In honour of Jean Drapeau

by Ken MacDougall

When you’ve lived in almost every province in Canada, you tend to have flashbacks as to events that occurred there during your tenure, even to the point of remembering the politicians in power at the moment who gave you the greatest pleasure by living up to your expectations of them – good OR bad.

My fondest memories occurred while teaching in Quebec after graduating from Dalhousie University in 1976. At that time there were five premiers in Canada, including Allen Blakeney, who had obtained Law degrees from that institution, Quebec not being one of them. However, they did have respected leaders named Bourassa and intellectually brilliant Rene Levesque, leader of the “separatiste” Parti Quebecois, who became premier less than three months after I started teaching in the north-central part of the province.

Now, Monsieur Levesque I would probably remember if for no other reason than, while attending a function at the Student Union in Halifax a few months previous, he’d started hitting on my wife. Equally memorable was “the little man from Shawinigan”, Jean Chretien, MP and future hand-to-hand combat trainer for the Prime Minister’s RCMP escort, who specialized in choke holds. No, after all being considered, my favourite politician was Jean Drapeau, Mayor of Montreal, dispenser of many favours to Montreal’s east side, and overseer of the summer Olympics of 1976.

Now, those of you who are slightly longer of tooth than the average Saskatchewanian might remember that the mayor was exceptionally fond of “monument building”, and with Montreal hosting the Olympics, he had ample opportunity to indulge in his fetish on a slightly greater scale than, say, Brad Wall, former leader of the Descendants of Devine Party (DoD), now living in exile in Alberta, or Premier Scott Moe, who is now overseeing the building of hospitals in the River and Queen cities (and soon, Prince Albert, if we can believe election promises) as though he were a mother hen keeping her eggs warm before hatching.

What is most interesting is that Monsieur Drapeau and our hardly missed former premier Brad Wall share similar values, not the least of which is their love for a more “European” architectural elegance to our provincial infrastructures, in particular firms with head offices in Paris, France. His Worship, the Mayor, would eventually choose one Roger Taillibert (pronounced “Roe-jay Tie -bear) to design the Stade Olympique, the venue that would host the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics. Premier Wall’s needs were more “pedestrian”; all he wanted was a firm with an international reputation for excellence in road construction so as to design the Regina Bypass. VINCI SA would eventually be chosen to meet these exacting standards.

In fairness, both of the Montreal and Saskatchewan governments should have anticipated cost “overruns” to their projects. However, when first confronted with the reality of the Olympic Stadium (eventually referred to as “The Big Owe”) going more than $1.5 billion into the “red”, Mayor Drapeau dismissed that reality out of hand, maintaining that the Olympics could no longer run a debt than “man could have a baby”; Terry (Aislin) Mosher’s cartoon showing Drapeau “with child” would only serve to let Montrealers know that they would eventually be servicing that debt for another thirty years, when it was finally retired in 2006. When an intersection of the Regina Bypass had to be rebuilt due to design deficiencies, however, the Saskatchewan government’s $1 billion price “fix” created little more than a yawning “So what?” mentality on the DoD’s benches – a silence that would never have existed had the NDP – the so-called “tax and spend” monsters of the Saskatchewan Party’s Fairyland – been in power.

Ironically, both cost overruns occurred for the same reason – a lack of familiarity with Canadian business practices and climatic conditions that might affect construction design or cost from the Paris-based firms. In Taillibert’s case, his design failed to take into consideration that concrete will contract more in Montreal’s much wider range of temperatures encountered in winter. As a result, concerns were elevated when some of the concrete sidings fell away from the structure, miraculously with no one obtaining serious injury. In Saskatchewan’s case, an entire intersection had to be replaced when it was found that it had design deficiencies rendering insufficient room to take turns properly in one’s own lane by larger vehicles such as the Co-op’s three-trailer and up to 175’ length petroleum tankers or a much wider FlexiCoil air seeder, regular vehicular traffic found only on our Prairie roads.

Under normal circumstances, were any government or agency to have such fiscal anomalies occur during their terms in office, the first item that taxpayers would demand would be an “accountability” for these indiscretions. For Mayor Drapeau, however, few citizens in Montreal cared; after all, they were hosting the Summer Olympics and the world would be coming to their doorstep; Jean Drapeau did that – and so Quebec taxpayers forgave him – eventually, at least.

In Saskatchewan’s case, I do not understand the tepid response, almost to the point of having given up, of rural voters not seeing that the DoD’s arrogance in providing the electorate with their “Couldn’t care less” response towards this $1 billion boondoggle is a fiscal slap in their face, not in urban Regina’s. As for Prince Albert and vicinity, we’re not deriving any benefit from having bon vivant international traveller and former Cabinet heavyweight Joe Hargrave as our “in” to state our needs to the provincial government – and yet this one individual was the “explainer-in-chief” providing reason as to why it was so “urgent” that we cut the STC’s $10 million annual subsidy from the provincial debt yoke.

Indigenous leaders know that the DoD couldn’t care less about their concerns; for years they’d listened to unlamented ex-Premier Brad Wall sending out his “taxpayer” dog whistles and redirecting their concerns to Cameco officials. Do the voters in Prince Albert not understand how far $1 billion could go in turning our city into a location with a voice as strong as Regina’s or Saskatoon’s?
Let’s take a look at how these monies could have better been spent in the north:

  • We could have built Prince Albert’s much-needed second bridge,
  • We could have restructured the current bridge to accommodate proper traffic width and walk-way security for pedestrians,
  • We could have built the long-awaited bridge north of La Loche that would have allowed for smoother commercial truck traffic access to Fort McMurray’s Oil Patch,
  • We could have twinned most of the roads – Highways 3, 55, and 155 – that would have allowed commercial and worker traffic to gain faster access to this same Oil Patch in Fort McMurray,
  • We could have completed the all-weather road into Wollaston Lake so as to accommodate the commercial fish export business now on hold in the Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation,
  • And we could even have been able to re-start STC, and start paying closer attention to their future transportation needs.
    In performing only this bare minimum of tasks, one has only to sit back and contemplate the supplementary savings we would encounter by giving northern Saskatchewan residents greater access to meaningful jobs, while simultaneously cutting social welfare costs.

    Obviously, we of the real “north” need to find some way to commemorate this extravagant faux pas, while simultaneously telling the premier that we’re not interested in future promises of “maybe” hospitals and toll bridges. Thus, in true James Joyce fashion, I offer up this modest proposal that truly captures the spirit of the Saskatchewan Party’s legacy…

    Let’s ask the good people of Regina to “do us a solid” – and rename the Regina Bypass the Jean Drapeau Freeway.