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Archive for the ‘My Montreal’ Category

Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques goes Quebec Solidaire

There will almost certainly be a recount in my home riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, won by QS’s Manon Massé by a margin of only 91 votes over Liberal Anna Klisko.

Obviously, I would have preferred a Liberal victory over a Quebec Solidaire one here. The QS is staunchly pro-sovereignty, militantly anti-English, and has pie-in-sky ideas about economics and policy that only a party at no risk of ever having to govern can afford to hold. Furthermore, Manon Massé, while I’ve no doubt is a nice enough person, is a social justice activist who also happens to be an anti-Israel activist who joined in the Gaza flotilla of 2011 and is a member of a group that calls itself “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid”. (Whether or not any member of this group has any idea that Israel is the only state in the middle east where gay rights are even defended is another question… I’ve learned not to expect any logic when arguing with people like this. But I digress.)

Manon Massé (left) and Françoise David of Québec Solidaire awaiting the results of the close race in Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques

The Liberal candidate, Anna Klisko, a housing and real estate lawyer, daycare owner and mom, seems like a much better representative for this riding.

But the truly amazing thing is that she’s come so close to victory at all. The Liberals were expected to come a distant third in this riding, which has been solidly PQ since its creation in 1989. Instead, Daniel Breton of the PQ is sitting in third place, some 600 votes behind Massé. And it’s Klisko who has challenged for the lead. Her strong showing caught everyone by surprise, even her political rivals.

The truth is, Liberal voters in my neighbourhood do exist, though many tend not to broadcast it. And even if some of the votes that the Liberals got this time around were more anti-PQ votes as opposed to genuine support for the Liberals, there’s also the fact that some folks may have voted Quebec Solidaire instead of Liberal because they viewed them as the best PQ foil. Whatever the case, hopefully this means that our riding will be more than an afterthought in the next PLQ campaign, and that we’ll get some actual attention for once.

Whatever the recount shows, I’m glad to no longer be living in a PQ riding. I hope that if Massé is confirmed as the winner, that she will represent the interests of all her constituents with honour. And either way, I’m happy to know that my vote really meant something for once, that it came close to making a real difference in my riding, and that I no longer have to feel like a lone red voter in a sea of blue.

Montreal needs a reality check on customer service

Last week the Gazette published a rant by a couple of restaurant waiters, in which they angrily chastised customers for committing such cardinal sins as making small talk, asking for allergy-free meals, requesting to be seated in a booth, sending back food when it was not what they ordered, or — gasp! — failing to leave a giant tip. Judging by the tone of the rant, these two waiters probably deserve every lousy tip they get.

Please Don't Interrupt Me While I'm Ignoring YouNow, I’ve spent most of my career working in the customer service sector in some way or another. From my student days working at Fairview shopping centre folding sweaters, to my career in account services and strategic planning for various marketing agencies, I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to make sure that the customer was satisfied. It’s not easy, I’ll grant you. There are days when it’s trying, or when certain people make you want to tear your hair out. There are those clients who make you go home and cry and question your will to live. But on the whole, I love it, and I suspect most other people who deal with other human beings in some way feel the same. I get deep satisfaction from building those relationships, anticipating and exceeding expectations, and making people happy. The one thing that always gets to me is when I’m complimented for simply doing my job. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher: After all, compliments and thank yous are nice, but in today’s highly competitive world, shouldn’t good service be the price of entry?

Bad customer service is one of those universal things that can happen anywhere. People love to complain loudly about airlines, telecom companies, service providers, restaurants, hotels and stores where they had unfortunate experiences or were mistreated. They tell their family and friends. They take to social media en masse. This is hardly unique to Montreal.

What is unique here, however, is this sense that this is perfectly normal. and that nobody really needs to try harder or to do better. There are exceptions, of course. But in general, our service sector is among the surliest, rudest and most indifferent on the continent — and when called out for it, they tend to blame the customer.

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How do you solve a problem like Bixi?

Morning bike ride through Parc Lafontaine, October 2013Montreal’s bike-sharing system is used by thousands of people, myself included, to get around. Montreal is a city where the ubiquitous orange cone is practically a symbol, with road closures and sinkholes and traffic nightmares and transit service outages the norm as opposed to the exception. In this context, Bixi is often the least stressful and most reliable way to get from point A to point B. My morning commute by Bixi takes about the same amount of time as it would take to drive, or to take the metro. But it’s certainly nicer, more pleasant and much better exercise to hop on a bike on a cool, crisp autumn morning and enjoy the views through the park as I make my way to work, as opposed to elbowing my way onto a crowded and smelly metro, or fighting traffic and circling endlessly for parking. Plus, it’s great for the environment. Win-win, right?

But the service is in financial crisis.

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Open letter to Bixi Montreal, one year later

Dear Bixi Montreal,

Bixi-MontrealYou and I didn’t exactly get off to the best start. Last year, I wrote you a letter about how badly I wanted to like you, but how, after a few bad dates, I’d decided that the relationship was not meant to be.

