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Experimenting in the public space

In his Public Space and the Public interest Class, Soukwan Chan, a professor from the university’s department of geography, planning and environment, assigned his students to come up with a multidisciplinary project in three weeks to encourage interaction between strangers in different public areas by using the urban settings themselves as a stimulator.

Photo by Paula Monroy

Of the ideas, Chan asked the class to rate the ones which stood out, and the students favoured the Nov. 20 public library installation set up on the corner of Guy St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd, which cost the group $50 and consisted of a bookshelf holding over 150 books, a sofa and two chairs.

Concordia urban planning students set up a library installation on the university’s campus in an effort to stimulate human interaction in public space, impressing fellow students by making use of the space and getting strangers to interact with one another.

“Sometimes artists create public art that is just there to decorate, and it’s not meaningful to the place,” said team member Elizabeth Thongphanith. “The comfortable setting of the library, we thought, would spark interaction with the built environment.”

The library setting was meant to play up the “democratic nature of public libraries,” said team member Patrick Serrano. He explained the group theorized that the majority of users would be students coming from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

Based on their data, the group counted 156 users throughout the 13 hours of the installation. While the group expected 28 per cent of users would engage in conversation, 7 per cent ended up doing so.

The group attributed their results to climatic factors, believing there were less users due to the cold weather. A time-lapse video was also produced, which includes interviews with those who used the space.

“[People] want to see more, not exactly this experiment, but a better use of the great space we have that nobody uses. People liked the idea that finally something new and interesting was happening,” said group member Brett Hudson.

Chan explained the projects showed the importance of building more possibilities for interaction in the public space. “We are concerned about others less and less,” said Chan. “We rely more on the virtual world than networks to communicate, to connect. … The stores that have automated doors, for instance, have eliminated even the smallest possibilities for interaction.”

The groups came up with a wide variety of projects, including a farting machine designed to force awkwardness at main street intersections and notes seemingly written by secret admirers or friendly unknowns the students then passed to strangers in an effort to evaluate gender interaction.

“In all these experiments we realize that people are comfortable with spaces,” said Chan. “But there’s value in trying to break those bubbles and to try to get people to interact with each other.”

 

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Quebec wants to defederate

“Let our school defederate!” chanted over sixty students outside of Best Western Plus Hotel in Gatineau, Quebec, where the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) 32nd National General Meeting was taking place, on Saturday afternoon.

Students from member schools across the country attend the meeting every year to lobby and discuss the current campaigns of the organization. This time, however, Quebec students stood in protest against the CFS for not letting them discontinue their membership and for the negative attitude taken towards them.

McGill University’s Post-Graduate Students Society (PGSS) organized the demonstration with the participation of Concordia Student Union (CSU) leaders, Dawson College and fellow McGill students. Representatives from the University of British Columbia-Okanagan and the University of Toronto were also in attendance.

Six police cars surrounded the protest, and six police officers patrolled the area, one of them was directing traffic circulation. Protesters were prohibited on hotel property.

“I don’t want to pay my student fees to an organization that’s going to use those student fees in court battles against other student associations,” said PGSS Secretary General, Jonathan Mooney.

About 15 schools from across Canada have requested to cease their CFS membership since 2009. The CFS, however, has not recognized their petitions although student unions followed the process dictated in the bylaws of its constitution. Instead, the organization is suing most of these unions, claiming ‘uncollected and/or unremitted membership fees’ under the Acknowledgement of Debt Agreement.

The CSU and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) opted to withdraw from the CFS in the fall of 2009, along with 10 other voting members from Quebec and other provinces, including the Dawson Student Union (DSU) and the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA).

According to the CSU Motion to Institute Proceedings document signed in 2011 to counteract the CFS lawsuit for over $1M in supposed unpaid fees, the CFS changed “amendment of Article 6 b. iii. of BYLAW I,” in 2009, thus referendums are now limited to 2 per year.

In addition, the signatures required for each referendum increased to 20 per cent, instead of the previous 10 per cent. And 60 months became the “minimum period between referendums” and “to join the CFS” rather than 24 months.

“They are basically making it impossible to leave,” said Moore.

The amendment was invalidly adopted, for it missed 2 votes in favour to meet with the 46 votes required by its own constitution.

Mooney states that members are opting out because the CFS has not proven to be effective in representing them. For example the organization played no significant role in the student movement against tuition hikes in 2012. He also pointed that it is because the CFS lacks “transparency and accountability.”

In fact, there have been reported cases by Laurentian University and University of Toronto graduate students that their petitions sent by registered mail asking to initiate process to leave were never picked up and consequently returned.

