Tag Archives: montreal

An Open Data Inspired Holiday Gift to Montrealers

It turns out that Santa, with the help of some terribly two clever elves over at Montreal Ouvert has created an Open Data inspired present for Montrealers.

What, you must ask could it be?

It’s PatinerMontreal.ca

It’s a genius little website created by two Montreal developers – James McKinney and Dan Mireault – that scrapes the City of Montreal’s data on ice rink status to display the location and condition of all the outdoor ice rinks in the city.

What more could a winter bound montrealer ask for? Well… actually… how about being able to download it as an Android app to use on your smart phone. Yes, you can do that too thanks to another Montreal software developer: Mudar Noufal.

Here’s a screen shot of the slick web version (more on the project below the fold)

Creating this unbelievably useful application was no small feat. It turns out that the City of Montreal publishes the state of the outdoor hockey rinks every day in PDF format. While it is nice that the city puts this information up on the web, sharing it via PDF is probably the most inaccessible way of meeting this goal. To create this site the developers have to “scrape” the data out of these PDF files every day. Creating the software to do this is not only tedious, it can also be frustrating and laborious. In reality, this data was created with tax dollars and is encouraging the use of city assets. Making it difficult to access is unnecessary and counterproductive.

This is because if you can get the data, the things you can create (like PatinerMontreal.ca) can be gorgeous and far superior to anything the city offers. The City’s PDFs conveys a lot of information in a difficult to decipher format – text. Visualizing this information and making it searchable allows the user to quickly see where rinks or located in the city, what types of rinks (skating versus hockey) are located where, and the status of said rinks (newly iced or not).

My hope – and the hope of Montreal Ouvert – is that projects like this show the City of Montreal (and other cities across Canada) the power of getting data out of PDFs and shared in a machine readable format on an open data portal. If Montreal had an Open Data portal (like Vancouver, Nanaimo, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and others) this application would have been much easier to create and Montrealers would enjoy the benefit of being able to better use the services their tax dollars works so hard to create.

Congratulations to James, Dan and Mudar on such a fantastic project.

Happy Holidays to Montreal Ouvert.

Happy Holidays Montreal. Hope you enjoy (and use) this gift.

What the Liberals needed to Learn in Montreal

There’s been a lot of ink shed about the Liberals and Montreal. Some seizes on the corporate tax freeze, others on Robert Fowler’s blistering critique of the party, still others on the age of the participants in the room. My sense is that, in the short term, the issues discussed at Montreal – on the surface – won’t matter. It is the deeper changes, to thinking, to culture and to processes that take time to manifest, that will determine if Montreal was a success.

Are these deeper shifts happening? Hard to say, but here are three lessons the party will need to take away from Montreal if it is to succeed in the long term:

Lighten up. The scariest thing about the images from Montreal is the uniformity. The participants were older. And white. And male. That is a problem easily (and repeatedly) identified. It also needs to be fixed. But there was another interesting challenge – one more subtle and less commented on.

Ignore the uniform demographics and count how many people are in suits. And a tie. On a Saturday.

Most Canadians I know don’t wear suits. Ever. Even when working with in Fortune 500 companies, or at the banks, people look professional, but suits? Increasingly less and less. So does the Liberal Party need a new dress code? No. But it speaks to the culture of the party elite. When people look at a party they want to see themselves – people they trust and believe in. Even if Canada were populated only by white, older men, most people would probably still look at the conference and not see themselves there. Moreover, many would imagine the event as unapproachable, or unwelcoming – teeming with operatives. If the Liberals are going to win again, they’ll need to be approachable, a group many people feel like they can belong to. Keep the suits if you must, but think about the culture.

Learn the right lesson about the internet. Many participants were amazed by how many people were participating and asking questions online through skype or twitter. This belies a lack of understanding of how the internet is reshaping the way people live, work and organize. Over the past few decades, before campaign finance reform, the party had become accustomed to relying on big donations and it so its capacity to reach out to party members diminished. The Reform/Conservatives were the opposite. Early on they were too scary for traditional big companies and cultivated a vast network of small donors. For them, the internet was a blessing – it enhanced their strategy – and campaign finance was a godsend – it meant their strategy was the only effective one. Today, the Conservative donor network keeps them well financed and effective.

The danger from all this is that the Liberals will walk away understanding the power of the network, but believing they can can control it, rather than simply harness it. You can’t. All those people online, they aren’t there to do the bidding of some communications director. They are there to share their story and engage with peers. Working with such a network requires a radically different skill set then dealing with the media or cultivating a big donor. It also means getting comfortable with the fact that you aren’t in control of the message (your just seeding it) or the medium (your just a platform for others to play on). If Montreal did anything it let the younger leaders show the old timers what social networks and a connective network can do. Will be interesting if the right lessons get drawn. But the Party had better figure it out soon – the Conservatives have a serious head start.

Be honest and clear. The weekends highlight moments occurred when speakers bluntly and firmly pushed back on basic ideas or assumptions. Janice Stein responding to a questions about women’s issues in Foreign Policy by saying she was much more concerned about the destabilizing effect of large groups of unemployed young men. Roger Martin talking about how Canada’s healthcare system is one of the most expensive and inefficient in the G7. Pierre Fortin (who gave a model speech) spoke bluntly about how little money there will be, for anything. Parties need to give people hope, but they also have to be honest.

Most Canadians still struggle to understand what the Liberal Party stands for.  The public knows what both the NDP stands and Conservatives stand for. Both parties have been happy to eschew certain voters in order to stay focused on what makes them who they are. It is sometimes hard to know who the Liberals will eschew. Injecting a little dose of honesty and clarity a la Janice Stein into the party’s communications might help. Sometimes you have to tell the public that their priority isn’t the number one and that there are bigger fish to fry. It isn’t easy. Especially for politicians. But being honest and clear about where the party stands and where it doesn’t may produce better results than the status quo. The Conservatives may have had a scandal rife year, but they aren’t going anywhere so long as people know who they are and don’t have a clue about their rivals.

