Monthly Archives: May 2007

Blork Blork Blork

Ed Hawco’s Blork Blog (coolest name ever!) is the subject of this week’s blog profile. I figured it was about time since the interview I had with him via email happened way back in January.

There’s also an article on the same page (B2, no link because apparently nobody uploaded it to their website) about art in the metro from Expo 67. It features a picture of’s Matthew McLauchlin (and trust me, he looks absolutely adorable in that picture) in front of paintings at Berri-UQAM that were featured at Expo’s opening.

The STM transit strike is over (for now)

STM maintenance workers are voting to approve an agreement in principle, ending Montreal’s strike after four days. The union’s executive has ordered employees back to work immediately. Service will resume slowly, with partial service tonight (they’ll get as many buses out as they can) and full service expected to resume tomorrow morning.

CBC Radio crack reporter Catherine Cullen is flirting with Bernie St-Laurent at the union meeting and reports the following:

  • No deal has been reached on a contract. In fact, both sides are still at a stalemate, so the agreement only covers ending the strike and sending everyone back to work.
  • The STM would reimburse transit users $3.50 ($2 for reduced passes) on their September passes to compensate for the reduced service.
  • Montreal Museums Day is still on for Sunday and will have the free shuttle provided by the STM, however there will be only one transfer site at the Journal de Montréal on Frontenac.

Meanwhile, an hour after the strike was declared over, the English online media is still silent, despite the thousands of Montrealers who need to know how they’re getting home tonight (and couldn’t care less whether the government falls tomorrow, unless it’s through a coup). The story sits unchanged since 3:25, and The Gazette and CTV (can someone get them a copy of WordPress so they can build a real website?) still say it’s a deal in principle but the strike isn’t over.

Of course, it’s all an academic point I suppose. Everyone knows Fagstein is the city’s most trusted source for STM-strike-related information.

EXCLUSIVE: My opinions on celebrity news programming

So ET Canada tonight had an “EXCLUSIVE” interview with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks followed by an “EXCLUSIVE” interview with George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Meanwhile, Access Hollywood tonight had an “EXCLUSIVE” interview with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks followed by an “EXCLUSIVE” interview with George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Time to watch The Simpsons.

I’m obligated to tell you about today’s budget

So apparently the Quebec budget was released today. Again. You’ll remember we had a budget back in March, but then we had an election and now everything has changed.

Among the highlights that anyone could care about: A $1 billion tax cut that would mean between $100 to $1000 per family. And that’s basically it. They don’t have a plan for education, other than forcing students to pay more. They don’t have a plan for health care, so they’re starting up a task force to give them one. They don’t have a plan to control the debt, which will rise despite/because of the tax cut.

So really the only thing worth watching on the 6 o’clock news was the cool headset being worn by Todd Van der Heyden on CTV as he reported live from the National Assembly.

The CBC’s Amanda Pfeffer (“The Pfeff”) meanwhile, doesn’t have the cool headset. She’s standing on a street. Nowhere near as cool.

P.S. For some reason CTV is referring to this as “Day 4” of the transit strike. It’s Day 3. Three days. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I know they’re trying to be bleeding-edge, but there are limits.

Revolutions are so disorganized

With today’s anti-STM-strike protest still 45 minutes away (wish I could go see it, but the buses won’t get me there fast enough), there are already rumours circulating of similar protests planned for Friday and Tuesday.

The media picked up on today’s protest (4pm, Berri-UQAM metro), so it may get some decent activity despite the last-minute planning.

UPDATE: Since there’s been no news following the protest, I’ll assume that it either didn’t happen or didn’t make much of an impact.

UPDATE (Fri. 4pm): Apparently nobody showed up but the media and a single organizer. I don’t know if I’d agree that it was “heavily hyped”. In fact, other than a La Presse brief, a vague Facebook post and some mentions on the morning all-news channels (which only the media watch anyway), nobody even knew about the protest.

CTV will get NFL, Super Bowl rights

After almost 25 years on Global, the NFL is giving its Canadian broadcast rights over to CTV for this year and the next two years.

There are a number of reasons (money) for this, though some are theorizing that Global’s incompetence at HD technology might be part of it.

To answer the most frequently asked question, no, this will not mean we get to see American Super Bowl commercials. The CRTC still requires that cable and satellite companies substitute American feeds for Canadian ones when the two are showing identical programming.

However, the same loophole that took place last year might repeat itself. Because the high-definition broadcast signal out of Toronto instead of Montreal, the CRTC doesn’t require signal substitution. So people watching the Super Bowl in HD might still be able to watch the U.S. HD signal with its super-expensive commercials still included. Last year this was the case for Videotron and Star Choice HD customers, but not Bell ExpressVu.

