There’s nothing tony about misinformation – the Westmount recreation centre

Written by  //  September 7, 2011  //  Public Policy, Westmount  //  1 Comment

And so the battle continues…
(Westmount Examiner) Anyone who attended last Tuesday’s city council meeting may have come away with the feeling that the tide could be turning in the long, sordid debate over the Westmount Recreation Centre.
For the first time ever, it seemed, there was at least as much support for the arena project as opposition – although many of the battle-weary veterans of the anti-arena crusade were in attendance and dutifully took their place at the microphone during question period.
20 August
Wayne Larsen: (The Westmount Examiner) Opponents of the Westmount Recreation Centre project really had something to crow about last week, as the whole bitter controversy was revisited yet again, this time in the mainstream media. Not only did the loudest naysayers catch the attention of The Gazette, they also got to see their campaign receive nation-wide play in a full article in the Aug. 11 Globe and Mail.
While it can be argued that the latter piece presented a fairly accurate assessment of the ongoing arena debate, it offered readers no new facts or developments. In fact, there was nothing that has not been reported – in some cases repeated ad nauseam – in The Examiner over the past year. The underlying tone of the piece reeked of mocking condescension that, if anything, succeeded in providing readers across Canada with some cheap entertainment at the expense of Westmount’s dignity.
The issue simply is not being taken seriously outside of the community. One glance at the online comments on the article confirms this; of the 13 postings, not one had anything even remotely constructive to offer. Instead, the majority of comments were devoted to snickering over the word tony, which had unfortunately found its way into the headline.
Yup, a real intelligent exchange of opinion there, kids… The diligent work put in by those opposed to the project, from bloggers to petition organizers, was suddenly reduced to a few laughs by those who live in communities where the prospect of a big new arena is not considered much of a problem. No matter which side of the debate you happen to espouse, it’s hard not to be insulted by the attitude displayed by non-Westmounters when it comes to this very serious issue.
If nothing else, the recent attention in the mainstream press should finally lay to rest those persistent rumours that the new centre will decrease the amount of green space in Westmount Park. By publishing side-by-side images of the current arena and the proposed recreation centre, both The Gazette and Globe and Mail showed that green space will be considerably expanded with the new project.  Still, you can bet that someone will stand up at a future Westmount city council meeting, shake a fist at the mayor and angrily ask why the City is eliminating so much green space with this new project.
On several recent occasions, Mayor Trent has been heard to express his bitter disappointment in the current spirit of hostility that seems to have invaded Westmount in recent years. As a long-time council observer, I certainly know what he means. Things have definitely taken a turn for the nasty since his last term in office, which was cut short by the megacity mergers 10 years ago. Of course there have always been disgruntled citizens, some with a serious axe to grind with the City, but never in recent memory has the mayor been asked if he were prepared to resign over an issue, as was Mr. Trent a few months ago by resident David Ludmer. More recently, at the July city council meeting, a woman sitting near Mr. Ludmer and myself was heard to mutter “Heil Hitler.” At the same meeting, another woman publicly called city council a group of “crazy people.”
Some might blame those dark days of constant battle with the Quebec government and the City of Montreal for the current combative spirit in Westmount. I would suggest that technology has also played a role in this tangible shift in atmosphere.
Back then, the widespread use of social media – the precursors of Facebook and Twitter – was still well enough in the future that the average citizen did not have immediate access to the entire community; blogs and ad-hoc websites were not being utilized to the extent they are today, so people were not nearly so connected. Now activists can easily gather and mobilize for a cause. This is a wonderful thing, of course, but there is a dark, dangerous side to this technology.
The proliferation of bloggers, citizen journalists and self-proclaimed cyber sages means that anyone with access to the Internet can say whatever they want, regardless of fact, truth, or even good taste, and put it out there for all to read. Although most bloggers are harmless, even informative and entertaining, we also have countless amateurs masquerading as online journalists, repeating rumours and hearsay as it suits their purposes. They are not trained journalists; they have never taken a course in news reporting, ethics or media law – but there is always a danger that their words will be read and accepted as the truth by unsuspecting readers. Access to a blog site does not make one a journalist any more than owning a fancy calculator makes one an accountant.
As long as false information continues to bounce around Westmount, it’s unlikely that all factions in the arena argument will ever be on the same page – much to the great amusement of those watching from afar.
And getting everyone onto the same page is the first step in closing this ugly chapter in Westmount’s history.

