We need open data more than ever

My little/big borough of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is making headlines again but the news ain’t pretty.

There’s something very sick and sad when you find out the housing development project you never liked in the first place is not only ugly and unwelcome in the neighbourhood but that borough representatives allegedly pulled strings behind the scenes on behalf of a developer and in doing so contributed to the project’s ugliness.

The housing development in question is in the St. Raymond section of NDG, on Harvard and Wilson avenues, just off Upper Lachine Rd. Many find it an eyesore, it lacks green space, the buildings are too high and it does nothing to add to the area. But today’s Montreal Gazette reports that the reason the development’s hydro poles are at street level instead of underground is because borough representatives allegedly intervened on the developer’s behalf to help save him approximately $1-million in costs.

The developer wasn’t just any developer but Tony Magi, a Montreal businessman who has been linked to the Rizzuto crime family.

And if the allegations are true, it wasn’t just anybody intervening. Linda Gyulai reports that Marcel Tremblay, a city councillor at the time, met with an official of the electrical commission to ask whether the city, Hydro Quebec and the provincial government would cover the cost of burying electrical lines.  A borough manager allegedly pressured the electrical commission to overturn its recommendation that the power lines be buried. The borough eventually passed a motion supporting above-ground wires for the housing project.

The thing is Montreal’s current mayor, Michael Applebaum, used to be mayor of the CDN-NDG borough. He denies the borough was ever involved with Magi’s housing development, said the project was a “downtown dossier.” But Linda Gyulai appears to have proof that this is not true. Applebaum has stated that he plans to return as mayor of CDN-NDG and in the interim he appointed Marcel Tremblay to help run the borough. If Tremblay intervened inappropriately then, what right does he have to continue to work for our borough now?

Why Open Data Matters

If all city and borough information were made available as open data, it would be a lot easier to spot corruption and underhandedness. Zoning decisions, in particular, need to be transparent and easily accessible (i.e.  you shouldn’t have to check every little legal notice in your local paper to discover a zoning change). CDN-NDG is just one Montreal borough. All kinds of decisions are being made by civil servants and politicians that affect citizens, yet it isn’t always easy to spot what’s going on.

Local non-profit group Open North has been trying to change this. They recently launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaigns for MaMairie.ca (Montreal) and are about to wrap up an Indiegogo campaign for MyCity Hall.ca (Toronto) ,Web sites that “collect information made available by the city and make it easy to search, explore, and use.” Ideally these sites will make it easy to keep a watch on what your city politicians are up to and effect decisions at city hall.

The last time I used MaMairie I was able to get a quick overview of all of Montreal’s city and borough councillors, meetings and press releases, contact details and even social media feeds. Imagine the potential this could have if/when more information becomes available.

Donate. It sure beats sitting around feeling mistrustful of politicians and sick to your stomach about corruption.

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We need open data more than ever

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