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Yesterday, I witnessed what I would call a public space intervention at the Royal Bank on Sherbrooke, close to McGill University. When I say banking, I mean an exercise rather like sticking one’s finger in the dyke; depositing a few dollars into an account in an attempt to avoid getting washed away in a sea of debt. I was sitting waiting my turn, when in walked a slim man wearing a suit and an incongruous pair of clunky walking boots. Accompanying him was Mr. Monopoly – as in the bespectacled, moustachioed, top-hat-wearing man who represents the world-famous board game.
The slim man starts shouting at the sleepy crowd of bank clients, in English.
Slim man: Excuse me! Can anyone lend us $25,000? Can anyone give Mr. Monopoly $25,000 for the limousine ride home?
At this point, I think the performance is quite amusing. I attempt to catch the slim man’s eye with my sheepish smile – wanting to convey that I am too broke to lend even a nickel. But the slim man is not really looking to interact with the crowd. No, he’s up to something entirely different. He thereupon bursts into French, which is clearly his first language.
Slim man: I want you all to know that today is Black Friday – the darkest day of the whole shopping year. Canadians will spend more money on Christmas today than on any other day of the year. So withdraw as much money as you can, spend as much money as you can. Get out there and spend all your money! Think about it!
And having hectored the rather confused crowd this way, the slim man departs, accompanied by Mr. Monopoly. Afterwards, a confused Anglophone in line asks, what was that guy talking about? An equally confused woman says she thinks it’s something about going out and shopping. I think of adding my two cents on what it was about, but opt for silent brooding instead. I like silent brooding!
I have been thinking about public space a lot in the last week – how those magic words “public space” can be invoked in order to lend gravitas to whatever an activist or artist is attempting to do. I think the general idea of many public space interventions is to try and reclaim our streets, sidewalks, malls and other gathering places from the purely profit-seeking imperative of corporations, and at the same time, to deliver a “wake-up” call to the supposedly unaware consuming citizens that are sleepwalking through their lives.
But often, public space interventions are totally pretentious, silly, and self-righteous! When an individual sets himself up as the appointed one for delivering a wake-up call to society, he (or she!) places himself outside of society. He is saying that he knows something that society doesn’t know but needs to hear. As with Mr. Monopoly and his agent, he adopts a lecturing tone with his audience – treating a group of individuals as if they are no more than a herd. He demeans the individuality of everyone in the crowd, by making vast assumptions about their behaviour and motivations.
I wasn’t in the bank trying to withdraw thousands of dollars to go on some mad Christmas spending spree! I was paying in the very first deposit for my new business partnership – Villeray Communications – which one day, hopefully, will pay me enough to eat, pay rent, heat my apartment, etc. Nevertheless, I felt the condescension for me dripping from every word of Slim Man, the agent for Mr. Monopoly. I was relieved when the dopey duo exited the building. Nobody needed them there in the first place — not even on Black Friday!
Having soundly bashed Québec politics yesterday, let me recant a little today. I watched the first hour and ten minutes of the debate last night, and I was impressed with what I saw, especially from Jean Charest. I saw a level of articulacy and knowledge of the issues that is not always present even in federal debates – let alone debates in other provinces (Alberta you’ll remain nameless!) Despite the often heated rhetoric, I thought the format was managed well, allowing everyone to at least be heard, but also allowing the rough-and-tumble of argumentation which I believe is a critical part of our parliamentary system. Québec politics suffers, of course, from preoccupations with language and culture, but did not suffer so much yesterday, thank God.
Or maybe they just all fooled me with their sophisticated French.
The article Cyrus and I wrote about Québec politics will be out on Sunday in the Edmonton Journal. I’ll have it available under Publications just as soon as I can.
There is an article that I co-wrote with my buddy Cyrus coming out in The Edmonton Journal. It’s about the Québec election, taking place December 8. More news on that soon.
While I am a big believer in the necessity of voting, I honestly might not vote in this election. I love Montreal, but I am pretty unimpressed with Québec politics. No party deserves my vote. Not a single party has the courage to admit that Canada is a great place and that Québec has mostly been well served by the federal government as well as the generosity and understanding of English Canada. Instead, all Québec parties adopt either one of the following stances vis-à-vis Canada:
- Liberal Party of Québec: acknowledges Canada exists, won’t separate from it, but views the country as nothing more than a never-ending source of money. Also, the ruling Liberals negotiated a trade deal with France this fall making it easier for French citizens to work in Québec than other Canadians. Read more about it here. Also, French citizens pay lower tuition in Québec than other Canadians. What a slap in the face. That’s Québec politics for you! Only in Canada can you pour billions upon billions into one province, only to be told that you never give enough, and moreover, that they’re going to discriminate against you and hate you regardless.
- Parti Québecois: hate Canada, would separate at the first opportunity, but nevertheless demand as much money out of Canada as possible. Really amazing to see a party claiming that Québec can stand proudly on its own two feet, but at every opportunity attempts to raid Canada’s coffers. Did you know that Pauline Marois, PQ leader, launched her election campaign by asking the feds to give Québec $435 million that is apparently owed from the 1998 ice storm? That’s Québec politics for you!
