Monthly Archives: June 2009

Don’t forget the apostrophe

The mythical flag of Anglophonia

The mythical flag of Anglophonia

You may not be aware of this, but there’s a scandal – no, a SCANDALE! – involving Gazette humour columnist Josh Freed.

I know what you’re thinking: Josh Freed is still alive? He still has a pulse? Someone’s still reading him?

Apparently so. He writes weekly on Saturdays on Page A2, usually about some issue of the week and relating it to how he can’t figure out his microwave. This past Saturday, he wrote about the Fête nationale craziness, and praised how it was francophones who lobbied to get two anglo bands reinstated for a concert tonight.

He also discusses Quebec’s flag:

Maybe we could find a new apolitical flag for Quebec’s national day that speaks to all modern Quebecers who live in our city. How about a fleur-de-lys in one corner, with a snowmobile, a jazz saxophone, and some Cirque de Soleil stilts in the others? Or what about a Bixi bike stuck in a snowbank? Our licence plate is another relic of the political past that could use a facelift. It says “Je me souviens” – or “I remember” – but what do I remember? It’s certainly not my own license plate number, which I keep forgetting as I get older. In fact, given Quebec’s aging boomer society, our license should probably say “J’oublie – I forget.” Or, “Ou sont mes clefs d’auto?” Maybe we could put something practical on the license plate – like a warning for the driver behind you: “LOOK OUT! POTHOLE AHEAD!”

It’s fairly clear here, or should be, that Freed is a satirist and isn’t actually seriously suggesting these things.

But apparently a sentence earlier in his story raised an eyebrow or two:

The dinosaurs of nationalism like the St. Jean organizers who tried to stop two local bands from singing in a foreign dialect called English – a move reminiscent of the old days of the Apostrophe SS.

Somehow, despite only printing about 150,000 copies, one of them was leaked to one of Montreal’s million or so francophones, who passed it on to Gilles Rhéaume. He’s now hopping mad and has filed a complaint with the Quebec Press Council (via Montreal City Weblog).

It was only on Sunday that someone thought to talk to Freed about it, and he took the time to explain to La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé what “Apostrophe SS” means. Yeah, it’s a Nazi reference, which are almost always crude, but it’s also decades old (he even uses it in referring to the past), and it’s a play on words (or, rather, letter). He’s even used it before.

Some francophones might not get it. Or they might take it too seriously. But, of course, Freed wrote this in The Gazette, and he wasn’t writing for a francophone audience.

Considering all that was lost in translation, perhaps one should be provided next time.

A footnote: I edited this piece on Friday night, and wrote the headline “Politics ruin the party”. Had I known it would get disseminated so much (and misunderstood), I might have tried for a more absurd, more memorable headline at least.

UPDATE (June 27): Freed uses his next column to explain himself. In a nutshell, the Apostrophe SS went all Nazi death-camp on apostrophe-S-es, not people.

CFQR dumps Terry DiMonte

Goodbye (again) Terry

Less than two years after he moved to Calgary in the midst of a nasty contract dispute and took up a job that pays him more money than God, and less than a year after competitor Q92 decided to have him do a noon-hour show from Calgary, Terry DiMonte has once again been booted off Montreal radio.

DiMonte announced on Thursday that his show on CFQR would come to an end, by “mutual agreement.” His final show is Tuesday, June 23, from noon to 1pm, just before the Fête nationale holiday.

Unlike his very public spat with Astral Media’s Rob Braide and Bob Harris, which DiMonte described as “hurtful”, his departure from Q92-now-925-the-q is more an acceptance of an unsustainable situation, and he holds no acrimony toward the station or its owners. CFQR is, above all, a music station, and with its relaunch in April it became even more so. DiMonte’s voice time was cut to only about six minutes during the hour (other Q DJs were similarly cut to make room for more music), and he’s paid far too much to sit around and drink coffee for 20 minutes while he waits for his next two minutes on air. As he said on the air on Monday, “it doesn’t fit anymore.”

