Category Archives for Politics That Matter

What about Good Government?

Many commentators have asked “what’s wrong with Bill 78?”

My answer: Division III: the entire section about “peace, order and public security.”

It reads:

A person, a body or a group that is the organizer of a demonstration involving 50 people or more to take place in a venue accessible to the public must, not less than eight hours before the beginning of the demonstration, provide the following information in writing to the police force serving the territory where the demonstration is to take place:

(1) the date, time, duration and venue of the demonstration as well as its route, if applicable; and

(2) the means of transportation to be used for those purposes.

When it considers that the planned venue or route poses serious risks for public security, the police force serving the territory where the demonstration is to take place may, before the demonstration, require a change of venue or route so as to maintain peace, order and public security. The organizer must then submit the new venue or route to the police force within the agreed time limit and inform the participants.”

What is a demonstration? Does it include soccer games, church processions and neighbourhood get-togethers? Is this up to the police? Does it depend whether neighbours complain? Does it matter if all the participants wear a red square? What about a green square?

On Friday, the government was proposing that this section cover any group of 10 people or more. As that was being discussed, I worried about whether I should prepare reports of four different events for police for last weekend alone. Now I’m wondering whether volunteer organizers of every other event my family participates in have to be reported to the police.

It seems clear to me that this law gives too much power to the police, who don’t have the resources to implement the section anyway. This is another example of Quebec’s legislature passing layers of laws that no one knows how to implement.

Another problem with this section of Bill 78 is that it hints at Canada’s historic preoccupation with “peace, order and good government” and yet misses the most important of the three for legislators to fix.

You don’t have to know much to see that “good government” is a problem in Quebec. Yesterdays Charbonneau Commission into construction practices is the first sign of problems.

“The Quebec government created this commission of inquiry — which is totally impartial and independent, well-removed from any political considerations,” said Justice France Charbonneau, who will run the inquiry. “Nobody can tell (the inquiry) what to do, whom to interrogate or how to investigate.”

Except that the inquiry only gets to look at issues within the last 15 years and only within the terms of the documents that established the commission. I’m discovering, through research, that many of the problems over land use began as far back as the 1980’s. Hopefully, all the documents used by the Commission will be publicized so that freelancers like me can expose the roots of the problem.

A second hint of trouble was the arrest last Thursday of former Montreal politician Frank Zampino. The former politician worked closely with Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay until he left politics in 2008. Zampino is alleged to have leaked insider information to Paolo Catania of Construction Frank Catania & Associates Inc, who was also arrested last week.

“There’s no doubt that this affects the credibility of elected officials and, in this case, most acutely, of municipal officials,” said Tremblay.





To follow the Charbonneau Commission on Twitter, use the hashtag #CEIC.

To read some English translations of French media and government documents about the student protest, check out the website

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Jane Jacobs: An Icon for Citizen Action

Verdun's Jane Walk on May 6 begins here at 10 a.m.

As Quebec students prove that lots of people can make change together, it’s worth talking about an extraordinary woman who inspired a series of great walks this weekend.

Jane Jacobs was an urban activist who believed that cities are ecosystems with their own logic and dynamism that changes over time according to how they are used. She was born on May 7, 1916 and died in 2006, but her birthday is still celebrated through citizen-led walks all around the world.

In her most famous work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which was first published in 1961 and reworked in 1992, Jacob’s argued that local residents should have more say over their environment and pedestrians should be able to move easily throughout any city. She also argued in favour of reusing old buildings instead of tearing them down and said that human-sized density instead of sprawl was a priority.

Janes’ Walks are designed to make citizens more active in ensuring that they have a say over what happens in the neighbourhoods they love.

In Montreal, the Urban Ecology Centre ( promoted a series of 50 walks, many of which happened today. There are still 23 happening tomorrow though, including one by Véronique Landry along the shoreline of Verdun. It begins at 10 a.m. from Montreal island’s oldest country home, the Maison Nivard de Saint-Dizier, a two-storey stone cottage built by Gilbert Maillet for the Congregation of Notre Dame nuns in 1710. It ends with a picnic at 11:30 a.m. at Parc Monseigneur J.-A. Richard.


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Ten Phrases That Indicate Obduracy

Webster’s Dictionary Definition of Obduracy

The quality or state of being:

  • hardened in feelings
  • stubbornly persistent in wrongdoing or
  • resistant to persuasion or softening influences, as in unyielding.”


1)     It’s not my responsibility, it’s theirs.

2)     Trust me to do the right thing, that’s what you pay, elect, or assign me to do.

3)     We’re going to take it one step at a time.

4)     Those details aren’t important.

5)     Why are you focussing on that?

6)     I share your concerns, but this isn’t the time to raise them.

7)     We’ll consult you when we have something concrete to present.

8)     We need more information.

9)     This isn’t a public issue.

10)   That decision can’t be made until everything connected to it has been considered.

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Residents Question Verdun’s Loosened Demolition Rules

Commercial property owners in Verdun will soon be able demolish heritage buildings in a bad state of repair or at the back of a property without a Site Planning and Architectural Integration (SPAI) review.

“Is this not an invitation to all landlords to stop maintaining their buildings so that they can develop the land for one project or another,” said Gilles Laberge. “There has not been an inventory of buildings in the back of lots, so I’m surprised that the city is so ready to purge them.”

The amendment to bylaw 1700-88 was initially presented to Verdun’s urban planning, housing and heritage committee. Ann Guy, Benoit Malette and Pascale Tremblay sit on the committee. Researcher David Lamontagne-Métivier was also present at the meeting.

The public heard about the change during a 15-minute public consultation prior to the last Borough Council Meeting, February 7. Ann Guy was the only elected official who heard resident comments. She and her colleagues passed the bylaw unanimously less than half an hour later. The change takes effect after the city of Montreal approves it, perhaps next month. (The issue doesn’t appear on March agendas for city council, the executive committee nor the agglomeration council.)

In addition to his comments about owners, Laberge, who is a historian, raised concerns about whether the bylaw amendment would allow the Douglas Institute to tear down an unused root cellar that is one of the last remaining agricultural buildings in Verdun. He didn’t get an answer.

In a later email to the Suburban, Verdun spokesperson Francine Morin wrote that the borough “has established that no 100% commercially used building on its territory has any heritage value.”

She also confirmed that the Douglas Institute applied for a permit to tear the root cellar down in 2010, but Verdun’s planning advisory committee refused the request.

Marie France Coutu, a communications officer with the Douglas Institute, says the organization no longer plans to demolish the circa-1920 building. “In our mandate, there is no money set aside for heritage buildings, but we are conscious that these buildings have value to the community,” she said. “Our intention is to leave it as it is. It’s locked and secured. We don’t want to get rid of it.”

Residents are relieved that an important Verdun landmark might still be saved, but some still complain about the way Verdun handled the public consultation.

“How can we have faith in our elected officials when they treat us like this,” said Fabiola Renaud. “They invite us for one subject and when we arrive, they present something different. The avis told us that the Mayor would explain the changes to the bylaw, but he wasn’t even there. Then after they made us work, M. Malette didn’t even have time to tell them what we said before they passed the amendment anyway. They’re laughing at us.”

(A version of this article appeared on March 14 on page 7 of The Suburban’s City Edition.)

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