Everything you need to know about the Montreal transit strike

UPDATED: Friday at 6:50pm – It’s over. STM and union negotiators have come to an agreement in principle. Service is resuming slowly. See the latest developments.

Just in case you were curious, no, there wasn’t a last-minute agreement between the STM (Société de Transport de Montréal) and its maintenance workers (the Syndicat du transport de Montréal). So the strike is on, and everyone’s going to need to spend more time planning how to get around town.

I’ll dispense with telling you the blindingly obvious (bike, walk, carpool, taxi) and get down to some things people have been confused about with the coming strike.

The basics

  • The people on strike are maintenance workers, not bus drivers and metro ticket-takers. They belong to a different union, so don’t blame them for the disruption.
  • Service is still being provided during rush hours and late at night, on a schedule established by the essential services council.
  • Nobody knows how long the strike will last (basically it’s until one side cracks from the pressure), but the last strike was 8 days long if you need a ballpark figure. The union insists it could be over “in minutes” while the STM and city warn it could be a long strike.
  • The government has the power to impose a settlement through legislation, but is reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, the labour minister has given both sides a 48-hour deadline as of Wednesday to settle the conflict.

The timing

Buses and metros will work on the following schedule:

  • Weekdays: 6:00-9:00, 15:30-18:30, 23:00-01:00
  • Weekends: 6:00-9:00, 14:00-17:00, 23:00-01:00

At the start of these periods, buses will start up mid-route wherever they would normally be at that time. And any bus that starts will finish, even if it reaches its terminus after the service period is over. (Note: This works out for most routes, however some longer ones like the 211 may lose a departure or two at the end due to logistical problems — the last departure of the morning 211 Westbound is at 8:39am)

Metro trains will also start mid-route at various points in the network. Stations open 15 minutes before the first train, and schedules are posted at metro entrances.

The metro end-times are somewhat complex:

  • Green (1) and Orange (2) lines: Last trains start at the two terminuses at the end of the morning service period (9:00am), passing through Berri-UQAM at 9:25. For the afternoon and evening periods, the last trains will depart the terminuses 20 minutes before the end of the service period (6:10/4:40pm, 12:40am), all passing through Berri-UQAM at the last minute of the period.
  • Yellow (4) starts from both terminuses at the end of the service period
  • Blue (5) starts from both terminuses at the end of the morning and afternoon service periods. The last trains of each day leave at 12:15am as they normally do.

The STM has replaced its normal bus and metro scheduling pages with a hacked-together system that notes which bus stops are cancelled and when metros will run through a particular station. In case you’re unclear about a particular departure, check the STM’s website and it will give you a definitive answer.

All this being said, this strike is still nothing short of chaos for STM management. So expect the network in general to be less reliable than normal and give yourself a margin for error.

Services unaffected

  • AMT commuter trains are not run by the STM, so they will be running on a normal schedule.
    • Those of you who have not taken commuter trains before should know that regular bus pases are not accepted on board. Individual tickets are $3.75 to $5.25 on the island, one-way. Check the link to confirm rates and zones.
    • In a hilarious twist of irony, an unrelated CP Rail labour conflict may cause delays on the Blainville, Dorion and Delson train lines. The Deux-Montagnes line is unaffected (it’s run by CN).
    • Just in case you thought it couldn’t get worse, the AMT is coincidentally experiencing technical problems with its diesel-powered trains the likes of which it hasn’t seen in decades.
  • Transit service in Laval (STL) and the south shore (RTL) as well as other off-island-run services are unaffected. In fact, the STL will be increasing service on lines that come onto the island to compensate for the STM strike, including running their night-time shuttle between Montmorency and Henri-Bourassa during the daytime when metro service is not running in Laval.
  • Paratransit service is considered essential and will run on a normal schedule.

Cancelled services

  • Night buses will not be running (they all fall out of the service periods)
  • School extras (special buses added to handle increased loads from people leaving classes) will be suspended. So if you take the bus with lots of other people from high school, consider other transportation options or a long wait.

The demands

The STM is demanding/offering a five-year contract with:

  • Pension eligibility be reduced by five years (meaning you’ll have to work five years longer, or be five years older, before you qualify for the same benefits)
  • Reduced pension benefits for those retiring after 2019
  • No salary increase this year
  • A 2% salary increase for each of the next four years

The union wants a three-year contract with:

  • No changes to pensions (they’ve since offered to take the cost for this out of the salary increase)
  • A 2% salary increase for each of the next three years plus cost-of-living protection which would add on another 1-3% per year

The history

2,142 maintenance workers, who comprise people like mechanics and janitorial staff but not bus drivers, metro booth operators or supervisors, last went on strike in November of 2003. That strike lasted 8 days. Their latest contract ended Jan. 6, 2007, and they voted to strike on March 4. On May 6 they set the date for the strike.

