure the health of our community.

Much of the borough is built on former industrial land and wedged between what was once an industrial canal on the southern edge and one of the busiest highways in Canada on the northern edge. Is it any wonder life-long residents of the borough have higher respiratory ailments?

Tell me something I don’t know about your borough.

You know Dave McMillan?

Not personally, but he owns Liverpool House and Joe Beef, right?

Right. In the winter he clears the snow from the alleyway behind his restaurants. He clears it by hand because the city doesn’t. And you know what he finds with nearly every shovelful of snow? Needles. That alleyway is littered with them but it’s thanks to Dave McMillan they get cleaned up.

That’s really gross. There’s a park just on the other side of that alleyway and a library and a community centre too

Exactly my point. On Notre-Dame it’s all fixed up, gentrified, you’d never expect that just on the other side is the borough’s reality of poverty and social pathologies related to mental health problems, drug addiction etc. Drug addicts shouldn’t be anywhere near areas used by families and children, even if it is an alleyway.

So what do we do with potentially homeless intravenous drug addicts in the Sud-Ouest?

We need a safe injection site in the borough and I’d push for it. How are drug addicts ever going to overcome their addictions if they’re forced out of sight into the nooks and crannies of the city?

These are people too. They should have a place to go where they can shoot up with clean needles, with supervision and access to help if they want it.

It’ll make our streets safer and we won’t have to worry about kids accidentally sticking themselves with dirty needles on the way to a baseball diamond or the local library. It’s a matter of basic respect for your fellow human beings. Frankly, I’m surprised we don’t already have one here.

Where would you bring tourists to give them a taste of this large, diverse borough?

I’d bring them for a walk along Notre-Dame, so they could see our past, present and future.


This Sunday, starting at ten in the morning city-wide. Get up, get into it, get involved.

Until then, Happy Halloween!

Your City, Your Candidates – Michael Simkin

The Least Coherent Hate Speech/Political Vandalism I've Ever Seen
The Least Coherent Hate Speech/Political Vandalism I’ve Ever Seen

Well, there’s less than a week to go before we head to the polls and decide which chump is right for the job of managing this at times ridiculous city.

Perhaps I’m getting cynical.

I’m getting cynical, but I think that’s a cynicism of politics in general.

In any event, I recently sat down with one of the most promising candidates I’ve yet seen and am legitimately hoping he wins. There. I’ve officially backed one person.

So help me… I actually endorsed some one.

As you’re doubtless already aware, this is part of a series of candidate interviews I’m doing for Forget the Box, an awesome local news and culture website. Check it out friends.


I recently sat down with Projet Montréal Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough mayor candidate Michael Simkin to discuss his and the party’s plans for one of Montreal’s most dynamic and fascinating boroughs. I discovered one of the most unique candidates in this city’s electoral history (and I’m saying that as a historian…)

Who were you prior to this electoral season?

Well, I suppose the most accurate way to describe myself is space lawyer. To my knowledge I’m the first space lawyer to ever run for local office.

Space lawyer?

Yeah I have a law degree from McGill, one of the very few graduates from the Institute for Air and Space Law. Before that I was working on becoming an engineer, which brought me to NASA in the late 1990s to work on the X-33 advanced space plane project, a kind of next-generation Space Shuttle.

Go on…

Let’s see, after being called to the Québec Bar I worked for the Canadian Space Agency’s space sciences group but my project was scrapped (as with much of our nation’s scientific research) by the Tories. I was lucky to be re-assigned to Environment Canada as a Sr. Climate Change Advisor, but have since taken a leave without pay to run for local office.

Are you mad?

Ha ha. No. I recognize that’s not what most people would do, but look at our situation here. This city needs a major change if it wants to get back on its feet.

What drives you?

Two things. First, I’m driven by trying to understand the world around me and further by trying to improve it. This is what got me into engineering, law, municipal politics, heck, even my ‘theatre therapy’ project.

Sherbrooke Ouest NDG
Sherbrooke Street in NDG (photo WikiMedia Commons)

How do you have time for all this?

Easy. I always work with others. I always work in groups; collaboration is the key. It’s easier and produces better long-term results.

What’s your connection with the borough?

