Been There, Done That, Want the T-Shirt Back

Weigh InA little over seven years ago, I wrote about having reached almost 200 pounds and what I planned to do to lose weight. I met with great success back then and managed to keep the weight completely off until 2009.

When I arrived in Montréal in April 2008, my weight fluctuated between 168 and 172 pounds on my scale that always adds a few pounds. But then life changed in August 2009. And through some kind of feeble-minded rebellion and lack of interest in cooking for myself, I either ate out or ate take out all the time. And I do mean, all the time.

As a result, this year I reached the high 180s. That’s still not as bad as in 2004 — it’s a good 10 pounds less, in fact. But in view of how I’ve been feeling otherwise in recent months, I’ve come to the conclusion that my self-image being in the toilet is one of the many contributing factors. I know cognitively that it’s superficial and vain, but I need to recognize the sentiment and address it if it’s really bothering me that much.

So, last Monday night, I went on my first major grocery shopping trip since I don’t remember how long. I got salad and meat and fruits and vegetables and not a single bit of snack food. Fortunately I like munching on baby carrots.

I had managed to keep off the weight for so long by controlling my intake of empty carbs. I wasn’t an Atkins or South Beach fanatic or anything like that; I simply didn’t consume carb-rich foods every meal. Not only did I not feel deprived, I also never felt overstuffed — a feeling with which I’ve unfortunately rebecome acquainted.

Already I lost 2 pounds. I still allow myself a reasonable portion of Basmati rice with my main meal. But for the next little while I’ve sworn off bread, bagels — oh my gawd that’s so hard in Montréal! — and potatoes, and I’m being reasonable with portion sizes. If it’s possible for me to continue losing about 2 pounds per week, as I did back in 2004, I could be near or at my 172 target by July — or at least on the “right” side of the 170s.

The lowest I ever reached on my ungenerous scale (even once since I’ve been in Montréal) is 164. On my mom’s scale, which she swears in 100 percent accurate, I’ve often seen myself below 160. Therefore, I’ve often wondered if I could reach and keep 160–162 on my scale. But that might be asking for too much of myself. All I know is that I have items of clothing that I cannot comfortably wear right now, and I refuse to buy new clothes at this point.

Late last summer, a panhandler/hustler in the Village tried to get my attention and called me Hey, le Gros! He actually called me le Gros! That, of course, could mean “big guy” in French in that “hey boss” kind of way, especially since I’m certainly not the fattest guy to hang out in the Village. And really, why should I even think twice about what a panhandler said, right?

Except that it hit me the wrong way. The jury’s still out on whether it’s because I’m thin-skinned these days or that it hit too close to my perceived truth. But if it’s the latter and I don’t like it, I have to do something about it …because I know I can.

Been there, done that, and I want the T-shirt back!

City I Love; City I Fear

Echangeur TurcotThere are probably a few dozen valid theories as to why the infrastructure in Montréal is in such sad shape. Age, shoddy construction, and poor maintenance figure prominently on the list. The collapse of the La Concorde overpass on September 30, 2006 in Laval, just north of Montréal, was the tragic wakeup call signalling that time had run out and the problem could be ignored no longer.

Subsequently, it was found that the Turcot Interchange, pictured above, had reached the end of its useful life. Completed in 1967, today it not only handles 5 to 6 times the traffic for which it was designed, but it also has been found to have structural design flaws in addition to having concrete tumbling from it.

In recent weeks, taking the métro from my place to downtown or the Village has become a very attractive proposition. In February, the Rue St. Jacques exit on Autoroute 720 westbound — the exit just before the Turcot — was closed until July due to the construction of the new McGill mega hospital. The alternate exit became Queen Mary, which is the first from the Décarie Expressway after the Turcot and also my exit. Then, a water main break last month on the Décarie service road required a dreadful detour to get onto the southbound Décarie Expressway towards to Turcot. And finally, the westbound exchange on the Turcot from the 720 to the 20 was reduced to one lane; it would seem support rods were never installed (or at least not properly) when the damned thing was built in the ’60s!

While all this was happening, a report came out declaring that some spans on Canada’s busiest bridge, the Champlain connecting Montréal to the south shore, could collapse in the next 5 to 10 years. Major repairs are now underway, but it’s generally agreed that the bridge needs to be replaced. Memories of the La Concorde collapse are preventing everyone from dismissing these claims of possible collapse.

