Part of an on-going series I’m contributing to. Mary Ann was a joy to interview. The original, as with a lot of other things I’ve written, can be found on Forget the Box.
Mary Ann Davis has lived in Verdun for over twenty years, having moved to Montreal as soon as she could get out of Thetford Mines. As a child, her father had taken her to Montreal on a business trip and in Phillips Square together they sat munching on ice cream cones. She vividly recalls taking in all that was around her, enjoying the comings and goings of so many people and deciding that this was the city for her.
What’s the big issue, for you and the people you wish to represent, that will define this election?
Nun’s Island needs a new school. The current primary school on the predominantly residential and upper-middle class island is the largest in the province with over 900 students. A new school has been officially required since 2007 but there’s been too little movement on the issue.
The biggest problem is that there’s little available land left on the island and all of it is in private hands waiting to be developed into townhouses and condo complexes. With more than 22 000 residents living on the island, we believe a new school is a major priority.
The current borough government wants to place the school in a park, adjacent to two of the island’s major thoroughfares. The site is too small to accommodate the large new school which is required to serve residents’ needs, meaning if the current plan goes ahead, we’ll be right back where we started, needing another school, in but a few years’ time.
We think this is profoundly irresponsible. Moreover, Nun’s island will soon need a secondary school as well, given current demographic trends. We feel it’s far better we plan for those future realities now rather than deal with the consequences later on.
What has the current administration done about this issue?
The current Union Montreal borough administration has not handled this well. They made it a needlessly divisive issue; people are being harassed, tires have been slashed. Keep in mind that the Verdun borough mayor’s office has been raided by UPAC three times; it’s clear to me someone may have some significant real estate interests.
It’s ridiculous to put a too small school in the middle of a park. Other lots have been offered by private developers, so we’d really like to know why the current Union Montreal government is so insistent on the location the OCPM deemed insufficient.
How has Verdun changed since you moved here?
Well, the first week I lived here there was an arsonist on the loose.
So it has improved?
Ha! Yes, by leaps and bounds. There were parts of Verdun you simply didn’t walk around late at night by yourself back then, today Verdun’s nothing like that. Real estate speculators keep indicating it’s one of many ‘next Plateaus’ in our city. There’s certainly been some gentrification, but this has been problematic as well. Verdun is an affordable inner-ring suburb and I’d like to keep it that way.
Tell me about the community you wish to represent, what are their needs?
Verdun is now a very multi-cultural community, with large Chinese, Haitian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Rwandan communities. We also have a surprisingly large Latino community.
But all too often I find these diverse communities living in silos – I’ve been walking around visiting apartment buildings where only one ethnic group can take up an entire building. That needs to change.
Further, many immigrants feel completely disengaged from civic politics, some have even been incredulous when I told them that they had the right to vote in our municipal elections. Can you believe it?
What do you want to accomplish if elected borough mayor?
Aside from solving the public school problem in Nun’s Island, I want to revitalize our main commercial arteries with more locally-owned small businesses. We also need to avoid a ‘condo ghettoization’ of Verdun and secure low-cost housing.
I’d also like to get citizen committees up and running on specific issues, be it new schools or what our needs are vis-a-vis the Champlain Bridge replacement. Ultimately, we need a far more engaged citizenry, so that we can resuscitate Verdun’s greatest single characteristic – its community spirit.
But we absolutely must remember that, even as recently as twenty years ago, gay-bashings were far more frequent and the Montreal police even had a ‘morality squad’ which was all too often employed in raiding underground gay clubs, beating the shit out of people, and/or patrolling Mount Royal ticketing men for ‘cruising.’ It’s probably very surprising for young people today to hear such things.
What changed on a local level?
About twenty years ago the gay community in Montreal got organized and began pushing for reforms. It helped that there was a human rights commission set up to investigate anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, not to mention all the bad press the Sex Garage raid produced. But things really picked up when the gay community began concentrating in what is today the Gay Village and local politicians realized that the LGBTQ community as a whole was increasingly wealthy and far better connected.
Once politicians realized we were organized and resourceful (not to mention swimming in disposable income), they became sincerely interested in ‘the gay vote.’ The rest, as they say, is history.
Fall announced itself over the long weekend in an odd manner: Saturday was humid with low, thick clouds, breaking in the afternoon. Sunday was a reminder of some of the really beautiful (yet unfortunately few) sunny summer days where all manner of colour explode all around you. And Monday, well, by Monday the party was over – fall was back with a vengeance. It was an odd day of alternating mugginess and fresh river breezes, clouds rolling all day with small breaks to show the azure skies behind. By dinner time the rains that held off all day soaked the city through and through, and then the clouds broke again, before returning with thunderclaps and lightning dancing across the night sky. And today the smell of poplar leaves lingering in my nostrils… autumn; the dynamic flourish of life before death.
What a town to live in. Today I got giddy thinking about walking through the forest on the mountain five or six weeks from now on a sunny day when the leaves look like an artist’s impression of fire in stained glass. Orange, yellow, red and green on a blue background.
