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Municipal election races I’ll be watching on Sunday

It’s election day tomorrow. That’s always fun for a newsroom. All hands on deck, breathlessly following the results well into the night, coordinating stories from dozens of journalists, not knowing what the big headline will be at the end. Free dinner, and often drinks among colleagues afterwards.

I’ll be among many in the Montreal Gazette newsroom during the evening, handling two or three stories about individual races or a collection of them. But whenever I have a free second I’ll be following the results from across Quebec.

For most of the province’s municipalities, the results won’t be surprising. Incumbent mayors and city councillors are running again and will be easily re-elected. In some cases they’ve already won by acclamation, like every position in tiny Île-Dorval, or the mayors of Kirkland, Mount Royal and Hampstead, or the city council in Senneville.

Though they are facing opposition, the mayor’s races in cities like Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Gatineau and Trois-Rivières should easily go to the incumbents.

But other races, including mayor of Montreal, are going down to the wire. Here are the ones that will get my attention tomorrow:

Mayor of Montreal: Denis Coderre vs. Valérie Plante

The big one. The headline one. The one all the media has hyper-focused on. I don’t need to go over this campaign because if you haven’t heard about it you must really not care. Coderre, the authoritarian but well-meaning incumbent, trying to get a second term leading an experienced team. Plante, the cheerful and energetic challenger, hoping to succeed where her predecessor Richard Bergeron failed.

The polls have them neck and neck, but those numbers need to be taken with a big grain of salt. Coderre has the advantages of name recognition, on-the-ground political experience, an improving economy and residual resistance to some of Projet Montréal’s more radical platform points. Plante is the candidate of change, faces fewer major opponents than there were four years ago, and has run a virtually flawless campaign, rallying those Coderre has alienated, from dog lovers to those opposed to big government spending on art projects and sports venues.

Turnout will probably be the big difference, and advance polling has shown about the same level as four years ago. That makes a Coderre win more likely, though expect Projet Montréal to make gains on city council.

Projet’s potential borough control gains: Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Verdun, Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension

These four boroughs all have a mayor and a majority of the borough council with Coderre’s party, but one or more Projet Montréal councillors. Assuming the Plateau, Rosemont and Sud-Ouest boroughs are safe for the party, these would be the next likely pickups. Ahuntsic’s mayor’s race is between Coderre’s Harout Chitilian, former council speaker and Coderre’s pick to lead his executive committee, versus Projet councillor Émilie Thuillier. Mercier and Verdun are one seat away from switching majorities, and Villeray is next travelling up the leftist axis of St-Laurent Blvd.

The party switchers

It’s pretty crazy how many of Montreal’s 103 elected officials have switched parties since 2013. More than one in 10 candidates are incumbents running for a different party than they won for four years ago. As Vrai changement pour Montréal stumbled forward after the departure of founder Mélanie Joly, Coalition Montréal disintegrated following its loss and the death of its leader Marcel Côté, and some borough parties have lost their popularity, many have jumped ship for the safer confines of Projet Montréal and particularly Coderre’s party:

  • Benoit Dorais (Sud-Ouest mayor) from Coalition leader to Projet
  • Richard Bergeron (Ville-Marie councillor) from Projet to Coderre
  • Michelle Di Genova Zammit (Anjou borough councillor) from Équipe Anjou to Coderre
  • Éric Dugas (Ste-Geneviève borough councillor) from Équipe Richard Bélanger to Coderre
  • Marc-André Gadoury (Rosemont city councillor) from Projet to Coderre
  • Érika Duchesne (Rosemont city councillor) from Projet to Coderre (now running in Villeray)
  • Jean-François Cloutier (Lachine city councillor) from Équipe Dauphin to Coderre
  • Lorraine Pagé (Ahuntsic city councillor) from Vrai changement to Coderre
  • Russell Copeman (CDN-NDG borough mayor) from Coalition to Coderre
  • Maja Vodanovic (Lachine city councillor) from Équipe Dauphin to Projet
  • Réal Ménard (Mercier mayor) from Coalition to Coderre
  • Kymberley Simonyik (Lachine borough councillor) from Équipe Dauphin to Coderre
  • Elsie Lefebvre (Villeray city councillor) from Coalition to Coderre
  • Normand Marinacci (Île-Bizard mayor) from Vrai changement to Projet
  • Christian Larocque (Île-Bizard borough councillor) from Vrai changement to Projet
  • Jean-Dominic Lévesque-René (Île-Bizard borough councillor) from Vrai changement to Projet (not running again)
  • Gilles Beaudry (Anjou borough councillor) from Équipe Anjou to independent (running as independent)

The borough parties: Anjou, Lachine, LaSalle

Let’s not forget that before 2002, many of what are now Montreal’s boroughs were their own municipalities, and despite failing to meet the 2006 demerger criteria, they still have a strong connection to their local officials and long memories. Amid the corruption fiasco in 2013, several boroughs presented independent borough-level parties led by incumbent officials. Anjou and Lachine swept the table with their borough parties, and LaSalle and Outremont took borough mayors and majorities on their borough councils.

Four years later, Anjou and Lachine borough parties lost councillors to party switches, but are still in the game. As is LaSalle’s, which has all but one seat. Will voters in those boroughs stick with their local teams? Anjou’s and LaSalle’s are still pretty strong, but Lachine is anyone’s game.

Outremont: The shit show

Elected in 2013 as a split between the borough-level Équipe conservons Outremont (which held the mayor and two borough council seats), Projet borough councillor Mindy Pollak and independent Céline Forget, the borough council descended into chaos, being regularly mocked on Infoman. Within a year and a bit, the two ECO borough councillors left the party, one borough councillor resigned, and the council was split 2 vs 2 on just about everything, becoming entirely dysfunctional.

Borough mayor Marie Cinq-Mars isn’t running again, and the party doesn’t exist anymore. Instead, there’s a full slate of independent candidates, including two incumbent borough councillors. Will a new team bring some calm to the council, or will the petty political shenanigans continue?

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce: Still room for independents?

Of the six seats on this borough council, there are three parties and an independent. It’s the only borough where Coalition Montréal is running a complete slate, and the only one with a Coalition incumbent — Snowdon councillor Marvin Rotrand.

The mayor’s race is between incumbent Russell Copeman, a former Liberal MNA with lots of name recognition and personal popularity, who defected from Coalition to join Coderre’s team, against Projet’s Sue Montgomery, a former Montreal Gazette justice reporter who failed to get the NDP nomination in NDG-Westmount for the last federal election. Are the borough’s Projet-friendly demographics going to be enough to counter Copeman’s popularity?

I don’t hold much hope for Coalition Montréal generally, but Rotrand is a survivor, known for being a hard worker for his constituents, and is running against two unknowns. Expect him to get re-elected, but his caucus meetings to be very lonely.

And then there’s Jeremy Searle. He ran as an independent for the Loyola seat in 2013 and won with 23% of the vote in a seven-candidate field. He then proceeded to make himself a complete embarrassment, failing to show up to meetings, making inappropriate comments and blaming an alcohol problem for his behaviour. Rather than get help, he’s up for re-election, with posters across the district. You might think there’s no way he gets re-elected, but this is the most contested race in the city (besides mayor) with six candidates — Coderre, Projet, Coalition and three independents. That could be enough for him to squeak through.

