Montréal – Ithaca mou

Ithaca
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your heart does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first
time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes as of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your
ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on your way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give
you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
– Constantine Cavafy

PART IV: The campaign trail, election night 2008 and beyond

The Campaign Trail

 

There was so much energy in the air throughout the weeks of the campaign. The campaign staff was dedicated to a cause larger than themselves and their enthusiasm definitely spread to the numerous volunteers that revolved the campaign office doors on 7217 rue Saint-Denis. The riding was on alert – a Trudeau, and the eyes of both nations – were on Papineau. It did not take long, especially after Justin’s bilingual campaign video, for the election to be divided almost entirely on federalist and separatist sentiments. This resulted in multiple visits to the campaign office by overtly disturbed members of the Papineau riding with the presence of a Trudeau, as well as, an organized visit by the Jeunes Patriotes du Québec on September 24th, 2008 chanting “Pas de Trudeau en Papineau”.

 

October 14th, 2008 – Election Day

 

Since I wanted to make this election memorable and since I was personally invested in the election, I wanted to experience how the Canadian Federal Election machine worked (in order to find ways on how to introduce technological advancements in order to increase voter turnout and citizen political participation – topic for a later date), I was a poll clerk for Polling Station 018A, the polling station located in l’école secondaire Joseph-François Perrault that my family and I have always voted in.

 

It was an interesting day to say the least. The representatives for the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals were there all day and both were blaming each other for possible breaches in Elections Canada procedures. Both Justin Trudeau and Vivian Barbot made a presence at the polling station demonstrating its importance but one thing was missing – the voters. If I remember correctly, it was the lowest turnout in a Federal Election.

 

And the future looks grim in my polling station since a significant number of voters were elderly and/or retired. I saw many families (mostly newly arrived immigrants that have been awarded the right to vote, come together and vote). I saw many people on the registry where only one or two members of the family (according to last names and civic addressed) presented themselves and whole families were absent from the ballot.

 

After my ballot boxes were counted and my results report were handed in, I headed directly to Justin’s campaign office to follow the national elections results. By the time I got there, it was clear that the Conservative Party of Canada were going to win but that they have lost some of their support in Quebec. The Papineau riding was still not declared as red or blue and it remained that way until past midnight. In the backrooms, the campaign staff were working hard crunching the numbers and analyzing trends. The packed room was getting impatient but not really for the delay in seeing Justin enter (since he did not arrive yet) that day but to celebrate in his, and their, victory.

 

Finally, with a consistent margin of approximately 1,000 votes (with the final being 1,230) Justin gave his victory speech to his volunteers, media, family and friends – the nation. As I stood at the front right hand side of the stage, I looked around the room and must have seen a face from almost every race found in Montreal. It was a democratic mosaic waiting to be exposed to the rest of the nation.

 

When Justin stepped away from answers the media’s questions, he was confronted with a wave of enthusiasm that sent me backwards. There were members that came to him running, pulling on his arms, as he tried making his way to the back of the room for televised interviews looking up at him and shouting, “You can do it Justin!”, “Don’t forget us!” “Make us proud!” The belief in that room that day that one person can and will make the difference that they need to see in order to have a better life in Papineau was mind-blowing.

 

But, I do believe that throughout the campaign, with the culmination leading to that night, Justin absorbed the expectations of his members, and residents, of the Papineau riding and the energy and motivation that such a support can generate for its team. I will never forget that night. Je me souviens the night my riding came alive.

 

Conclusion

 

Justin won Papineau on his own, and in my opinion, with little outright help from the Federal Liberal Party’s leadership and/or its forerunners. I know that in many cases, Justin actually got deserted by usual bases of volunteer support in the provincial and national parties because they believed he didn’t need it because he was TRUDEAU! Liberal membership campaigns and door-to-door blitz’s, which were organized weeks in advance with a significant confirmation of support from reliable support groups, ended up being just a handful at best.

 

One of the most memorable quotes from these past two years must have been when a reporter on election night next to me asked Justin what his father would have said to him now that he have entered politics. Justin replied that his father would have been proud that he had done it his way!