Even though his ratings were up in the last quarter, the price was still far too high. There are plenty of younger, cheaper, more local DJs that can be brought in to introduce Madonna and Marvin Gaye. According to someone intimately involved with a source with inside knowledge of a phone call between a highly-placed insider and the astrologer for a janitor with access to secret documents, DiMonte was told (graciously) on Thursday that budget cuts meant he had to be dumped. It was a day after he was congratulated for his ratings bump.

Asked about his departure, DiMonte had nothing but kind words for the station (which is owned by his current employer, Corus):

My time at Q was really nice. They were welcoming and supportive and Mario Cecchini and Mark Dickie are class acts. And it was an interesting and different challenge, talking to Montrealers from a studio in Calgary. That was fun. And it helped ease the pain of the bums rush I got from CHOM.

I asked him what he’ll be doing with all the extra time he has. He says he has lots of work to do as “a morning man trying to make a mark in a city of 1.2 million people and 18!! radio stations” and he doesn’t expect to be taking extra-long lunches.

It was a cute little experiment, but in the end DiMonte was overpriced and underworked, doing a job more suited to someone with less than half his experience. It was like hiring a race car driver in a limousine to deliver pizzas. It just didn’t make sense.

So DiMonte is once again off Montreal radio, at least until someone can match what he’s getting in Calgary and offer him serious money to come back. Considering the state of the media economy here, and the rather charred bridge between him and Astral Media (which owns CHOM, CJFM Mix 96 and CJAD), I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I’ve asked for comment from Brian DePoe, program director at CFQR, but he’s on vacation until after June 24. I’ll update this post if he has anything to add.

UPDATE: The last two minutes from his final show, in (slightly imperfect) Mp3.

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 41

Montreal Geography Trivia No. 41

Where is this intersection, and why is it dangerous?

UPDATE: It is, of course, the corner of Brunswick Blvd. and Auto Plaza Ave. in Pointe-Claire, right outside the Fairview mall.

There are two main reasons it’s so dangerous (not including the fact that it’s the first intersection used by a lot of people in their brand new cars):

  • This intersection of a six-lane road and a four-lane road is controlled only by stop signs (and at one point in its history it didn’t even have that). The intersection is so large it’s hard to tell who has the right of way.
  • Only a few metres away from this intersection is the main entrance off Brunswick Blvd. to the Fairview shopping centre, the largest mall in the West Island. It is also the entrance and exit to the Fairview bus terminal, where 18 bus routes stop. This intersection is controlled by only a single stop sign at the exit to the mall.

This seems like a no-brainer for a traffic light, perhaps even a reorganization to ensure that car and bus traffic have a safer right-of-way, especially because the main way to access Fairview is by making a left turn as shown below.

This intersection has a lot of left-turning traffic who have to yield to oncoming vehicles from three different directions

This intersection has a lot of left-turning traffic who have to yield to oncoming vehicles from three different directions

Vehicles passing through the piece of pavement occupied by this grey car in the middle include:

  • Cars exiting the mall’s parking lot, turning left or right onto Brunswick Blvd.
  • Cars turning left from Brunswick Blvd. into the parking lot
  • Cars heading east on Brunswick Blvd.
  • Cars turning left onto Brunswick Blvd. from Auto Plaza Ave.
  • Buses exiting the terminal to head west on Brunswick Blvd.

And vehicles are expected to look at all this traffic and judge when it’s safe to cross.

Though it’s done safely thousands of times every day, it can take forever during the busy shopping season, and all it takes is one bad judgment to cause an accident.

These intersections need a set of traffic lights. Now.

Oh, cadets

Yesterday I saw a cyclist breeze through a red light, turn right from the left lane to go the wrong way down a high-traffic one-way street, all at an intersection with two police cadets on each corner.

Police cadets wait until the last second before clearing pedestrian traffic for a speeding ambulance

Police cadets wait until the last second before clearing pedestrian traffic for a speeding ambulance

And when an ambulance needed to get through, it was telling that eight police cadets weren’t enough to clear an intersection for it in advance.

Cadets stop pedestrians from crossing on a flashing hand (in one direction only)

Cadets stop pedestrians from crossing on a flashing hand (in one direction only)

But thanks for making sure people didn’t accidentally cross the street on a green light. That might have been dangerous.