What a pallet!
In any event, no more chromatic deviations, on to the task at hand.
Our schools kinda suck.
Granted in absolute terms we’re doing just fine, but on a national and provincial level our public schools have a lot of problems we’re not addressing. The drop-out rate in the public French sector is embarrassingly high. Some schools sit half empty while other burst at the seams, and in some cases these schools are within a block of each another. Street gang infiltration is a surprising and serious problem inasmuch as the casual disrespect shown towards inner-city students by the local police force (who all too often assume any group of three or more non-white adolescents constitutes a street gang). And if all that wasn’t enough some of these schools are stuffed full of asbestos or have had water infiltration for so many years toxic mould is sprouting in the air ducts.
The people deserve better. The kids deserve better. We shouldn’t have to pay a fortune to send our kids to private schools, the public sector must provide. After all, it’s one of the things our taxes pay for, and we pay a lot in taxes. There’s absolutely no legitimate reason our schools and public schooling system should fail the way it does, causing social problems, furthering the class rift, costing what it does without producing the results we want. The denigration of the public education system further impoverishes the middle class and drives suburban flight. There’s no pride in having to pay for your child’s education – it’s a failure of the state we live in.
I’m astounded we don’t demand better.
Perhaps we inadvertently lost sight of things, but a cursory examination of the local public education system offers some glaring examples of how and why local public schooling seems to be on the decline.
The fundamental problem is the near total lack of efficiency. Multiple boards, multiple unions, unnecessary duplication, inefficient space usage, poor maintenance, no standardization, – the list goes on and on.
One island, one school department, but ultimately two languages.
This is the fundamental compromise – this new arrangement would require the integration of English and French school boards, their teachers and respective staff. It would mean all Montreal children would be taught the same regardless of what language they speak at home, and thus, the language of instruction and internal communication for this new island-wide education department must be officially French.
But not absolutely French. A good compromise cuts both ways.
There are many reasons we should head in this direction – we’ll save money, get more bang for our collective buck, better ensure social cohesion and create the winning conditions for a local public education renaissance. We have all the social and economic reasons to pursue this, and yet, we’re incredibly cynical.
I’ve been told this could/would/should never happen.
That disappoints me.
I think Montrealers ought to have a greater say in how our children are educated, and ending segregation in our public schools, regardless of whatever the current provincial government may say, is the right way forward for our city.
By my count he’s number 43 in a list that stretches back to our city’s first mayor, Jacques Viger, in 1832, the year the city was incorporated.
To date Montreal’s mayors have been predominantly of the (at least publicly heterosexual) French Canadian male variety, though we once had a tradition of switching the lingua franca of our mayors with each election (i.e. from 1832 to 1908 mayors here alternated from Francophone to Anglophone).
The last ‘traditionally Anglophone’ mayor of Montreal, from 1906-1908, was Henry Archer Ekers, one of the founders of The National Brewery (also known as the Dow Brewery), which brewed Dawes, Dow, Ekers, Boswell and Fox Head ales, and whose siege sociale still stands at 990 Notre-Dame Ouest, a prime example of Northern Art Deco industrial architecture).
Monsieur Blanchard is third in our year of four mayors, replacing the disgraced Michael Applebaum for a four month period until the next regularly scheduled election. I really hope he manages to somehow last that long without fucking up by getting named at the Charbonneau Commission, in which case it would be as a result of stuff he did several years ago but either way, yet another black eye for our fair city and further proof that the political establishment here is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
Point number one, unlike his predecessor, Mr. Blanchard should not propose to ‘clean up city hall’ or state, dramatically as had his predecessor, that a new leaf had been turned. Applebaum is up on 14 counts of fraud, conspiracy, accepting bribes etc. He’s retained former Tory MP Marcel Danis as legal counsel, and resigned the mayoralty ‘to focus on the case’.
Innocent people don’t typically tend to have a case to focus on. They’re innocent, after all. If the allegations against him are as spurious as he claims, why hire a top-shelf lawyer?
Put it this way – he might believe he’s innocent and that there’s a vast conspiracy against him. Word from the grapevine is that Applebaum was a jumpy character back when he was the borough mayor for Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace, several times indicating he thought various concerned citizens trying to jump-start the Empress Theatre as a community cultural centre were his ‘political enemies’.
I must have forgotten about all the political intrigue and conspiracy coursing through the halls of power in Cote-des-Neiges.
Point two would be to resist the awesome temptation of being bribed or otherwise caught up in shady real estate transactions, something I think is genetically programmed into nearly all politicians – criminals in sheep’s clothing for the most part, and this city, province and rather obviously the federal government have provided so many fantastic examples of late its difficult to imagine any other reason to get into politics in the first place.
It’s good to know all these ‘pillars’ of various communities are so concerned about the message they send to the ‘most precious resource’ they all seem to work into their photo-ops. Children? they could give a damn – kids don’t vote after all.