L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève: The old boss vs. the older boss

This borough had a borough-level party in 2013, Équipe Richard Bélanger, which held all the seats, but it was beat by a de facto borough-level party led by Normand Marinacci, a former mayor of an independent Île-Bizard. He took the mayor’s race and all but one of the council seats for Vrai changement, which became that party’s only borough mayor and borough majority. That had a lot more to do with the candidates than the party.

Since then, Marinacci and two councillors have jumped to Projet. Éric Dugas, the sole remnant of the Bélanger party, joined Coderre, and Stéphane Côté is Vrai changement’s only incumbent. Dugas and Côté are both running for mayor against Marinacci. Bélanger himself is running for Coderre as a councillor, as is Diane Gibb, a former Bélanger councillor.

Will this borough stick with Marinacci and vote Projet, will they switch back to the Bélanger/Dugas side and vote Coderre, or will they stay with Vrai changement even though its leader is long gone and its incumbents have switched parties?

Pierrefonds-Roxboro: Vrai changement’s last stand

The other West Island borough is also the only other place with a significant presence for Vrai changement. Rather than try for city mayor, party leader Justine McIntyre is running for borough mayor here against Coderre incumbent Dimitrios Jim Beis. Will an increased split of the vote between Coderre and Projet help McIntyre come up the middle, or will her party finally be wiped out here like it almost was in Île-Bizard?

Plateau Mont-Royal

Just kidding. Congratulations on your re-election, Luc.

Ville-Marie

The fewest names on the ballot, with only three city councillors and no borough mayor, but each of the three races is noteworthy:

  • Peter-McGill: Incumbent Steve Shanahan has Vrai changement’s only seat outside the West Island. Can he hold on? Coderre has star Cathy Wong on his team here, and the Coalition candidate is Jean Fortier, who has abandoned his run for mayor (though he’s still on the ballot).
  • Saint-Jacques: Former Projet leader Richard Bergeron won this easily four years ago, but now he’s on Coderre’s team running against the party he founded for the first time. Do the voters support Mr. Tramway or the Pink Line Party?
  • Sainte-Marie: This is the seat Valérie Plante will take if she’s not elected mayor. But Coderre has former councillor Pierre Mainville running here (Mainville had the privilege of being at different times a member of Vision Montreal, Coalition Montreal, Projet Montréal and Coderre’s team).

Côte-Saint-Luc: Brownstein vs. Libman

I honestly couldn’t tell you the political differences between these two guys. Their arguments, beyond personal insults and Brownstein’s attempt to tie Libman to a conflict of interest, seem to be about who can more strongly push for the Cavendish extension project to finally get done while also ensuring it’s a convenience to CSL residents and nobody else. Expect Brownstein to ride his incumbency to victory, but it won’t be easy.

Westmount: Smith vs. Wajsman

Peter Trent has stepped down, which opens up this race. His replacement, Christina Smith, has the incumbency advantage, but is facing competition from Beryl Wajsman, editor of The Suburban. Amazingly, Wajsman is allowed to remain editor of The Suburban during the campaign, and has even said he wants to keep the job after he’s elected. The Suburban’s solution to this obvious conflict of interest has been to simply not cover the Westmount election at all.

Will Smith prevail with Trent’s blessing? Or will Wajsman be forced to choose between media and politics? And regardless of who wins, how does The Suburban regain any credibility in covering Westmount?

Pointe-Claire: Time for the runner-up?

Mayor Morris Trudeau isn’t running again. Instead, we have the man he narrowly beat, John Belvedere, against three other candidates, including city councillor Aldo Iermieri. Who has the advantage here?

Senneville: McLeish again?

Jane Guest isn’t running for re-election as Senneville mayor, so instead we have a three-way race. The front-runner surely has to be former Senneville mayor George McLeish, 74. But his opponents are both two-term sitting councillors: Julie Brisebois and Charles Mickie. Will long memories prevail in this quiet town?

Montréal-Est: Two-way races

Incumbent Robert Coutu is running again with a full team, but his opponent is Jonathan Dauphinais-Fortin, and his Équipe du citoyen has two incumbent city councillors on board. Will their complaints about wasteful spending lead to a movement for change?

Longueuil: Three options

Caroline St-Hilaire isn’t running again, so there’s an opening for city mayor. And three parties are contesting every seat here: Action Longueuil, St-Hilaire’s party, now led by city councillor Sylvie Parent; Longueuil citoyen, led by city councillor Josée Latendresse; and Option Longueuil, led by Sadia Groguhé, which has picked up the Option Greenfield Park incumbents. All three have incumbent city councillors on their teams and have a shot in a city where demerger sentiment was high and borough independence is still an issue.

Laval: Partypalooza

Incumbent mayor Marc Demers has the advantage, especially in a large field of six challengers , but there are four parties with full slates — Action Laval, Avenir Laval, Parti Laval and Mouvement Lavallois — plus an association of independent candidates. Action’s Jean Claude Gobé, who came in second in 2013, is running again. The makeup of council could be far more split than in the past.

Hudson: Councillor Duff?

Ed Prévost decided not to run again, and died less than a month before the vote. Three candidates are vying to replace him — Joseph H. Eletr, William Nash and Jamie Nicholls, none of whom lead official parties. But my eye will be on the Heights East district race, which features former print and radio personality Jim Duff.

Lac-Mégantic

 

Three candidates are vying for mayor of the small town that put itself on the map in the most tragic ways in 2013. This will be its first regular election since the disaster. Colette Roy-Laroche is long gone and incumbent Jean-Guy Cloutier isn’t running again, so the field is wide open.

Saguenay: Néron vs. Blackburn

With foot-swallowing populist mayor Jean Tremblay stepping down, four candidates are vying to replace him, two of whom have parties behind them. The race seems to be between councillor Josée Néron of Équipe du renouveau démocratique, the only party that dates back to 2013, and independent Jean-Pierre Blackburn, a former federal minister under the Harper government (who until recently led the other party but left it at the last minute). A poll before the race put them neck and neck, but with a lot of undecideds. Néron’s party had a long runway to get going, but had to deal with the scandal of a candidate having an arson conviction.

Any others I should be looking at?

Letting Loto-Quebec force ISPs to block websites may soon be a thing

It was the very last thing in last year’s Quebec budget. Literally, on pages 616-618 of the 620-page budget document (the last two pages are blank): The government was going to create a law that will require Internet service providers to block illegal gambling websites based on a list provided by Loto-Québec:

A legislative amendment will be proposed to introduce an illegal website
filtering measure. In accordance with this measure, Internet service providers
will not be allowed to provide access to an online gaming and gambling
website whose name is on a list of websites that are to be blocked, drawn up
by Loto-Québec. This measure will be applied by the Régie des alcools, des
courses et des jeux, which should have the necessary resources to fulfil its
new responsibilities.

That was all the budget said about this measure. There were no further details given (except for the fact that it was based on a recommendation from a working group on gambling) and there was no legislation drafted yet to criticize. But various players caught on quickly to the potential slippery slope of Internet censorship, as well as the inevitable jurisdictional battle between the provincial government’s legislation of gambling and the federal government’s responsibility over telecommunications.

Fast-forward a year later, and as Quebecers get ready to receive the 2016-17 budget, several aspects of the previous one still haven’t been put into law.

Introduced in November, and currently working its way through the finance committee, Bill 74, called “An Act respecting mainly the implementation of certain provisions of the Budget Speech of 26 March 2015” has various provisions, including the one about Internet website blocking.