Transcontinental wants your copyright

Following in the footsteps of TVA Publications, Transcontinental is now demanding that freelancers sign contracts that assign to the publisher all rights associated with submitted pieces (PDF).

In Transcon’s case, at least, there is still a provision for additional fees if the pieces are reused in other publications.

Like it or not, publishers (especially mega-corporation multi-media publishers) are pushing freelancing in this direction. The issue is whether freelancers will be paid more for the additional rights they’re giving up.

Inside Bill 60

Laurent Maisonnave on his iPhone

Laurent Maisonnave on his iPhone, not that he'd ever cancel his contract unilaterally

The Quebec Liberals this week announced Bill 60, proposed legislation that would strengthen (or “modernize“) consumer protections particularly where it concerns long-term service contracts like cellphones. The bill has already (and unsurprisingly) gained the support of the Union des consommateurs, and others. Cellphone providers have stayed silent for the most part, though their advocacy group says the bill is redundant because the industry is already looking to self-regulate (those who buy this please raise your hands).

The full text of the bill is online (PDF). It hasn’t been debated in the National Assembly yet, so it could very well be changed significantly before it becomes law.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Changes to contracts must come with 60 days’ notice and the consumer has the ability to cancel the contract without penalty if the changes involve “an increase in the consumer’s obligations or a reduction in the merchant’s obligations”
  • Such changes can’t affect “an essential element of the contract” like the nature of the service offered
  • Fixed-term service contracts can’t be unilaterally cancelled by the provider
  • Consumers can’t be required to pay penalty fees beyond simple interest charges for missed payments
  • Merchants are required to fully explain existing warranties before asking customers if they would like extended warranties
  • If you buy an item second-hand that’s still under warranty, manufacturers can’t require that you prove the previous owner abided by the warranty’s conditions
  • Gift certificates and gift cards cannot have expiry dates, and must come with written explanations of how to check the balance on them. They also cannot be subject to fees
  • Contracts must come with various things in writing, including the total dollar value of “inducements” (like free cellphones)
  • Contracts cannot be automatically renewed
  • You can’t be charged for service while the device you use to access that service (assuming it was provided with the contract) is being repaired
  • Consumers can unilaterally cancel contracts and pay back the value of any inducements provided at contract signing (or 10% of the remainder of the contract, or $50, depending on the circumstance)
  • Advertisements must include the full cost of services, less taxes (though it’s hard to see how this would be enforced since cellphones, cable, Internet and other services come with different plans)
  • In case a company breaks any of these provisions, the government or a recognized consumer advocacy body can seek an injunction forcing the provider to comply
  • The bill also contains some minor provisions dealing with travel agents

A lot of these are common sense (no one should be allowed to unilaterally change a contract without the other side’s consent, and companies shouldn’t get free money out of gift cards). Others will probably be criticized because they allow loopholes that lead to abuse (for example, if I know Rogers is about to change their contract, can I get a three-year free iPhone deal and then cancel the contract a week later without paying a penalty and get a free iPhone?). Still others are open to interpretation (we could expect arguments about whether a certain change really increases the obligation of a consumer).

Others sound like they could be downright annoying, like being forced to sit down while a Best Buy employee reads out the complete text of a manufacturer’s warranty to you.

But all in all, it’s a good bill, and provides some valuable protections for consumers against abusive contracts. Law-abiding businesses should be able to point out loopholes that might be exploited against them, but let’s hope the lobbyists don’t start torpedoing parts of this bill just because it might cut down on their bottom line.

Drink at the Gazette!

The old Gazette building on St. Antoine

The old Gazette building on St. Antoine

The Gazette’s Mike King has an article in today’s paper about Le Westin Montréal, the new hotel that’s in the building that formerly housed the newspaper. It acknowledges the building’s roots with a restaurant/lounge called Gazette and a bar called Reporter.

Andy Riga also has a blog post about the hotel, which is nothing like the formerly smoke-filled newsroom and printing presses. The Gazette moved to its current location at Peel and Ste. Catherine in 2003, two years before I started working there.

Mercier Bridge construction begins (and it’s on Twitter!)