I was born and raised here in NDG and I currently live but a few blocks from where I grew up. This is my home, my community and I’m exceptionally proud of it. Growing up we weren’t very well off, but this community always provided. You know, it’s funny. Michael Applebaum’s father used to run a shoe store and he’d sell factory seconds to people who really couldn’t afford to pay the full retail price. He helped us, he was totally selfless. When Michael Applebaum was arrested on suspicions of fraud I remember remarking to myself how far an apple can fall from the tree, no pun intended.

What did you do as a lawyer?

I only worked in law for about 18 months but during that time I was primarily involved in defending consumers as I worked for Option Consomateur. Among others I was involved in the push to change the rules regarding cell phone contracts, so that consumers wouldn’t be locked in to ridiculous three-year contracts. I also participated in a parliamentary committee on access to food and good nutrition.

Is food security a concern for you and the party?

Absolutely. I want to establish a food policy for the borough and the city, this was adopted by the party.

I was involved in establishing the first food co-op at McGill when I was studying there when I realized that the joke about students subsisting on little more than Kraft Dinner was not so much a joke but a reality for thousands of students. People assume that if you’re studying in university that you’ll be smart enough to eat properly but the problem lies in lack of access to good food at a reasonable price. Students don’t generally have immediate access to market-fresh food, let alone the money to pay for it.

Food security and the right to quality food is of vital importance to our city and the well-being of its citizens. I’ve noticed that the French community is way more food-conscious than the Anglophone community and perhaps this is changing, but for the time being, we would be wise to adopt initiatives coming out of the broader Franco-Montreal community.

Decarie autoroute
The Decarie expressway which intersects the CDN/NDG borough (photo WikiMedia Commons)

What kind of initiatives are you talking about?

We have to address socio-cultural aspects concerning food and further educate the public about nutrition. In terms of the right to food, we need to look well beyond food banks and the stigmas that come with them. Community kitchens, as an example, are an engaging way to move forward on this issue.

What are the people of CDN-NDG most concerned about?

Corruption, and as a direct consequence, from what I’ve seen and experienced firsthand, there’s a lot of suspicion about anyone running for office these days. All politicians are suspect and the people think (perhaps, at least initially) that those in the running are simply looking to exploit the same machine that was involved in so much fraud, bid-rigging, collusion etc.

Now, all that said, admittedly it isn’t too difficult to demonstrate Projet Montréal’s integrity – that speaks for itself, no PM members were ever picked up by UPAC or have testified in front of the Charbonneau Commission. We’re clean, and after breaking through people’s initial resistance to speaking with politicians, we make this point clear.

Personally, I believe it’s time to abandon the notion of career municipal politicians. So I won’t seek a third mandate if I’m lucky enough to win the next two elections. Eight years is enough, after that it’s time for fresh blood.

How do you think you’re doing? How’s the party doing?

Recent polling aside, I think the party’s in a very strong position. That so much of our program has been copy-and-pasted into the programs of the other parties is indicative that, at the very least, our opponents recognize we have the ideas that resonate with the electorate. Further, that both Coderre and Coté have been running robocalls against us is also indicative we’re seen as a real threat to them. As for myself personally, I think I’m leading in CDN-NDG and am very happy with the response I’ve been getting.

What do the citizens of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace need?

A lot. Citizens need police to respect their own operating norms and stop using racial profiling. As you might imagine that causes a lot of headaches in our borough given the large immigrant and visible minority populations. We obviously need better quality roads but we further need many more bike paths so we can encourage alternatives to using your car (which in turn helps the roads last longer).

The citizens have often spoken about the lack of community space and the poor condition of local parks, both of which need to be prioritized. Further, our parks can be too focused on supporting the needs of children and families during the day, but there are other people who’d like to use these spaces too. We need parks with activities geared towards everyone. On top of that, people are asking about green roof initiatives, urban agriculture etc.

It’s a big borough with a large and diverse population, so naturally there’s a litany of needs.

Anything in particular that really strikes a chord with you personally?

Yes. We have way too much subpar housing in my borough and it sickens me. We have people here living in apartments that technically, legally, should not be habitable.

Whether it’s electrical problems, mildew, mould, cockroaches or bedbugs, CDN-NDG has a housing problem that’s been callously ignored for far, far too long. Michael Applebaum, in his role as borough mayor, was completely useless in getting anything done in this respect.