During the protest, students participating in the meeting who joined the protest claimed that they had been verbally harassed and intimidated by staff members for not agreeing with CFS procedures.

“There goes the fat fuck again,” Mark Stewart, senior stick of Manitoba University Faculty of Arts, said he was called by someone in the hotel. He added that long-time CFS staffer, Lucy Watson, “insinuated I was an arsonist.”

“People are being told in meetings […] that information on the [CFS] budget is (quote and quote) none of their business […] this is the internal culture for this meeting and has been for a long time,” Brad Evoy, External Commissioner of the Graduate Student Union of University of Toronto (GSU), said in a speech.

“We spent a hundred and eighty thousand dollars on the CSF and they deliver us zero dollars in profit,” said UBCO Internal Coordinator, Sharman McLean, adding that membership of his school was “grandfathered” from the Okanagan University before it was purchased by UBC.

“We came here last year, trying to reform the CFS, now we just want out of it,” he continued, “we were attacked verbally and, actually, this time we’ve been threatened physically”.

The Concordian approached Lucy Watson for an interview while she stood outside the hotel main entrance, but she declined saying she wasn’t authorized to give any comments, and that “media [was] not allowed in the hotel.” Students there also declined to be interviewed.

Flyers distributed early in the morning under members’ hotel room doors said that “right-wing” students were plotting to discredit the CFS. Stewart brought his for demonstrators to see.

At 2:14pm the protest concluded.

 

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In case you haven’t heard: Liberals retake Montreal’s leadership under a scandal of corruption

With former Liberal MP Denis Coderre elected as Montreal’s new mayor, the Liberal party returns to power despite the Charbonneau Commission scandal of 2012 and being faced with increased opposition on city council.

The Nov. 3 election had a voter turnout of 43.24 per cent. Coderre’s win was predicted by many.

“People’s weak knowledge about local politics favours a bias toward popular and public figures,” said Jonathan Durand Folco, a PhD student in philosophy at Université Laval.

“This is particularly the case in the northern region of Montreal, where [Coderre] gathered many candidates of Union Montreal in his team.”

32.13 per cent of Montrealers opted for Mr. Coderre. Vrai Changement pour Montreal’s Mélanie Joly came in second with 26.46 per cent of the vote followed by Richard Bergeron of Projet Montreal and finally Coalition Montreal’s leader, Marcel Côté.

“I would not be surprised to see another scandal revealed by the Charbonneau Commission, like St-Léonard councillor Robert Zambito, who resigned over the UPAC investigation one week ago,” Folco added.

In their book Unionists or Thugs? leaders of the FTQ-Construction, Jocelyn Dupuis and Richard Goyette, stated Coderre had facilitated a secret meeting between Eddy Brandonne, treasurer of FTQ-construction, and Dupuis back in 2000, when Coderre was Secretary of State.

In 2012, Brandonne, a long-time Liberal party supporter, was found to have dealings with the Mafia, and admitted to knowing some members. When the press asked Coderre about his relationship with Brandonne, he refuted the allegation of bias.

This September, Coderre told Le Devoir in a press release,

“It must be remembered that at the time the various unions demanded major changes to the system of employment insurance. The negotiations have been very intense with all the unions, including the FTQ […] I can confirm that there has never been an agreement. […] Richard Goyette admits that the bill filed contained no requests for changes of the FTQ. It is unfortunate that Mr. Dupuis and Mr. Goyette, to sell their book, blame everyone for everything and take no responsibility for their actions.”

Changes to the law on employment insurance agreed in 2000 between the Liberal Party of Canada—Coderre included—and the FTQ-Construction were not billed, which generated discontent and distrust among FTQ members, as well as a sense of being manipulated by the party.

Canadian urban planner, Jane Jacobs, attributes the prevailing corruption from the Liberal Party of Quebec and Canada to the failure of the federation to counteract Quebec’s independence movement as she wrote in her book La question du separatism.

Jacobs told former journalist for Le Devoir and 2007 electoral candidate of the Parti Quebecois, Robin Philpot,  that English and British Canada uses legal and illegal bribery to keep Quebec from separating.

The city council comprises 65 members, including 46 city councilors, 18 borough mayors, and the mayor. Équipe Denis Coderre has now 27 seats in the council.

As Projet Montreal came out with the majority of seats in opposition, MP political attaché Nìall Marichiweu says the results show that “Community based politics is the future of municipal politics in Montreal,” he said.

“I think that we’re at the brink of major shifts in the Canadian/Quebec political landscape […] this shows that Progressive Politics will come from the bottom-up as they should” said Marichiweu.