- Action Démocratique du Québec: has ditched its overt bid for separation from Canada in the last few years, trading the policy in for an even more insulting one. Rather than separating from Canada in a fair and square sovereignty referendum, it will act as if separation has already been achieved. That’s basically what its “autonomy” platform means. Oh, and let’s not forget that it is the ADQ that stoked the fires of racism last year, leading eventually to Québec’s deplorable reasonable accommodation debate, wherein this “fair and open” society talked about all the ways that immigrants must conform to Québec values.
Between successive Liberal and Parti Québecois governments, this province has accumulated a debt of over $100 billion. This would not trouble me so much were it not for the fact that the roads and highways are falling apart and, by all reports, healthcare is about the worst in Canada. What exactly has Québec been doing with the rest of the country’s money?
To see the gazillion infrastructure projects currently underway here, you might think that Québec is finally serious about fixing the place up. I’m not convinced. A preferred tactic of maintenance crews in Montreal is to put up a bunch of orange cones on a street, then leave them there for the next few weeks and month, and do next to nothing. Exhibit 1: the large hole dug on my buddy Cyrus’ street this July, now languishing, untended, as we approach the end of November. Another favourite tactic is conducting a massive dig-up of a street, disrupting traffic for months – even years – eventually finishing the job, then repeating the entire process. Exhibit 2: the corner of de Maisonneuve and Guy, which by my count, has been dug up and re-surfaced at least four times in a year. And let’s not forget the great St. Laurent botch job, which must have lasted close to two years.
About a year ago, a huge investigation into the collapse of a bridge to Laval concluded that most of Québec’s elevated highways and bridges built in the 1960s had been constructed with substandard materials and subsequently neglected by pretty much every government ever since. But do we see anyone advocating a massive recruitment of qualified engineers and an emergency investment in roads and highways? Nope. It’s pretty much impossible to get a job as an engineer here. Or do we see anyone acknowledging that the highway system is within a decade or two of total collapse and the advocacy of other modes of transport? Nope again.
I’ve never been one for wild-eyed conspiracy theories, but I’m increasingly convinced that a large amount of our tax dollars are simply funnelled straight into the pockets of the mafia, for whom infrastructure crews are mainly a front.
Let’s also not overlook Québec’s unbeatable talent for creating vast bureaucracies that cost millions but mainly do nothing. I could cite the Office de la Langue Française, but an even better example might be our local transportation system. Beyond a doubt, the bus and metro here beat, say, Edmonton’s. They go more places and run more frequently. But STM, who runs the show, deserves a prize for the most disorganized gong show around. Try figuring out something as simple as how to buy a student bus pass. This is a conundrum that my girlfriend and I have been puzzling over for almost three months. Of course, I didn’t face this challenge when I was myself a student, because STM decides that if you’re over 25, you no longer qualify for a student pass.
For Monika, however, the Quest for a Student Bus Pass, has been an absolute Cirque du Soleil of Stupidity on behalf of everyone from Concordia University and STM. And the quest, sadly, has ended in utter failure. Apparently, despite being under 25, despite being enrolled in as many classes as the university will allow her to take, she still doesn’t qualify for a student bus pass. Nope! For reaons beyond anyone’s comprehension, she must wait until January.
Next, stay tuned for a post that won’t be so dire. Or maybe not. We’ll have to see how this province and city treat us over the next few days and months!
There are so many great neighbourhoods in Montreal. A short while ago, I had the oppportunity to write about one for a new magazine, the warehouse. Little Burgundy is an up-and-coming quartier, near downtown, but nearer even still to the Lachine Canal, the centre of Montreal’s former industrial heartland. My article is now online, and if you have ten minutes to spare, perhaps you’ll enjoy giving it a look-over!
I have an article about the American election coming out in tomorrow’s Lebanon Valley News in New Hampshire. It’s called, “From Canada, with Envy.” I am happy the trip to the US yielded at least one publication. There are a few more publications coming up, closer to home here in Montreal, and so a muted Huzzah! for that.
Not much else to be optimistic about from these last few weeks, to be frank. The freelance work has been enough to stay solvent, but no real big “breaks” yet. I’ve worked hard, chased every opportunity I could, even joined an online freelance agency, but so far, it’s the old contacts that continue to pull through for me.
On the home front, there is always solace – regardless of what happens professionally – in having a wonderful girlfriend, not to mention Banchi the kitten, who tears around the house like a comet. The other day, Monika took Banchi to the park and let the furry black scamp sniff around the place. In the distance, squirrels started to sit up and gaze at the feline visitor. Then about a dozen of them moved in, inching closer and closer. They clearly had malicious intentions toward little Banchi. Monika gathered up Banchi in her arms and departed, but wherever she went, the local squirrels were unnaturally curious in what she was carrying.
Every now and then, a neighbourhood cat will jump on the ledge outside my kitchen window and peer in. They must know little Banchi is inside. Thus far, Banchi has been an inside cat. I wonder what it will be like if and when we unleash her on the big world some day.
I returned from my day trip to Vermont and New Hampshire early this afternoon. Montreal is basking in warmth and sunshine, but it’s America that is basking in the hope of a new era in politics. Obama’s victory was inspirational. I have plenty of photos of the election and beautiful New England on my flickr page, and I’ve posted one here. I call it, “Victory!”