From what I know about 20% of rental housing in our borough is listed as subpar and as borough mayor I would consider this a pressing priority. We have a moral obligation to make sure people have access to quality apartments, regardless of how much is paid in rent.

We need standards and the means to enforce strict regulations. It’s unacceptable that citizens here are forced to live in such awful housing and all for what? So a slumlord can save a few thousand dollars on repairs?

If I recall correctly, 80% of all the rental units available in the entire borough are owned by five people. You see the problem? And you better believe those people have strong connections with the old order.

We have to tackle this housing crisis head-on. Whether it comes in the form of outright expropriations or simply forced repairs that get added to the annual property tax evaluation later on, either way, this is something I consider very important. It is inexcusable that anyone in a city such as ours should be forced to live in such decrepit, infested apartments.


Voting happens on Sunday Nov. 3rd 2013.

It will be cold and rainy/snowy.

You’ll have every reason in the world to stay home watching the boob tube.

Don’t just sit there.

Go vote instead.

Otherwise is four more years of mob rule, dysfunction, embarrassment and exodus.

We can do better.

Your City, Your Candidates – Marvin Rotrand


I sat down recently with long-time Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand to discuss Snowdon, Cote des Neiges, public transit and a lifetime of experience in Montreal municipal politics. He is the first candidate from the Marcel Coté coalition to agree to an interview with Forget the Box as part of our on-going series of interviews with local candidates. The original can be found here.

Describe your district and career in local politics for me

Well, once again I’m running to represent the fine people of Snowdon as a city councillor, something I’ve been doing more or less constantly since I first became a local representative back in 1982. Back then I came in with the (Jean) Doré camp, the Montreal Citizens Movement, and we were looking to bring new ideas to city hall, which had grown stale and corrupt under Jean Drapeau.

I’ve enjoyed the job ever since and the people seem to like me as their councillor too. In 1988 I had a falling out with the MCM and sat as an independent, and then was briefly involved in the ‘democratic coalition’ back in the 1990s, but that fizzled after a few years. I’m also the Vice Chair of the STM.

As to Snowdon and Cote des Neiges, a few bits of important data all Montrealers should know about. We’re one of the most multi-lingual, cosmopolitan communities in all of Canada, perhaps North America, highly integrated – there are no ghettoes here.

This is a special place, largely where people get their first experience with Canada, Québec and Montreal, so it’s important that we shine as an example. There are at least 125 different ethnic groups and over 100 different languages spoken here, and you’ll find every corner of the globe represented here.

We have had a significant Jewish presence since the end of the Second World War, but whereas that Jewish population, my parent’s generation, were Eastern and Central European Holocaust survivors, today’s Jewish community in Snowdon and CDN is predominantly from the Orthodox Lubavitch sect.

We still have a sizeable West Indian community, but they’re older and less evident now. The demographic trend has seen the former generations of Jews and West Indian blacks move out to the West island. In their place came a massive influx of Filipinos, who in turn are now moving West as they rise up the socio-economic ladder. And in their place have come new waves of immigrants, be they Bangladeshi, Pakistani, West African – you name it.

Queen Mary near Snowdon Metro
Queen Mary near Snowdon Metro

What do you hope to accomplish for the residents of your district?

I want to continue what we’ve been working on for years, namely trying to make Cote des Neiges on the whole a pleasant, attractive and welcoming place to live. Our green spaces are top-notch; new chalets have been built in the parks and we’ve installed new equipment throughout (benches, water-games, trash cans, lighting, etc.).

We’ve placed a focus on park development because access to green space is crucial for our residents, especially recent arrivals. Every year our parks become home to many festivals, and the availability of large, well-maintained green spaces can do quite a bit to raise the average standard of living for all CDN residents.

In our borough, we have many socio-demographic extremes, good green spaces can help put people on a more equal footing – we all share these spaces after all.

We also have new housing initiatives in mind. For one, the ‘Triangle’ (Author’s Note: a poorly planned hodge-podge of light industrial space, mid-size apartment buildings and parking lots bounded by Décarie, De la Savanne and Jean-Talon) is set to get some 3500 new housing units, of which 15% will be used for social housing. There’s also the possibility of eventually transforming the former Blue Bonnets raceway into a large ‘urban village’ for 25 000 people to reduce sprawl.