 

In the meantime, Saint-Michel continues to be my home. I love the fact that it is not uncommon to see a devout North African or South Asian Muslim, after Friday prayer, exiting their ‘mosque’ located in the basement of the once vibrant manufacturing buildings (where my grandmother used to work in when she first arrived here) along Papineau’s main artery – the Trans-Canada Highway (or as we Montrealers call it, “La Métropolitaine” or “The Met”). Neither is it uncommon to walk around a Sunday morning with incense, organ playing and church bells occupying the silence of thousand year old Catholic and Orthodox rituals celebrated in Italian and Greek with the majority of their spectators born in the ‘old country’ with the words ‘Ora Pro Nobis’ (‘Pray for Us’) hanging over their heads … this is where I am from … I love being able, within the same building, drop my clothes off at a Haitian-run dry cleaners; buy the newspaper at the Vietnamese dépanneur and peak into the Dominican hair salon and see them performing their ‘magic’ … this is where I am from!

                                                                                                   

Canadians from all parts of the country, “Once more into the breach, dear friends” and come join us because the battle is still being fought is going down in Papineau. It is not a conventional war, like the ones we have lived through, the Quebec Referendum wars of 1980 and 1995, the Kitchen Accord, Meech Lake Accord, and Charlottetown Accord wars. It is a war of hearts!

 

YES OUI CAN! YES TO ENGLISH CANADA, OUI AU CANADA FRANÇAIS! YES OUI CAN(ADA)

PART III: Working the terrain in Papineau

Working the terrain in Papineau

                                                                                                        

Je me souviens that on March 2, 2008 a group of volunteers (including myself) and Justin went door-to-door in order to get to know the members of Papineau (most notably around Poll 132 and 151). As teams of 2 – 3 volunteers spanned the streets; Justin ran back and forth between us.

 

It came to a moment in the day where Justin and I were visiting a quasi-apartment building / quint-plex together. I rang the doorbell for the first apartment, where I would have normally been alone introducing myself and the Liberal Party and then asking if they were interested in meeting their Federal Liberal candidate from their riding: Justin Trudeau. If they were interested I would ask them by what time would be the latest he could pass by and then transfer that information to him and he would go and visit.

 

On this occasion, Justin was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, slightly hidden from view, as I approached the apartment and the man who answered my doorbell ring. I realized that the man began to seem annoyed by my presence. I asked him if he wanted to meet Justin and the man turned red. He called Justin’s dad, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, a traitor and a disgrace to all Québécois – all while Justin was in earshot but out of view. I tried to calm the man down by telling him that Justin is not his father and that he has policies and ideas of his own. Ideas that he might be inclined to support if he allowed Justin talk to him. The man completely brushed the sheer idea of meeting and answered with the certainty as if the sun will rise tomorrow, “It doesn’t matter because he has treachery in his blood” while exposing his stiffened right inner forearm from his tightly clenched fist and running his left index and middle fingers over its veins.

 

I met many Québécois nationalist that day and it was difficult when they turned me down when they stereotyped me as a typical federalist. I saw the passion in their eyes and the pains of the past in their hearts. Like embers after a huge St. Jean Baptiste Day bonfire, over the battlegrounds of the Plains of Abraham, they cannot be easily put out except with a sense of integration without assimilation, mutual respect and genuine curiosity in one another’s cultures, languages and people.

 

After my trip to the Middle East (Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Egypt) and Europe (Italy, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England) during August / September of 2008, I found a real need to become involved in my riding (see excerpt below from my final journal entry blog “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”):

 

[…] the ability (or inability) to coexist in various cultural situations was important as well. This is one of the main reasons for those two legs has been the study of historical and contemporary investigations of struggles, revolutions and occupations. This ‘investigation’ actually began June 24th, 2008 when Sacha and I went to Quebec City to witness the 400th anniversary of the founding of Tadoussac settlement on the Plains of Abraham (the location where General Wolfe [English Army] defeated Montcalm [French Army]. The event marks the historical struggle between these two cultures with each other and with respect to the Aboriginal people across Canada up to the period that affected my life: the culmination to the Quiet Revolution and its aftermath. Born in 1980, I was introduced to a city, a province, a nation, a people and a country with Pierre Elliot Trudeau and René Lévesque as my strict biological father and my loving step-father, respectively.

 

I am a child of the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but I am also Québécois. But who are my parents? Who were they? Who are they now? What’s my family’s coat of arms? Is it time to change it? […]

 

[…] I discovered on this journey that Canada is a wonderful country at the turn of the 21st century. Great opportunities and very well respected around the world. As I traveled, my passport and I have been greeted with nothing less than the utmost respect for our country and its citizens. Unfortunately, I have noticed that the underlying fabric that makes us stand out in the world is being dyed a different tone. I feel that I need to assist in whichever way possible at the moment. […]

 

[…] And yes, I think for the first time in my life I can actually say that, “I am Canadian” without feeling that I am relinquishing the fact that I am Italian, Venezuelan, Spanish, Trinidadian, African and especially Québécois, as well. I believe a Canadian identity is being formed in me and once I can define it, I will make sure to share it with others. […]      

 

                                                                                                September 15th, 2008

Heathrow Airport – London

 

Upon my return, I joined Justin’s campaign.