Crossing the river further west on the Mercier Bridge requires nerves of steel. Under repair since I moved here three years ago, it has seen little chunks of the deck crash into the river below. Southbound truck traffic is currently banned.

The Autoroute 30 bypass of Montréal is expected to be completed in 2012, but no one truly believes that’ll be the case. That means many trucks in transit through Montréal must continue to employ either the Champlain and Turcot or Autoroute 40 (called the Metropolitan through Montréal) that crosses the middle of the Island of Montréal. Truck traffic will probably always be significant on Autoroutes 20 and 40 in the city because of the many industrial parks found alongside each, but the bypass will eliminate many cars and trucks that needn’t come onto the Island.

I realize that driving around in a big city is almost always a nightmare, but here in Montréal, the fear of structures collapsing underneath you is very real. And what gets on my nerves is how slowly things that need to get done are getting done. Residents who have been living in the shadow of the Turcot for more than 40 years are an irritant at best. Of course in an ideal world, there would be more use of public transportation; however, when a structure like the Turcot has been there for so long and has become so necessary, this is not the time for wishful thinking and suggest scaling it back!

Contrary to what some might believe, the population in the metropolitan area of Montréal is still growing. When these structures were designed in the early 1960s, the metro population was 2.2 million; it is now at least 3.6 million, and unlike the métro, those structures have not aged gracefully. Ironically, the Victoria Bridge, opened in 1859, is probably the safest southbound route off the Island. Perhaps we should take a good look at how things were built back then and apply the knowledge to the new structures that now need to be built.

Precisely What We Didn’t Want

On the morning of May 3, about 60% of Canadians woke up with precisely the federal election outcome they didn’t want: a Conservative majority government.

Federal party leaders

But, at the same time, the outcome was filled with surprises:

  • an historic breakthrough of the NDP, going from 4th party in the House of Commons with only 37 seats to Official Opposition (2nd party) with 103 seats;
  • the same NDP taking 59 of Québec’s 75 seats, which is more than the Bloc Québécois’ highwater mark of 54 back in 1993 and 2004;
  • the decimation of the Bloc Québécois to only 4 seats in the Commons, thereby stripping it of official party status;
  • the unexpected defeats in their respective riding of Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe to the NDP and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to the Conservatives;
  • the entry of the Green Party through party leader Elizabeth May in her riding in British Columbia.

The vote counting was barely over that many started talking of a “merger of the left” (that is, between the NDP and the Liberals) in order stop the vote splitting between the two that allowed the Conservatives to win a simple plurality of votes in some ridings. On Facebook, someone created a page upon noticing that there were 14 ridings where the race was so tight that just a bit more than 6,000 votes made the differrence between a minority or majority Conservative government.

As intriguing and compelling as that theory is, it is, in my opinion as someone who has studied election results very closely, a bit off the mark. It is true that such a slight shift could have made a difference, but it doesn’t take into account the historical trend in those ridings, plus merely adding the votes of the candidates losing to the Conservatives assumes that those votes are flexible and interchangeable. This approach made sense in the 1990s and early 2000s when the right had splintered from the Progressive Conservatives to the Reform/Alliance, as the sum of the two did represent the vote on the centre right. But there was never such a “divorce” between the Liberals and the NDP; the NDP did not spring out of the womb of the Liberals as the Reform/Alliance had of the PC’s.

So, what I really wanted to know, based on the election results of 2011 and 2008, is whether or not there was bleeding of votes from one party to another opposing the Conservatives that led to actual vote splitting between those two parties and resulted in the Conservtives to come from behind and win enough ridings to tip them into majority territory. Thus I devised a formula that:

  1. eliminated the ridings the Conservatives already held going into the 2011 election;
  2. eliminated the ridings the Conservatives won in 2011 with at least a 50% + 1 vote majority;
  3. found the percentage of votes that “leaked” from the third- to second-place party from 2008 to 2011;
  4. based on the total number of votes in 2011 in each riding, calculated the actual number of votes that moved from the second party to the third (and may have even placed the third party in 2008 the second party in 2011), and finally,
  5. if the sum of the above number and the actual number of votes received by the second-place party was greater than the number of votes received by the Conservatives, vote-splitting was deemed to have occurred.

Interestingly, I also arrived at 14 ridings, but a much higher number of votes that had split, namely 46,496. While that may deflate the bubble of adherents to what I’m calling the Facebook theory, it still represents a mere 0.32% of the 14,723,980 valid ballots cast.

