We are a couple of weeks away from the Grand Prix coming to town. More than anything else Montreal stages, this event puts this city in front of the eyes of the world. And more than anything else Montreal stages, the Grand Prix week is responsible for up to 15% of annual revenues for many downtown stores, restaurants and bars. As we thought of what we will project this year, the images were very sad indeed.
The construction and repair madness will shoot out scenes reminiscent of the rebuilding of Balkan cities. It's not just the mess that will embarass us, it's the seeming total lack of planning and coordination. Getting around will be a nightmare for the more than 100,000 visitors expected that week.
Ground zero for Grand Prix events downtown is Peel St. between St.Catherine and Sherbrooke as well as Crescent St. between St. Catherine and de Maissoneuve. Within ten blocks east and west of both those corners along St.Catherine, you will find dozens of empty storefronts. In one section alone we counted 27. Montreal has not seen a retail devastation of such magnitude since the "tax and regulate" era of the Doré-Fainstat "reformers" in the 1990s.
But perhaps the most troubling pictures our city administrators need to guard against are the strongarm tactics of our bureaucrats and their use of police to enforce senseless rule and regulation. Civil rights attorney Julius Grey recently commented that, "In Quebec, we do not live in a police state, but we do live in an inspector state." We might have put the word "yet" after "police state," but Grey's point is well taken.
The latest, and perhaps most notorious, example of our inspector-state stupidity was the sight of police officers and blue collar workers from the centre city borough of Ville Marie seizing the the sidewalk terrasse tables and chairs of the famous Alexandre & Fils restaurant on Peel St. that has been there for 39 years this month. The seizure came not because it was operating, but because everyday the staff put out those tables and chairs, sometimes stand in front of them in protest to the inane by-law that forces terraces into the road. This was not just about stopping the operation of a terrace on a sidewalk. This was about stifling protest because it was embarassing the borough.
All this was done by the borough because of one complaint, a complaint denounced by almost every association for the handicapped including that representing the blind. The real reason for the by-law was simply because the borough gets more revenue since a road terrace requires construction and space and the permit prices are higher. Also, the restaurant owners are forced to pay for the entire season for the parking meters the road terrace blocks. The echoes of Duplessis, Roncarelli and the Padlock Law come back to haunt us. Given all the other restrictions on our personal adult choices and the continuing destruction of downtown by the constrictive politics of "les verts," what we will project while the "whole world is watching" is truly a cause for concern.
The mendacity of the regulatory leviathan Montrealers are burdened under is the most corrosive type of corruption. Opportunistic back-door money grabs dressed up with the cloaks of altruism and political correctness and layered over with the veneer of "legality." Hopefully the world won't see the worst of this, but we still have to live with it after the party has left town.