Flash forward one year, and these days, I’m singing a different tune. I decided to give you another chance, and while it hasn’t been perfect, this is actually turning into a pretty decent relationship. One I could see lasting long term.

So what changed since last June?

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University dropout rates: Chicken or egg?

Interesting food for thought by Henry Aubin in the Gazette, with a perspective of the high dropout rates among university undergraduates in Quebec:

According to the organization that represents university heads, CREPUQ, Concordia is the Montreal school with the highest dropout rate. UQÀM is hard on its heels. Université de Montréal is substantially better, though still worse than the Canadian average. McGill is the only Quebec university that graduates a greater share of its students than the national average.

[ . . . ]

That’s because the academic disciplines from which the boycott draws most of its participants, according to the boycotters’ website (, are the same disciplines that, according to CREPUQ (, have the highest dropout rates. These typically include geography, fine arts, education, literature, sociology, anthropology and political science.

Aubin’s analysis — both of dropout rates and of areas of study — completely ignores/disregards CEGEP. Surely any analysis of post-secondary dropout rates or of the value of trade diplomas versus university education needs to take the CEGEP system into consideration. I don’t have statistics handy, but the CEGEPs typically have higher dropout rates than either universities or high schools. And they’re free. Because of that, students have the freedom to experiment, to switch programs, to veer off from one course only to circle back on another course later on. All without wasting any money, other than failure fees or some textbook costs. But those who do graduate are either completing pre-university programs or are getting those trade degrees that Aubin thinks we desperately need.

And here, I disagree with Aubin’s conclusion. A healthy society doesn’t just need more trained monkeys to fill jobs; we need thinkers and educated people with ideas. We need people to challenge the status quo. We need not only employees but entrepreneurs, not only functionaries but luminaries.

The thing is, not everyone is cut out to be a luminary. And in the fight for “accessible” education, we tend to forget that providing people with the keys to the castle doesn’t mean they’re all going to be kings and queens. Life is, after all, what you make of your opportunities.

There’s a spurious correlation at work in Aubin’s article. Studying geography, sociology, liberal arts or political science does not cause one to drop out. But these disciplines tend to attract the most politicized (in Quebec, that means far left-wing) students and professors.  They also tend to have less clear career paths for students after graduation, which may be contributing to those same students’ disillusionment with university education — and with their prospects for success in general. Hence the higher rate of participation in the protests, compared to, say, business or engineering majors.

When I was at Concordia, the Arts & Science and Fine Arts faculties regularly rabble-roused in campus politics, while the JMSB (business) and Engineering faculties routinely stayed out of such things. I remember the oddity of being a marketing student in a communication studies class, the frequent scapegoat for a room full of self-described “anti-capitalists” who liked to wax poetic about the evils of corporations. Some of them have since graduated, and are probably working for the aforementioned “evil” corporations. Others are still out rabble-rousing. Plus ça change.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an important point being made in Aubin’s article. McGill is the only university in Montreal with lower-than-average drop0ut rates. It’s also the only university to attract a majority anglophone student body, largely from other provinces. As a Léger poll published in the Gazette last month indicates, there’s a stark difference between how education is valued among anglophone, francophone and allophones in this province:

Among younger Quebecers, we see the same divergence. About 85 per cent of Quebec allophone students and 80 per cent of Quebec anglophone students see a university degree as a minimal requirement [for success], compared with just 40 per cent of francophone students surveyed by Léger.

It’s a classic chicken-or-egg situation. CEGEP has been free and university has been cheap for over four decades. Like a ten-dollar diamond, nobody attributes much value to a cheap university degree.

“Accessible education” should mean that anyone who deserves to go to university should be able to, regardless of financial circumstance. It doesn’t mean that university should be open to everyone, whether or not they care about getting a degree. Because then, it becomes a farce of itself.

Feels a little like ’87…

Yesterday’s flash flooding in Montreal caused pipes and sewers to back up, led to water damage in homeowners’ basements, and caused and power outages across the city. Public buildings across downtown were evacuated as they filled with water. The metro’s orange line was down for several hours as several stations flooded. And roadways turned into rivers as our crumbling infrastructure failed to hold up under the water weight.

Photo Credit: Veronique Benhamou. Source: Montreal Gazette.

Flooding at the Palais de Congres. Photo Credit: Veronique Benhamou. Source: Montreal Gazette.

While the flooding did not cause any catastrophic damages in the traditional sense of the word, it did raise chilling echos of the Flood of ’87, and more recently, flooding in 2005. Each time this happens, it only underscores the urgent state of disrepair of our roads, sewers, water mains and infrastructure. But nobody ever seems to do anything about it.

Many homeowners are also discovering the hard way this morning that flood insurance does not exist in Canada. No insurance company offers it; you cannot buy it even if you want to. Extended clauses for water damage specifically exclude flooding. This is something that desperately needs to be changed, through regulation if necessary.

