Dear city councillor Alex Norris,
Being a humorist takes help. I need readers who can laugh at the world and themselves, at a quirky city and province - and public figures who roll with the punches.
Over the years, I've made fun of everyone from Lucien Bouchard and Jean Charest through mayors Tremblay, Doré and Bourque - and most of my former city councillors.
They've all taken it with silence, or a smile, right back to Jean Drapeau, who sent me a funny picture of himself after years of savage criticism.
So I was dismayed to see a long humour-free harangue in the March 23 Gazette - from you, my city councillor - picking apart my column like a language inspector.
My goal was a gentle column, poking fun at your party's unusual decision not to clear snow in the Plateau after the last storm.
Your retort began by saying humorists like me don't "let facts get in the way of funny" and then went on to dissect my story at length - an attempt at comedy chill. My crime? I said you were "battling cars, bars and barbecue joints" and not plowing the latest snowfall.
But comedy and reality aren't at odds, so here's how I see it.
No. 1: I said your party was "battling bars," two words that led to 90 words from you, claiming Plateau bar terrasses had multiplied under your party - which has "been good for (bar) business."
Please. I live in the area and bar owners have literally run out to lament to me about their problems. I walked into two neighbourhood bars Wednesday and heard the usual tirade against your party from both owners.
According to Humberto at the long-standing La Cabane, terrasses finally bloomed after the endless construction chaos that widened the sidewalks on the Main, but almost killed the street. But, he says, when your party took power soon afterward, it became a constant struggle.
"They cut down terrasse spaces and seating, they passed new terrasse regulations and we're being fined for the tiniest offence. In Little Italy, terrasses are allowed everywhere - here it's all rules, rules, rules."
Lionel, owner of Bar Frappé, told the same story but added:
"They've raised terrasse fees as high as $10,000, they're putting parking metres everywhere and chasing away customers. They're killing us since they were elected."
I've heard this many times. Projet Montréal has been "battling bars" - at least as far as many barowners are concerned.
No. 2: I said you were "battling cars" - another two words you denied at length. Yet your party has reduced parking spots, raised parking meter rates and almost doubled resident parking fees.
You've made numerous streets one way - to force traffic onto main streets that have become heavily congested. That's enraged many drivers like Terry, who wrote to me last week to complain, "I must now drive 10 blocks out of my way to go anywhere south."
That said, many pedestrians probably do like these changes - and I happen to think cars are a fair target.
Your party is clearly "battling cars" and I thought you'd be proud of it. Again, why deny it? You should be bragging.
No. 3: Snow Job. You actually take me to task for saying your party saved "a reported $1 million" by not clearing snow in the Plateau after the last storm. That's the figure announced in The Gazette on March 9 by the Plateau mayor - from your own party.
But my facts are "wrong" because you've decided you really saved over $2 million. Yet the same day as your Gazette article, La Presse reported your real savings were only $650,000, according to an internal city document.
I'd say my "reported $1-million savings" was pretty generous.
You also go into bureaucratic detail to prove you didn't cut snowplowing, as I had written - you just reduced snow "loading" and snow "transport." Help! I'll leave that for snow engineers to debate.
All anyone in my district knows is that most of Montreal was snow-free for over a week while the Plateau had dirty snow banks and icy streets you may have slipped on, too.
Ultimately, the warm weather melted it, so maybe it was worth the headache to save that money. In fact, I wrote that "they played Russian Roulette with nature and won."
This earned me a lecture that it wasn't roulette, because Projet Montréal "closely followed" extended weather forecasts and knew what weather was coming. Gee, we should hire you guys to replace Environment Canada.
You're the only people who can actually predict the weather. Projet Meteorology. No. 4: On one point, I'll retreat. I mentioned your party was "battling barbecue joints" - since two popular longtime restaurants are being forced out of business for smoke emission from their grills. But here, councillor, you're right.
That was city environment officials - though I have to say both barbecue owners told me they never heard a word of support from your party, which is usually outspoken about everything.
Still, you didn't make that decision - so I'll apologize.
The bottom line is I wrote a column that spent just five paragraphs out of 23 discussing your party - saying what's self-evident in my neighbourhood. You're battling cars and bars, and you didn't remove the snow last snowstorm - and I'll keep telling it as I see it no matter how many cranky, wordsplitting letters I get.
Frankly, some members of your party are very quick to go on the attack against journalists and community members who take the mildest jibes at your party. It seems we can only poke fun at other parties.
Sorry, councillor, but I feel that what you're really trying to do is squelch criticism and discourage humour - the ability to poke fun at politicians as is done everywhere from Jon Stewart to Rick Mercer to Maureen Dowd.
I've always thought "he who laughs lasts" - but I think societies that laugh also last. So I'll keep calling them as I see them and fighting comedy chill wherever I feel its frosty breeze.
- Citizen (and your neighbour) Josh