Tag Archives: Montreal election

Projet mobilizes the Internet mob

If you notice that online polls are biased heavily toward Projet Montréal, it’s partially because that party’s supporters are young and Internet-connected, and partially because Projet Montréal is pushing its members through Twitter and Facebook to tip the scales of those polls.

Because, in the grand scheme of things, this is where a political party should be focusing its efforts.

Hey, it worked for Ron Paul and Lyndon Larouche, didn’t it?

Ile Sans Fil in the park

Both Union Montreal and Vision Montreal have an element on their platforms that some technologically-inclined Montrealers might find interesting: free (or cheap) wireless Internet access in public parks and other public areas.

The idea isn’t new. The city first approached the volunteer group Ile Sans Fil more than two years ago to talk about setting up such a system. Ile Sans Fil provides free wireless Internet through more than 150 access points in the city, most through places like coffee shops who pay ISF a small fee.

The city has even conducted studies and hearings on the subject, and a presentation given in November 2007 resulted in only one comment, in support of the project. In a report, filed at the beginning of 2008 (PDF), the city’s commission on economic development recommended setting up a network with Ile Sans Fil.

For various reasons internal to the city’s operation, this issue has been sitting on a shelf since then. ISF even appealed to the public in August 2008, (perhaps prematurely), though specifying that the group wasn’t in danger if the deal fell through. ISF were expecting a call for tenders earlier this year on a free wifi project, which it would then bid on and be a clear favourite for, but it never came.

Both Tremblay and Harel should be somewhat embarrassed to have this on their platforms. Tremblay because the city hasn’t acted on this yet despite the preliminary work being done, and Harel because it was an idea of the Tremblay administration that her party has now stolen.

Dear “Friends of Louise Harel”

Friends of Louise Harel

Friends of Louise Harel

Good for you with the website rallying anglos to the defence of Louise Harel. Providing a new voice in the election campaign is always welcome. And you’re getting the francophone media to use anglo headlines, which is always a plus.

Here’s the thing: Maybe people would believe you more about the surge of Montrealers from ethnic communities who have come out in support of her if the pictures on your website weren’t stock photos from a U.K.-based stock photo service.

These aren’t Montrealers, nor are they friends of Louise Harel, so why are there pictures of them on your website? Does Harel not have enough real friends that you’ve had to import pictures of fake ones?

UPDATE (Oct. 5): And I see you’re also plagiarizing blog posts. (Original, FOLH version)

Montreal parties and copyright

The four major parties vying for control of Montreal city hall (yeah, let’s go ahead and include Louise O’Sullivan) all seemed to have embraced the new online trends. They all have Facebook and Twitter (though some use the latter more than others). The two top contenders also have YouTube channels and upload official candidate photos and campaign photos to Flickr.

But, I wondered, do they really have a firm grasp of social media? We’ll set aside the fact that none of the four websites is fully bilingual, and move on to the fine print: how do the four parties handle copyright?

Since these are campaign websites, one would expect they would want to encourage dissemination of their pictures, slogans and press releases as much as possible. But that’s not exactly the case.

  • Union Montreal is the only party to release its content (Union Montreal’s fine print is still French-only) under a Creative Commons license, though it is the most restrictive of such licenses. It does not allow commercial use of the content (which could conceivably mean not publishing candidate photos in commercial media), nor the creation of derivative works (which would prevent activists from creating mashups of those photos). Also, all the party’s photos uploaded to Flickr are still marked “all rights reserved”, which is the default copyright license.
  • Vision Montreal’s fine print (the only one available in English, ironically), is complete boilerplate legalese: “All content, including texts, articles, photos, images and illustrations, belongs to Vision Montréal or the appropriate authors. It is forbidden to modify, copy, distribute, broadcast, transmit, represent, reproduce, publish, concede under license, transfer or sell said content without prior authorization from Vision Montréal or its appropriate authors.”
  • Projet Montréal’s website has no fine print, no indication of a copyright notice, in either language.
  • Parti Montréal Ville-Marie (Louise O’Sullivan’s party) is vague about its copyright license, saying that use and reproduction of its content can be used only for journalistic and activist purposes.

If these parties want bloggers and others to promote them, especially online, they need to be a bit more permissive than that.

Louise … umm …. uhh … umm … how you say … Harel

It was a train wreck, but we all knew it would be.

A few days after declining to participate in an English-language debate hosted by CTV, Louise Harel willingly subjected herself to a one-hour interview on CJAD on Saturday afternoon.

CJAD hasn’t posted audio of it online, but I recorded it and compiled the best of its unquotable moments. You can listen to it here: Louise Harel on CJAD (edited, MP3)

Her English wasn’t just bad, it was atrocious. During the 30 minutes of interview, I counted a total of 19 times that host Anne Lagacé-Dowson suggested words that Harel was struggling to find. (In one case, it was the word “expensive”.) At one point, Harel gave up entirely and gave an answer in French for the host to translate.

Perhaps Harel and her handlers never listened to the station, but I can think of no worse platform for a unilingual francophone ex-PQ minister and municipal merger advocate than the last great bastion of angryphonism.