Folco, on the other hand, does not completely agree. He believes although the future of progressive politics will start locally, it would still need to be planned to avoid past mistakes.

“The challenge is to articulate urban struggles, the students movement, neighbourhood associations and other progressive actors like Quebec solidaire to build a new alternative in Montreal and other cities in Quebec,” said Folco.

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Montreal municipal politics in the spotlight

With the Nov. 3 election day fast approaching, Richard Bergeron, Mélanie Joly, Denis Coderre and Marcel Côté spoke about the changes that needed to be implemented by Montrealers in order for the city to prosper at its full potential.

Photo from olc.spsd.sk.ca

On Friday Oct. 25 Montrealers gathered at the Loyola campus, where CJAD Radio and The Gazette had organized a debate with the Montreal mayoral candidates, in order to raise awareness of the importance of politics among young voters.

Mayoral candidates debated in English, addressing the future of the city of Montreal. The discussion opened with a question on reforming the municipal administration. Coderre started off by saying transparency and a zero tolerance policy needed to be implemented, and Joly added that making information public should be mandatory..

“The best defence against corruption is a well managed organization,” said Côté.

Bergeron pointed out that compliance among civil servants is a concern.

Tightening the belt in regards to possible increases in revenues was foreseen by Côté. Joly, however, pointed out that 70 per cent of Montreal’s revenue comes from property tax, while only 39 per cent of Toronto’s revenue comes from property tax.

Bergeron spoke about the 25 years of economic drama in Montreal. He explained that as a result, in the last 12 years, Montreal had lost 22,000 people and between 6,000 and 8,000 young families.

“2.5 billion dollars a year are invested by Montrealers outside of Montreal,” said Bergeron. He suggested that increasing the number of collective transit operations might keep young families from moving away to the suburbs.

The candidates also addressed multiculturalism, although it was bilingualism that received the most controversy from the audience.

“Montreal has to be run by all Montrealers,” said Côté when alluding to what some English speakers in the city consider to be strict policing on language. “We cannot let the Quebec government be the only actor.”

Bergeron, on the other hand, considered that linguistic balance has prevailed in the municipality.

“We need all to be united and work together,” Kofi Sonokpon, mayoral independent candidate, told The Concordian after the event.

“We need to have a massive turnout at our pools because this is the deciding moment for Montreal […] this is not the time to be cynical — cynicism is a trap that we need to avoid.”

Sonokpon urged people to find the right leadership that can raise the spirit of the city and change it for the better.

Julia Vera, a political science student at Concordia voting for the first time in municipal elections, sees hope for Montreal.

“In every society there are issues,” said Vera. “By going to the elections and seeing the candidates’ positions is the only way to know there is actually a solution and a way to find it.”

Christian Arsenault, 25, is the youngest Projet Montreal city councillor candidate running for Loyola’s district and shares Vera’s sentiments.

“A lot of young people tend to overlook [municipal politics], [but] it’s here at the local level that people can make big changes,” said Arsenault.

Arsenault is currently working on means to increase walkability and active means of transportation at Loyola, along with finding solutions for the needs of residents in the Walkley/Fielding area — one of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce’s poorest neighbourhoods — and Summerland Village.

In an interview with The Concordian Arsenault admitted that it was the corruption and administration problems in city hall that lead to his candidacy.

“There are so many important things that need to be looked at in the Loyola district that used to be ignored.”

 

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Sustainability Action Fund launches new campaign

After a self-evaluation test, Concordia’s Sustainability Action Fund launched the SAF Chat campaign to address the future of sustainability education at Concordia.

Although Concordia University rated Silver in 2012 Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), a self-reporting program for North American post-secondary institutions to evaluate their implementation of sustainability on campus, results were low in Education and Research, having received only 10 out of 55 points on the Curriculum category.

Results are attributed to the absence of a definition for sustainability within the academic context, and to the inaccessibility to courses pertaining to the category for students whose program does not directly entail upon the subject.

As part of the Sustainability Curriculum Project—a $60,000 a year partnership between SAF and Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, proceeding from 2012 to 2015—The SAF Chat campaign is part of the first steps aimed to resolve this matter by opening up to feedback from Concordia students, staff, and faculty members online.

Questions are already being posted on their website, Twitter, and Facebook, requiring participants to include the hashtag #SAFChat on their comments to answer.

“We want to hear from students, how do they want to learn about sustainability? How important is it to them? What topics of sustainability are they really interested in having a course about?” said SAF’s sustainable curriculum researcher, Christina Bell.