We need more Montrealers who actually live in the city limits of Montreal, paying taxes to City Hall. The more the merrier, and this all means more money for important social programs, everything from public transit to parks and community centres.

Developing new housing solutions for families is particularly important, as families are economic agents in their own right – owning property, paying taxes, starting small businesses, and working for the betterment of communities. We can’t afford to lose any more families to off-island suburbs.

Why are we expanding the Métro in such a piecemeal fashion?

I wouldn’t characterize it that way, but I’ll tell you this – the Métro is financed by the province, 100%. The STM operates the Métro, the AMT plans Métro expansions. The AMT is a provincial body and the province makes the call as to when and if the Métro gets expanded. This is how it’s always been, for better or for worse.

It’s obvious we’d all like a Métro that goes everywhere, runs all day long, never breaks down and costs nothing to use, but we need to be far more realistic and look at the bigger transit picture. The point is simply this – we need to give as many Montrealers as possible a cheap and efficient means of getting around the city without requiring the use of their cars. That’s it. We need something affordable and doable. Métro extensions take forever to plan and execute, but as I said, that’s a provincial problem we unfortunately have to deal with.

In the meantime, we need solutions. I think the widespread implementation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes and reserved lanes is probably the best way forward right now. It’s comparatively cheap given that we’re not really inventing anything new or digging subterranean tunnels, we’re just re-designing roadways and developing new routes and possibly re-purposing high-capacity buses for those routes. Much cheaper than $300 million per kilometre I can assure you.

And best of all, because the BRT system would fall within the city borders, we can plan and execute this project ourselves. We’re looking to implement some 370 km of reserved bus lanes, add 150 more articulated buses to the 200 we already have and bring the total number of buses up to 2000 from the current 1600.

What do you think of the Blue Line extension project?

It’s out of our hands, I hope the government actually accomplishes this project and the population density of St-Leonard and Anjou demand it, though I wouldn’t suggest a terminus anywhere near the Galleries d’Anjou shopping mall. Shopping malls shouldn’t double as public transit connections, especially not in the suburbs.

This is why I can’t comprehend Projet Montréal’s interest in light rail over the Champlain Bridge to the Dix-30 shopping centre in Brossard. We want people to buy locally, not make it easier for them to get to a Best Buy or Walmart. It’s companies like those that are killing our major commercial arteries here in the city.


The election is on November 3rd. I recognize how fashionable it is to be ignorant these days, especially when it comes to municipal affairs. The difference between voting and choosing to forgo your most basic democratic obligation is a choice between falling behind or moving confidently forward. Not all the candidates are full of shit, and to be perfectly frank, there are people in all four camps who really deserve to be involved running our great city. Make sure you tell them as much. Tell them to stop stealing your money and stop acting like children and force them to work together.

And don’t ever, ever forget. You’re the boss. We all are. These people work for us.

Remixing the Transit Cocktail

Past, Present and Future - Montreal (Saint-Henri), Summer 2013

I’ve been busy interviewing local candidates in the run-up to the election for Forget the Box (you can see the series here) and I’ve noticed that pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to so far has spent at least a little while discussing transit. Admittedly I’ve spoken to a lot of Projet Montréal candidates, but that’s largely a consequence of the open nature of the party and how they’ve chosen to communicate with the public. Regardless, Projet Montréal is a big tent with a lot of diverse opinions and interests and transit is something they take very seriously and debate rather passionately. Perhaps more than that; I’m getting the impression – not just from these interviews but also from the party platform – that they really get what’s at stake here.

It’s not just moving people, it’s how people move, and the layers of connectivity we create across the urban environment. We have an excellent public transit system by North American standards, but by world standards, or the standard set by many major global cities and smaller progressive nations, we’re falling behind.

So consider all the transit news of the last month or so. The big one is that PQ announced their eventual intention to extend the Blue Line by five stations further east towards Anjou. This plan has been on the books since Charest included it in a far larger multi-line Métro extension project back in 2009. As you doubtless already expected, nothing came of that plan, and now we’re being told no actual work was done to prepare for that plan either, and so some $40 million will be spent over the next two years to plan something that has been in the planning stage for over twenty years, dating all the way back to the original design of the Blue Line.