Mercier Bridge

Starting next Monday, what’s been described as a “first in this country” construction project will be undertaken on the Honoré-Mercier Bridge. It involves 1,300 prefabricated concrete panels which will replace the bridge deck in a way that is designed to minimize traffic disruption.

In other words, they’re going to replace a bridge without closing it to traffic.

It’s not quite so simple (there will be night work that requires rerouting traffic), but it’s still pretty impressive.

The rusted Mercier Bridge is in dire need of replacement

The rusted Mercier Bridge is in dire need of replacement

The first stage starts on Monday, when the ramp for the 138 East (from Châteauguay) is closed and replaced. Traffic will be sent along a side road to the other approach on the 132. The other three ramps on the southern side will be replaced one by one, and then work will begin on the bridge itself.

What’s impressive about this operation to me though isn’t the construction, but the communications. A (fully bilingual) special WordPress-based website has been setup (complete with RSS feed and question-and-answer forum), and there are Flickr, YouTube and Twitter accounts to make sure everyone is aware of what’s going on and can share information easily. Unlike what you see with most marketing campaigns, these tools are used quite effectively.

This YouTube video shows the steps that will be taken over the coming weeks to replace the southern access ramps. It’s long, but it’s clear.


CAM stop the music

OPUS mug shot

The word came down a few weeks ago: May 2009 would be the last month that regular monthly passes would be given out at the STM. From June 1, everyone, including me, would have to switch to Opus.

I had resisted for months for various reasons. First of all, they cost more. I could pay $68.50 for a regular pass or $72 for a regular pass on an Opus card. I chose the cheaper option. Since Opus cards have expiry dates on them, mine will now last longer than those who jumped on board right away.

Furthermore, despite being used by thousands of commuters, the system wasn’t fully tested yet. There were still flaws, enough to give The Gazette’s Max Harrold an almost endless supply of Squeaky Wheels columns.


  • The cards are slow compared to the magnetic passes. Like those single-use magnetic cards that are littering our streets and metro stations, there is a delay as the computer reads them. It takes about two seconds from the point you put a card on a reader to the point where it’s recognized. Multiply that by all the passengers getting on a bus, and everything becomes slower.
  • There is no way for a human being to verify an Opus card. If the computer system breaks down or a reader doesn’t work, a bus driver or booth attendant can’t simply look at the card and see that it has a pass on it. So they’re trained to simply let you through when problems like this occur.
  • Some smaller transit agencies haven’t yet installed Opus readers on all their buses, including CITSO, which serves Châteauguay.
  • One of the primary advantages of Opus to consumers was supposed to be that they could register their cards and get replacements (with their fares intact) in case the cards get lost. Unfortunately, this system isn’t running yet for regular users. Instead, they say forms will be available “in 2009.” The STM blames the other transit agencies because they all need to be on the same page for this to launch.
  • Though the Opus card machines all look the same, you can’t buy all the different kinds of fares at all the stations.
  • Though users are encouraged to have different types of fares from different agencies on the cards, you can’t put STM tickets and AMT TRAM tickets on the same card, because readers on STM buses don’t know which one to deduct. The workaround is to use two cards, but that causes problems for seniors and students using reduced-fare cards ($13.50 each since a photo is required).
Opus machines run on Windows

Opus machines run on Windows - Floppy disk fail!

And, of course, the machines have a habit of breaking down.

Because I’m an uninteresting transit user (one STM monthly pass), I haven’t experienced any problems yet. And most others made the transition smoothly as well. Others saw long lines as they tried to get cards.

A selection of monthly passes I've used over 16 years

A selection of monthly passes I've used over 16 years


Even if the various problems are eventually solved, I’m going to miss those plastic monthly passes and their magnetic strips, called CAM for “carte autobus-métro”. Each month had a new design (designed top secret to discourage counterfeiting) and since January 2008 had pictures of metro stations on them.

I’ve had monthly passes since I started high school in September of 1993 (you can see that pass in the foreground above), and bought a pass every month since September 1996. First a reduced fare card, then the AMT’s intermediate fare until I was 22, then back to reduced fare under the Carte Privilège, and finally an adult fare as of November 2005 when my last student pass expired. That’s 183 monthly passes, ranging in price from $17.50 to $68.50.