Bell has already looked into 700 course outlines in 20 different Arts and Science departments from the 2012-2013 year to assess the sustainability content.

In order to measure how sustainable Concordia’s curriculum is, SAF staff created a methodology including social, economic and environmental issues, as well as the practical application of hands-on practicing on campus.

Chief Executive Officer, Mikayla Wujec, explained the process: “We looked for keywords that pertain to sustainability so that if these keywords are in our course outlines it highlights our sustainability content so that from there we can look further and decide on where we stand on a sustainablility scale of zero to 100 per cent.”

SAF then assesses the accessibility of the course, meaning how many people a course can reach or how open it is to the people on the whole of the Arts and Science departments. Bell added that access to certain courses on sustainability is limited for students whose curriculum does not fall under environmental sciences.

Marc Rowley, web outreach coordinator, urged  the importance of engaging students that are not yet involved with the campaign to participate. He designated the expansion from our real life social network into the broader student community to get a wider array of different points of view as a primary objective.

SAF Chat’s deadline has been extended to Friday, November 1, 2013. Winners will receive $30 to Burritoville, Brutopia, or the Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore. To participate, visit:

Or send them an email at safexternal@gmail.com.

 

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Municipal candidates address student concerns

Montreal’s city councillor candidates for the Peter-McGill and Loyola districts spoke with The Concordian about how students’ concerns of employment and affordable housing would work into their plans if elected.

Jimmy Zoubris, Projet Montreal’s candidate for the Peter-McGill District, in which Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus is located, spoke about the possibility of increasing the job market for students.

“The main role of a municipal government is to create a competitive environment and establish certain conditions that will promote economic development and job creation,” said Zoubris.

He ensured that Projet Montreal’s municipal administration would include youth representatives. “It is important for us that youth is represented and that their voice is heard. Decision-making bodies of the city must reflect the character of the city.”

Zoubris stated the use of new technologies and social media will be implemented to promote career opportunities in the city. To develop employability, he explained the city must continue to foster its links with training centres and stay involved with Hooked on Montreal. This organization, as it states on its website consists of a group of 30 partners “dedicated to work together and to keep youth and families at the center of their efforts to increase school retention.”

Zoubris said that internship programs between the city and Concordia would be beneficial for both partners.

Like Zoubris, Margaret Ford, Coalition Montreal’s candidate for the Loyola District, told The Concordian that establishing partnerships between the Côte-des-Neiges and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, as well as Concordia would have a positive impact for both students and the community.

According to Ford, hundreds of students are already being hired by the city of Montreal and its local partner organizations.

She noted it can be difficult to recruit enough students for summer jobs, where local job recruiting is often limited to posting a notice on electronic or physical bulletin boards, where they hope an interested student will stumble upon the notice.

“Regular contact and established relationships would provide students with timely information about job opportunities in their field and organizations with direct contact with potential employees,” said Ford.

Discussing what initiatives can be implemented to help students financially, Ford explained Coalition Montreal is committed to keeping taxes to the level of inflation, which will have a direct impact on lowering rent increases.

“Restructuring municipal services and re-investing budget surpluses into stabilizing infrastructure and transportation would also help keep the cost of monthly bus passes down,” said Ford.

Steve Shanahan, Montreal’s Vrai Changement candidate for the Peter-McGill District, discussed making more affordable housing possible.

“The city of Montreal has plans to make affordable housing for 30,000 families,” said Shanahan. “Every borough in Montreal should have a policy where 15 per cent of all development is for affordable housing. Students who don’t have any money could qualify for it.”

In addition to affordable housing, Shanahan emphasized the importance of quality living conditions. Bedbugs are a current problem in the Peter-McGill district, which he described as unacceptable and is looking to involve landlords in addressing this issue.

His opponent, Damien Silès from Équipe Denis Coderre, addressed the need to determine how to build more spaces for students to live in.

“In Montreal we have 200,000 students, and right now there are around 5,000 bedrooms,” said Silès.

Silès told The Concordian Equipe Denis Coderre has spoken with student associations and wants to work with them to acknowledge student issues and determine exactly what is required to build more spaces.

“It’s possible to do anything,” he added. “But before we build something, [we need] to see if it’s possible to work with the students, to know what [the students] want […] The idea is to be able to mix the people who live here with the students, to see a better way to exchange ideas.”

Shanahan, however, said labeling groups in Montreal is not productive. “We are all people who live in Peter-Mcgill and we all have to work together.”

http://www.reseaureussitemontreal.ca/spip.php?rubrique16

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Concordia scores second Gold LEED accreditation

The Research Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics (CSFG) received Gold status this September under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building rating system certified by Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), reinforcing Concordia’s successful adoption of energy efficiency.

