Thursday, November 03, 2005

Les éco-quartiers and the mayoral election

I volunteer once a week at the Jeanne-Mance composting center. It's a little plot of land in Jeanne-Mance park that has been separated by a short chain-link fence. Inside are two giant tubes sitting on machinery that allows them to turn slowly, a big pile of compost separated by a fence of pallets tied together with innertubes and a bunch of garbage bins. People from the neighbourhood come by 3 times a week and drop off their organic waste (onion peels, apple cores, clippings, etc.) which gets mixed with straw pellets in the big tubes. It sits there for a few weeks until the heat, oxygen and bacteria have broken it down at which point it is moved to the pile. This goes on all summer. The pile sits there over the winter and next spring the members can use the compost for their gardens.

That process is elementary to anyone who is familiar with compost (except perhaps for the big tubes, which are the brainchild of the McGill Environmental Engineering department and speed up the process significantly but require a lot more planning and care). The composting center is a project of the Jeanne-Mance Mile-End Éco-Quartier, an environmental community center serving the needs of the arrondisement. They provide many other services, such as collecting batteries, providing les bacs verts (the green recycling boxes), cleaning up the alleys, distributing bulbs, etc. There is an éco-quartier in every quartier in Montréal.

They were created 10 years ago, when Borque was the mayor of Montreal. Their initial raison d'être was to be the distribution points of the bacs verts when Montreal first started its recycling program. They were overseen by an office in City Hall, but were basically left to develop other programs on their own. The bacs verts program was a big success. They got them to something like 98% of households in Montreal in their first year.

Since then, each éco-quartier has developed on their own. They receive their funding from the city, but they are run by a local board and the people who work there. So different éco-quartiers have different agendas. Some tend to lean more towards beautification while others have a stronger environmental bent.

Recently, their funding was decentralized, going to the arrondisement (district, basically). I don't know how this affected the other éco-quartiers, but it forced the three under the arrondisement of Plateau/Mont-Royal to compete for funds and only one remains. The other two became smaller, semi-private organizations under different names and there is some bitterness there. The relationship between the remaining éco-quartier and the administration of the arrondisement is not very good anymore either. I haven't heard anything from the politician's side, so recognize that my position is biased, but what I hear is that the current mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal, Helen Fotopolous is really not very interested in environmental issues. The only time she communicates with the éco-quartier is when there is a chance the media will be involved. This is all hearsay, but there has been little recognition of the fact that the composting centre took in 5 tonnes of organic waste that otherwise would have gone into the dump and planted a beautiful, producing garden that made the bike route to McGill significantly more appealling.

I present you this information because it is the only way I could think of to make interesting what is generally agreed to be a very boring mayoral race. The voting will be this Saturday and the candidates are Gerald Tremblay, the current mayor, Pierre Borque, two-time mayor before him, Richard Bergeron, the head of Projet Montreal who are a platform for pushing public transportation and Michel Bédard who represents the Parti éléphant blanc of Montréal (intriguing, but the first time I heard of him was when I looked at the sample ballot). I was quite liking Tremblay, though I have no real reason other than that Montreal seems on a general upswing and a bunch of new bike paths have been created. But I think I'll be voting for Projet Montreal, as they are the most overtly environmental. As a matter of fact, the most environmental the two front-runners got was arguing about who was going to plant more flowers.

I apologize if I don't have a more general overview of the mayoral race here in Montreal. I do think it is a city on the rise that still has a lot of problems (the famous potholes, litter, bad development, gradual racial segregation), but is generally working to fix them. It is traditionally the case that most mayors of Montreal win a second term and if I didn't have such a strong environmental agenda, I'd probably vote for him as well.

There is one extremely obnoxious thing about the mayoral race and it is all the placards that are put up all over the streets. It's a waste of money and an eyesore. They did this during the federal election as well and they didn't take the signs down until months after it was over. Fortunately, at least in the Plateau, many got creatively defaced quite quickly. Mayor Tremblay's campaign slogan is "Go!" and somebody wrote "fuck yourself" after it on a bunch of signs on the Main. Good stuff.

5 comments:

Olivier said...

I think the cols bleus are particulary active on placard-defacing front. My favourite had a Kermit the Frog face stamped over Mayor Tramblay's face...

That being said, I think people still have trouble with those municipal elections thingies...I read in this morning's papers that before 1970 (or is it 1974?) only home owners (I include landlords here) had a right to vote.

It is a weird situation... Also, municipalities aren't that powerful, altough they have a huge impact on our day-to-day life. There really is a municipal culture of looking up to the provincial government when whatever that might happen (be it good or bad) happens.

Lantzvillager said...

The concept of éco-quartiers seems a very progressive one. I know there a a lot of community groups in Vancouver but on the whole, they seem very ad-hoc.

mare said...

If I had voting rights (I don't because I'm an immigrant and no Canadian) I would vote for Projet Montreal as well.

And the week most of those placards were put up there was a big storm (the remnants of Katrina) and the one on a wooden frame all fell on the ground. A big waste of money and materials indeed.

Marc Snyder said...

Full disclosure: I work with and for the UCIM candidates in the Plateau. Just so my bias is known :-)

Anyways, I don't really know much about this particular saga. What I do know is that our Plateau commitments are very environmental. If you click here, you'll find them.

Here are sone of them:
Reduce… vehicular traffic on our streets by:
* implementing a traffic plan that ensures the safety of cyclists and pedestrians and channels through-traffic to main arteries;
* reducing traffic on local streets, particularly Mont-Royal Avenue;
* reducing the weekly restricted parking times on residential streets from four to two;
* introducing additional traffic calming measures.

Introduce… reforms that support the values we cherish by:
* tackling the issue of cleanliness by making residents accountable, and also by improving municipal action in this area;
* increasing the cleaning of streets, alleys and parks, and removing graffiti;
* greening our streets, alleys, buildings and rooftops;
* introducing the Good Neighbour Code throughout the borough;
* preserving the Plateau’s architectural and natural heritage.


Also, I should mention that two of our candidates have absolutely uninpeachable environmental records. Michel Labrecque is one of Vélo Québec's founders and is past president of the Montreal Regional Environmental Council. And Josée Duplessis created the first "ressourcerie" (what became the "éco-centres"), is a past vice-chair of the Montreal Regional Environmental Council and has taught at the École de technologie supérieure about the environmental impact of industry.

Regards.

MS

Olman Feelyus said...

Marc,

I really appreciate you posting here! I didn't realize that anybody at all connected with the campaigns was even reading this. I'm glad you had an opportunity to give us a little more information on your party's position.

I am in general agreement with all of those initiatives you posted, but I would not consider them to be environmental. They seem to be more concerned with beautification (a good thing). Perhaps the "greening" falls under environmental, but what does that mean? Where are specific plans to cut down on the amount of waste we produce in Montréal? How much money is going to go into the Éco-quartiers? What about promoting street level composting like in Toronto and Halifax? What about recycling and garbage cans on every street?

The UCIM's plateau commitments seem geared towards property owners and residents who want a more attractive neighbourhood, but they do not address the more significant damage we are doing to the planet. I do like the plan of making residents accountable, but beyond that these plans don't make me want to change my vote and they don't convince me that your party really is concerned about the environment.

I don't mean to slam you because I'm really happy to see that you are paying attention, but I think you are going to have to take a more rigorous approach to the environment if you want to appeal to younger voters. This is a growing concern in Canada, especially as the economy continues to improve. Note that the Green Party got 4.3% of the popular vote in the last Federal Election.