There have been 15 transit strikes in the past 40 years. The longest was in 1974 when maintenance workers shut down the metro (but not buses) for 44 days.

The politics

Both sides are trying to win this battle in the court of public opinion. The STM took out a full-page ad in Wednesday’s papers.

The union says:

  • They are paid less than private-sector counterparts
  • They have been open to negotiating at any time (while the STM team goes home at 5 p.m.)
  • They are paid less and get less benefits than Laval transit maintenance workers
  • They have already made concessions and are willing to end the strike even with only partial concessions from the STM
  • The strike is our fault
  • Other arguments summarized on this blog post

The STM says:

  • The deal they offered is the same one being given to other city unions
  • They have a $22 million deficit this year and can’t afford more money
  • The union has been without a contract for only a few months and are “taking the city hostage”
  • Their benefits package (especially the pension) make up for any salary difference with private-sector maintenance workers

So far most people are on the STM’s side, noting that $22-$25 an hour is a lot to pay someone to clean vomit off a metro station floor, and that those suffering from this strike are mostly the poor and working class.

The media have come largely on the STM’s side as well, with The Gazette, La Presse (again) and Le Devoir all printing editorials saying the union already has the rights it needs and the strike is overkill. Of course, the crazy union lefties don’t like that idea.

The law

This is a perfectly legal strike. The government has the power, through special legislation, to force and end to the disruption or force a settlement. However, a mutually-agreeable settlement is far preferable to this drastic action. Though some people suggest that charter rights have somehow been violated, no court has ruled that convenient public transit is a charter right.

Your employer has no obligation to change any working conditions due to the strike. This includes changing your schedule, compensating you for cab use, providing alternative transportation, or anything else you might think you deserve because you work at odd hours. You’re still responsible for getting to work on time and working whatever hours you’ve agreed to. Unless public transit is part of your job somehow, the strike becomes your problem, not theirs.

You may be eligible for a partial refund of your monthly or weekly transit pass once this is over. After the 2003 strike, the STM offered a $5 discount for the following February 2004 bus pass ($2.50 for reduced-fare passes). Three years later, it settled a class action lawsuit and discounted $2 off the November 2006 transit pass ($1 off the reduced pass). Hold on to this week’s/month’s pass in case it becomes necessary. Note, however, that it could be a while before you see anything, and it won’t be that much.


Among the more interesting alternatives, CJAD is turning this into an opportunity for a publicity stunt, offering a free shuttle from the West Island to downtown during the strike (between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

The Journal today has a list of ride-sharing services, where you can offer and look for a partner to carpool with. And there’s always communauto, which is bound to be busier than normal.

As expected, at least one taxi driver (whose blog is apparently the second-most influential in Quebec) is going to profit heavily from very angry people.

How about informal taxis? Hitch-hike with a tip in hand.


Though it won’t get you to your destination any faster, writing angry letters might help alleviate your stress a bit.

Or if that’s too much for you, just join the “I don’t support the strike” Facebook group. Or the other “I don’t support the strike” Facebook group. Or the other one. Or the other one. Or this one. Or that one. Or the one over there. Or this one right here. Or this group. Or that group. Or this one. Or that one. Or that one. Or, if you support the strike, join the lone Facebook group that’s taking their side.

So far at least one online petition has started up demanding the government legislate an end to the strike.

The first (and only) attempted protest against the strike by concerned citizens is planned for Thursday at 4pm at Emily-Gamelin Park (aka Berri Square, corner Berri and Ste-Catherine). It was an utter failure, with only three people showing up (not including the media).

Finally, just to balance things out, here’s an interesting blog post arguing that the union’s demands are justified in the big picture.

Are these really the top blogs?

So this marketing agency I’ve never heard of has released a list of Quebec’s top 30 blogs (PDF).

Banlieusardises comes out on top, followed by our favourite taxi driver at Un Taxi de Nuit, the currently-on-hiatus Mère Indigne, Mitch Joel’s blog at Twist Image (the top anglophone blog) and Anne Archet (the top blog I’d never heard of before).

Other anglophones on the list: Julien Smith’s In Over Your Head Hip-Hop Podcast (6) (his take), StayGoLinks (9), Metroblogging Montreal (11, leaving MtlWebLog and Midnight Poutine off the list entirely), bopuc/weblog (25) and HabsBlog, the only sports blog on the list.

Of course, what’s crazy about this list is that Fagstein is not on it. After setting the blogging agenda around the city for weeks now, to be shunned like this is just insulting.