Photo from jasonparis on Flickr

The centre is part of Concordia’s Strategic Research Plan, an initiative to increase research activity in different faculties. At the CSFG, researchers have access to a shaker, laminar flow hoods, ultrapure water systems, and icemakers, for further studies in the areas of cellulosic biofuels, alternative energy sources, and biomass conversion.

“We were originally seeking for silver,” said Peter Bolla, associate vice-president of facilities management.

In order to be recognized by LEED, the project must undergo a strict and methodological process of validation that proves it is indeed sustainable. Although the CSFG was completed in 2011 as a 5,400 square metre expansion of Loyola’s Richard J. Renaud Science Complex, it took CaGBC two years to acknowledge its design, construction, and operation as “green.”

Official information assures that the building “consumes 57 per cent less energy than the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings.” Moreover, 11 per cent of construction and furniture materials were recycled, and 65 per cent of wood-materials concur with Forest Stewardship Council Canada (FSC-CA) standards, which is a non-profit organization that certifies forestry companies as environmentally, socially and economically responsible.

Air quality enhancement and efficient plumbing are listed among the building’s green features.

According to Bolla, the CSFG was equally funded with $29.3 million in 2008 between the Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP)—Canada’s $2 billion Economic Action Plan to stimulate the revitalization of higher education facilities across the country— and the ministère du Développement économique, de l’Innovation et de l’Exportation (MDEIE)—one of Quebec’s departments responsible for research and innovation.

This is not the first time Concordia has received a LEED certification. In 2012 gold certification was given to the PERFORM Centre, and silver was given to the JMSB building.

“[I]t is important that we provide our faculty and students with facilities that will support innovative research,” said President Alan Shepard, in a Sept. 26 press release.

In fact, Concordia as a whole was recently classified for the 16th time as energy efficient, ranking number one out of six of the largest universities in Quebec, including McGill University.

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disORIENTATION is back at Concordia

Photo by Paula Monroy

disORIENTATION is one of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group’s (QPIRG) core projects aimed at students and community members eager to learn about social justice issues and how to get involved. This year’s events take place Sept. 23-30.

“The mandate of QPIRG is to be a link between campus and community on social justice issues, on issues relating to fighting exploitation and oppression,” said Jaggi Singh, QPIRG Working Groups and Programming Coordinator at Concordia. “Disorientation is a way for students to get acquainted with that.”

Over the week, students can attend a variety of free workshops, panels, trips around the city and other events.

“disORIENTATION goes beyond the idea of students simply being consumers and see people as residents of this campus that can be engaged in social justice organizing,” said Singh.

The 10 events available include the well-known walking tour on campus, the block party on Guy and de Maisonneuve, the transportation bike tour, Solidarity Not Charity, and the Mad Hatter Tea Party.

disORIENTATION is working with Cinema Politica and the Center for Gender Advocacy. A new addition to the program is “A Safer Concordia Consent Workshop,” a sexual assault awareness workshop to explore the meaning of consent. The workshop will be held Sept. 30 at 2 p.m.

Also newly incorporated to the program is the screening of the documentary Bidder 70 on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. It tells the story of a college student who outbid industry giants and purchased 22,000 acres of land that had been already appointed in 2008 by the Bush Administration for the energy and mining industries. The film won awards in 20 film festivals, including Best American Film at Traverse City Film Festival in 2012.

QPIRG started in Concordia as a club back in 1981 and became separate from the Student Union in 1989 while disORIENTATION began in 2003. Among other issues, it concentrates on grassroots activism and acts as a platform for anyone with the spirit of making a difference within the community.

“I strongly believe that, as a student, one of the best ways to make a positive impact in the planet is by taking action locally,” says second-year geography student, Elizabeth Murphy, “which makes disORIENTATION such a great starting point.”

What’s the difference between disORIENTATION and the Concordia Student Union (CSU) Orientation?

Singh explains that disORIENTATION is complementary. “We are focused more on social justice issues which is why we specifically scheduled it after the CSU orientation. People don’t have to choose between them, they can go to both,” he said.

Moreover, QPIRG doesn’t claim to be a university orientation, as made evident in their project’s name.

“It’s for everyone, for people who want to get engaged with social justice issues,” said Singh. “It’s a way of telling people that things are a lot more complex than the administration and corporate sponsors want you to think it is.”

For more details and for the full schedule go to qpirgconcordia.org/disorientation.

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