Montreal, you’re killing us!

Montreal, you’re killing us!

Main pic – Montreal Tower. Photo credit: Antonello 

By Ross Murray

Montreal was the city that first made me fall in love with Quebec. It was a city of beautiful people drinking Molson quarts, a city of hipsters who knew how to appreciate a good knish, a city that felt at once Cirque-du-Soleil young and Richler-grizzled, a city whose stylishness flirted on the edge of seediness. This was the start of the nineties, a time of jazz, cigarettes, the Expos, Jean Doré’s moustache and Me, Mom and Morgentaler.

Montreal was such a welcoming city at the time – it still is. It has always attracted people like… well, like me, young hopefuls from across Canada and the world who come to study and work, counting on their half-remembered high school French to get by. And when they inevitably pronounce the “S” in “jus” as I did my first summer in Montreal, the lovely server will smile patiently, and she will pass them their drinks, and they will fall in love with the server and the city besides.

This, then, is the problem: Montreal has been far too forgiving for far too long.

For generations, Montreal has been a laissez affair. Under successive colourful mayors, city government has been part carnival, part crap shoot. Business was taken care of however business was taken care of, and if that meant in diners over a brisket and a bulging briefcase, so be it. C’était Montréal.

Brazenly bilingual

In the meantime, the city drew more and more outsiders as the natives (read: francophones) fled to the off-island suburbs, outsiders from the rest of the world, outsiders more comfortable in their native English or, if English wasn’t their first language, keen to learn it. Montreal, always secretly bilingual, was becoming brazenly Bilingual.

During times of social peace, the bilingual fact nettled only the extremists who swatted at the issue harmlessly and were rewarded with condescending disinterest.

But political regimes fall. Mayor Gérald Tremblay, who never seemed to muster the moxie to manage Montreal’s Wild West show, perhaps allowed his administration to take too many chances, with too many “friends” feeling entitled to a piece of the brisket. When Jean Charest’s cageyness could no longer shore up the stagnant provincial Liberals, his government fell. Montreal was an overripe fruit long due for plucking. And, boy, did it get plucked!

The newly elected Parti Québécois immediately set axes a-grinding by concocting a language issue. The result: Bill 14, whose purpose is to strengthen French language in Quebec (read: weaken English language in Quebec).

We’re just trying to hang on

But the English-French issue is not a Quebec problem; it’s a Montreal problem. Bill 14 is clearly aimed at punishing Montreal’s traditional open-arms embrace of bilingualism. Unfortunately, if adopted, the bill will do real damage to anglos elsewhere in Quebec. Out here, anglos are so not a threat. We’re just trying to hang on.

These are polarized, unforgiving, moustache-free times, and Bill 14 is representative of that. So too is the Charbonneau Commission examining corruption. Easygoing Montreal is suddenly out of step with these times and a victim of its own laissez-faire attitude. Never one to shy away from overzealousness (hello, OQLF!), Quebec’s bureaucracy is giddily slicing away at the city, uprooting any and all corruption, another punishment for being the city that’s always a bit cooler, a bit hipper than the seat of government down river. (Sorry, Quebec City, but it’s true.)

And so this week, the mayor of Montreal was arrested. Not even Toronto’s mayor can get arrested! But Montreal, special in so many ways, is also special in its shame, a shame that radiates onto all Quebecers.

So, please, Montreal, you’re killing us. First Bill 14 and now this international embarrassment? It’s bad enough that we have to explain to our friends in the rest of Canada about the politics of language, tuition and turbans, but now we have to apologize for Montreal.

In moments of despair, even Quebec federalists sometimes say, “Maybe things would be better if Quebec just separated from Canada.” But perhaps there’s another solution; maybe Quebec should just separate from Montreal.