I was lucky; my apartment’s up on the third floor and escaped any damage. I got a bit drenched walking outside in the rain, and an event I attended at a local pub was a bit hindered by the fact that the pub’s kitchen had flooded so they weren’t serving food, but that’s about the extent of it.  A number of my friends were not so lucky, with flooded basements and exploding toilets and drains.

As for the student protesters, I’m thinking they could’ve put their pots and pans to good use: bailing water.

5 truths about the tuition protest that nobody has the courage to say (out loud)

The student tuition protests have dragged on for 14 weeks now and show no sign of ending anytime soon. With the city under siege and anger rising, the media has been flooded with analysis and op-ed pieces of all stripes. But there are some things that nobody’s saying, probably because they’re afraid to rock the boat. That doesn’t make them any less true, though.

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Winter of discontent

How has this winter been lousy? Let us count the ways…

Hockey discontentment

The Habs just wrapped up their worst season in recent history. After finishing dead last in the East and the third worst team in the entire league. This season saw local favourite Mikey Cammalleri shipped off to Calgary in the middle of a game, coach Jacques Martin fired mid-season and replaced — albeit temporarily — by “maudite anglais” backup Randy Cunneyworth, and — finally — some housecleaning in the front office that saw Pierre Gauthier and Bob Gainey get the long-awaited boot.  The prospect of drafting high is small consolation to the fans, and it’s clear that we’re in for a long painful rebuilding process. Meanwhile, there might not even be any hockey at the start of next season, as the threat of lockout looms. Might be time to start taking an interest in another sport. The Montreal Impact just went MLS this season… any footy fans out there?

Weather discontentment

It was an unseasonably (some would claim unreasonably) warm winter, with very little snow and summer-like temperatures that saw crowds of spectators take in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in shorts. For those of us who actually like winter — and, y’know, for businesses who make money from it — it was a lousy year. Sure, the naysayers will be happy, but I’m still bemoaning my waste of a ski season. Enough with this global warming already; I miss winter, dammit!

Student discontentment

I’ve been saying it since my student days: Quebec’s tuition freeze needs to go.  And it looks like this time, it might well happen, as Jean Charest has sworn he won’t cave. Of course, the student union groups are having none of it, out protesting shit-disturbing as they claim they’ll settle for nothing less than free education. Never mind that the numbers don’t support their cause, or that the whole concept of a student strike is nonsensical when you consider that the only people it hurts are the students.

Public opinion is not on the side of the student groups this time around (unless you consider the ever-opportunistic PQ, always trolling for votes). Even many students have had enough, with at least one case of a successful injunction by a student who just wants to go to class and (gasp!) get the education he’s paying for.

The fact that Quebecers pay by far the lowest tuition in Canada and still will after the hike, or the fact that enrollment is lower here than it is in provinces with higher tuition, or even the generous increases in bursaries, none of those arguments are going to sway anyone. And that’s because the so-called students — who are actually political wannabes with romanticized notions of the 60s who enrol in one class per semester so they can live off the student fee contributions of actual students — don’t want to compromise; they just want their names in the paper, and maybe a chance to smash stuff.

And before you go accusing me of being dismissive of an important issue, we’ve lived this all before. Many times. I’ve written about it before. Many times. The only difference is that this time, something might actually change.

Montreal’s roads are falling down, falling down, falling down

Our roads, bridges, overpasses, underpasses, interchanges, heck, pretty much all of our infrastructure is coming apart at the seams. This weekend’s collapse of part of the Ville-Marie Expressway was only the latest incident in a long list of signs that our road system is literally falling apart.

Cartoonist Yvon Roy has proposed three new designs to Transport Quebec for road signs:


The critical problems with the Ville-Marie were known about as early as 2008. And, as with the Turcot, the Champlain Bridge, the Mercier Bridge, and – tragically, the De La Concorde Overpass that collapsed in 2006, city and provincial officials are long on finger-pointing and blame, and short on solutions.

The best example of a picture saying a thousand words might have come from the Catholic Church, which, last April, posted a billboard urging people to pray before driving across the Champlain Bridge.

Looks like when Josh Freed predicted that we might soon be prisoners on the island of Montreal, he was a little too close to the mark.

DiMonte’s returning to CHOM

Wow, this is a sea change: Terry DiMonte’s coming back to CHOM. Again:

In the end, Terry DiMonte lasted around 3½ years in Calgary. While there, DiMonte – one of Montreal’s most famous radio morning-men – made it clear he missed his beloved Habs and still bled bleu, blanc et rouge and apparently he wasn’t faking that Montreal nostalgia.Wednesday afternoon, CHOM ignited no small amount of chatter on social-media like Twitter and Facebook – and even in the real world – when the Montreal classic-rock station announced that DiMonte is returning to helm the morning shift at the FM rock outlet.

There’s no chance that Ted Bird will be back with him… he clearly burned that bridge with his acrimonious departure last year. But even without the Terry and Ted show, this is fantastic news.

Terry DiMonte is one of the last great voices of radio. He’s intelligent, witty, sensible, and actually funny without being obnoxious. His return only underscores the fact that they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, because there has been literally nobody who’s even come close to filling his shoes in the past four years.

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