What the bill says

The text of the bill modifies Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act to insert the following clauses:

“TITLE III.4

“ONLINE GAMBLING

“260.33. For the purposes of this Title, “online gambling site” means
a website on which a person may make wagers and bets through an interactive
mechanism.

“260.34. An Internet service provider may not give access to an online
gambling site whose operation is not authorized under Québec law.

“260.35. The Société des loteries du Québec shall oversee the
accessibility of online gambling. It shall draw up a list of unauthorized online
gambling sites and provide the list to the Régie des alcools, des courses et des
jeux, which shall send it to Internet service providers by registered mail.
The receipt notice or, as the case may be, the delivery notice serves as proof
of notification.

“260.36. An Internet service provider that receives the list of unauthorized
online gambling sites in accordance with section 260.35 shall, within 30 days
after receiving the list, block access to those sites.

“260.37. If the Société des loteries du Québec becomes aware that an
Internet service provider is not complying with section 260.36, it shall report
the non-compliance to the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux.
In such a case, the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux shall send a
notice to the non-compliant Internet service provider and send a copy of the
notice to the Société des loteries du Québec.

“260.38. For the purposes of this Title, the Régie des alcools, des courses
et des jeux and the Société des loteries du Québec may enter into an agreement
on the frequency at which the list of unauthorized online gambling sites is to
be updated and sent and on any other terms relating to the carrying out of this
Title.”

It also changes the Act Respecting the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, to give it authority over enforcing this law, and the Act Respecting the Société des loteries du Québec, to give Loto-Québec the responsibility to draw up the list of banned websites and investigate ISPs. The latter adds these provisions:

“17.1. The president and chief executive officer, or the person the
president and chief executive officer designates for that purpose, may investigate
any matter relating to the carrying out of Title III.4 of the Consumer Protection
Act (chapter P-40.1).

“17.2. The person who conducts an investigation under section 17.1 of
this Act cannot be prosecuted for acts performed in good faith in the exercise
of the functions of office.

An ISP failing to block a website within 30 days of getting a list from Loto-Québec (by registered mail) is added to the list of offences in the Consumer Protection Act, which makes that ISP liable for fines from $2,000 to $100,000, or twice that for a repeat conviction.

The bill also states that while the Consumer Protection Act is supervised by the Minister of Justice and the consumer protection office, the provisions regarding websites and gambling are supervised by the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux and Loto-Québec, under the Minister of Public Security. (Finance Minister Carlos Leitão explains that Loto-Québec informs the RACJ that a provider is noncompliant, and the latter does any legal action.)

The problems

As highlighted by Michael Geist and others, this legislation has serious issues, some of them legal and some practical. Among them:

  • Telecommunications are a federal responsibility, administered by the CRTC, not a provincial one. The legislation could be challenged on constitutional grounds.
  • Telecommunications regulations forbid ISPs from manipulating Internet traffic in this way.
  • The legislation forces ISPs to block people from doing something that is not illegal: viewing an online gambling website.
  • The slippery slope argument: Implementing this could lead to the government ordering the blocking of other websites it doesn’t like. (Major ISPs block sites that contain child pornography, but that’s an industry measure, and isn’t required by law.)
  • The motive for this legislation seems to be as much about protecting Loto-Québec’s revenue as it is about blocking an illegal and unwanted activity.
  • There seem to be few checks and balances to ensure that the websites listed by Loto-Québec deserve to be there. There’s no obvious appeals process.
  • Implementing a government blacklist of websites would cost a lot of money, particularly for small Internet providers. (Leitão dismissed those costs in December, saying “Je ne pense pas que ce soient des coûts énormes, là, c’est une question de mettre la «switch on and off»”. He then threw out a range of $100,000 to $500,000 for additional costs to ISPs, plus another $15-75,000 a year in maintenance costs, and said the government might be willing to subsidize the costs for smaller providers.)
  • There are technical means around such blocks. And someone interested in online gambling will probably make quick use of such measures.
  • Online gambling sites could get around the blocks by setting up new domains or new sites.
  • There could be issues when traffic crosses provincial borders. If I’m a Wind Mobile customer in Alberta and I walk into Quebec with my cellphone, is Wind suddenly obligated to abide by this Quebec law for data it sends to my phone, even though it doesn’t operate in Quebec? Or is that the responsibility of the network I’m roaming on?
  • Other measures might be just as effective without the censorship problem, such as making it illegal for credit card companies to process payments to illegal gambling sites (though there are ways around such problems as well).

The jurisdictional issue seems to be the most problematic, though a legal analysis of the bill points out that many issues cross jurisdictional lines, and a law that seems to involve the other government’s turf isn’t necessarily unconstitutional. Leitão told the committee he was confident the law would stand up to challenges, because of a “latitude” in enforcing provincial law against illegal gambling, but he said there was no formal legal opinion provided on it beyond the opinions of people in his department.

Opposition MNAs Nicolas Marceau (PQ), André Spénard (CAQ) and François Bonnardel (CAQ) grilled Leitão on these aspects of the bill during the committee hearings in December and February. And they’re not done yet. (Reading the transcripts of those hearings gives you a good appreciation for the value of opposition legislators, regardless of party, who give a critical eye to legislation even when they may be in agreement about the overall goal.)

Bonnardel, the MNA for Granby, was strongest in his opposition on legal and constitutional grounds:

Il y a un enjeu où on serait la première province, à ma connaissance au Canada, qui pourrait censurer la libre circulation sur Internet. Coudon, qui censure la libre circulation sur Internet? Cuba, la Corée, le Québec en 2016? M. le Président, mon collègue l’a mentionné, il y a 70 gros moyens, petits fournisseurs au Québec.

Mais au nom de quoi, aujourd’hui, on veut censurer la libre circulation? Tant qu’à faire, pourquoi ne pas bannir ou barrer les sites de pornographie juvénile, propagande islamique tant qu’à y être? On est rendus là.

There’s opposition outside the National Assembly as well. Even the Union des consommateurs, who would normally be all for increased consumer protections, has expressed reservations about this law.

In La Presse last month, columnist Stéphanie Grammond asked why the government was rushing this legislation through. Even though it’s been a year since the plan was announced, it seems clear the government hasn’t been doing a lot of reflecting about the unintended consequences of its proposal.

Maybe it would be a good time to start, once the finance department is done talking about this year’s budget.

UPDATE (April 3): The Canadian Press has a story about this proposed law. It includes a new justification from the Quebec government, that it has the authority to impose Internet censorship laws because problem gambling is a health issue and health is under provincial jurisdiction.

Are parties more likely to have female candidates in no-hope ridings?

Every election, after the final list of candidates is published, there’s some analysis of how many of a particular group (usually women, because they’re the easiest to count) running for office overall or for each political party.

This election, those numbers show either how we’ve made significant progress over the years (in 1980, we had only five female MPs) or how far we still have to go because women make up half the population and no party has women making up more than half its candidates.

The increase in the number of female candidates is encouraging, but I had this nagging doubt in the back of my head: Not all candidates are the same. An NDP candidate in rural Alberta has much less of a chance to get elected as one in Toronto or Vancouver. Ditto a Conservative candidate in downtown Toronto, or a Liberal in Quebec City, or a Bloc candidate in the West Island.

What if the parties were padding their numbers by putting women as candidate-poteaux in ridings they knew were hopeless?