The less inspiring is that the province keeps making proposals that are casually ignored or immediately dismissed by the Fed with regards to the new Champlain Bridge design (so far the Tories aren’t interested in including a light rail system, will likely destroy the old bridge without examining possible future uses and have rebuffed an idea to build a double decker bridge). It’s clear the feds are building this bridge their way, and spending $5 billion to build a bridge that should cost a quarter of that amount, regardless of the city’s actual transit and transportation needs. In a similar vein, the unusually retrograde transport ministry is pressing ahead with an illogical redesign of the Turcot Exchange and foolish expansion of a highway to increase volume. The Dorval Circle renovation project may take another six years to complete and is already four years behind schedule. An alphabet soup of government agencies and private entities have so far proven nearly impossible to deal with – their lack of consensus retards our progress, our development, and costs us dearly.

More, more…

Last weekend the AMT fully shut down their most active, highest traffic line so that the substantially retarded Train de l’Est project could continue advancing at its snail’s pace.

And the urban game-changer, Bixi, was recently reported to be a bit too much in the red for upper management’s comfort. Apparently the program will not yet be scrapped, but it’s seeming a bit touch and go. I can imagine it would be pretty embarrassing if we lost that which we created and successfully sold to other major cities around the world.

With all this in mind, the mayoral candidates have managed to come up with a variety of transit related talking points, while Projet Montréal is pretty much sticking to the contents of their expansive multi-stage master plan in which trams feature heavily.

Trams are being poorly described as Richard Bergeron’s obsession. I’d argue he’s perhaps very enthusiastic about the idea, but I don’t think one can truly be ‘obsessive’ with regards to mass transit systems.

In any event, Bergeron’s opponents have all come out in favour of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as an alternative to the tram, which they argue will be too expensive and only serve to add to our already extensive list of scheduled road maintenance.

By contrast, Projet Montréal argues that trams are less expensive than Métro expansion, which is the sole responsibility of the provincial government and thus out of our hands anyways.

This is where things get interesting, in my opinion. It’s true that the people of Montréal and our elected officials really have zero say when it comes to Métro expansion. The AMT, a provincial body, oversees the design and development of the Métro. It gets expanded as per the interests of politicians in Québec City, not per the needs of the citizens of Montréal.

With this situation unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, Projet Montréal’s tramways proposal becomes something very different than a mere people-mover. It’s a way of providing an entirely new method to travel about the city, on a mode that operates in the space between bus and Métro service. Thus, by building a tramways network, the city can actually provide a higher-volume express public transit system. Aside from a tram, all the STM has jurisdiction over is a fleet of a couple thousand buses.

I should point out, no member of Projet Montréal I’ve ever spoken to is against the idea of Bus Rapid Transit, but I think most would argue that buses operating in reserved lanes and on an express schedule should be a given, that we should be doing this already as one component of the broader transit cocktail. Of course BRT systems work very well and are comparatively inexpensive to implement. But because it’s so dumbass simple in the first place, I’m left wondering why Coderre, Coté and Joly are all carrying on like they’ve discovered some magic remedy to the obsessive illness that it tramway enthusiasm. We’re talking about new paint, new signs, new and improved bus shelters and some potential changes to roadway signalisation in the urban core, but not much more.

But this doesn’t mean trams are discounted. For one a tram can carry many more people than oversize articulated buses, and for this reason routes would be planned very, very differently, focusing on establishing connections along major thoroughfares but also linking diverse parts of the city through new mass transit arteries. As I said before, they occupy the space between a bus and the Métro.

Projet Montréal and Richard Bergeron’s enthusiasm for tramways seems to me to be a very direct, affordable and effective means for the city to take more responsibility, and a leadership position, in the realm of public transit. Completing a tram by ourselves would be a coup in a very real sense. Perhaps we’ll start asking ourselves what else we should have control over.

Your City, Your Candidates – Nairi Khandjian


This was originally posted to Forget the Box as part of a series I’m doing: you can find the original here.

