Monthly Archives: May 2008

Forbidden burger…

Sunday is Free Burger Day at Harvey’s in Ontario and Quebec (for once, a promotion where Quebec is included!). One per customer, 10am to 3pm.

Enjoy your 35% daily recommended value of saturated and trans fats and 38% daily recommended value of sodium (assuming, of course, you don’t want any topings)

Harvey’s website has a store locator (link fixed). Downtown there’s a location on Peel below Ste. Catherine which will no doubt have large lineups.

Judging the Gazette scoop

On Wednesday, Alain Dubuc took the Gazette Bouchard-Taylor scoop as an excuse to philosophize about the nature of pre-emptive document leaks and ask whether they’re good for society:

Cette question est la suivante: en quoi le public est-il mieux servi quand un média rend publique une information quelques heures ou quelques jours avant qu’elle ne soit diffusée de toute façon?

He argues in La Presse that the Bouchard-Taylor leak was a bad one, because it emphasized things that were not core to the report (like having francophones learn more English). He thinks whoever leaked it did so to embarrass or usurp the commission.

I’m thinking Alain Dubuc hasn’t seen The West Wing. (You can get it weekdays on CLT, though that channel isn’t useful for anything else sadly.) There, he’d learn that leaks are commonplace in government just before a big announcement in order to “soften up the ground” and prepare people.

Some of my colleagues have suggested that leaking to the anglo paper was a calculated effort to do just that, knowing it would pounce on the controversial aspects (especially about language) and that the report itself would seem tame by comparison. (I haven’t talked to Jeff Heinrich because he’s too cool for me and I doubt he’d leak through this blog something he wouldn’t say in the paper)

So was the scoop wrong? Inaccurate? Misleading? Some people think so.

I’m not in a position to judge, both because I work for The Gazette and because I haven’t had time to read the report in its entirety.

But La Presse’s André Pratte has read the report, and he thinks my paper did a good job.

UPDATE (May 24): EiC Andrew Phillips cites Pratte’s blog post in saying the paper didn’t have a nefarious agenda.

Français go home, says Toronto

RadCan’s Sur le Web makes an interesting point (I’d link to the post directly, but I can’t) today about the Tourism Toronto website (which should probably be called the Toronto Tourism site considering its URL, but who am I to judge?) that was featured in a recent Globe and Mail article about the increase in domestic tourism to the city.

Tourism Toronto doesn’t have a French version.

It took me about five minutes to find the links to different language versions (they’re on the bottom of the page), in the form of flags for different countries under the banner “international sites.” There’s a Chinese version, a Korean version, a Japanese version and a Spanish version. But no French. (Incidentally, there are flags for Spain and Argentina which link to, which I’m sure isn’t going to offend anyone, right?).

I haven’t asked the site’s creators what their motives are, because that’s no fun. So let’s speculate about them here. Did they forget? Are Korean tourists more valuable than French ones? Is there some other website for francophone Canadian tourists? Are they trying to get back at us for winning the bagel war?

The nitty-gritty of public consultations

Whoever said “there are no stupid questions” has probably never been to a public consultation meeting, where anyone from the general public, gifted only with a lot of free time, can ask any un-pre-screened question to important-looking bureaucrats in front of an audience.

Last week, I went to a public consultation of the STM in Côte-des-Neiges, hoping there would be some interesting developments to report about transit improvements to the area (and Montreal in general). I figured that even if the presentation was a bust, some of the questions from the public would spark interesting answers.

Naturally, I was disappointed.

But perhaps I’m being unfair calling them stupid questions. Because many of them weren’t questions.

Instead, they were 10-minute diatribes about how someone was late to work one morning and the bus didn’t show up that one time, or general demands for things the representatives there were obviously powerless to do anything about. Other demands seemed illogical or contradictory. Few of them were useful.

The meeting gave me quite a bit more respect for Marvin Rotrand, a city councillor and vice-president of the STM, who has to sit through these kinds of meetings on a regular basis, and clearly recognized many of the people he called up to speak as people who regularly take advantage of opportunities to speak their minds.

