Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In Montreal

So I've been in Montreal since Thursday, September 21, and my internet access has until now been zero.

I came out here for a conference, but since I haven't been here in quite a while, and my wife never, we came out four days early to see the sights and visit some family. Now, my wife is back home and I'm on to the conference.

But what a city it is! Seattle city planners would kill for the layout of this city: dense neighborhoods, on-street parking only, and infrastructure (particularly transit) everywhere. I had the option to rent a car on the company's dime, but there's absolutely no reason to do such a thing. With very little trouble, I've gotten around on foot just fine.

There's only one problem with this place (other than the cold, which I experienced when my last visit occurred in a January): decrepit buildings. There's an awful lot of run down warehouses and apartments, boarded up structures, etc, and oh-so-few construction cranes on the horizon. I believe (after conversations with my cousin, and some of my own reading) that this a result of politics.

Most of you are presumably familiar with the persistent issue of Quebec's nationality and sovereignty. What you may not know is that the official obsession with the French language only dates back to the 1960s. This creates several economic problems:
  • Political stability is one of Canada's great competitive strengths. By introducing a drive for independence, you create instability that scares off business.
  • English is the world's lingua franca, and cities that can deal in English have significant advantages. While certainly its citizens are fluent English speakers, in many cases families are denied English-language classes when needed (which is particulary true for many immigrant families).
  • As they establish their immigration priorities, they emphasize not job skills, entrepeneurial spirit, or family unification, but speaking French.
Although I don't want to make Montreal sound like some sort of ghost town, in the last 30 years Toronto has shot past it in terms of importance, population, and living standards. I think there's a cautionary tale in there for people who would oppose immigration, trade, and openness to the outside world for a jingoistic idea of what the "right" society looks like.


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