To find out, I did some number-crunching. I took all 338 ridings and used the projections from ThreeHundredEight.com to separate the candidates into “winnable” and hopeless based on a simple criterion: If the candidate was 15 points or less behind the leading candidate in that riding projection. (This includes candidates who are leading.) Then I counted what percentage of those candidates were women.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Bloc Québécois: 33% (13/40) vs. 28.2% (22/78) overall
  • Conservative Party: 18% (32/178) vs. 19.5% (66/338) overall
  • Forces et Démocratie: 0% (0/1)
  • Green party: 100% (2/2) vs. 39.8% (134/336) overall
  • Independent: 0% (0/2)
  • Liberal Party: 31% (64/206) vs. 30.7% (104/338) overall
  • NDP: 38% (45/120) vs. 43.2% (146/338) overall

 

Among parties with more than two winnable seats, the difference between the number of women in winnable ridings and those running overall is at most 5.2 percentage points. And in two of the four cases the percentage of women in winnable ridings is higher.

Now, there are a lot of caveats in this calculation. The 308 projections are an incomplete science, and the numbers I used come from after the deadline for candidacies — the number of winnable races for the Liberals has greatly increased since then, and decreased for the NDP. A lot of candidates are considered unwinnable according to the calculation that pundits think could have a shot (Maria Mourani, Anne Lagacé Dowson, Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, Allison Turner, Pascale Déry). And it doesn’t account for other factors like incumbency (you can’t take as much credit when you’re running a female MP for re-election), or how contested the nomination race was.

The NDP, for example, shows 43% female candidates overall, and 38% in winnable ridings. But if you exclude Quebec, where a bunch of women were elected in 2011 by surprise and are now incumbents (names like Ruth Ellen Brosseau, Charmaine Borg and Laurin Liu), only 27% of the winnable ridings in the rest of the country have female candidates.

That raises a bit of an eyebrow. Maybe it’s just chance, or maybe it’s subconscious. But overall, as a rough guide, these numbers are enough to convince me that women aren’t being systematically dumped in unwinnable ridings.

It makes for a less interesting blog post, but at least my curiosity is satiated.

(By the way, you should read that CBC story about women in politics. It includes some interesting statistics and comments from female MPs.)

Some things to consider before your next Jian Ghomeshi think piece

This post was updated Oct. 31 with some new information that has come forward, particularly about how the CBC handled this affair.

When news broke on Friday that Jian Ghomeshi, one of CBC’s biggest personalities, was taking a leave for unspecified “personal reasons”, it seemed suspicious. When news broke on Sunday that the CBC had terminated its relationship with him, it seemed unbelievable. And then it got worse: a $55-million lawsuit, and reports of eight women (oh wait, make that nine) coming forward and saying he abused them, with stories that seem disturbingly similar.

I don’t have any exclusive reporting on the subject — Toronto media personalities are not my specialty and there are plenty of Toronto journalists covering that — but I’ve been seeing so many misinformed comments on social media that I thought it would be useful to round up what is being said and make a few points to better educate those who are talking about this. I’m not an expert in employment law, human sexuality or most other fields, so I’ll try to link to experts where possible. Feel free to suggest other points or improve existing ones if you’re more of an expert than me.

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“Homeless spikes” are gone — but what about Montreal’s other homeless deterrents?

Scars on the concrete outside a window of Archambault on Berri St., where spikes had been installed to deter people from sitting or lying down there.

Scars on the concrete outside a window of Archambault on Berri St., where spikes had been installed to deter people from sitting or lying down there.

When Le Devoir came out with a story this week noting the presence of anti-homeless spikes outside of a downtown business, the outrage was immediate. Heartless, disgusting, inhuman, dangerous. All sorts of angry comments directed at Archambault, the music and book store who Le Devoir said installed them.

Mayor Denis Coderre, outraged, promised to have them removed by any means necessary within the day.

As it turns out, Archambault wasn’t at fault, it was the owner of the building. And public pressure resulted in a crew removing the spikes by noon. News outlets discussed the issue, offering comments from the public who again noted their outrage. There was a comparison with a similar thing being done in London, another move that was reversed after public outcry. Or with a similar thing at a McDonald’s two blocks away as seen in Google Street View images taken in 2012, but those had already been removed.

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Pierre Dion becomes Quebecor’s third boss in a year

Robert Dépatie was head of Videotron before taking over from Pierre Karl Péladeau.

Robert Dépatie was head of Videotron before taking over from Pierre Karl Péladeau.

If you’ve been following the news about Quebecor’s change in management, you won’t learn anything new here. I don’t know if the unspecified “health reasons” that Quebecor mentioned as the reason for CEO Robert Dépatie’s sudden retirement are the whole story, or if La Presse is correct and this is more about a difference of strategy.

But there are some things we do know. Dépatie was CEO of Videotron before he took over from Pierre Karl Péladeau as head of Quebecor and Quebecor Media last year. He comes from the telecom side, and he knew it very well.

His legacy includes some big spending: a deal the Globe and Mail puts at more than $1 billion over 12 years to acquire NHL broadcasting rights from Rogers, and a purchase of wireless spectrum for $233 million. It also includes big moves away from print media: The decision to shut down three free 24 Hours newspapers and either weeklies, then a deal to sell all 74 of its remaining weekly newspapers in Quebec to competitor Transcontinental for $75 million, and to shut down the flyer delivery service Le Sac Plus.

The effect of these moves will likely last more than a decade.

Both La Presse and Le Devoir suggest Dépatie wanted to go further, selling English-language Sun Media papers as well (it’s unclear if these would be the Sun chain or the smaller weekly papers, including the Osprey Media chain that Quebecor spent more than $500 million to buy in 2007).

Analysts quoted in various media have had very positive views of Dépatie, and their main concern about his successor, TVA president Pierre Dion, is that he comes from the broadcasting side and not the money-generating telecom side. There was a slight drop in the company’s stock as a result of the news.

On one hand, having a third CEO in under a year is destabilizing. On the other hand, Pierre Dion isn’t a stranger to Quebecor’s upper management. He, along with Péladeau, Dépatie, corporate affairs VP Serge Sasseville and more recently new Videotron president Manon Brouillette have been present during major events involving the company as a whole, whether it’s major announcements or big CRTC hearings. Dion has been on Quebecor Media’s board since 2004 and has been part of its major decisions.

La Presse asks whether this shakeup might prompt Pierre Karl Péladeau to abandon his political ambitions and take back control of the company he still owns. That presupposes, of course, that with his friends and former colleagues still in control of the company, that he doesn’t already exercise some sort of control, unofficially if not legally.

Pierre Dion may shift Quebecor’s emphasis and make different decisions, but I doubt there will be any big sea change. The company’s personality, whether you love it or hate it, remains the same.

Pierre Karl Péladeau analysis in point form

Pierre Karl Péladeau

To say that Pierre Karl Péladeau’s announcement that he’s running for the Parti Québécois was a bombshell would be an understatement. The announcement monopolized the news cycle on Sunday and again on Monday. We’re still talking about it because of its implications. Canada’s largest newspaper chain is owned by a separatist. A media mogul is running for office, and everyone expects the media he owns to stay objective on the matter. And his selection is a huge risk for the PQ, which can ride his economic bona fides to power or see itself torn apart by ideological differences (whether or not it wins a majority).

His media outlets insist in French and in English that he has no control over them. Sun News handled the news straight, declaring that they too are not under Péladeau’s control. Here’s Brian Lilley and here’s Lorrie Goldstein. (Ezra Levant is fighting a libel lawsuit and hasn’t been on the air.)

