Pooping on the city’s birthday party

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“Disco bridge” photo by Moment Factory

While 700 members of the city’s political, economic and social elite gather next Wednesday evening to celebrate Montreal’s 375th birthday, up to 3,000 marchers are expected to disrupt the festivities with a march on city hall.

This time, you can be sure that the permits are in order and that police won’t be pepper-spraying participants because the organizer is … the police brotherhood. (Boys, change the damn name.) After more than three years without a contract, the fraternité is capitalizing on all the expensive hoopla planned for May 17 to draw attention to the forgotten contract talks.

Although the province seems to think it’s “urgent” to strip police of their camo-pants protest powers, the lack of a contract is seemingly not so urgent, especially since Quebec’s emergency services law handcuffs police by limiting pressure tactics to things like wardrobe changes and putting stickers on police cars.

It’s no coincidence that public security minister Martin Coiteux has tabled a draft bill to coerce the cops back into uniform just as the city’s bizarre birthday bash is set to begin. (I mean, really, who celebrates their 375th anything?)

Among the activities planned for the launch is a $40-million light show on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. Funded jointly by Ottawa ($30-million) and Montreal ($9.5-million), the bridge has been fitted with 2,807 multicolour LED lights that will be used to mark significant occasions, like the death of a premier or the filling of a pothole.

Trial runs held in March left residents of the impoverished Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood next door singularly unimpressed, especially compared with the free fireworks competition that normally lights up the skies twice a week every summer. Rather than being the international symbol the city is hoping for, the “disco bridge” will instead be a pulsing reminder of the sharp divide between Montreal’s poor and its PR.

The birthday bash will also kick off with a Bonne Fête Montréal concert at the Bell Centre, where spectators will be entertained by the likes of Louis-José Houde, Marie-Mai, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Jane and Anna McGarrigle, Diane Dufresne, Laurent Paquin, Robert Charlebois, Gad Elmaleh, Ariane Moffatt, Boogat, Dead Obies, Kim Richardson, la Bronze and les Porn Flakes.

In a gesture of solidarity with flood victims, organizers have put aside 500 tickets (first come, first served) for anyone who can prove they live in a flood zone. Forgive me for suggesting, though, that a better gesture would be to use the event to fundraise for these homeowners, the vast majority of whom have absolutely no insurance and can expect only a fraction of their losses to be covered by government aid programs.

With seats ranging from $100 to $436 a pair, surely Just for Laughs organizers can do better than offer a few free tickets.

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Now before you accuse me of being a party pooper, let me offer some of my own suggestions for activities we can conduct to mark 375 years since white Europeans began building a city on land that stolen from the original inhabitants and “given” to them by some hereditary king who’d never set foot here.

The Coderrodeo

A tradition that goes all the way back to the legend of Kid Kodak, who in 2013 conquered the city of Montreal with 32 per cent of the vote. The Coderrodeo would feature unique contests such as:

Cheque forgetting. Participants will be given $25,000 cheques by Liberal party bagmen and the first one to forget cashing the cheque will be granted a city contract.

Pit-bull baiting. Owners of family pets that bear even a slight resemblance to one of several “pit bull” breeds will be forced to rope, muzzle and neuter their animals while scientists and veterinarians scratch their heads and children cry.

• Selfie-shooting. Contestants will be judged both by the number of selfies taken and the uniqueness of the location chosen. Extra points for posing in a sewer, while jack-hammering a Canada Post mailbox foundation, or wearing a Habs or Expos jersey that looks like you borrowed it from Youpi!

Sidewalk demolition sales

Encourage bargain shopping by repeatedly ripping up commercial streets until store owners are forced to liquidate. Go back three years later as new businesses take root and rip open the road to fix the sewers and recover the backhoe accidentally buried there.

Construction puzzle fest

In coordination with Transport Quebec, create impossibly complex detours that force drivers to circle the city endlessly. After a few weeks, once drivers become accustomed to the changes, create completely different detours and watch the confusion as the mice … um, Montrealers … chase their tails.

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Don’t get me wrong. I love this city. I think it’s an amazing place to live, as evidenced by the fact I’ve never lived anywhere else (for long). We have a social richness and joie de vivre that’s off the charts thanks, in large part, to the dynamic mix of languages and cultures here. Despite our construction and corruption woes, Montrealers are a welcoming, generous people with plenty to be proud of.

The biggest irony of the 375th anniversary party is that it is attempting to celebrate something that Montrealers mark, in our own way, every day. It’s not the founding of the city we rejoice, but the ongoing building of a community that is very different from the largely white European face that has dominated party planning. We celebrate through the creation and appreciation of unique art and music, through our festivals and street sales, or by simply taking a walk in the park on a warm summer day.

The 375th is an attempt to dress us up in a set of clothes that often don’t fit. Whether it’s an insanely inappropriate rodeo, a $40-million disco bridge or granite “tree stumps” on Mount Royal, the city’s most prominent birthday projects have badly missed the mark.

Fortunately, the soul of the city continues to dance to its own beat and the roar of the 375th will be lost in the eclectic cacophony of a typical, beautiful Montreal summer. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.

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