Saturday, September 17, 2011

On the other hand...

In counterpoint to my rant the other day,where I added my voice to the collective outburst of the entire province against the corruption in our government and contractors, I have had the exact opposite experience with renovators at the private, entrepreneurial level here in Quebec.  At my job, I am currently overseeing a fairly significant renovation project.  Thanks to a happy confluence of timing, real estate and budget, we have been available to invest a bit of money into our office space, which I have mentioned before is a 100-year old presbytère.  We've got a bunch of people fixing doors and windows, redoing the kitchen, painting, re-doing the floors and doing a general energy efficiency overhaul.  It's an old, long-neglected building and while we are only doing a fraction of what should be done to return this piece of Montreal history to its proper state (and to simply protect it).

This project has brought me in contact with a bunch of different people whose career is in renovation: contractors, painters, carpenters, general handymen, window experts, locksmiths, restoration experts, energy efficiency engineers, designers.  There are anglophones, francophones and allophones.  Some are old and have been doing this for decades.  Some are brand new and even still in school for their trade.  It's early days still and there is still room for a minor disaster.  But so far I have been uniformly impressed with the quality and integrity of the work of every one of them.  

They have come in on time, done a thorough analysis and provided me with what so far appears to be fairly accurate estimates.  Once the work has started, they have been more than on-time (getting to the job site so early that I am the one who has to be changing my schedule), hard-working, flexible (and with this old building, my vacillation and a not entirely traditional work environment, they've had to be flexible) and just pleasant, interesting people to be around.  Their costs are reasonable.  None of them is making a huge margin on these jobs and in several cases they have given us a break, recognizing that we are a non-profit and that our landlord (the church) would be otherwise leaving this beautiful building to rot.

And they are skilled.  There have been some serious challenges already, such as the sill under the front door being completely rotted away and no real floor joists left to properly support it.  After a few minutes of standing around and looking and discussion, the guy went out that day, got some quick-drying concrete, built a mini-form and just filled the gap in with a little foundation that will support the sill.  The guys doing the floors discovered that the old substrate plywood under the floor went underneath all the radiators and he couldn't just tear it out without them losing their level and possibly damaging the pipes.  So he hand-fashioned little wooden shims and went around under each foot of each radiator and tapped them in.

It's just been a joy to be a part of a process where old, quality work is being restored and brought back to its original quality with a minimum of waste and with long-term durability in mind rather than they typical short-term "get it done so we can sell it" mentality.  I have seen so much shit "renovation" work done here in Montreal, where they just go in, tear everything out, put up aluminum studs and gyproc walls and paint everything white.  My sister lives in Brooklyn and it seems impossible to find anybody competent with any skill or care for the job.  Just that fucking dull-faced, semi-tough guy contractor attitude, where they are utterly inflexible and tell you how the job is supposed to go.  Have any of you dealt with that?  I have seen so many of those guys in my life and I haven't even met one so far in this project.  If I did, he would be out the door, that's for sure.  Being able to say that is a result of the surplus of skilled, conscientious craftsmen on the market here and it is something to celebrate.

If only this were the same for the development industry and the government workers here in Quebec.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The change has come...

My God, I'm starting to become a real Quebecker, a real Canadian.  I'm starting to complain all the time!  But holy christ, the level of lies and corruption and dissimulation that goes on here, coupled with growing wreck that is our civil infrastructure, it's hard not to complain.  The Montreal region is literally falling apart.  I'm sure you've heard about report after report of crumbling bridges and overpasses, huge chunks of concrete falling on people, rebar sticking out, endless public construction jobs.  On top of it all, we pay the most taxes in North America.  I am fine with paying taxes.  I believe strongly in paying taxes.  Hell, I don't even mind some inefficiency in the distribution of that money throughout the social services.  I recognize that when a system gets that large it is going to be far from perfect.

But what is going on in Quebec today and has been going on for decades goes far beyond simple inefficiency.  It is straight out crime.  Theft.  Corruption.  Government officials, both in the bureaucracy and in the elected classes collude with organized crime contractors to siphon massive amounts of taxpayer money for public projects that go into their own pockets and into party coffers.  This goes on at every level, municipal and provincial and is massive.  This is the reason Quebec is the most expensive province in Canada and the worst when it comes to construction efficiency.  It is a joke.  I mean I used to think that road work in New York City was embarrassing, but wow Quebec makes NYC look like Abu Dhabi.

