Today’s not-to-be missed Montreal (free) open data event

I apologize for not posting this earlier. Problems with my apartment and landlord have been taking up a lot of time (will post more about that and more about transparency and open data later).

If you care about open data and want to learn more about how to access government information using Access to Information requests, there’s a very cool free event happening this afternoon (Nov. 30). You need to at least understand French to participate. If you’re making Access to Information requests in Montreal you will probably need to file them in French, since French is the City of Montreal’s official language so it’s not a bad idea to learn how to do this in French.

As Montréal Ouvert explains on their Web site (in French):

Au Royaume-Uni, l’organisation MySociety a développé le site, un portail de demande d’accès à l’information en ligne a fait transité plus de 150 000 demandes  depuis son ouverture en 2008 et a permis de rendre public des dizaines de milliers de documents.

S’inspirant de cette expérience, Nord Ouvert a mis en place JeVeuxSavoir, un portail web de demande d’accès à l’information. Ce projet a obtenu le support financier du Ministre responsable des institutions démoncratiques, Bernard Drainville. L’objectif de JeVeuxSavoir est de faciliter l’accès à l’information gouvernementale, d’augmenter la quantité d’information rendue publique et de documenter les réponses des organisation gouvernementales aux différentes demandes.

The Infothon includes a talk and a workshop in French with how-to tips and tricks on filing successful Access to Information requests. This is especially important for journalists, activists, open data enthusiasts and anyone who cares about ensuring public information is truly available to the public.

Register here.

When: 1-4 p.m. today (Nov.30)

Where: Station C, 5605 ave de Gaspé, suite 204 – call 514-712-0637 to get into the building.


A visit to Montreal’s Nutcracker Market

A little while ago an artist I know who has a booth at Montreal’s Nutcracker Market (Marché Casse-Noisette) told me she had arranged for me to attend their media evening. I missed last year’s media/guest evening and was curious so I dropped by on Wednesday  even though as a freelance journalist I don’t usually write about food, wine or fashion.

This is the fourth year Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, the ballet company that performs The Nutcracker at Place des Arts every year around Christmas, is organizing  a philanthropic market. Ten per cent of the exhibitors’ proceeds and all the proceeds from the Grands Ballets’ booth at the market go to the Nutcracker Fund for Children, created by Les Grands Ballets to make it possible for underprivileged children to see a free performance of The Nutcracker.

The market opened officially yesterday at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal. If you’re looking for unique Christmas and holiday gifts I would certainly recommend it. Many exhibitors are small businesses, often family run. You meet people who are passionate about what they’re selling, even if they don’t always make a lot of money from pursuing their dreams.

There was, of course, my connection, Claudia B. of Bijoutia. I won’t go into much detail here because I plan to write a story, but her jewellery and creations, made from recycled materials, including computer parts, bank cards, programs from last year’s Nutcracker Market event and silver cutlery, are stunning. She has colourful and fun belt buckles made from motherboards that have messages such as “NYC” for a black, NYC-themed one or “Sexy” or even “Help,”  necklaces and earrings made from computer keyboard keys, rings in orange and black with the words Canon or Nikon, clocks made from computer motherboards and parts, and clips and cuff-links with the Nutcracker theme. I love the silver elephant and whale necklaces and how she uses bits from vinyl records as a backdrop for some of the earrings.

Claudia B. at Casse-Noisette
Claudia B stands inside her stall at this year’s Nutcracker Market
Photo: Courtesy of Claudia’s Facebook page

The media evening allowed me a chance to try a number of different wines on sale at the market. It surprised me to discover that one of the wines, called Omerto, is made in the Charlevoix region from organic, heirloom tomatoes. Had I not been told this, I would think it was just a very good white wine that’s enjoyable with appetizers such as fruit or cheese.

Grand Esprit from Domaine du Kildare, is made from pure maple syrup but you would never guess this right away. I didn’t try everything but I believe there was also a wine made from honey. The market offers a lot of choice if you’re looking for local ciders, wines and other alcoholic beverages.

The market has 76 stalls and while I did a quick tour, I didn’t have time to visit all of them. There were some I avoided as well. For instance, I don’t eat foie gras so there was no point in tasting one exhibitor’s specialty foods.  I was happily surprised when a rep from Chocolaterie Douce Soeur offered a sample of their chocolate. I recognized the salty chocolate/caramel flavour as the chocolate my boyfriend had bought me for a special occasion. I learned the name Douce Soeur translates as Sweet Sister and the two women owners are sisters who are using a family recipe and making chocolates that you just won’t find anywhere else. One of the sisters lives out West and runs the business as Sweet Sister, while the other sister runs Douce Soeur here in Montreal.