There are news stories and analyses of Péladeau all over the place, but here are a few that are worth reading: 

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Could Videotron become a national wireless company? Maybe

In what a lot of people said was a huge surprise (but was actually predicted by plenty), the end of the 700MHz wireless spectrum auction showed that Videotron bought licenses covering Canada’s four largest provinces, and everyone now assumes the company will go national, becoming that fourth big player that the government and unsatisfied Canadian cellphone customers have been hoping for.

Quebecor is forbidden by the spectrum auction rules from commenting on its future plans in order to preserve the integrity of the process and avoid collusion between bidders. So all we have from them is their press release on the subject. It includes these quotes from CEO Robert Dépatie:

“With the high-quality frequencies acquired in this auction, Videotron is now well-equipped to develop its network in the years to come and to continue offering its customers the best in wireless technology.”

“Given the way the auction unfolded, Quebecor Media could not pass up the opportunity to invest in licences of such great intrinsic value in the rest of Canada,” said Mr. Dépatie. “We now have a number of options available to us to maximize the value of our investment.”

Read into that what you will.

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CRTC’s Wireless Code vs. Quebec’s Bill 60

On Monday morning, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission issued its final Wireless Code, a set of rules all wireless service providers in Canada have to abide by. I was curious how this code compares to the rules the Quebec government put into place in 2009 that similarly protect consumers in cellphone (and other) service contracts.

The result is this story in The Gazette, which appears in Wednesday’s paper. It lists point by point the provisions of both. In general, they’re very similar in terms of how cancellation fees are calculated, how major elements of contracts can’t be changed unilaterally, and how renewals are done. Bill 60 also includes a prohibition on late-payment fees or additional fees for pay-as-you-go services. But most of the advantage for the consumer is in the CRTC’s code, which specifically deals with wireless service. It includes a de facto two-year maximum on contracts, a 15-day trial period, a right to unlock phones, notification of data roaming and caps on data overage and data roaming fees.

You can read the CRTC’s decision here setting the Wireless Code into place and explaining its reasoning. Quebec’s Bill 60 became law in 2009, and the text of it is here (PDF).

The Wireless Code comes into effect with contracts signed on or after Dec. 2, though providers can start applying the new rules to new contracts as soon as they’re drawn up. Since it’s not really in their interest for people to wait, I would expect the code’s provisions to be in new contracts by the major wireless companies before then.

If your main concern is contract length, by the way, you can go ahead and sign now. As of two years from now, all contracts must comply with the code, which means in two years you won’t have a cancellation fee, even if your contract right now says you will.

How will this be paid for?

The big question now is how these changes (particularly contract length) will be reflected in the marketplace. Having phones subsidized over two years instead of three will mean one of three things:

  1. Higher prices for new handsets. I’m guessing this is the most likely option. Instead of getting, say, a $360 subsidy on a phone, which works out to $10 a month for 36 months, the subsidy might only be $240, which means the phone will be $120 more expensive. Expect fewer $0 smartphones.
  2. Higher monthly rates. If subsidies are done over two years instead of three, then they have to be 50% higher on a monthly basis. So that $10 a month subsidy now has to be $15 a month if the total subsidy is the same. But in my experience there hasn’t been much flexibility in monthly pricing based on device subsidy, and monthly fees have much more competitive pressure than initial handset cost. Prices might inch up slowly, but only if all the major providers agree their profit margin at the lower price is unsustainable.
  3. Lower profits. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. But wireless providers make decisions all the time that result in lower profits, hoping that they might result in higher profits down the road. Acquiring new customers has a large price to it (beyond just the phone subsidy), but if you can lock them in for three years or longer, you’ll make much of that money back. Reducing the contract to two years will mean less time to recoup this acquisition cost. We may see an effect on the bottom line here.

Because, in two years from now, all contracts will have to have zero-fee cancellation after two years, expect new handset costs to go up quickly. Which means even though it sounds like it might be a good idea to wait until December, now might actually be the best time to get a new phone.

Quebecor, Rogers announce wireless network sharing deal

An odd thing to announce at 8:45pm, but Quebecor just sent out a press release saying they’ve come to a 20-year deal with Rogers to create a shared LTE wireless network in Quebec and Ottawa.

I don’t know much more than what’s in the release: The two companies will pool their resources to create a shared network, but maintain their operational independence. This deal follows a similar one between Telus and Bell to share their LTE network.

There are some side-effects to this. For one, Quebecor hints at expanding its handset lineup. Since the only one people care about is the iPhone, I’ve asked if this is the plan. I’ll let you know what they say.

The deal also includes an option for Rogers to purchase Videotron’s unused AWS spectrum in greater Toronto for $180 million. This is important in the context of other new wireless players like Mobilicity and Wind Mobile deciding putting themselves up for sale. Mobilicity has already agreed to a sale to Telus and Wind may also sell to one of the three major incumbents. A partnership between Videotron and Rogers adds to the impression that Canada simply isn’t large enough for more competition in wireless.

Or it might not.

CJAD and Bain: Calmez-vous

It seems everyone was up in arms on Thursday after hearing that CJAD radio had given Richard Henry Bain, the man accused of killing a man at Metropolis on the night of the election, a 40-minute interview in which he was given free reign rein to spout his political views, and on top of that deciding to schedule the interview to coincide with the same moment that Pauline Marois was announcing her new government.

Of course, much of the previous paragraph isn’t true, but that shouldn’t stop us from being outraged, right?

What happened

Here’s what happened on Wednesday, based on what we’ve heard from station management and CJAD staff during interviews since then:

Just after 9:30am on Wednesday, the CJAD newsroom received a phone call. Trudie Mason, who does morning newscasts, took the call. The man at the other end at first wouldn’t identify himself, but eventually said he was Richard Henry Bain and that he was calling from the Rivière des Prairies detention facility. By this point, Mason was recording the phone call.

Mason and the main identifying himself as Bain spoke for 38 minutes. Mason repeatedly asked him to comment on what happened the night of Sept. 4, when Denis Blanchette was shot dead and Dave Courage severely injured in what some suspect may have been a politically-motivated attack on premier-elect Pauline Marois. But the man wouldn’t answer questions on that subject, instead preferring to discuss his political views, including his opinion that Quebec should be split up into its sovereignist and federalist regions.

Throughout the day, CJAD worked to verify that the man speaking was, in fact, Bain. They held on to the story while they tried to verify the caller’s identity. In the meantime, there was a significant amount of discussion – more than Mason said she has ever had in her career on an issue like this – about how to handle the story. Newsroom staff checked the caller ID and asked people who knew Bain to identify the recorded voice. Eventually the confirmation came, from Bain’s lawyer, a bit before 3:30pm: The man in the recording was, indeed, Bain.

The next newscast being at 4pm, CJAD decided to break the story then. Care was made to restrict the amount of audio that went to air. In the end, less than a minute of audio from that 38-minute conversation was broadcast, and 10 seconds of that is just Bain saying his name and where he’s calling from.

There was a very basic discussion of Bain’s political views – and by that I mean there was about enough time to read out the slogan on a bumper sticker. Details were cut out and not aired. The first airing of the news story was immediately followed by a discussion between Mason and Aaron Rand on his show, that went into the process of reporting this story. You can listen to that discussion on this podcast, beginning around the 16-minute mark.