And we've had empty reports and government investigations going on for years with no results at all.  So finally, we get some teeny bit of real information from the rapport de l'unité d'anticollusion, led by ex-cop Jacques Duchesneau, which basically confirms everything I said above.  And guess what the minister of transport, Pierre Moreau, says.  That basically it's a few bad apples, that we shouldn't have a public inquiry, that it's exaggerated and that we should just let the police get on with their business.

Holy shit. That just shows first how deep the corruption goes and second how little anyone involved in it really believes they will ever get busted for it.  At the very least, we could expect a strongly worded, righteous response about how this will be dealt with.  But here their arrogance is so vast that they don't even bother giving the people that rhetoric.  They basically are telling us that there is nothing we can do about it and if there is, they sure aren't going to be ones to do it.  Does anybody remember what happened to the federal Liberals when they took this same attitude when it came to the sponsorship scandal?  At this point, I don't even care about other political issues at the provincial level.  Let's just turf these fuckers out right now.  They are vampires sucking the life of the province away.  Fat and bloated, they want power for power's sake and do not give a shit about the people of Quebec.  Let's get rid of Tremblay here in Montreal as well.   And when the new government comes in, we need a serious  purge of the bureaucracy and sub-ministries as well as the big contracting and architecture firms.  Line them up in the Olympic Stadium in their underwear for all to see and then send them off to clear the streets of snow by hand for the rest of their lives.  Scumbags.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hey Plateau-ites, you're really not helping yourselves

So this happened today.  Several organizations are moving out of the building where I work.  It's on Laurier, facing the awesome new two-way bike path and new one-way only Laurier.  The moving truck came to deliver a bunch of empty plastic moving boxes to the tenants to start packing.

I come downstairs around eleven to check on something else and one of my colleagues who was outside having a cigarette points out this doofus on a Bixi.  He's berating the moving men for parking their van in the bike path.  I didn't get involved, but lurked while the conversation went on for literally almost 20 minutes.  It went from the guy spazzing out to him calming down and trying to have a "reasonable" conversation with him where he tried to argue that they were somehow doing something terribly wrong.  Even though there is nowhere else for them to park and he could have quite easily just gone around as it was late morning and there was practically no traffic on Laurier.  He claimed that he worked for the city, but when pressed about exactly what it was he did, he remained vague.  He was wearing a relaxed grey blazer and looked every bit the stereotypical Plateau yuppy.  He finally rode off.  The moving guys were far from impressed.  10 minutes later a cop showed up.  Because the moving dudes were finishing up their job, I went and talked to him.  He was reasonable and when I told them they would be done in 10 minutes, he let them finish their work and go.  When I asked if he had just driven by or if there was a complaint, he said he had received many complaints.

I mean what the fuck?  Look I am pretty fascistically pro-bike.  If I had my way, cars would simply be outlawed and anyone owning an SUV sent to intensive work re-education camps.  But for fuck's sake, be reasonable!  People have to move.  Movers have to park to put people's stuff in the truck.  What are they supposed to do?  Find a parking spot around the block and walk the furniture back and forth to the truck so you don't have to deviate from your straight line Bixi ride to the coffee shop where you are going to rail against people who have jobs on your laptop?

Here's the problem with grey blazer fuckstick.  He doesn't understand about work.  He has clearly never done a real job in his life.  These are the kind of people that everybody hates about the Plateau.  Their selfish, spoiled, ignorant behaviour completely undermines any rational argument for bikes and improved, less-polluting systems of transportation.  How are those movers going to vote when they see someone stumping for more public transport and better bike lanes now?

The world is getting more crowded.  There are more cars in cities than ever before and more bikes.  Everybody is going to have to be a little flexible and try extra hard to be mindful of others.  So when bikes make a strong political victory, just like anytime you win, you should be gracious and generous about it.  You should not be a righteous cockface and get all up in a couple of dudes grills who are simply doing their job, especially when nothing they are doing is bothering anyone at all.

And Ferrandez and company, I don't know how much of it is true, but I am starting to hear more and more complaints and frustration from Plateau citizens about the utter inflexibility of your laws.  Maybe this is a perception problem, maybe it's real, but it is growing.  If you are going to make a real, lasting impact for the good, you need to get buy-in from all the parties.  Making draconian, inflexible laws that don't take into account the reality of day-to-day life and work in our community (such as not allowing delivery men to stop for 10 minutes in a bike path), is going to alienate a lot of potential voters.  This is especially the case when the changes you are making are radical ones.  And to car addicts, anything that restricts them is radical.