The Intersection of Visionaries

The Intersection of Visionaries

Main pic: Statue de René Lévesque (1922-1987) devant l’Hôtel du Parlement à Québec. Photo credit: Boucherl

By Jacquelyn Smith

Cartier and René Levesque. Personally when I hear the intersection of these two names, it evokes the image of Jacques Cartier one of the first Europeans to venture to North America and leap into the unknown future with conviction and vision, plus René Lévesque, the man who led the Quiet Revolution and helmed the modernisation of Québec society, fighting off the oppressive structures of the church and the English dominated state. It does not bring forth a vision of a seven storey block of condos to the front of my mind.

I am on the Conseil de Quartier Montcalm, which means once a month I attend a meeting and vote on various issues that are either brought up by citizens or sent down from the city. The conseil is composed of four elected men and four women whom are resident, three co-opted posts which are appointed by the elected council and the city councillors who are in our ‘quartier’. This structure is unique to Quebec City, but also incredibly progressive. Our mandate is more or less to consult the public and bring up issues to the city. We are not paid; we have nothing to gain and nothing to lose by sitting on the council. We are there because we are interested in the well-being of our neighbourhood. We are, in a sense the voice of the people.

The subject at the last meeting a couple of nights ago was a hot one: urban development. The lot is currently a little park with a few bus shelters. The city bought the lot, which was formerly a gas station and at the request of the public, did not construct something right away. The designation of a corner of these two major streets, after all, merited some reflection.

The mandate for this project is a heavy one. There are strict criteria to follow, however the terrain Esso, as it is called, is prime real estate and public land, the builder will make his or her mark and a statement about the community with this construction that will last a generation;. Architecturally and culturally the stakes are high. According to the by-law the project must be exemplary, it must stand out and contrast with the rest of the architecture but at the same time it must harmonise with its surrounding. There must be a public space with washrooms and consolidate commercial and residential functions. It must be ecological and allow space for pedestrians and public transport. Essentially the building must capture the spirit of the neighbourhood and also project an image of it for the future. It must be as visionary as the two men whose names the intersection carries.  

I was looking at Mr Grondin last night, sitting pigeon toed patiently listening as the community members and hypothetical buyers expressed themselves. I wanted to hug him. He has been working so hard and trying so hard to get this project through, but there are some major problems with his proposal.

First, he wants to build 7 stories meaning it will tower four stories above all the other buildings that respect the zoning in the area. The southern facing wall will be a “mur aveugle” meaning neither windows nor balconies; essentially it will be a big black wall facing most of the Ave Cartier. Also, there is no plan for garbage removal or storage, an issue that is currently plaguing the residents of Cartier as they are faced with rats and odours due to inadequate garbage disposal. Furthermore, the project does not respect the criteria of harmonising with its surroundings. Questions of parking for the residents of this new building have not been addressed either. Finally, the “affordable price” that was repeated ad nauseum last night but was not defined until Mr Grondin was absolutely pressed on the question, is actually market price if not slightly above.  

I genuinely like Mr Grondin and I half believe what he says when he expressed “60% of people who were here tonight were in favour of the project, but the council rejected it anyways”. Of those present, President Lise Santerre counted 26 people against the project and 31 for. I counted 21 people against and 17 for, but I only counted the residents or business owners. The business owners of Cartier were clearly supporting the project. The residents who were for the project seemed to have a passing interest, that’s to say they were not vehemently opposed to the project.  The residents, who were opposed, were staunchly opposed.

The reason that we have public consultations is so that the public can express themselves in quantity and in quality. If we did not want to know who the interveners were, what their interests are and why they felt the need to express them, we would not have sat and listened to the public for three hours last night, we would have just asked everyone in the room if they were for or against and count the number of hands. That would be fast but undemocratic because anyone who had a vested or commercial interest in a project could fill the room up with, let’s say their employees or their friends or investors to vote in favour of the project.

 I’m not sure that that wasn’t what was happening last night.

I found it strange that a spritely little man shook my hand as I entered the assembly last night and said “thank you for coming”. I had never seen this man before, but he reminded me of Régis Labeaume. Why was he thanking me, a councillor, for coming to a meeting that I have to come to? That made me greatly suspicious. I did not know who this man was, but Valerie Gaudreau, the reporter for le Soleil certainly did as she did a full interview with the man who is running against Anne Guerette for l’Équipe Labeaume in the upcoming municipal elections. Another interesting thing I found was an article reporting on what happened at the assembly last night, by Ms Gaudreau whom I did not see present. I was keeping my eyes out for her because I have tried contacting her, to no avail, about the issue so that she can interview some members of the council. I find it strange that you can report on something you did not witness. I also found it interesting that when certain people stepped to the microphone Marc-André Pâlin, the director of the Business-owners’ Association of Montcalm, looked at Ms Guerette with a little smile. Each time he did this, the person said that they entirely supported the project.

I still want to bake poor Mr Grondin some cookies. He is a real estate developer, a young businessman. He is trying to make a buck as fast and easy as possible. He is throwing out ideas of condos for young professionals stating that there are not enough condos in Montcalm for young professionals. He is using the media to try to make it seem as though Montcalm is elitist and old. He fills the room with young people saying that they want in and they want to buy his condos. What he has not taken into consideration is that the council is actually made up with young professionals who have found housing in Montcalm. Out of the ten members three are over the age of 40.  

He is trying, but he is missing the point. This is how it must feel when a teacher has to give her favorite student a failing grade.

Cartier and René-Lévesque, two outstanding people. Leaders of their times. Two people who were capable of seeing the world around them, capturing its spirit and directing the future towards their vision. This description evokes two other names, Guerette and Labaume, two extraordinary people neither of whom are very tall, but leave a lasting impression. Ms Guerette with her intelligene, elegance, beauty and charm, harnessing the will of her constituency to preserve the historical buildings that distinguish Québec. Labeaume with his vibrancy, audaciousness and humour rallying his troops in order to redefine extravagance in la Vielle Capitale from the top down.  They are two leaders, whom represent the legitimate, but often conflicting, interests and desires of Quebecers. The corner of Cartier and René-Lévesque seems like an important issue to me, perhaps a defining moment in the upcoming municipal elections. This building has to be the signature of our time, of this particular moment in history that connects the past with the future, not the dominance of one over the other.  It has to be the intersection of Guerette and Labeaume. 

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Jacquelyn Smith

Jacquelyn Smith was born and raised in Hamilton. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Developement from the University of Guelph and is currently studying Law at Université Laval. Jacquelyn Smith lives in Quebec City.


  1. billrussell
    billrussell 20 June, 2013, 16:08

    I liked your analysis of the meeting. Perhaps Ms Gaudreau was disguised…

    Unfortunately, I have to correct your misunderstanding about the name of the street. Avenue Cartier is named for Sir George-Étienne Cartier, one of the fathers of Confederation. Hence, the intersection represents a man who helped bring Quebec into Canada and another who tried to take Quebec out…the meeting of two major streets which does merit some consideration.

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