28 April 2008

I'm back with scars to show

I haven't posted here in almost a month, but I have lots of good excuses:

  1. I'm never sick, but was sick three times during the month of April. Feeling better now, fortunately.

  2. Tax returns. Yes, tax returns plural. In Quebec you have to file a completely separate provincial return too. Killer.

  3. I really enjoy listening to podcasts (MP3 over RSS), especially French and British ones, but my MiniDisc setup just hasn't been letting me enjoy them in the way I want to. I'm so tired of Sony and SonicStage and all that they've done to cripple the MiniDisc format. Consequently, I've been thinking about getting an MP3 player for a couple of years now. While I was ill and feeling depressed a couple of weeks ago, I finally caved in and bought my first iPod (6th generation iPod Classic, 160 GB), not because I think it's particularly hip or well designed, but because of the seamless podcast integration in iTunes. I can no longer deal with all of the complications of transferring files via SonicStage, nor the inconvenience of swapping MDs when I want to listen to different music or different podcasts. So I've been happily busying myself with adding podcast subscriptions and transferring all of my music. The thing is already half-full!

  4. In turns out that in Quebec, if you don't give your landlord three months' notice that you're moving, your lease is automatically renewed for another year. I find it a bit odd to provide this kind of protection to property owners at the expense of poor, impoverished renters, given that this is supposed to be the paradise for progressive social policy (in North America at any rate). After all, in Manitoba there was always a form to sign every year, and none of this implied renewal business. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that my current lease expires on 31 July 2008, so I had until the end of this month to tell the landlord that I want out of this overpriced trou pourri that passes for an apartment. Consequently, I spent most of the past month desperately searching for something better, with the April 30th deadline hanging over me the whole time.

    I signed the lease on much better place last Tuesday, so I can finally breathe easy. I'll be moving from being right next to Université-de-Montréal Métro Station, to being right next to Mount Royal Train Station. I'll be a bit further away from downtown, but only a nine minute train ride from Gare Centrale, versus the 20 minutes it currently takes me to reach essentially the same destination on the Métro (including transfer from the Blue Line to the Orange Line). Technically speaking, my new apartment is not actually in Montreal proprement dit, but in the independent Town of Mount Royal which is located in the centre of the Island of Montreal. This is neat because Mount Royal was designed and built by the old Canadian Northern Railway, the same company that built the inland freshwater resort at Grand Beach in my home province of Manitoba, a favourite childhood destination of mine.

  5. I'm now on Twitter (see sidebar for live updates).

  6. The 2008 edition of the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival is happening this week, and I'm running the English-language section of the festival bookshop. Stress, stress, stress!!! Tomorrow we're bringing all of the stock downtown (several trips with the van) and setting up, then the festival runs from Wednesday to Sunday, and Monday we're returning the unsold stock to the publishers. Lots of twelve-hour days in perspective. On the bright side, I'm hoping to meet Nora Young, a favourite CBC personality and adolescent radio crush of mine, who will be hosting an event on Saturday night.
Don't expect too many posts anytime soon, as it won't be long until I start to stress about the move, and that should keep me occupied until well into July.

02 April 2008

La manipulation de l'information par Radio-Canada

On 25 and 27 March, Radio-Canada (the French-language division of the CBC) reported, in outraged tones, that "more and more" [they never actually quantify this notion] students from France are coming over here to study at Quebec's English-language universities, thanks to a 1978 agreement between the governments of France and Quebec that allows French and Québécois students to attend university on the opposite side of the Atlantic as if they were locals. The facts indignantly enumerated in the article include:

  • French students come over here and pay almost as little tuition as would a Québécois student, which is apparently a "great savings" for these foreigners, representing a veritable "gold mine" for them.
  • The number of French students currently studying in English in Quebec is greater than the total number of Québécois students currently studying in France [whose fault is that?].
It wasn't long before one of our usual suspects weighed in on the affair. Jean Dorion, head of the ultra-nationalist Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, declared the situation to be "scandalous", especially while "our" university students continue to see their tuition fees increase [oy, boyo! Petit un, they're still the cheapest in North America and, petit deux, that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this debate!].