Nairi Khandjian is a friend, a young woman looking to represent the people of Norman-McLaren district in Saint Laurent borough for Projet Montréal. The district is roughly bounded by Highway 15 in the west, Décarie in the east, Henri-Bourassa boulevard to the north and highway 40 in the south.

Named after a prolific and well-respected NFB animator, Norman-McLaren district is a relatively recent addition to the cityscape. Saint Laurent was its own incorporated city prior to the forced mergers of 2002 and the citizens decided to remain a part of Montreal during the de-merger process.

As such it still has a unique local style and character, one in keeping with a community that grew up in the wake of the Second World War and has seen multiple waves of first generation middle class Montrealers pass through it. The community is diverse, with a strong Lebanese, Armenian and Haitian presence in the area. Norman-McLaren includes the major STM terminus at Cote-Vertu Métro station, the Décarie Village and the side-by-side CEGEPs Saint Laurent and Vanier.

Tell me a bit about your district; what’s your connexion to it and what do you like about it?

Well, I went to the Armenian school here, and there’s a large Armenian population living in Saint-Laurent, so I feel pretty at home here. It’s not my quartier, but it’s still a part of me. It’s my home away from home let’s say.

I like this place, it’s like the United Nations – another large expanse of middle-class residential living, people from all over the world living and loving together. What’s not to like? I love all the small ‘mom and pop’ stores on Décarie, it really completes the notion of community.

And why run with Projet Montréal?

PM is the party that truly represents the people who live here, who truly love this city. PM is the diversity party, the inclusivity party. It has volunteers, candidates and employees from all walks of life, all parts of the city and every conceivable political orientation. We all want the best for our city and for that reason we can see past our trivial differences to the greater good. I wouldn’t even consider running for any other party, not that we really have any other parties to speak of.

How did the city of Montreal end up in its current political situation?

Citizens weren’t being listened to and as a consequence have become jaded. This is a tactic employed by many political parties – make politics as distasteful as possible and lower the operating margins in consequence. Fewer voters are easier to control and less than 40% of eligible voters cast votes in the 2009 election.

Complicating the issue is that once elected a lot of local politicians become comfortable doing a job with little to no actual oversight. They treat it as a four year long series of perks and not a civic responsibility.

What would you do for your constituents if elected?

We should prioritize a Métro extension of the Orange Line by two or three stations northwest towards Gouin Boulevard, with an intermodal station at Bois-Franc to alleviate congestion on our roadways, highways and the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line. Then we should implement measures to better engage the citizenry.

The people need to have a say on how money gets spent locally, not to mention itemized monthly budgets of where and how local funds are spent. We need full financial transparency and enhanced civic engagement in the borough’s finances. Do this across the city and there won’t be any future Charbonneau Commissions, that’s for sure.

STM busses at Côte-Vertu metro, a major transporation hub in the Norman-McLaren district
STM busses at Côte-Vertu metro, a major transporation hub in the Norman-McLaren district

What do you love the most about Montreal?

Where to start? I love the diversity of our city. I love our natural cosmopolitanism. We are incredibly lucky to be so diverse and get along as well as we do.

Also, I love how easy and cheap it is to have fun in this city. We live in a place where the simple act of taking a walk can be exciting and memorable. It costs nothing to go walk around the Old Port or hike up Mount Royal. That’s something pretty special right there.

And what do you hate about this city?

The unproductive and completely bogus ethno-liguistic tension in our city. It’s manufactured, fake. People are open and inclusive, we’re not the way our politicians portray us, and we don’t have the actual tension the media and nationalist organizations push.

And fuck it, the potholes suck too. We need better roads.

What would you like to see removed from the local landscape?

The Grevin wax museum. I couldn’t believe it when I saw all those ridiculous ads in the Métro – are we living in Niagara Falls?

Are we not a major global city, are we not the cultural capital of Canada? What the hell are we doing with a wax museum? It’s so cheap, contrived.

Obviously Montrealers won’t be flocking to a wax museum, it’s $17 to get it. It occupies the fifth floor of the Eaton’s Centre, where they had the Titanic exhibit a few years back. It’s entertainment for others, but what about us?

The citizens need centres of culture, not cheap distractions and tourist traps. People study culture here and then split because we don’t develop the infrastructure for a culture-driven economy.