PART II: And then there was Justin – 18 months before the campaign

And then there was Justin – 18 months before the campaign

 

I remember how I felt on April 27th, 2007 like it was yesterday. For the past 8 years of my life, since I made the switch from pursuing a career in the sciences as a meteorologist to ‘something’ in the Human Sciences, I have been either following various levels of political (municipal, provincial and international) or involved in politics at a lower level like President of the Vanier College Students’ Association and Vice-President (Finance & Operations) of Students’ Society of McGill University. But having Justin Trudeau running for the candidature of the Liberal Party for the riding of Papineau, my riding, was more than enough to draw me out that day.

 

By then, I had been aware of Justin for approximately 8 years as well. Like many Canadians of my generation, Justin was introduced to us at a sad moment in Canadian history: while offering the eulogy at his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s funeral at Notre-Dame Basilica in 1999 (Justin Trudeau Eulogizes His Father, Pierre: Part 1 and Justin Trudeau Eulogizes His Father, Pierre: Part 2). The next time I heard about him was throughout my time at McGill University from 2001 – 2005. Let’s just say that, like his father, Justin drew (and still draws) polarizing opinions about himself.

 

So, here you had a potential ‘rockstar’ political candidate, born and raised in 24 Sussex Drive, wanting to represent a working class / 3rd poorest riding in Canada. Back then, I was suspicious of his intentions with the riding – with Canadian politics in general.

 

I did not vote that day firstly due to the fact that I was not a member of the Liberal Party of Canada (or any party for that matter) and only pre-registered members were allowed. Secondly, I didn’t want to. I had approached the day as an observer. I observed the candidates as they made their way around Collège André-Grasset and spoke to the Federal Liberal members of the riding. I made sure to speak with none of them, not even shake their hand. I observed how the members of the riding reacted to the candidates especially, Justin (who for the only time since I began volunteering for him campaigned under the banner, “Trudeau”).  He had stiff competition with Mary Deros and Basilio Giordano and required all his resources to be aligned in order to win the way he needed to win. The members wanted to see “the name” in their riding again anyways.

 

I left that day before the ballots were counted. Sticking around in order to find out who won was not important. I left the volunteers at the door my contact information, letting them know that I am willing to help whoever won, and went home. It was only the following day, when I read the article “Trudeau wins Montreal riding nomination,”

“In the fall of 1965, he said, his father ran in the neighbouring Mount Royal riding, part of which is now included in the Papineau district.”

“Trudeau told voting members that some of them helped nominate his father who eventually gave Canada one of the most evolved tools for human rights in the world — the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“What you were part of 40 years ago changed Canada forever,” he said. “We are all children of the charter. You can understand how fiercely proud I am to be able to say that your prime minister was also my dad.”

“I’m a teacher; I’m a convenor; I’m a gatherer; I’m someone who reaches out to people and is deeply interested in what they have to say,” he said.

“And people see that I’m not faking it. I’m actually genuinely committed to this dialogue that we’re opening up, and this understanding that needs to happen in order to be an effective MP.”

I was able to relate to the sincerity of his message and decided he was at least worth an opportunity to prove himself.

PART I: Where am I from (À donde vengo yo)?

Preamble

 

My blog is to keep people updated on Justin Trudeau’s political career in Ottawa, as well as, his work in Papineau. At the same time, I will bring my experiences from my life growing up in the riding and how it has influenced this “child of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. Furthermore, it will be complimented with the historical moments that gave birth to this multiethnic generation, in English and French Quebec as well as English and French Canada.

 

Where am I from (À donde vengo yo) – backgrouund

The federal riding of Papineau, which includes the neighbourhoods of Villeray, Park Extension, and parts of Saint-Michel, is located in the central part of the Island of Montreal and contains part of the city of Montreal bounded by:

·         SOUTHWEST: l’Acadie Boulevard

·         NORTHEAST: 19th Avenue

·         WEST: between Trans-Canada Highway, D’Iberville Street and Jarry Street East

·         EAST: Bélanger Street, Papineau Avenue, Jean-Talon Street East.