We’ll visit often…

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Ross Murray

Ross Murray is an award-winning humorist and radio contributor and the author of two books ‘You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?’ and ‘Don’t Everyone Jump at Once’. Raised in Nova Scotia, Ross has lived in the Eastern Townships of Quebec since the early 1990’s with his wife Debbie, four children and far too many pets. After all this time, Ross feels comfortable calling himself a Townshipper; his neighbours call him something else.


  1. jobp
    jobp 19 June, 2013, 07:53

    Indeed the province as a whole has been taking a beating internationally in recent months and the sad part is that it’s always made quite clear that it’s Quebec and not Canada, making it easier to differentiate the difference. I am not sure I would identify myself as a “Quebecois” (not that I ever do) when I am travelling elsewhere. The province has brought all this on itself and has no one to blame, not even Ottawa. The repercussions of being a so-called Nation are not always as joyous as most Quebec francophones would like to believe, you have to absorb the good with the bad. Above and beyond all the corruption though, Montreal still has the best Bagels and smoke meat sandwiches, right? Can’t leave that behind.

    • Farnell Morisset
      Farnell Morisset 19 June, 2013, 10:05


      MacLeans has been saying since before this inquiry started that it was likely Ontario was just as bad, if not worse, as Quebec. I think the recent allegations against mayor Rob Ford in Toronto have starkly changed the tune, and have had as much worldwide publicity as Quebec’s collusion inquiry. So far, the story around Rob Ford allegedly goes as far as murder – this is far worse than even the worst allegations laid against any Quebec official.

      If anything, Quebec is simply taking steps to rid itself of some degree of corruption. What’s happening right now is the equivalent of a fever – sure, it’s very visible and noticeable and it means everyone else knows you’re sick, but it’s much preferable to simply letting the infection linger unopposed, like some other Canadian provinces seem to be doing.

      I also think you’re confusing the issue with Quebec nationalism. Quebec nationalism is completely uninvolved in this – if anything, most of the people who seem to have been involved in the corruption and collusion have been very staunch federalists.

  2. jobp
    jobp 19 June, 2013, 13:05

    Yeah, I was keeping my remarks for Quebec only. Toronto & Ontario are no better probably, but it’s not our problem, the article was about Quebec.
    Your last paragraph is irrelevant to my comment, nothing to do with nationalism. The PQ “et all” are killing themselves slowly but surely, and
    it’s probably a good thing that all this is coming about now, so a massive clean-up can take place.
    The province has been corrupt since Duplessis and Montreal has been corrupt since Drapeau, but still has the best smoked meat.

    • Farnell Morisset
      Farnell Morisset 19 June, 2013, 17:43

      Then what did you mean by this: “The repercussions of being a so-called Nation are not always as joyous as most Quebec francophones would like to believe, you have to absorb the good with the bad. ”

      If you agree Ontario is probably no better, what does this have to do with the repercussions of being a nation or not? Ontario has not, as far as I know, claimed and been acknowledged nationhood, meaning corruption has nothing to do with the repercussions of being a nation.

  3. peter
    peter 22 June, 2013, 11:16

    Corruption has always been part of the political life , one has just to look at the Roman empire to see the same acts of corruption happening today , it does not matter what political colors you wear on your lapel , it is the thickness of the brown envelope that matters .

    The commissions main purpose is to bring to light this corruption to the public forum , and we are witnessing the intricate and devious manner of doing business in Montreal and Laval , at this moment we are up in arms regarding how the political elite detour the system for personal gain , unfortunately all this will come to pass just like all the other commissions of enquiry ranging from the tainted meat of Expo 67 to the Olympic debacle to the falling overpass killing innocents .

    Once this commission comes to its end the government , whom ever it will be, will close the books on this matter , pass legislation for the municipalities to avoid this matter ever occurring again and will carry on the people’s business.
    Which will be a crime in itself , since this is only the tip of the iceberg for below the surface we can be assured that this form of business is common in all political levels and we the people will never really find the true extent of corruption .

    Bread and Games was the Romans best policy to apply to the populace , keep them fat and content in order to run the nations business in peace .

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