It’s noteworthy that Harel chose to come on the Saturday afternoon show of Lagacé-Dowson, the former CBC radio host who left the Corp to unsuccessfully bid for a seat in the House of Commons for the NDP. (She’s now the permanent host 1-4pm on Saturdays.) Normally, high-profile guests sit with Tommy Schnurmacher on weekday mornings or Ric Peterson during the drive-home hours.

Stories about Harel’s genuine but failed attempt to reach out to anglos appear in The Gazette and on CJAD’s website. CTV’s cameras were also in the studio. French media seems to have ignored the gesture entirely. The Gazette has some fun at Harel’s expense, but even that is downright laudatory compared to some of the comments made by CJAD listeners who called in. One said she “exemplified hatred for the English-speaking community” and was “trying to destroy our community,” while another used the word “racist” in describing PQ language policy. No wonder Harel said she was “afraid to speak in English” for fear of committing a major political faux pas and being branded something worse than a green-skinned witch.

All three stories about the discussion also mention the fact that she was 25 minutes late to the interview. (Her explanation was that she was giving another interview to a community radio station and couldn’t get to the studio on time.) It was 1:21pm by my watch when she got in the studio, and she was at the microphone a minute later. She missed about 11 minutes of actual talk time, during which Lagacé-Dowson filled otherwise dead air with a biography of the Vision Montreal leader and took a couple of calls. Cutting out the ads, traffic and news breaks, Lagacé-Dowson and Harel talked for 30 minutes after she finally arrived.

Why bother?

I’m not quite sure why Harel decided to be interviewed on CJAD. Perhaps it was to prove a point that she doesn’t hate anglophones. Perhaps it was just to get it over with. Or perhaps she lost a bet.

But listening to the interview, it becomes clear why Harel chose not to participate in an anglo television debate. She has literally nothing to gain from such an embarrassment. Her approval among anglophones according to the latest La Presse poll is an astonishingly low 6%, way below Gérald Tremblay and Richard Bergeron. I think George W. Bush has better support from anglo Montrealers. Stumbling through severe language difficulties to give un-nuanced explanations of why she supports policies that anglophones are most opposed to is an exercise in futility. “For Harel to try to debate in a language she doesn’t really speak would have been an excruciating waste of time for both her and any listener who isn’t a masochist,” says Gazette columnist Don Macpherson.

CTV offered simultaneous translation, which would have given us something similar to what we had in the 1997 French leaders’ debate where Preston Manning spoke in English to a French audience. That might have been easier for everyone involved, but it’s easier still to simply write off a segment of the population you have no chance of winning anyway. The BQ and PQ don’t campaign for anglo votes, so why should Harel?

Irrelevant? I think not

I don’t think that mastery of the English language should be a requirement for being mayor of Montreal. The city has had mayors in the past whose English skills have been sorely lacking, and so far no civil wars have erupted. Richard Bergeron’s English isn’t all that much better.

But there’s this talking point circulating among Harel supporters (and militant sovereignists) that the ability to speak English is completely irrelevant to the job of mayor.

Sorry, but it’s not. No matter what the law or the city’s constitution says, Montreal is a bilingual city. The national anthem at Canadiens games is sung in two languages, we pay for our shish taouk with bilingual money, and panhandlers start off their begging with “anglais/français?”

Harel herself is the first to admit that this lack of skill is a strike against her. The job of mayor isn’t simply about creating legislation and voting in city hall meetings, it’s about being a leader, about representing Montreal on the national and international stage, and (for better or for worse) about giving speeches, cutting ribbons and writing those letters you see on Page 2 of municipal newsletters and festival programs. And like it or not, these things require the use of English.

This same irrelevance argument is made about Harel’s views on Quebec sovereignty. Even asking the question is considered “totally out of line.” Since when is someone’s political views irrelevant to politics? Sure, Montreal’s mayor doesn’t have the power to make a unilateral declaration of independence, but identity politics have defined political discourse here for decades, and there are plenty of related issues (language, for example) that do have an impact at the municipal level. Playing this not-my-jurisdiction game seems ludicrous to me. If Stephen Harper were asked a question about his views on health care or education during a campaign, would those too be considered “totally out of line” because those things are provincial jurisdiction? Of course not.

No platform

I get the point: We know she’s a sovereignist, we know she can’t speak English very well, and we know she brought in those forced municipal mergers (which, despite the stereotype, didn’t just piss off anglophones in Montreal). We should be debating the “issues” instead. Looking forward, you know.

But we can’t. Because over a week into the campaign, Vision Montreal hasn’t released its platform yet. Neither has Tremblay’s Union Montreal, although one can extrapolate their policies from the past eight years of governance.

And because Vision Montreal is a shell of a party that really has nothing to define itself by other than its revolving-door leadership post, we have to wait until a platfom is released to debate the issues. (Though apparently Harel and Trembaly don’t – they already had a debate, with Jean-Luc Mongrain on LCN, before releasing any platforms.)

If Harel wants to move on and keep the momentum she’s built up, and maybe even attract a few anglo votes on the issues that really matter, that platform needs to be released soon. And it better have some good ideas.