At the same time, a written version of the story was posted on CJAD’s website, with a timestamp of exactly 4pm. The written version includes no direct quotes from Bain, and no link to audio.

CJAD’s sister stations at Astral, NRJ and Rouge FM, also used French-language clips from Bain in their newscasts. You can hear their news story here and an excerpt of audio about a minute long of Bain talking in French.

Blind outrage

Unfortunately, most of this nuance never reached the Twittersphere. All many heard was that CJAD had aired an interview with the man accused of a politically-motivated killing. And so the condemnation was quick and severe. There was even a new hashtag created for the occasion, #NouvelleÉmissionCJAD, in which heinous criminals discuss subjects that their victims would no doubt find highly offensive.

But reading much of those comments, it was obvious how many of them came from people who had not heard the news story. (Many said so when I asked, even adding that they didn’t want to and should not have to hear what was aired in order to judge it wrong.) Comments on social media said the decision to air the interview was a slap in the face to victims, that it was dangerous, and even that it was intentionally scheduled to air at the same moment Marois was presenting her new cabinet as part of some vendetta the anglophone community has against the PQ leader. From the information presented, it’s very hard to come to either conclusion.

Far too many of those comments came from people who should know better than to condemn something they had not witnessed.

The outrage caused Astral to send out a press release Wednesday afternoon re-explaining itself.

It’s called journalism

There are some, when challenged on their outrage about this, who say that affording even 10 seconds of airtime to Bain is wrong, that people should not be hearing his political views. I’m sympathetic to that argument, and clearly CJAD was as well.

But the problem is that Bain’s motivations (assuming he’s guilty of what he’s accused of) are, in fact, very important and newsworthy. The man is already being described as an anglophone, even though he has what sounds like a francophone accent and seems to speak French well enough. And people assume this was an attempt on Marois’s life, even though there’s no evidence yet to suggest this.

It may be distasteful for journalists to interview (presumed) bad people, whether they’re convicted murderers or third-world dictators. But what they think does matter, even if we think those views are dangerous. They should be treated with care, perhaps even sanitized and heavily censored, but they should be reported.

So much of what makes this story important is based on the presumed motivations of the man accused of this killing. What the man accused of it says about his views becomes important as a result.

CJAD couldn’t pretend Bain never called them. It had to report the story. It did so carefully and deliberately. I might hesitate to say it was done “with restraint” as Dan Delmar tweeted, since the station did promote the story and slapped an all-caps EXCLUSIVE label on it when it was published. But what actually made it on air was tame.

Unanswered questions

There are some serious questions to ask about this case. The main one is how a man who is sitting in a detention facility had access to a phone for more than half an hour. It was a question that CJAD itself asked on air right away.

And there might be questions to ask of CJAD as well, about whether it was right to air even short clips of Bain’s political views rather than just explaining that Bain called the station and leave it a that.

But if you’re going to criticize them for something they did, please make sure you first have a clear idea of what it is exactly that they did.

Because, like with the shooting itself, context is everything.

Coverage

Unfortunately, I can’t find audio of the actual news story on CJAD’s website. But in addition to the Rand show link above, you can also hear about this from this podcast of the Andrew Carter morning show from Thursday morning.

Even if it’s not to blame, we should tone down our rhetoric

“Bienvenue à tous,” the sign read.

In the aftermath of an awful shooting at the Parti Québécois victory party on Tuesday night, commentary has been flying far and wide, people urging calm, people urging unity, people urging a toning down of heated rhetoric, or people not getting the point and blaming everything on some caricature they’ve constructed of people who have different political opinions or who speak a different mother tongue. There’s so many out there I won’t bother trying to link to all of them.

I’m hesitant to join the fray, because to call for a calming of tensions would imply that they are at least in part to blame for what happened. Despite the mad ramblings of a madman being arrested, I find it hard to believe that a disagreement over language policy or sovereignty was the issue here. Quebec has been too peaceful for too long for that to make any sense.

One of the things I love about Quebec is that people can disagree passionately about something so fundamental, so personal and so irrational as national identity but do it peacefully (even if, sometimes, it falls short of respect). Since the October Crisis, we haven’t had political violence here of this nature (well, not much, anyway). We’ve gone through two very stressful referendums and a bunch of close elections, and though we’ve worried about losing our sanity, few have had any reason to worry about losing their lives.

It would be simplistic and, I believe, incorrect to blame this shooting on a language issue. Rather, as evidence continues to come to light about the shooter, it seems more clear that this was a man with mental problems who failed to get help.

We should do it anyway

But we should tone down the rhetoric, not because it might lead to another shooting, but because being more civil in our communication is the right thing to do.

Well before the shooting I was growing concerned with some of the statements being made in newspaper columns and in social media. Not only was there ridiculous generalizing about Quebec anglophones, sovereignists and the rest of Canada, but I got the impression that people were taking things far too seriously.

It’s probably because this is the first election since 1998 won by a sovereignist party, or the first since 2007 where a Liberal victory was not a given. Social media is far more prevalent than it was back then. Plus, newspaper columnists on both sides of the political fence seem to have gone more toward outrageous commentary for its own sake.

What’s worse is that rather than challenge people on their ridiculous exaggerations, Facebook friends and Twitter followers and website commenters have become part of the echo chamber. The cheerleaders are winning over the devil’s advocates.

Make it stop

This, I believe, is how we should step in. It’s nice to call on everyone to tone down our own rhetoric, but I think it would be more constructive to tone down each other’s.

So please, when you hear a friend of yours say that the PQ’s policies on language are akin to “ethnic cleansing,” explain to them that even if by their biased interpretation those policies might fit a loose definition of that term, that they have obviously chosen it as a way of linking the party to some third-world dictator prepared to kill millions in the name of genocide. Explain to them that while you may disagree strongly with Quebec’s language laws or the PQ’s proposals to strengthen them, that is no reason to use such loaded terms.

Et s’il vous plaît, quand vos amis chantent « POLICE POLITIQUE! SSPVM! » expliquer comment cette comparaison est offensive et inutile. Expliquer que même si vous êtes en désaccord avec le projet de loi 78, même si vous pensez que la police de Montréal va trop loin dans leur utilisation de force, qu’ils sont là pour nous protèger, qu’ils ont comme but de respecter la loi, qu’ils veulent rien de moins qu’on participe au démocratie en toute sécurité, et que même si ils font des fautes, c’est très, très loin de ce qui ce passait en Allemagne dans les années 1930.

And please, when you hear one of your friends explain how Pauline Marois wants to “destroy Canada,” explain to them that Quebec has as much of a right to self-determination as any other government. Explain to them that though we may disagree with Quebec leaving Canada, the province cannot be forced to stay inside the federation against its clear will. Explain to them that even if Quebec somehow becomes an independent state, that it plans to have a strong relationship with the rest of Canada, and that even the most hard-core separatists have no wish to see harm come to the rest of the country. And explain to them how Quebec leaving Canada will no more destroy the latter than Canada’s independence in 1867 destroyed Great Britain.