Seriously though, there are some local blogs that should be on the list:

  • Montreal City Weblog, Kate McDonnell’s no-frills daily news blog, which in addition to its age provides interesting links to what other people think of our city.
  • Midnight Poutine, the only blog that runs like an original news site, with regular weekly features (like their weekend podcast and metro roulette)
  • Chicagoan in Montreal, Frank’s fascinating look at the city from the eyes of an outsider (even if he’s been living here for a while)
  • Christelle’s blog (cute puppy! OMG!)
  • ChuckerCanuck, for those of you who doubt that crazy right-wingers exist here
  • Coolopolis, Kristian Gravenor’s look at Montreal’s unknown history
  • Expo Lounge, which was reminiscing about Expo 67 long before it became fashionable this summer
  • Montreal Tech Watch, probably the most comprehensive blog for news about the local tech entrepreneur community
  • Montreal LiveJournal community, which has become a one-stop advice centre for the city’s clueless Internet-enabled youth
  • MTL STREET, the fashion goldminer
  • Overheard at McGill, the most frequently updated “overheard” blog
  • Pow! Right between the eyes!, Andy Nulman’s blog about marketing through the power of surprise
  • Urban Photo, Chris DeWolf’s photographically-enhanced blog
  • Walking Turcot Yards, a blog entirely about an undeveloped piece of land and the giant concrete spaghetti mess of a highway intersection that runs next to it

In the Blogosphere: N’ayez pas peur (14), IPUB (27), Michel Leblanc (16), Montreal Tech Watch, Technocité

Success is in the eyes of the flashmobber

On Saturday night I decided I’d stop by this metro party thing that was going on. I had my doubts about it, since it hadn’t been well publicized, but people showed up anyway.

Most of the crowd showed up together, being friends with each other. Some came alone. None of them seemed to know what was going on, and started asking around for whoever organized this thing. Whoever it was wasn’t there, and the group was left without music (a rather important part to any party).

Nevertheless, at 9:07pm we got on the train at Snowdon and everyone started stomping and cheering and blowing through noisemakers and stringing lights.

The real fun part about things like this is the reaction from unsuspecting bystanders. Some of them looked confused. Others had a blank, mindless stare. Some giggled, and some even joined in the fun. But everyone noticed.

By the time the train got to Jean-Talon, metro security was there to meet it. Nothing particularly nefarious had taken place. Doors weren’t held, alarms weren’t pulled. All they were doing was making noise, most of which got drowned out by the sound of the train speeding along.

Still, everyone got out there. And after a short delay while the tangled mess of lights was being freed from the support bars they were tied to, the group found itself on the platform, thanking the security guards for being such good sports about it all (the guards weren’t actually being insanely nice, but the cordial atmosphere took them off guard (no pun intended) and discouraged them from escalating the situation further).

After a post-mortem on the escalator, the group split up, and I found myself following the larger faction to the orange line heading downtown. They still had all their stuff with them, so they decided they’d have another party on the orange line from Jean-Talon to Berri. I debated whether to stick with them and watch what happened or go home.

I’m glad I chose to stay. Once they got on, they quickly gained the support of a small group of young men. One sat in the middle of the party, enjoying the scene playing around him and grooving with the noisemaker-generated rhythm. Another got up and started dancing like he was in the middle of a nightclub, grinding against the pole and breakdancing on the floor. The third sat in his seat, his eyes half-closed and looking like he was either high on valium or low on sleep.

Again, the same set of reactions. One couple looked like they were in a waking coma, but the rest of the people in the car stared and laughed at the entire scene.

Just as the train pulled in to Berri, I realized what was wrong with valium guy. He jerked forward suddenly and alcohol-soaked vomit magically appeared on his jacket and the floor. I decided it was time to leave before the place got stunk up. (Should I point out the irony that this kid’s vomit is going to leave a more lasting impression than a group of noisemakers who cleaned up after themselves?)

After some coaxing from one of the partyers, who introduced me to his friends, I decided to join them for some karaoke at a bar near Ontario and Papineau.

“Dive” isn’t an apt description for this place. It was cliché. Sea-green walls, glittery curtains, VLT machines, a claw prize machine, giant 40 oz beer bottles and tiny glasses (cheapest alcohol I’ve ever seen at a bar by the way), middle-aged waitresses who think they’re more attractive than they really are, and fat, bald 40-year-old men badly belching out 80s rock songs. I should start recommending it to tourists.

Esso backwards is ossé

mtlweblog’s Kate McDonnell has some words (and photos) about downtown gas stations, calling them “urban blights”.

While these stations certainly do look out of place (especially at Sherbrooke and St-Laurent), what always struck me was the lack of downtown gas stations in the city. The only other ones I can think of within quick driving distance are at Park and Mount Royal and Mountain and Gauchetière. Unlike in the West Island, for example, where there’s one on just about every corner, you really have to look for them downtown.