Union Montreal’s new website

Union Montreal's "English" website

Union Montreal's "English" website

I got an email Friday morning, just as the municipal election campaign officially began, informing me that Union Montreal has redesigned its website.

So, of course, I checked it out with my usual critical eye. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The design was clean and simple, the page looked fine even with the style sheet turned off. They’ve got the usual Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Flickr accounts. They’re even releasing their content under a Creative Commons license.

Great, I thought. So where’s the English version?

After a bit of searching, I could find some pages that had a link at the bottom that said “English”. That would bring me to an English version of those pages. But then I’d click somewhere and it would bring me back to the French website. Or it would be the English page and all the navigational text would be in French.

I asked the guy who emailed me, Marc Snyder, what’s up with all that. He said they’re working on it:

We’re progressing in the right direction: I think this is what a work-in-progress is all about ;-)

Building a website that’s bilingual isn’t easy. Most cool content management systems don’t think of building in support for bilingual websites. So many do so through third-party plugins. In this case, the website is WordPress based and they’re using the Qtranslate plugin.

But to launch a website so publicly without even basic information in English (at first, there wasn’t even an English bio for the mayor) seems a fairly major gaffe. Even now, most of its content isn’t accessible in English. Instead, you get a short apology with a link to the French version.

Remember, this is supposed to be the anglo party, embracing both languages of this diverse metropolis. Vision Montreal, with ex-PQer Louise Harel who speaks little English, and Projet Montréal, which doesn’t even translate its name into our language, both have better English versions of their websites.

Maybe next time someone from Union Montreal criticizes Louise Harel for alienating anglophones, she can point out the fact that people don’t need to look up what “Arrondissement de militantisme” is before they can donate to her party.

Oh wait, she can’t. Neither can Michel Richard Bergeron. Because both Vision Montreal’s donation form and Projet Montréal’s donation form have random untranslated bits of French on them.

I realize this is small-time politics and we’re not dealing with real big budgets here, but these are forms people fill out to give you money. If you’re so careless about translation, I can only imagine what kind of controls you have on the $100 I’d be putting in your campaign fund.

Colour me pas impressionné.

Time for new blood on the STM’s board of directors

Brenda Paris

Brenda Paris

Mayor Gérald Tremblay got yet more bad news when he found out that the president of his party, Brenda Paris, has defected to rival Vision Montreal to run as a borough mayor.

In addition to her various roles with government and non-profit organizations in the city, Paris is a member of the Société de Transport de Montréal’s board of directors. There, she serves as the “transit users’ representative”, which means she represents regular people like us who take the bus and metro to work every day.

It’s one of two seats on the board set aside for this purpose. The other is for a paratransit users’ representative, and is currently held by Marie Turcotte. Both Paris and Turcotte have served since 2001, making for quite a long tenure.

All the other seats on the STM’s board are held by municipal politicians. Borough mayors, city councillors, or representatives of on-island suburbs. Now, having declared herself as a candidate, Paris has become one of them. (One might argue she was already one of them being president of a political party.)

I’m pretty sure that when the “transit users’ representative” was added to the STM’s board, this wasn’t what they had in mind for it. There are already far too many politicians on the board, and far too few people from the community.

I don’t know Brenda Paris, and I have no reason to believe that she’s anything other than an outstanding person. But after eight years on the STM’s board, I think it’s clear that she has more connections to municipal politicians and civil servants than she does regular transit users. It’s not a personal fault, it’s just the natural progression after eight years and being so involved in politics.

The STM has done a lot for transparency, and is continuing to improve (putting documentation online, for example, and releasing annual reports with useful statistics), but there are serious deficiencies, starting with the board of directors itself. While the agendas for meetings are published in advance, the items are vaguely described, and there is no supporting documentation available. Reference could be made to a new bus route in the agenda, but a description, map or schedule of that route isn’t available before or at the meeting to interested users.

At the meetings themselves, time is set aside for questions from the public (which usually comes in the form of complaints about individual cases of inconvenience from people who clearly have nothing better to do with their time), but when it gets down to business, there is never any discussion of the millions of dollars of projects approved unanimously. The actual meeting, with a dozen items on the agenda, lasts for less than 10 minutes, with the secretary noting only who was present and who moved and seconded various motions.

It’s time for a new transit users’ representative on the STM’s board. Perhaps even one selected by the transit users themselves instead of by political appointment. (I focus on Paris and not Turcotte here, though if a paratransit user was willing to serve on the STM’s board I would suggest change there as well.) And I think some consideration should be given to term limits for these positions.

I don’t know if Mayor Tremblay has the power to remove Paris from the STM’s board because she defected from his party (or whether he’d be so petty as to remove her strictly for that reason), but even if that doesn’t happen, I think she should recognize it’s inappropriate for her to continue serving on this board in this capacity.

I’m sure Brenda Paris is an asset to the STM, and would even suggest that she be appointed to one of the political seats on the board in the event she wins in November’s election. But she’s taking up a seat that needs to be filled by someone with new ideas and a better perspective on the issues that transit users face every day, someone whose votes won’t be clouded by the worry of how they might be seen on the campaign trail.

For that reason, I respectfully suggest that she resign.