Et s’il vous plaît, quand vous entendez vos amis dire que les anglais au Québec veulent conquérir les québécois, expliquez que nous sommes deux peuples, fils et filles de deux empires européens de siècles passées, qui ont, pour la plupart, les mêmes espoirs pour nos vies et ceux de nos enfants. Expliquez que 95% de la population québécoise parle le français, et que même si la loi 101 peut être le sujet de beaucoup de débats, et même si les conclusions sont que le français au Québec est menacé et il faut agir pour la protèger, que personne ici veut éliminer ce qui nous définissent comme québécois. Expliquez que les anglo-québécois ont leur propre culture, qui n’est pas la même que celui de Toronto, de Vancouver ou de New York. Expliquez que les anglophones qui veulent vivre entièrement en anglais ont déjà déménagé ailleurs, et que ceux qui restent sont encore ici à cause de notre histoire et notre culture dont ils sont aussi fiers.

And please, when you hear one of your friends say Stephen Harper is a dictator or that he hates Canada, explain to them that his party received 40% of the votes cast in the last federal election, that despite all the rhetoric he is still the leader of a centre-right party that has no plans to outlaw abortion, take away universal health care or do anything else that would cause them to lose those suburban Toronto ridings that are key to their parliamentary majority. Explain that while you may worry about where he is taking our country, that we are still governed by a representative democracy with a fully functional judicial system. Explain that if you disagree with Conservative Party policies, then you need to convince their voters not to support them in the next election, and that emotionally-charged hyperbole is going to win over far fewer voters than a reasoned rebuttal of the issues.

S’il vous plaît.

Please.

For the sake of my sanity. Pour notre avenir commun. So that we can be proud not only of what we have built together politically, but of the way we have built it.

S’il vous plaît, je nous demande de communiquer entre nous comme des adultes.

Merci.

UPDATE (Sept. 7): Seems this post is generating some buzz. I spoke with Radio-Canada’s Michel C. Auger about this issue (starts at 31:15), and this post has been republished in Saturday’s Gazette. I was also interviewed on CTV News on Sunday.

And it appears Sophie Durocher at the Journal de Montréal thought the Gazette publishing the piece was hypocritical because of all the other stuff they’ve published. Some on Twitter have pointed out that the Journal de Montréal is a Sun Media publication, and there are plenty of anti-Quebec comments in those papers.

English-language Quebec election night coverage plans

Provincial elections are the biggest tests for English-language media based in Montreal during the campaign and on election night. During federal elections, major TV stations, radio stations and newspapers can rely on their national networks to share coverage. But that’s not the case during provincial elections, when the Montreal-based stations (who, for the most part, are the only members of their national networks in all of Quebec) have to do just about everything by themselves.

All that hard work, which comes with relatively little reward in terms of election campaign ad spending, comes to a head on Tuesday night as the polls close at 8pm and results start coming in. Every outlet that normally produces news will have an election special with reporters in the field covering leaders and key ridings. Here’s how it breaks down for each:

CBC television (CBMT/CBC News Network)

Election website | Video livestream | Live chat

CBC is first out of the gate on the TV side. Its election special begins at 7:30pm, with Andrew Chang and Debra Arbec hosting. Rather than do it from their usual cramped studio, they’ve been moved into the Maison Radio-Canada’s Studio 47.

Among guests with CBC TV on election night are Christian Bourque of Léger Marketing and Martin Patriquin of Maclean’s.

CBC News Network will be carrying the local election special nationally. CBCNN will cover the election during the day, with a special extended edition of Power & Politics with Evan Solomon at 5pm. The National will also have a special At Issue panel focusing on the election.

The TV election special will be streamed online and accessible by tablets and smartphones.

CTV (CFCF/CTV News Channel)

Election website | Election results site | Video livestream

CFCF will be airing a full-night election special starting at 8pm, with Mutsumi Takahashi and Paul Karwatsky hosting. It’s scheduled to end at 11pm when the national news starts, but it can keep going as needed.

CTV News Channel will pick up the CFCF feed as has been the case in previous provincial elections. What’s new this time is that the special will be live-streamed online.

Reporters will be staffed at “more than eight live remote locations” and Tarah Schwartz will be in studio analyzing election maps. There will also be Kevin Newman, CTV’s social media guy, who will be tracking reaction online from Ottawa.

In studio with Paul and Mits will be former Mulroney speechwriter L. Ian Macdonald and McGill’s Antonia Maioni, both Quebec political analysis veterans. There’s also an election panel chaired by Barry Wilson with former PQ minister Rita Dionne-Marsolais, former Equality Party Leader (and CAQ supporter) Robert Libman, and Suburban editor (and Liberal supporter) Beryl Wajsman.

National News chief anchor Lisa LaFlamme is also in Montreal and anchoring the national news here Monday and Tuesday. Former local anchor Todd van der Heyden is also here, covering the election and its aftermath for CTV News Channel during the day Tuesday and Wednesday from Place Jacques-Cartier.

CTV also promises election-related coverage on Business News Network.

Global (CKMI)

Election website | Results map (CP) | Liveblog

CKMI has historically preferred to keep its lucrative prime-time programming on election nights rather than put on a results special that’s going to come third in the ratings anyway. That continues this time. The election special will only start at 11pm, but will run for a full hour. It will include speeches from the leaders (taped, if they happen before 11pm, or live if they’re during that hour).

Online, the station will be active throughout the night, with live streaming, tweets from reporters and a blog by political scientist Bruce Hicks.

Sun News Network

Website

Quebecor’s right-wing network is planning live election coverage as of 5pm.

CBC Radio One (CBME 88.5FM)

Election website | Audio livestream link

88.5 goes live with election results as of 7:30pm, with Mike Finnerty and Bernard St-Laurent hosting. The latter will also be doing a live blog.

CJAD (800 AM)

Election website | Audio livestream link

Montreal’s News Talk Leader goes live as of 8pm, running “until the speeches are done”, the plan says. Aaron Rand and Tommy Schnurmacher will host, rotating in 15-minute segments. Rand will interview analysts, reporters and candidates, while Schnurmacher will host two Gang of Four panels (one of commentators, one of the three main parties).

Among analysts will be The Gazette’s James Mennie and former CJAD host (and former NDP candidate) Anne Lagacé Dowson.

CBC.ca

Election website | Live chat

CBC has always been a go-to source for election results on election night, and this time will be no different, with the usual interactive maps constantly updated with results. Shawn Apel of Daybreak will moderate a live chat on the website, and Bernard St-Laurent will blog live in combination with his radio duties.

montrealgazette.com

Election website | Results map (CP)

This is where I’ll be on election night. I’ve been given the task of managing the homepage, while other editors handle subpages and edit stories. The Gazette will, like many websites, be using an interactive map from Canadian Press with live results. There will also be a live blog hosted by Jim Mennie.

Others

OpenFile Montreal live blog

In French

Anyone else covering election night in English I should have included here? Let me know in the comments.

How exaggerating protest numbers could backfire on students

12,250.

That’s how many people, according to a firm hired by Radio-Canada, were at Place du Canada at 2:35pm on Wednesday during the monthly protest against tuition hikes and Bill 78.

As I predicted, the number prompted outrage among protesters and their supporters. Reactions from “no way” to “fraude“. Some presented evidence to back up their cases, but in all cases they involved subjective comparisons. Many judged based on a single aerial photo (whose source I couldn’t find easily). Others based their numbers on known capacities of large stadiums. But many just pulled numbers out of nowhere. CLASSE’s official estimate was 100,000. Numbers as high as 250,000 were being thrown about.