Jane Taber noted that at the last “thinkers conference” in Aylmer the Liberal Party shed its protectionist past in favour of globalization. But that took some time to become clear. The impact – if any – of this conference will likewise take a few years to be fully realized. But maybe a similar transition will take place, with the famously centralist party favouring a more networked, open and engaging approach to both the party, and governing. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

Become a 2009 Sauve Scholar

For those who are interested, applications for Sauve Scholarships have been open for a few weeks now. The deadline is December 31st.

For those not in the know, the Sauve Program, now in its 6th year:

…exists for young leaders under the age of 30 from across the globe who want to change the world. The Scholars are chosen above all on the basis of criteria laid out by the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé:

  • Initiative
  • Motivation
  • Vision
  • Imagination
  • Demonstrated communication skills
  • Awareness of international and domestic issues
  • A strong desire to effect change

Each year, up to 14 remarkable young leaders are invited to come to Montreal for the academic calendar year. They live together in a beautifully restored mansion, enjoy unlimited access to McGill University’s academic programs and other resources – including lectures, conferences and events suited to the advancement of their individual professional and intellectual goals – while benefiting from the communal life and multi-faceted exchanges with their fellow Scholars.

The Sauvé experience, a period of personal and professional growth, is founded on:

  • Intense exchange of ideas and experience, supported by communal life
  • Extensive intellectual freedom, allowing each participant to develop according to his or her needs and aspirations
  • Focus on action accompanied by a clear commitment to the community —including the host community
  • Commitment to dialogue among cultures, which allows participants to understand and assimilate viewpoints built within multiple frames of reference

You can learn more about the program here and check out past scholars here.

In Memoriam of Jim Wright

The start of fall has been a particularly tough this year. Yesterday I was informed that James Wright had passed away in a terrible accident.

Many of you – especially outside Montreal – will never have heard of Jim. This fact is not a reflection on Jim’s impact on those around him, but is rather a reflection of his understated nature. Simply put, Jim was an extraordinary person. A man who relentlessly gave his time, his energy and himself to others and yet, despite his innumerable achievements, always kept a surprisingly low profile.

Indeed, this low-key diminutive style regularly caught me off guard. Everywhere I turned in Montreal I would inevitably discover that regardless the cause or group, Jim somehow seemed to be involved. The breadth of his volunteer activities are too numerous to name. Heather Munroe-Blum – the Principal of McGill – listed a few in her press release:

Jim was a graduate of McGill (BA ’65) and Université Laval law school. In 1969, he joined the law firm of Martineau Walker (now Fasken Martineau) where he worked for 30 years. From 1977 to 1979 he was the deputy director of the Compliance Branch of The Foreign Investment Review Agency. In 1999, he was appointed executive director of EPOC Montreal, an organization that provides job training for disadvantaged young adults. In 2003, he was appointed director of the Sauvé Scholars Foundation, which provides one-year study fellowships at McGill to young leaders from around the world. From 1991-99, Jim served the City of Westmount as a councillor. He also served as president of the Wexford Foundation and the University Club of Montreal.

jim wrightAnd yet even this list fails to capture of all Jim’s activities – such as his role as a Board Member (and I believe, one time president?) of Volunteer Canada and a Governor on the Board of McGill University.

But the list of volunteer activities – while revealing – fails to capture what made Jim so impressive. What defined Jim’s was his optimism and compassion, traits made evident by the manner in which he and his family opened up their home and their lives to those they helped. Many Canadians opt to dedicate their lives to public service but I’ve yet to meet one who did it with Jim’s warmth, openness, and giving nature.

This was how I got to know and love Jim. Those of us fortunate enough to become Sauvé scholars were generally outsiders to the Montreal community. This was true for me, a Canadian, but even more so for my fellow scholars who hailed from far away places such as China, Nepal, Bhutan, South Africa, Iran and Pakistan. Jim’s connections within McGill and throughout the Montreal community enabled the program to run smoothly and maximized the opportunities available to us scholars.

More importantly however, Jim made Montreal our home, not simply by his work as the program’s Executive Director but by literally opening up his own home and life to us. All the scholars (and their friends) regularly visited the Wright’s house for parties, dinners and other get togethers. Indeed, more than one Sauvé Scholar took up temporary residence in the Wright house to bridge between their time as a Scholar and their subsequent job.

For myself, my time at Sauvé house saw Jim and I’s relationship evolve from that of charge, to adviser, to mentor and then friend. I return annually to the house, both to connect with the new scholars and seek advice from Jim on my next steps. And I am not unique in this. There are now over 60 Sauvé Scholars spanning the globe. For some Jim continued to be a good friend, for others, especially those who remained in Montreal, he also continued to serve as a source of community and advice. One such scholar, Meriem Maza, was visiting the Wright’s at their cottage and was also tragically killed in the accident.

Saturday was a dark day for me personally, I remain full of disbelief, frustration and sadness, trying to feel glad that I at least knew Jim, and that I have him as a model to aspire to.

Saturday was also a dark day for the Sauvé Community and for Montreal more broadly. We lost a founding spoke in our network – the man whose compassion and work helped bind us together as a community. Equally tragic, we lost one of our peers, a bright and established talent who was our fellow scholar. In the emails that have floated through the Sauvé community so many have referred to Jim as their father in Montreal, others, who studied with Meriem, refer to her as a sister. These are voids no one will be able fill.

2005 Fellow and Jim

Jim with the 2004-05 Sauve Scholars