According to the CBC and Decision Canada, Papineau is the smallest federal riding in Canada. The riding has a mix of row housing, three-storey apartments, small shops, and Chabanel Street clothing manufacturers. The economy is based mainly on manufacturing, followed by retail trade and the service sector. According to the 2006 census, this riding has,

·         the lowest average family income in Canada at $50,681

·         an unemployment rate at 1 1.6%

·         a transient riding, and renters outnumber homeowners 74% to 26%

·         a total immigrant population is 40%

·         a visible minorities make-up 35%

·         residents over age 25 who have a university certificate or degree is at 22%.

Linguistically diversified as its ethnic make-up, the federal riding of Papineau’s “mother tongue” is just as complex:

 

  • French 45%
  • English 8%
  • Neither French nor English 47%
    • With significant constituencies speaking Italian, Haitian Creole, Greek, Arabic and Hispanic dialects, as well as, various South and Southeast Asian languages as their mother tongues.
    • French remaining the first language spoken at home by 51% of the population

 

Saint-Michel(s)

 

Like a guardian angel / patron saint, Saint-Michel has and always will be a part of me. I was born one November alba in Hôpital Saint-Michel (Hospital) and grew-up in this neighbourhood all my life. I went to Saint Michael’s Elementary School – the same school that both dad and my late uncle Michael went to (my uncle was named after Saint Michael the Archangel, one of the most celebrated saints from my dad’s hometown of Pietracatella, Italy).

 

Saint Michael’s Elementary School was one of three elementary schools in less than 100 metres from one another. The other two schools were St-Damas and Ogilvy. St-Damas was an almost all French Canadian elementary school and Ogilvy was a French all-coloured elementary school. Both elementary schools had many more students than Saint Michael’s which made it quite interesting for school yard brawls. The only reason we were able to have been educated in English was due to the following clause in Bill 101,

 

a child whose father and mother are not Canadian citizens, but whose father or mother received elementary instruction in English in Quebec, provided that that instruction constitutes the major part of the elementary instruction he or she received in Quebec;”

 

Actually, there were so few students in our English elementary school that it closed at the end of my 5th Grade and we were moved to one (1) of two (2) other English Catholic (and mostly ethnically Italian of origin) elementary schools: Pierre Elliot Trudeau Elementary School (which is the former Emily Carr and Francesca Cabrini Elementary Schools and both located in the Papineau riding) and Saint Dorothy’s (the elementary school that I attended in the heart of Saint-Michel).

 

I read my first words at the Bibliothèque St. Michel with a small section reserved for English literature but also, where I read my first French book, Le Petit Prince. I played hockey for 6 years with “Les Cardinaux de Saint-Michel” at l’Aréna St. Michel and as for public transportation to and from high school, college and university, I would use metro St. Michel or take the 67 St. Michel Bus. As an Infantry Officer for the Canadian Forces Army Reserves, Saint Michael the Archangel is also my patron saint (patron saint of the warrior). Let’s just say, Saint Michael and I are close!

 

 

 

 

My teenage years in Papineau

 

Growing up in Saint-Michel during the early to mid-1990’s was tough. As beautiful it may be to live amongst other cultures and traditions, in recessionary times, these differences became walls for those who did not fall within the norms and matters – reverting, at times,  to “Lord of the Flies” conditions. And, it really sucks when one found themselves as a member of a minority, within a minority, within a minority:

 

  1. English speaking;
  2. 1st Generation Italo-Canadian
  3. 1st Generation Italo-Canadian with a Hispanic mother

I was “segregated” because I was not an FBI (Full Blooded Italian) nor accepted amongst the fragmented Hispanic communities (the “latinos”) who were majority French speaking due to the implications of Bill 101 (see reference above).

Perhaps it was due to the recession of the early 1990’s forcing both parents of low-income homes (see description under Justin Trudeau page – Papineau riding) to work and, as a result, spend less time with their children for proper surveillance and guidance. At the same time, West Coast American gang-glorifying music became more-and-more mainstream and inner city teenagers across North America (and some ‘hot spots’ in Western Europe) wanted to and/or tried to relate to the lyrics of the times and the actions of their composers. Or was it the fact that Saint-Michel was one of the major battlegrounds for the drug wars that were going on in the province (and beyond) between, most notably, the Hell’s Angels and the Rock Machines and their deep-rooted territorial presence in the neighbourhood’s affairs?

 

I am sure that there are many more reasons that can be listed but was it a causal relationship or just a matter of high correlated but independent variables – I don’t know! What I do know is that in consequence, Saint-Michel has been long viewed as one of Montreal’s most dangerous inner city neighbourhoods. Although these problems persist to this day, the phenomenon is much better controlled due to the effects of a generation of adolescents sent away to juvenile homes or just plainly, placed behind bars and their younger siblings learning from their brother and sisters mistakes.