Still, some interesting tidbits did emerge from the hours-long meeting:

  • Starting next month, service on the 11 Montagne route will be extended to midnight from its current 9pm daily, since services on the mountain are open until midnight. The bigger problem of buses unable to climb the steep Ridgewood Ave. during winter will hopefully be solved in the future by improvements to the buses.
  • Service on the 103 Monkland will be improved outside of rush hour starting in September.
  • More Abribus bus shelters are being installed on the network in NDG/Côte-des-Neiges, to bring the ratio from 37% to 40% of stops.
  • Hampstead Mayor Bill Steinberg was particularly concerned about the 51 Boulevard Edouard-Montpetit bus route because he says it has a tendency to block the intersection of Queen Mary and Ellerdale (I’ve taken the bus through there many times and never seen it happen, but whatever). He wants it rerouted via Stratford and Cote-St-Luc to somehow avoid this problem, and he wants a guarantee that no articulated buses will be used on the route.
  • Five buses will be added to the STM’s busiest rush-hour route, the 535 R-Bus Du Parc/Côte-des-Neiges, starting in September, in order to deal with crowding problems. 200 articulated buses (beyond the current test vehicles) will come into service starting later next year as the STM simultaneously increases its fleet from 1700 to 1950 buses.
  • The STM is looking at installing bike racks on buses.
  • One testy issue was about strollers. Moms are upset because there isn’t enough space on crowded buses for their giant strolling machines. In response, rather than asking clients to use simple foldable strollers, they’re turning the wheelchair area on low-floor buses into wheelchair/stroller areas.
  • First-generation LFS low-floor buses (16, 17 and 18 series buses from 1996-98 which are considered lemons if not death traps) will be phased out by 2010. It’s unclear whether their retirements will come before those of the high-floor Classic buses which preceded them.
  • Among the recommendations from the public:
    • Limited-stop bus service between the two legs of the orange line (along Van Horne, Jean-Talon, Sauvé/Côte-Vertu, for example), doubling up on existing local routes. This may seem unnecessary because of the existence of the blue line, but I have found it easier to take the 121 between Sauvé and Côte-Vertu than to take a metro detour through three trains.
    • Spend more money cleaning up bus shelters, because “once in a while isn’t good enough.” No recommendations, of course, on where this new money should come from. Higher fares? Higher taxes? Less service? All of those sound really appealing so we don’t see as much litter.
    • Setup commuter train stations at Namur and Canora along the Montreal-Blainville line.
    • There should be more reserved lanes so people can get to their destinations faster
    • There should be fewer reserved lanes because they take away parking and hurt local businesses
    • Bus stops should be spaced further apart so the buses stop less
    • Bus stops should be spaced further together so people don’t have to walk as much
    • Bus fares should be raised so that more money can be put into better services
    • Bus fares should be decreased so that the poor have access to transit
    • Poor people should have a special poor-people’s pass
    • All non-PSA advertising should be removed from buses and metros (again, no recommendations of what should replace the loss of revenue or what services should be cut)

Another West Island-specific consultation will take place in Pierrefonds on June 11.

UPDATE (May 24): For the record, The Suburban also covered this meeting.

Stage 2: Anger

The media’s feelings toward The Gazette have started to move from Stage 1, denial (“if what The Gazette says is true”) to their predictable second stage, anger:

The bargaining stage seems to have failed, with the government saying it will only release the report on Thursday (though it was initially to be made public on Friday). The depression stage will continue until then, as the media have to continually attribute all their information to a competing newspaper.

That just leaves acceptance.

Meanwhile, as this news starts hitting the funny pages elsewhere, The Gazette has put PDFs of its partial drafts online (margin notes, reporters’ food stains and all): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Expect analyses tomorrow of anything the paper has missed or gotten wrong.

UPDATE: Jim Duff has some thoughts on this as well.

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 24

I’m working six days this week, so I’ll make this one simple:

What is the minimum driving distance between Sherbrooke and Fleet? And how long would it take to drive from one to the other (and back) at posted speed limits?

For the sake of this exercise, assume there are no stop signs along your route and all traffic lights are green (but one-way streets are still one-way streets).

UPDATE: I’ve removed the references to “Street” as Fleet comes in different formats. Consider all of them in a potential answer, whichever provides the minimum distance is the correct one.

UPDATE (May 21): Rosa has the correct answer below: Fleet and Sherbrooke intersect in Beaconsfield. Therefore the answer to both questions is zero.

Nuns’ Island hates public transit

As if trying to find a way to sound more like elitist suburban NIMBY snobs, residents at the southern tip of Nuns’ Island have apparently complained to the STM that they have too much bus service. They complain about the noise and dust generated by the buses.

I know buses are loud. I hear them outside my living room window every day. But I’ve never thought to complain about them, nor have I ever experienced dust problems (do they shed?)

Perhaps the noise and dust problems in the area might be due to the fact that it’s one giant construction zone for upscale condos? The photo above is one of many new skyscraping condo buildings going up in what was once empty space near a park.