My full analysis can be found here. It concludes that, of those 46,496 votes, only 1,273 moved from the Liberals to the Greens and the remainder moved from the Liberals to the NDP, thereby unseating the Liberal incumbent. Eight of the 14 ridings are in Toronto, where the Conservatives made major gains, but so did the NDP — all at the expense of Liberal incumbents. So, had voters in those eight ridings stayed with the Liberals instead of riding the NDP orange wave, the likes of Ken Dryden and Martha Hall Findlay would still be sitting members of Parliament.

In short, the bleeding of 45,223 votes from the Liberals to the NDP in 13 of those ridings, including my hometown of Moncton, and 1,273 from the Liberals to the Greens in one of those ridings, gave us a 166-seat Conservative majority instead of a 152-seat Conservative minority.

And, of course, if we had a workable form of proportional representation (i.e, a MMP or “mixed-member proportional” system as I prefer and as advocated by the 2004 Law Commission looking into electoral reform in Canada), the Conservatives would be nowhere close to a majority with their 39.63% of the popular vote nationally.

Caution is advised when considering these tables, as they are extrapolating from the actual data from the 2011 election which was a first-past-the-post mode of voting. It is entirely possible that, if given 2 votes, voters might choose a candidate from one party as their local MP and a candidate from another party as their regional MP. That said, the tables below consider the popular vote, retain two-thirds of the seats as FPTP for local MPs, and redistribute the remaining third of the seats for the regional MPs according to a formula that takes into account local seats won to assign a proportion of regional seats so that the final result is a closer reflection of the popular vote.

Federal election 2011: Scheme A
Scheme A divides the country by its provinces and territories, but per the recommendations of the 2004 Law Commission that studied electoral reform, it divides Québec and Ontario into two and three regions respectively. Unlike the commission’s recommendation, however, the three territories are grouped as one region, thereby keeping 308 seats in the Commons.
Reg. Tot. Conservative Party of Canada New Democratic Party of Canada Liberal Party of Canada Bloc Québécois Green Party of Canada Conservative Party of Canada New Democratic Party of Canada Liberal Party of Canada Bloc Québécois Green Party of Canada
NL 7 1 2 4 0 0 2 2 3 0 0
NS 11 4 3 4 0 0 4 4 3 0 0
NB 10 8 1 1 0 0 6 2 2 0 0
PE 4 1 0 3 0 0 2 0 2 0 0
QC1 38 5 30 0 3 0 7 20 3 8 0
QC2 37 0 29 7 1 0 4 20 6 7 0
ON1 35 25 7 3 0 0 18 9 8 0 0
ON2 35 27 7 1 0 0 18 10 7 0 0
ON3 36 21 8 7 0 0 15 9 12 0 0
MB 14 11 2 1 0 0 8 4 2 0 0
SK 14 13 0 1 0 0 8 5 1 0 0
AB 28 27 1 0 0 0 20 5 2 0 1
BC 36 21 12 2 0 1 17 12 5 0 2
No 3 2 1 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0
Ca 308 166 103 34 4 1 131 103 56 15 3

Federal election 2011: Scheme B
Scheme B divides the country into nine regions of more or less 35 ridings per region. This scheme retains the divisions for Québec and Ontario into two and three regions respectively, as recommended by the 2004 Law Commission that studied electoral reform, and results in keeping 308 seats in the Commons. Atlantic (Atl.) is Newfoundland and Labarador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island; Prairies (P-NU) is Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut; AB-NT is Alberta and the Northwest Territories; BC-YK is British Columbia and the Yukon.
Reg. Tot. Conservative Party of Canada New Democratic Party of Canada Liberal Party of Canada Bloc Québécois Green Party of Canada Conservative Party of Canada New Democratic Party of Canada Liberal Party of Canada Bloc Québécois Green Party of Canada
Atl. 32 14 6 12 0 0 12 10 10 0 0
QC1 38 5 30 0 3 0 7 20 3 8 0
QC2 37 0 29 7 1 0 4 20 6 7 0
ON1 35 25 7 3 0 0 18 9 8 0 0
ON2 35 27 7 1 0 0 18 10 7 0 0
ON3 36 21 8 7 0 0 15 9 12 0 0
P-NU 29 25 2 2 0 0 17 8 4 0 0
AB-NT 29 27 2 0 0 0 21 5 2 0 1
BC-YK 37 22 12 2 0 1 17 12 5 0 3
Ca 308 166 103 34 4 1 129 103 57 15 4