Well, I’d prefer and we’d all benefit from a culture and creation-driven economy in lieu of a tourism-driven economy. We could do a lot better than mere wax museums.


Montrealers go to the polls November 3rd 2013. For the love of all that’s good and holy, please go vote.

Wesley/Worrell and a Few Lessons from a Friday Night

Bernie Worrell with SociaLibrium at the Porgy & Bess in Vienna

A week ago I was on my way to Cabaret du Mile End to see two geriatric funk legends perform as part of Pop Montreal. I was supposed to write a review of the show. Seemed straightforward enough at the time; go to show, go back home and then, naturally enough, sleep and awake fresh as flowers ready to write up one blistering concert review.


What I wasn’t aware of at the time was a variety of microscopic germs and bacteria and god-knows-what-else swimming around deep inside my lungs that would soon lay me out horizontal-like for the better part of last week, a problem exacerbated by my less-than-enlightened decision to walk all the way back to Saint Henri from Parc Avenue when the show let out at around one in the morning. I felt it would be tonic, invigorating, an opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise. This is standard operating procedure for yours truly, for better for or for worse. I’ll think better of it the next time around as seasonal night-time lows dip closer to the freezing point.

The Cabaret du Mile End was warm and welcoming. I got in a bit late because, like a tool, when I saw people running for a bus at Parc Station I decided to follow the crowd instead of taking a minute to remember I had been there before. Also of note, it would’ve been better simply to get off at Outremont Station but I digress, the Blue Line will be the end of me.

First group I saw was a local ensemble billing itself as Pyongyang. The term ‘dystopian funk’ ought to be coined to describe them – dissonant yet rhythmic enough you could dance to them, the lead vocalist generally incomprehensible yet nailing the James Brown scream. Interesting side note: I asked him how the band came together and he asked me if I had ever heard of a survey firm named Consumer Contact. Apparently this one survey firm has served as a meeting place for members from The Stills, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a host of other local bands.

Anyways, on to the main event: Bernie Worrell, keyboard master extraordinaire, childhood piano prodigy and iconic member of Parliament-Funkadelic and the Talking Heads. The Bernie Worrell Orchestra features the seventy-year-old Worrell fronting a quartet of New Jersey suburbanites, children likely conceived during the Talking Heads’ high-water mark in the mid-1980s. What can I say – it worked. Though I’m no fan of Worrell’s raspy voice and hippie-simplistic lyrics, it was a well-conceived and expertly delivered performance. The funk was masterful, as one might expect from such a talented and practiced performer. People were up on their feet, dancing, thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Fred Wesley came out after a few songs to join Worrell, his former Parliament-Funkadelic band mate. The differences between these two men couldn’t be any starker. Credit where credit is due, Wesley tried his damndest, but seemed out of breath the minute he hit the stage, hardly inspiring to say the least. Whereas Worrell is clearly a space cadet, skinny, wry, a convert to the ways of the Mothership Connection, I doubt Wesley ever bought in 100%. He looks and acts like a somewhat haggard veteran performer, aware of the gimmick people pay money to see. Ergo, while Worrell’s trains of thought were occasionally difficult to follow, Wesley stuck to the showmanship traditions whipped into him after so many years leading James Brown’s backing brass. They did an abridged version of Pass the Peas and he warbled through much of House Party, but at one point basically gave up, sat down and mimicked playing the trombone. A bit of a disappointment, honestly. Made me wonder if he figured we couldn’t tell the difference.

Roomful of young white hipster scum, what do we know about the funk, right?

Worrell had the presence of mind to suggest Wesley take an early and longer-than-expected five, and resumed working his way through new material, which at some points was so political and driving it reminded me of Rage Against the Machine, albeit in a more musically enjoyable way. Closing it out Wesley came back and though he still wasn’t quite hitting the notes (and spent far too much time nodding his agreement to what was being performed), he nonetheless contributed something and rounded out the sound. The world can always use more brass.

I left as soon as the encore was over, making a fateful decision to hoof it back to Saint Hank. The next five days were spent getting acquainted with my bedroom ceiling and an unending cavalcade of fever-induced hallucinations.

Would definitely see Worrell again, no question. I think Fred Wesley needs to be paid more to really strut his stuff.