The STM, after considering numerous half-assed schemes to placate residents and needlessly inconvenience public transit users, has concluded that it’s not reducing service to the area. The article doesn’t make clear which side Claude Trudel is on, since he’s both the Verdun borough mayor and the chairperson of the STM board of directors. Let’s hope he and his constituents realize this is the best option for everyone involved.

Especially when you consider that one bus on the road can replace dozens of SUVs.

Myanmar 101

This week’s Bluffer’s Guide is by yours truly, about the crisis in Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis.

I was actually responsible for the entire Seven Days page this week, replacing the vacationing Peter Cooney. So I ended up filing the story to myself (literally, in that I emailed it to my work address from home).

For those who don’t subscribe to the paper, Seven Days also includes a summary of headlines from the week, quotes from each day, editorial cartoons from papers around the world (this week it’s all about Myanmar’s reluctance to accept aid and its decision to keep on with a constitutional referendum to give its governing junta more power) and a few items from this week in history (it was 15 years ago this week, for example, that the Expos retired their first jersey, No. 10 Rusty Staub)

No online link for the bluffer’s guide, so I’ve included it below:

So, what happened? On May 2, Cyclone Nargis made landfall in Myanmar, and became the deadliest natural disaster in the country’s history, killing tens of thousands. International relief efforts have been stymied by the government’s reluctance to issue visas.

Wait, wasn’t that Burma? Yeah, it’s confusing. In 1989, the military junta unilaterally changed the English version of the country’s official name from Burma to Myanmar. Democracy activists reject the legitimacy of that decision and continue to use the name Burma, along with countries such as the United States and Canada. The United Nations, however, recognizes Myanmar.

So how bad was this cyclone? Bad. The storm grew in the Bay of Bengal during the last week of April. It then began weakening, before rapidly intensifying the day before it hit the coast. By that point, it had reached peak wind speeds of 215 kilometres per hour, the equivalent of a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane.

What’s the death toll? Nobody knows for sure. The UN confirmed 38,000 deaths, while the Red Cross says the number could be anywhere from 60,000 to 130,000. The official government figure is 130,000 dead or missing. It is probably the deadliest cyclone since a 1991 storm hit Bangladesh, killing 138,000 people.

What’s being done to help? Western governments and the United Nations have begun relief efforts, but report frustration that the Myanmar government is being slow to grant visas into the country.

How are neighbouring countries responding? Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, countries hardest hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake (and receiving no assistance from Myanmar) offered millions of dollars worth of money, food and medicine. India, which still has close ties to Myanmar, has led efforts with 140 tonnes of materials.

What is Canada doing? The federal government has promised $2 million in relief aid, including 2,000 shelter kits that left Canada on Wednesday and are being handed off to the International Red Cross in Thailand.

Why is Myanmar resisting aid? Because it makes them look bad. Myanmar has been a military dictatorship ever since a coup d’état in 1962. Free elections in 1990 resulted in a landslide victory for democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, but the results were ignored by the government which refused to step down. Opposition political parties are banned, the Internet is strictly regulated, the media (what little of it is not run by the government) is thoroughly censored and prisons are filled with political prisoners.

Is anything getting in? Yes. Though the government accepted money and supplies from other countries (which it would then proudly hand out to its citizens to improve its image), foreign aid workers would embarrass the military junta, and are being resisted to an extent the UN World Food Programme called “unprecedented” in modern history. The first U.S. military relief plane was only allowed to land in the country 10 days after the disaster.

How will this affect the food crisis? It doesn’t look good. Myanmar is a fertile source of rice, and the cyclone hit at a critical time. Farmers lost 149,000 water buffaloes, which won’t be replaced before the critical plowing season. Aid groups are trying to replace them with Chinese-built machines, but time is running out. Farmers also need tonnes of rice seeds after the ones they had just planted were washed away. If the harvest isn’t saved, a famine might dramatically increase the number of casualties.

Bad timing: Only 10 days after the disaster in Myanmar, a major earthquake in neighbouring China (magnitude 7.9) caused a catastrophe on a similarly devastating scale. The earthquake has affected relief efforts in the region, which must now split between helping both areas.

Worse timing: In the aftermath of the disaster, the Myanmar government decided to proceed with a controversial constitutional referendum, delaying the vote only in the worst affected areas until May 24. The new constitution, which the government said was approved by over 90 per cent of voters and a 99 per cent turnout, reserves parliamentary seats for military officers and restricts who can run for president.

Open-ended discussion question: How would this diaster have affected Myanmar if the country had a free and democratic government and a healthy economy like its neighbours?

Anywired on Station C

Anywired has an interview with Patrick Tanguay about Station C, the coworking space I wrote about in December and which opened in February.