I enjoyed a chocolate truffle sample from CAO. But I’m such a chocoholic I would never refuse chocolate.

It thrilled me to see my favourite place in Montreal for macarons, La Maison du Macaron, has a booth at the market. The couple who own the business are chefs from France and their macarons are the real and delicious deal.

Manga Thé was an interesting discovery. I liked their bento boxes (Japanese lunch boxes) and tea accessories but found it interesting that they sell them alongside mangas. The guy I spoke with apologized that the mangas were available only in French.

I wasn’t sure what to make of It Works, a company whose products include body contouring wraps, defining gels, nutritional greens and skin care products. But I enjoyed a chat with the sales rep (her name might have been Shelley Mackenzie)  and hearing her talk about how she and her husband had especially benefited from the products.

As I was heading out, a woman stopped me. She said the $16 nail files at her booth last a lifetime. She asked to work on my nails and then used another one of their products to buff one fingernail, explaining that she was improving my health and the health of my nail in doing so. I’m hardly a girly girl type and not much into nail care products and I’m often skeptical but her enthusiasm impressed me. I can’t remember the name of that booth except to say that the Cosmitty’s products are colourful and the packaging for the nail files makes them look as though they’re sitting in test tubes.

The Nutcracker Market runs from Thursday November 28 to Sunday Dec. 8, 2013

Opening Hours

Monday to Wednesday 11 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Thursdays & Fridays 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

NDG card store mascot – kidnapped?

Arlyle Waring, owner of Cartes Etc. (she calls her store CARTES), says George, the store’s human-sized (fake) orangutan mascot, has been “kidnapped” from his chair in front of the store on Sherbrooke St. in NDG.

It’s unclear whether the thief/kidnapper left a ransom note.

If you spot George or know where he is, get in touch with Waring (deets on how to reach her appear on the poster below).

Kidnapped - George wanted poster

Report #1, Camping at Mr. C’s The Fridge Arrived!

My landlord said the fridge would arrive Saturday (tomorrow) or Monday. This morning I heard grunting in the stairwell heading for my third-floor apartment and thought, maybe it’s the fridge.

There was a knock on my door and my landlord, the concierge and another man hauled a big white fridge into the apartment, eventually wheeling it into the kitchen.

The little fridge on the left is our old fridge, next to the new(ish) fridge on the right.

two white fridges, one small, one large, side by side

And here is a photo of the kitchen ceiling as it looks today. My landlord is talking about replacing the floor but if I were him I’d set my sights on the ceiling (sorry, the stress of the situation is bringing out bad puns).

unfinished kitchen ceiling with exposed light bulb

My latest article for Urban Expressions

…is about Mike Rud,a very talented jazz guitarist, songwriter, arranger and sometime vocalist. Mike’s latest CD, Notes on Montréal, has songs about the characters and locales you find in books and plays set in Montreal. There’s Florentine from Gabrielle Roy’s the Tin Flute, Barney from Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version, Baby from Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals  and even the womanizing main character in Dany Laferrière’s How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired (there are more, those are just a few of the songs). There’s also a song about Montreal diners called Ode to Dusty’s and another about alleyways. The singer on the album is jazz vocalist Sienna Dahlen (I’m still getting used to her voice because I heard Mike sing them first). It’s a lovely CD.

And full disclosure: Mike is my brother-in-law but he and my sister recently separated. I think he deserves recognition. I would believe this even if I hadn’t met him through my sister.

You’ll find the article here

My horrible experience working the Montreal election


It was a bad beginning. I clashed with the PRIMO, the woman in charge of ensuring our part of the election ran smoothly. I’ve worked other elections – for the province, the federal government, school board elections and for the City of Côte St. Luc. Every  election I’ve worked I was instructed to head to my polling station and then the PRIMO would come by and check the paper I’d brought proving I was assigned to that station.

But this PRIMO was unhappy I had failed to present myself to her when I entered the room. That was just the start of a very bad day.

We were told in training that as deputy returning officers (DROs) we had permission to initial one or two ballots ahead of a voter’s arrival at our poll. But the PRIMO asked me not to do this. She criticized me for not preparing because I wasn’t folding ballots ahead of time in the ballot book. But when I folded the ballots in the book, I had  trouble getting them out of the book, putting the numbered talons at risk of coming off the ballot. I didn’t want to tear ballots and found it faster to take them out and fold them but this is not what she wanted. I was apparently folding the ballots too slowly. They were heavy paper ballots and voters received three – one for the mayor of the city, one for the mayor of the borough and another for the city councillor.