And I’ll miss the sounds of those mechanical turnstiles and the two-tone access-granted sound they issue. Instead, all we get is a soulless beep.

What’s next

The process of conversion is still ongoing. Here’s what’s in store over the coming months:

July 1:

  • The weekly CAM Hebdo stops being sold, with some exceptions
  • Seniors and students 6-11 will be forced to switch to photo ID Opus cards as reduced-fare CAMs won’t be sold (Students 12+ were forced to switch in the fall since ID cards were only issued in Opus form)
  • Single-use tickets will no longer be sold in reduced fare – they can only be loaded onto Opus cards
  • Students 12-17 will no longer be able to pay cash for bus trips (seniors and children will still be able to for now)
  • The AMT stops selling magnetic-stripe TRAM passes for zones 1-3, forcing those users to switch to Opus.

Sept. 1:

  • Old-style tickets will no longer be accepted for fares (those with tickets left can get them exchanged)
  • The STM begins its proof-of-payment system, so everyone on a bus or metro train will be required to keep proof of payment on them at all times and can be fined if they’re found without it

Jan. 1:

  • As all remaining transit agencies complete their Opus system installation, the magnetic-stripe TRAM card will no longer be sold
  • Unless there’s another extension, the “discount” on Opus cards ends, and their price climbs from $3.50 to $7.
Old-style tickets and transfers from a decomissioned turnstile are swept into a pile with dust to be thrown away.

Old-style tickets and transfers from a decomissioned turnstile are swept into a pile with dust to be thrown away. The tickets are no longer sold and will not be accepted as of Sept. 1.

Maybe I’m just afraid of change.

UPDATE: Another ode to the CAM at Hors des lieux communs.

Little changes for Montreal radio

"Reach" (listening at least one minute a week), in thousands, for Montreal radio stations.

"Reach" (listening at least one minute a week), in thousands, for Montreal radio stations.

Astral Media, which owns CJFM (Virgin Radio 95.9), CITE (Rock Détente 107.3), CKMF (Énergie 94.3), CHOM (97.7) and CJAD (800), has put together some graphical representations (PDF) of the latest ratings for Montreal radio stations. (via RadioInMontreal)

In terms of “reach”, which counts the same if you listen to a station for five minutes or six hours, Cogeco’s CFGL Rythme FM 105.7 still leads all others in the city, thanks mostly to huge numbers of female listeners (CKOI leads among young men) and CJFM has leapfrogged into second thanks, I guess, to non-stop Katy Perry and Lady Gaga that have put the 18-24 bracket in a trance. Otherwise, the rankings are about the same as they were three months ago.

Anglo market share: CJFM, CHOM, CFQR, CJAD, CKGM

Anglo market share: CJFM, CHOM, CFQR, CJAD, CKGM

On the anglo side, this “commercial market share” graph (which doesn’t include CBC – Radio One and Two would be fourth and fifth on this graph), CJFM holds its commanding lead among adults 18-49, with a stronger showing for its morning show (CBC Radio One says it’s a strong second in the morning, ahead of CJAD)

Demographic map of radio stations: X axis for age, Y axis for gender

Demographic map of radio stations: X axis for age, Y axis for gender

I particularly liked this chart, which shows what demographics the stations are tuned to. There’s a huge chunk in the older women category, while the rock stations appeal to younger men. Note CJFM and CFGL sitting pretty much alone targetting younger women listeners. Perhaps there’s a lesson there.

Q92 relaunch didn’t change much

Looking specifically at CFQR, because this is a pretty good before-and-after with their relaunch in April, there’s not much to say. They’ve improved, but only to keep pace with everyone else:

  • The morning show and Terry DiMonte’s phoned-in nooner have slightly improved numbers, perhaps showing that not doing anything is the best thing to do (UPDATE: Apparently not good enough, DiMonte’s show has been cancelled)
  • Late morning and early afternoon are failing to keep pace after shuffles
  • Adding Donna Sarker to Ken Connors’s afternoon drive-time show has helped it gain considerable ground on CJFM, but CHOM improved as well to stay in second
  • It’s the most improved of the big four anglo stations on the weekend (Leta Polson hosts on weekend afternoons), but it’s still in fourth place