Things We Can Learn from Montreal
I have missed being away these past two days at some Board meetings in Montreal. I enjoy the thinking and fun that goes into a radio show, so I miss it, and of all the places I could be, I do love Toronto. But that doesn't mean there aren't a few things we can learn, including from Montreal.
We forget, Montreal was for many years, when many of us were younger, Canada's largest, most worldly, best known and most dynamic city. I recall they seemed to be going broke half the time but that didn't seem to matter.
Then came the election of a separatist government in 1976 and all of that began to change as Montrealers, thousands and thousands of them, left Montreal to come to stable, dull Toronto and immigrants from around the world got the same memo. Note to Quebec voters--these messages to the world should be front and centre on Quebec Election Day coming soon. The separatist PQ are hard at it dividing people and they will try to divide Canada again if we give them the chance.
Anyway, politics aside, Montreal has a lot of things right and we should be trying to learn more from Montreal, more often. Four observations:
1. While we are inclined to have a superior attitude, Montreal has today a largely French speaking business leadership that is experienced, successful and deep in talent. We should be reaching out and doing more with them--are things really so good in Toronto we can afford to ignore them and their success? Free trade within Canada is still a joke and we should fix that, starting with Montreal.
2. We should take a page from their book on the preservation of heritage. It is obvious (and pleasing) to the eye to see all of the old buildings in Montreal. You instantly and repeatedly notice them. They add a sense of history and character. In Toronto we have been far too quick to tear these down or to simply preserve a facade or a doorway and conclude that's good enough. One of the reasons I recommended maintaining the Cinesphere and Pods at Ontario Place was because we will never have 100 year old heritage if we keep tearing down 40 year old heritage.
3. The sidewalk life in Montreal's downtown makes much of ours look pretty thin. Why can't we bring more of our downtown sidewalks to life for the outdoor season and within reason, get the bureaucrats and entertainment police out of the way? The difference is noticeable.
4. I have long advocated separated bike lanes and when you see them in action in Montreal you realize how safe and sensible they are. Everyone seems more at ease with them--cyclists, drivers and even pedestrians who have to keep a sharper eye. Of course we are just now "considering" these in Toronto and who knows when we will actually have them.
While Toronto will always be first for me, we spent far too much time these past 10 years or so reading and re-reading our good reviews. It’s time to look around and see what others are doing, even some we thought we "left behind" in our rise to the top. That being said, there's no place like home.