Thankfully, in the 2 April 2008 edition of Le Devoir, François Alabrune, the Consul general of France in Quebec City, was given the opportunity to respond to the polémique. Il a relativisé as follows:
  • 6,400 French nationals are currently attending Quebec universities, representing 3 out of every one thousand French university students.
  • Approximately 1,000 Québécois are currently studying in French universities, representing 4 out of every one thousand Québécois university students.
  • Québécois students in France have enjoyed the same low tuition fees as the locals going back to well before the establishment of the 1978 agreement, that is to say long before the French enjoyed the same privileges over here.
  • University tuition in France is only $400, versus $1800 over here, so maybe it isn't such a great deal for those freeloading French students after all [désolé Monsieur Dorion].
  • According to Quebec Ministry of Education, 85% of the 6,400 French nationals studying in Quebec are doing so in French-language universities.
  • Of all the countries in the world, France has the third-highest number of foreign nationals studying in its universities, and Québécois students are more than welcome [we complain that more French students come over to study in English than the total number of Québécois that go over there, but that's because only 1,000 Québécois have chosen to go over there! How can you blame that on France?].
The only useful point made in the Radio-Canada articles is that the 1978 co-operation agreement was meant to "strengthen the French fact in Quebec", and that French students coming over to study in English-language universities in Quebec goes against the spirit of that agreement. Michelle Courchesne, the provincial Minister of Education, has said that she'll look into "renegotiating the terms of the co-operation agreement", and that's fine by me.

All the rest of it, getting worked up into a tizzy and the like, was just another opportunity for the Québécois to go after what appear to me, after having lived here for 20 months, to be their two favourite scapegoats: the local anglophone population (and its institutions), and France and the French.

01 April 2008

Damn You, Cineplex Entertainment (An ONEX Corporation)

So, according to Le Devoir, Cineplex Entertainment is blackmailing art house film distributors into helping kill off the network of independent salles parallèles cinemas in rural Quebec. Basically, because K-Films Amérique, a local distributor of foreign and domestic art house fare, has decided to show the forthcoming French film Un baiser s'il vous plaît (which, by the way, is supposed to be quite good) in salles parallèles in Rimouski, Victoriaville and Sept-Îles, in addition to Cineplex locations in Montreal and Quebec City, Cineplex has decided to pull the film. Never mind the fact that they were never going to show this film in those towns anyway (art house films weren't even being shown in towns like that at all until the salles parallèles came about), they just for whatever reason feel they should have exclusive, Quebec-wide rights to any film that they screen in Montreal, even when they themselves do not have any intention of presenting them across Quebec. In the past few months they've also pulled 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (last year's Palme d'or at Cannes), as well Up the Yangtze.

Cineplex, and the other mainstream commerical cinemas represented by the Association des propriétaires de salles de cinéma du Québec, claim that the salles parallèles represent unfair competition, because they are partially subsidised by the SODEC. But these are the same mainstream commercial cinemas that refuse to show art house films outside of the major metropolitan areas, and whose refusal to do so led to the creation of the salles parallèles in the first place! When it comes right down to it, the salles parallèles do $600,000 of business a year, versus $450,000,000 for commercial cinemas in Quebec. This competition argument hasn't got a leg to stand on. They just want to kill off all cinéma d'auteur so that the only option remaining for people is to go and see the same Hollywood rubbish they've been forcing down our throats since long before I was born. When I was just on the cusp of my twenties, I graduated from this to this, and there's no way I'm going back now!

What is wrong with this company, anyway? Notice how they renamed the Paramount Cinema in downtown Montreal the Scotia Bank Cinema? What has Scotia Bank got to do with cinema? No doubt this has more to do with Gerry being on the board of both Scotia Bank and Cineplex (via ONEX) than anything else. He may be a fellow Winnipegger and University of Manitioba old boy, but I'm afraid he's trying to do to the culture of cinema in this country what his wife is doing the culture of books.

Let's just boycott the whole thing, shall we? Independent cinemas like the Cinémathèque, the Globe Cinema and the Park Theatre in Winnipeg, as well as Ex-Centris, Cinéma du Parc, Cinéma Beaubien and the Cinémathèque Québécoise in Montreal are definitely the way to go. Stay away from Chapters/Indigo while you're at it too.

By the way, ridiculous commercial practices such as this give rise to the following comments that find their way into Le Devoir

«Cela veut-il dire que c'est à Toronto qu'on décidera si le cinéma d'auteur pourra être vu en région au Québec?», dénonce M. Dussault.
«C'est Toronto qui applique sa loi, et c'est le public francophone qui écope», a tonné Michel Gagnon.
«Il faut que Québec s'en mêle pour remettre un peu d'ordre dans tout ça. Ce n'est pas Toronto qui doit décider de ce qui va se diffuser au Québec», ajoute M. Gagnon.
which in turn continues to give the rest of Canada (as represented by Toronto) a bad name in Quebec. Thanks a lot Gerry. Well done!