So there’s point three – no photo ops with old people, minorities, children or the handicapped. In fact, try not to have any photo ops at all – we want you to sit at your desk and do your job, and we don’t need a photograph to prove this point. A small video camera with a live feed is what I want, so all citizens could tune in and watch the mayor working.
Because we’ll no doubt need to keep our eyes on him.
Personally, he’s old guard, but I won’t judge him too harshly. If he makes it through four months and I enjoy living here while he’s in power, I guess I’ll have little to complain about.
Mr. Applebaum and his predecessor’s story are already well-known. Applebaum has been implicated by the SQ and CEIC in shady real-estate deals while he was borough mayor of Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace. You’ll be delighted to know he’s allowed to vacation abroad despite the 14 charges hanging over his head.
Our last elected mayor is Gerald Tremblay (who received a whopping 159,000 votes in 2009, with less than 40% of citizens participating), who as you may remember stepped aside in November of last year after the heat from so much damning testimony from the Charbonneau Commission became unbearable. Keep in mind that Tremblay hasn’t been charged, just named. Perhaps he was truly not implicated, but just turned a blind eye. Maybe he had been threatened, or really naive. Who knows. The Commish has recessed for summer break.
I love the dedication and their ability to flat out do the opposite of what they earlier said they wouldn’t do, without any attempt to justify their switch. They don’t think they owe us an explanation. They never do.
Personally I don’t get it – an escort is just someone you pay to have sex with, hardly scandalous especially given it was the mayor’s money, and not that of the taxpayers of Laval.
He further promised not to get mixed up in the costly mega-projects characteristic of the Drapeau Era, instead preferring to cut waste at City Hall while developing grassroots initiatives to improve city living. He ended his two terms in office caught up in a failed real-estate mega-project (the Overdale Debacle) and was deemed an unfit leader because of an apparently lax attitude to running a tight ship. It didn’t help that he had a $300,000 window installed in his office, nor that he razed a low-rent but viable neighbourhood for condo projects that were never built and had a police force running wild beating up gays and viciously murdering minorities while turning a blind eye to the biker gangs.
But for all the good he did it is weighed down by his own corrupt practices. Mafia involvement in the construction of Olympic facilities and corruption within the unions were primary factors contributing to the massive cost overruns associated with the games. There are a number of apartment towers throughout this city built with concrete originally intended and ‘delivered’ to the Olympic park construction site, yet re-directed by those in the know. Drapeau was responsible for the nearly-criminal act of destroying Corrid’Art and his slash and burn style of urban redevelopment was not only inelegant but often antagonistic to the people’s interest.
Drapeau may have even ‘cooked the books’ during an election in which his opposition was eliminated after being infiltrated and broken up by the Montreal Police, rendering votes for his opponents ineligible and giving Drapeau a victory with over 90% popular support. Those were the days…
As a city, we need to decide what we want in a mayor, so that we don’t get sucked up into a pointless popularity contest that delivers nothing but more of the same. We need to establish our own metrics for judging a mayoral candidate’s chances of winning, and not fall prey to sophisticated marketing techniques that sell us yet another hands-off mayor. Perhaps most importantly, we need a mayor who fundamentally understands this city, its people, and what makes it great. We need to decide what kind of mayor our city needs, now and for the next ten years. Do we want a builder? Do we want a reformer? Do we want an architect? Do we want someone who’s politically well-connected? Do we want a renovator, a renewer or a redeveloper?
I think we all should spend a moment a think about what we want in a mayor – not just the qualities of the person but most importantly their plan for this city, whether it be growth or renewal – before we head to the polls in November. Otherwise the best we can hope for is another Drapeau, and his breed are rare these days.
But if we ask ourselves first what we want in a mayoral candidate, and define the context of the election before the candidates or media has a chance, the people ultimately manage to wrestle a bit of control over the rhetoric and could maybe make this election about something, rather than simply being the inconvenient selection of our next underwhelming mayor.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
As you can see by this video, police have a total advantage against the protesters, one of whom decided to bring his guitar.
Or perhaps he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That would be anywhere within fifty feet of an SPVM constable at any time of the day; our boys and girls in black and blue will gladly break into your home and throw you down the stairs (say if they think you might be drunk, as an example). Or if you live in the Plateau, or wear black, or happen to be a minority. Whichever’s most convenient.
A woman who was praised but months ago for finally bringing a woman’s touch to the old boys club of provincial politics. No more paternalist, police-heavy practices! she said while awkwardly clanging pots and pans. We all thought, at the very least, she’d do the right thing, find other methods of funding our universities and kill the bills that have so infringed on our federally protected right to freedom of assembly and conscience.
But I suppose therein lies the problem; if you don’t want to be a part of Canada, you’ll likely be disinclined from appealing to your federal government for assistance (not that it would happen, though at least our MPs could make a stink in Ottawa, coordinate class-action lawsuits against the SPVM for criminal violation of individual rights etc etc.)