Montreal, the New Pompeii

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Montreal, the New Pompeii

A mini-debate in The National Post lately has revolved around the idea of Montreal becoming an independent jurisdiction in Quebec due to its uniqueness and cultural difference from the rest of the province. Supporting this idea, among others, is the perceived strength of its multi-cultural population and the strong negative feelings the majority of the city’s residents feel towards the provincial government’s proposed Charter of Values* as opposed to how it is viewed off-island.

One of the letters to the editors was recently written from someone in ROC (Rest of Canada), perhaps a disgruntled ex-Montrealer, who categorically proclaimed that it was too late to save Montreal and that, in fact, living here was akin to living in Pompeii, obviously before – just before – the volcano turned it into dust.

We’re doomed the writer seemed to be saying. Corruption, high taxes, intolerance of immigrants and “the other”, bad roads: I don’t know exactly what seemed to be gnawing in his gut, but it was more or less his opinion that there could be no sparing Montreal from an inglorious and unsalvageable present and a hopeless future.

This damning observation was on my mind these past three days as my better half and I spent the weekend in the city to combine work and play. Play being eating out at family and friends and strolling down St. Lawrence Boulevard; work being choosing furniture for our new house.

Are we really the doomed and the damned? I wondered as we walked and drove around the city.

If you were to judge a city by the quality of its roads and traffic, er, you would have to think that Montrealers could be doing a lot better. Even with a recognizably world-class and very affordable public transportation system Montrealers, like a lot of other city dwellers in North America (i.e. Los Angeles) have a great love affair with their cars and are willing to sit or crawl in heavy traffic rather than take a bus or subway. “Tant pis pour eux,” (Too bad for them) I say.

The appalling state of the roads is a different matter and might be linked to the newly uncovered corrupt state of affairs in the city’s construction industry. You can’t blame the residents for the millions of bumps and cracks in the roads everywhere. It’s not for their lack of complaining but maybe is due to the hopefully now-gone “looking the other way” syndrome of crooked city officials.

But otherwise, and maybe I’m wearing rose-coloured glasses, Montreal to me seems far from being on the point of being submerged by lava. I consider the city to be very vibrant, alive and relatively prosperous, despite everything.

I remain hopeful that the uncovering of corruption has been a sincere effort and will result in a cleaner and more efficient city hall.

I believe that the majority of the residents are tolerant of other cultures and religions. Some people do have a lesson to learn in regard to tolerance and accepting of “the other”, but show me a society that doesn’t have this lesson to learn. (Even in Sweden immigrants were recently burning cars to protest their status in Swedish society).

I like Montrealers. I have lived in Toronto and have no problem generalizing about the differences between Montrealers and Torontonians (bear with me). I have found Torontonians to be quite cerebral ­–  in a good way. When I lived there I would quite often, in a restaurant for example, catch a bit of intelligent conversation at an adjoining table and wish that I were part of it. But I have often found Torontonians cold and overly apt to indulge when it comes to comparing themselves with others from a material point of view. There’s too much buying into the belief that money buys happiness in Toronto. It is a very expensive city, yes, (housing and food are quite pricey) but I can’t understand this obsession with status that permeates Toronto society.

In my daily life — at work, shopping, in all kinds of daily encounters — I very, very rarely meet anyone in Montreal who I find distasteful or rude. In the many stores that I’ve spent time in during our search for furniture I have never met a salesperson who was standoffish or impolite. My wife might feel that some try too hard and won’t leave us alone but I’m less bothered by that.

(I do get upset at cyclists who don’t have lights on their bikes while cycling in traffic at night and I hope that you go right now to the bicycle store and buy one for your bike. Go on, get going!)

Look, it’s easy for you in ROC to vent on Montreal just as it is for us in Montreal to vent on you guys. That’s too easy. My positive experience in and of Montreal is not unique but shared by thousands of people.

We’re not living in a New Pompeii!

*Charter of Values: The Quebec government has recently tabled a bill that would forbid the wearing of conspicuous religious clothing — kippas, turbans, hijabs & large crosses — by all government employees.

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