I had to insist on being allowed to use the washroom when I and the poll clerk needed to use it badly at a time when  our poll was busy. I pointed out that a bathroom break would greatly improve our efficiency since we were both in agony and the discomfort was slowing us down. She finally allowed us two minutes.

During training we were instructed  to follow the procedures in our training manual. For me having procedures outlined in the manual was comforting. I knew if I followed the manual I wouldn’t go wrong. But when the time came to count the votes, the PRIMO instructed us to go straight to the count and put ballots on the table even though we were told in training to take ballots out of the box one at a time. We transferred papers and documents to another table in a hurry as per the PRIMO’s instructions and I worried that our earlier work to organize everything had become  messed up. I wanted to make sure the last batches of unused ballots were in their envelopes. So when she was addressing the room in rapid fire French, I was putting the ballots away while I listened to her. A big mistake.

The PRIMO was angry at me for not giving her my full attention and decided to make an example of me in front of everyone. She ordered me to sit down at a table and then sarcastically quizzed me on what she had been saying at the time when she saw me putting the ballots in the envelopes. When I repeated in French my understanding of what she had said very quickly in French (I couldn’t always hear her), she made sort of gotcha comment, because I failed to mention that the count list had 10 boxes on each line. Another DRO (scrutateur) in the room addressed her on my behalf and told her she was being abusive. Later he asked me why I hadn’t spoken up for myself. I told him I was afraid that would cause more problems. I need to work on being more assertive but I was also in shock.

When I went for the interview and training session, Election Montreal staff were friendly and kind and accommodating of anglophones like me who have French as their second language. I thought we would be treated the same way on election day. Being humiliated in front of the other election workers is not something I expected. I was afraid that had I stood up for myself I would have found myself fired in front of the group, sent home and out $290.

This PRIMO’s approach  was vastly different from the great experience I had working a municipal election for the City of Côte St. Luc. For that particular municipal election, the PRIMO and Aide-PRIMO gave the DROs and poll clerks tips on how to proceed more quickly and if you were having trouble balancing your poll, as we did on Sunday, they helped you. She told me that we were responsible for our own poll, she would not help us and the poll clerk was freaking out because the PRIMO had said earlier that if we messed up we would not get paid. It was taking forever to figure out what was wrong. Perhaps it was stupid but I suggested that we simply send in what we had because we had some freak problems with our poll that hours later we still couldn’t figure out.

Our calculations were wrong but as it turns out when they finally stepped in to help, (to be fair, the PRIMO did act a bit better towards me later, though I’m not sure she meant it),  the PRIMO and her second-in-command Aide-PRIMO discovered a mistake in their own math calculations. At one point they insinuated  we had let someone walk out of the room with a ballot, something neither of us would ever allow to happen, we needed help checking things but the second guessing made everything a lot worse. There was also a situation where three people – me, the poll clerk and another Aide-PRIMO had counted a candidate’s ballots and we all found the same number but when they counted the number was higher and then our poll balanced. I still can’t figure out how that happened.

I realize too that anxiety played a big role in the problems. I suffer from anxiety, so did the young poll clerk. Anxious people rely on procedures to feel safe and when everything gets thrown out, things get much worse. Anxious people can be perfectionists and work slowly, especially when feeling stressed.

I’ve long considered election work as something a few steps up from volunteer work. Most of the people attracted to this work care deeply about democracy (they also need the money). Any citizen 18 and over is eligible to apply to work a municipal election. There are no tests to decide how qualified someone is for this work. I ended that 16-hour day feeling crappy and doubted and regretting ever having signed up to work Montreal’s municipal election.

I filed a complaint with Election Montreal but they’re defending the PRIMO. They said they spoke with three other DROs in the room, adding that while the PRIMO’s manner was brusque, everything was fine and that she’s very good at her job. They said they would put a note in her file but that’s about it. The woman I filed the complaint with chided me, said I should have had the unused ballots in envelopes before the polls closed at 8 p.m. but the training manual had that procedure as part of the first things you do after the polls close. I don’t remember the poll number of the guy who spoke up on my behalf and it seems Election Montreal never talked to him.

The Quebec government has a law on psychological harassment at work but it seems election workers are not protected from being dressed down by PRIMOs in front of everyone in the room. I learned too that to survive election work  you’re better off listening to the PRIMO even if she tells you to ignore the training you received. To work a City of Montreal election, you better have perfect French and work quickly (people with any sort of disability need not apply). I don’t think I’ll ever work a Montreal election again, it was such a bad experience.