Nigel Penney commentsand slips in a well placed plug for his project to bring a real science camp for kids to Westmount – a project we have endorsed since the outset –
Thank you for your thoughtful editorial which I have taken as a rallying cry to save a unique and generational opportunity presented to Westmount.
So hold me back. Never since the days of plagues on both your houses through to the modern day knuckle rap downgrade of the USA by S&P for not getting its political house in order have I seen a déjà vu all over again such as the debacle now tearing our genteel Westmount fabric asunder.
I refer of course to our $37M community project which has managed to polarize just about everyone from everyone. Calling it the arena project I suspect was the first error, in that it focused attention on the two hockey rinks thus alienating anyone who was not involved in the hockey scene, about 90% of the population by my reckoning. My point is simply that having reached the point after many months of admittedly imperfect community involvement, consultation and process, shouldn’t we try to remember who we are, gather up our dignity and stand full square behind our outstanding elected officials in turning the project into the best it can be?
Because be under no illusions, that a continuation of the bickering risks kiliing the project either through internecine wrangling or through further delays which will simply invite the various levels of governments to withdraw their funding pledges. What the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh…….any time, and especially in a downturn economy or during electoral posturing. And just before the naysayers start relishing that prospect, please remember that the extra $200 per year saved in your taxes will in reality be illusionary, as the maintenance and upgrade costs for the old structures will come in at about the same amount as Westmount`s capital contribution to the proposed project, with little to show for it.
I am not arguing for the pros or cons of the project. There are both, whoever you may be. I am over 60, not into hockey and would love two indoor olympic pools, but for now I`ll defer to some of the facilities for the slightly younger crowd. Instead, I`ll use my energies to create some positive contribution to the community. Perhaps we could all get behind contributing positively to our community. Perhaps you could support me in my endeavours?
I am refering to my passion of bringing science back to kids in a fun way. I know what a great need there is for this. As director of the Marianopolis Science Camp, I was told this repeatedly by hundreds of parents and kids. It’s now time to bring science fun to Westmount! And the new community centre will provide an ideal venue for this project.
And in case you haven`t yet noticed, we have already begun: I brought McGill on board and during last season and they delivered a wonderful new series of science talks and activities to kids through the Redpath museum`s efforts….check your latest Sports and Rec. calendars for the Fall sessions: we are repeating the successful experiment!
By 2013 I can see a full fledged Science Camp in Westmount, hosted in the new community spaces. Perhaps in 2012 we`ll see the start of this with the inauguration of the Science Den for the day campers of Westmount. How exciting would that be?
So please, please, please. Stop the wrangling, support the imperfect solution and support any positive initiative you may consider within the constraints of the existing project.

One Comment on "There’s nothing tony about misinformation – the Westmount recreation centre"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson August 20, 2011 at 3:48 pm ·

    Another Wednesday Nighter suggests some of the benefits of having two ice sheets in a community recreation centre:
    1) figure skating often requires a full sheet of ice for ice dance practice, synchronized ice dance teams and figure skating skills development for various age groups.
    2) Speed skating requires a full sheet of ice for practices and training
    3) ringuette requires a full sheet of ice for pee wee, bantam and junior teams
    4) school physical education programs need access to ice during the day to introduce kids who don’t play team sports or belong to ice sport clubs and teams, to hockey, skating and ice sports. Montreal is a hockey crazy city and giving kids an introduction to the sport is an important part of growing up and being engaged in sports conversations with friends.
    5) community skate nights and birthday parties are difficult to book at prime times if there is only one sheet of ice
    6) competitive young athletes can take advantage of summer skills training on community ice with speed skating and hockey camps.
    7) low income families that cannot afford to place their kids in intercity hockey can take advantage of community centre house league hockey to help them develop their skills and learn to play the sport.
    8) adult league hockey players are always looking for ice. The Westmount Women’s ice hockey team is renowned for their committed players who are of all ages above 21 and under 90. Adult league hockey provide reliable revenue to the new facility and an excellent workout for adult hockey players.
    9) Tournaments are a great source of revenue, community interaction and international exchanges. Two sheets of ice allow for tournaments in all sports for all ages. The NDG Atom Ice Hockey Tournament attracts teams from across Quebec, Ontario and Vermont.
    10) Coaching clinics, referee clinics and recruitment are often successful in recruiting the best when there are improved ice facilities.

    I sympathize with Mayor Trent. He is shouldered with a difficult communications issue that could have been avoided if the project was not named the arena project as you Nigel noted.

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