My estimate was 24,000, and I provided my methodology. I stood at the corner of Berri St. and René-Lévesque Blvd., estimated that people were crossing a line on the pavement at about 10 per second on average, and multiplied that by how long it took the whole protest to pass by – about 40 minutes. (I had to leave early to go to work, so I estimated that based on the tail end being at St. Laurent and de Maisonneuve 25 minutes after the first people crossed at Berri and René-Lévesque. I figured it would take the tail end about 15 minutes to reach where I was originally counting from.)

Comparing apples and pineapples

Measured in time, the protest was about half as large as the one I saw on May 22, whose size I also tried to estimate. That estimate was 50,000, but with the understanding that I was only counting the people who passed my location.

The closest thing to an official estimate we’ve had of one of these protests before now is QMI Agency’s call of about 150,000 for that May 22 protest. They did not reveal their methodology, but it was the only time a news agency offered its own number.

So the media have been relying on protesters’ own estimates of the protest size. And obviously, there’s clear motivation for them to inflate those numbers.

It’s not just the student protests. Remember that big march against the Iraq war in 2003, that drew 200,000 or 300,000 people? Radio-Canada did an official crowd estimate there too, and the actual number was much lower (see the video at the bottom).

In first-day stories, the media have been careful about their estimates. They refer vaguely to “thousands” or “tens of thousands”. When they use the protsters’ numbers, they’re clearly attributed. But as time passes, the care starts to slip, and without any competing numbers to refute them, those estimates of 100,000 or 200,000 people slowly become fact.

So now, as media outlets start to realize they can’t abdicate their responsibilities and really need to do their own crowd estimation, more accurate numbers show a dramatic drop. People start to make comparisons in their heads: If the May 22 protest drew 200,000 people and the Aug. 22 one drew only 12,000, the student movement is clearly dying out.

Let’s compare

The biggest problem with amateur estimates of crowd sizes is that people don’t know what a crowd of 10,000 people or 100,000 people looks like. So they try to compare with the Bell Centre (21,000), the Olympic Stadium (60,000), or the Place des festivals (which they say is 100,000 based on estimates of Jazz fest mega show sizes, but those estimates include crowds watching secondary screens on de Maisonneuve Blvd., at Place des Arts, on Ste. Catherine St. or even on Clark St.)

But these can be deceiving. The Bell Centre and Olympic Stadium look a lot smaller than they are, because of all the empty space in the middle. And crowds there are packed in very tightly, unlike a moving protest march.

Rather than subjective comparisons of size, let’s compare the crowds using another method: transit.

  • 20,000: A packed show or hockey game at the Bell Centre causes a strain on the metro system as it clears out. The STM routinely adds extra trains at the Lucien L’Allier station to handle the thousands of people who hop on at the same time. There’s a noticeably large crowd at transfer stations like Berri-UQAM, consistent with what you’d find during a busy rush hour.
  • 50,000: The biggest events at the Olympic Stadium have been in the 50,000 range. When they end, the metro system is severely strained. Extra trains are parked near the Pie-IX station, and for a good hour they fill up and depart westbound toward Berri-UQAM. Even then, extra trains are added to the other lines as well, and security officers herd crowds towards the ends of the platforms to get as many people as possible onto the trains.
  • 80,000: Remember that U2 show at the Hippodrome? Officials pleaded with people to take public transit because parking would have been a nightmare. Though the shows let out before midnight, the metro was kept running past 2am because that’s how long it took to get everyone on the trains. It was so bad that not only were people directed to walk to two metro stations, but a fleet of dozens of buses was brought into service to shuttle people to the Jean-Talon station via a special reserved lane marked with pylons for the whole route.

Which of these do you think is the best comparison to Wednesday’s protest?

When 10,000 isn’t enough

What’s most disconcerting about all this is that the bar has been set unreasonably high for large protests in this city. Tens of thousands of people taking to the streets isn’t enough anymore. It has to be hundreds of thousands before anyone starts noticing.

That’s unfortunate. Whether you agree with the student movement or not, they amassed enough people that it took them more than half an hour to walk by in a march as wide as five traffic lanes. No matter their actual number, a descriptive word that’s synonymous with “enormous” is called for here.

But so long as we continue to measure protests like we do penises, this obsessive war over numbers will only distract from any real issues we might be trying to debate.

UPDATE: OpenFile, in a story about how difficult crowd estimates are, comes up with 80,000 based on a march 3 km long and 18.5 metres wide with 0.7 square meters per person. That seems a bit too dense to me. But at least it’s a scientific effort.

Anglophones: Vote PQ (ha ha, just kidding)

It happens, it seems, during every election. Reporters stuck on campaign buses to Saint-Félix-de-who-kn0ws-where look for some unusual story to report on inevitably throw out the idea that anglophones might somehow be interested in voting for a sovereignist party.

The sovereignist party – the Parti Québécois during a provincial election or the Bloc Québécois in a federal election – are never ones to say no to any votes (they are, after all, politicians), so they indulge, pretending Quebec anglos might have a reason to vote for them.

The party leader explains that this is an election, not a referendum, and federalists can still vote for a sovereignist party that will (in the case of the Bloc) be a voice for all Quebecers in Ottawa, or (in the case of the PQ) be an alternative to the Liberals. They remind the anglos that an independent Quebec would continue to respect their rights and that they, too, are Québécois.

Then comes election night, and the big victory speech, in which the leader proclaims a huge win for sovereignty, as if every vote for that party is a vote to make Quebec into an independent country.

Jean Charest alluded to this phenomenon just before the last provincial election in 2008.

But then, maybe we think it’s more commonplace than it is. The night of the 2008 federal election, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said the vote for the Bloc was not a vote for sovereignty, according to an article in The Gazette from way back then. Though he did say the vote showed that Quebecers wanted Ottawa to recognize the supremacy of the French language in this province, and insist that Quebec’s French-language charter apply to federally-regulated institutions.

I’d compare this with other recent sovereignist party victories, but unfortunately for them there haven’t been many. The PQ hasn’t won a provincial election since 1998. The Bloc was doing well until last year, when it collapsed into near-oblivion.

Few options for anglos

All this anglos-voting-PQ silliness highlights the problem that there really isn’t an alternative to the Liberals for federalist anglophones in Quebec. Of the five parties with a chance of winning seats, three of them are openly and proudly sovereignist, and four of them want to strengthen the French-language charter in some way to counteract a perceived threat to the French language in Quebec. Even the Coalition Avenir Québec, which is being seen as an alternative hope for anglos, makes it clear in its platform (PDF) that it would strengthen the role of he Office Québécois de la langue française and put in place measures to ensure more immigrants to Quebec speak French.

The Liberals, meanwhile, aren’t exactly the Equality Party. The best that anglos can hope for with them is the status quo.

It’s no wonder, then, that there won’t be an English-language leaders’ debate, even with the offer to have Pauline Marois do her part in French. The PQ really has little to gain from such an event, and the Liberals and CAQ don’t want to be seen as too friendly to federalists or anglophones, which might scare off soft nationalists.

It’s to the point where francophones are asking about how anglophones are being treated here.

I won’t use some of the ridiculous hyperbole being used by some, comparing Quebec to some totalitarian government or its leaders to some iron-fist dictators who think nothing of murdering millions of their citizens.

But let’s just say that you can understand why there are some people here, maybe some whose families have been in Quebec for generations, or who might be perfectly bilingual but have the misfortune of having the incorrect mother tongue, who feel that on the ballot will simply be yet another list of parties for whom this umpteenth-generation Quebecer isn’t really Québécois enough.