Tanguay says they haven’t been open long enough for any dramatic conclusions, but he’s still getting used to having a regular schedule, and says he’d advise people to bring headphones to cut out distractions when you’re working to deadline.

The reasonable accommodation debate begins again

The Gazette’s Jeff Heinrich today has an OMGEXCLUSIVE!!!!11 on the salient facts that will make their way into the Bouchard-Taylor Commission report. It’s in a bunch of parts:

  • The main story, which boils down the conclusions to: learn about immigrants (especially Muslims) and be nice to them; and learn more English
  • A list of common fallacies in arguments against accommodation
  • A sidebar on the need to learn more English, which will no doubt be interpreted not as “we need to be more multilingual like world-leading countries” but as “we need to surrender to the unilingual anglos who will enslave us”
  • Some comments from members of the commission not named Bouchard or Taylor
  • Criticisms from UQAM prof and commission adviser Jacques Beauchemin, calling the report a “whitewash”

There’s also a piece noting that Taylor has been named one of the world’s top 100 public thinkers, an editorial praising the commissioners, a soundoff forum for people’s comments, and a post-publication reaction story from the premier (he’s not saying anything) and others, including Mouvement Montréal français (I won’t spoil the surprise)

I don’t know how Heinrich obtained the parts of the report he bases his stories on (maybe he found them in a cab?), but I’m sure plenty of ink will be spilled noting that it was the anglo paper that got the scoop on a commission report that says we should learn English.

Meanwhile, my bosses are (insert disgusting metaphor for happiness here) that the competition is all over talking about their scoop (it was even in Le Monde!). Patrick Lagacé blogs about it (and the comments give a pretty good idea of why this commission was needed in the first place). Maisonneuve also has (coincidentally) a story about the commission from yesterday.

My take

Anyone who expected the commission report to magically solve the issue is clearly fooling themselves. It simply won’t do that. So then the question becomes what we spent all that money on. Was it just a chance for people from the régions to vent about immigrants they’ve never met? Or was it something to clearly define what the issues are so we can slowly work through them? Either way, expect a lot of people to be angry.

And anger is what the commission brought out more than anything else. It made racism, xenophobia and all sorts of discrimination acceptable and normal by allowing people a forum to express it.

As the Habs riot showed us, crowds are like children. Without proper discipline, they revert to the intelligence of an infant.

This problem isn’t unique to Quebec. The U.S. has the same issue with immigration: the media and politicians practice open discrimination, and that makes it acceptable for everyone else to do the same.

One of the knee-jerk reactions we’ve already seen is that francophones are the ones expected to do the accommodating while anglos don’t have to change. I don’t think that’s the point. Anglos already have to learn French here, otherwise they won’t get jobs in public service (outside of Fairview anyway). Statistics show that those who are bilingual make far more than their unilingual counterparts, anglo or franco. So the solution is to make sure both language groups get education in both languages, no?

I think there’s an even more fundamental issue that wasn’t explored here, and one that would have pissed francophone activists off more than anything else: Is it still in our best interest as a world society to preserve minority languages? So many conflicts can be boiled down to communication difficulties, and so many of those can be boiled down to translation problems. What would be so bad if the entire world spoke just one language, whether it be English, French, Latin, Esperanto or Mandarin?

And what about the media?

The commission thinks it went a bit far, and the media will no doubt disagree. I think the real answer (as always) lies somewhere in between. The media (especially tabloids like the Journal) overhyped the issue, which is a large reason why people who have no real connection with immigrants became so frightened. On the other hand, the media only serve to reflect society, and there was clearly some latent xenophobia there to exploit.

New Gazette blog goes personal

Though it officially launches on Monday, The Gazette’s latest blog went live today (and this morning’s paper includes a small pointer to it). It’s called Patent Pending, and it’s the blog of a veteran Gazette copy editor who is undergoing the transition from male to female.

It varies from other Gazette blogs because it’s personal. Very personal. In fact, you can’t get much more personal than this.

The editor is Jillian (formerly Bill) Page, whose service at the paper is measured in decades more than years, and whose long-time coworkers were shocked to say the least when they got an email one day explaining that Bill was now Jill.

Coming out in this way is a challenge in itself. It’s still a bit awkward for me to override my habits in the use of personal pronouns, and I’m one of the youngest ones there. You can imagine how difficult it is in an environment where the average age is about 174.

As the inaugural post explains, expect the blog to vary between seriously discussing the social, political and health aspects of such a transition and humorously discussing some of the unexpected quirks that sitcom-like awkward situations that arise when you try to get everyone to switch from “he” to “she.”