Electoral Politics by Plop

My friend Mark's city

I recently sat down to write an article about the municipal elections. I started reading up about the candidates, browsed their pages, explored some of the Montreal blogs. And the more I read the more depressed I became, to the point that the only way I was able to regain sanity was through a marathon session of SimCity 4, in which I decided to regain the trust of my simulated citizens by installing a tramway on my own personal Côte-des-Neiges Boulevard. Believe you me, I fixed transportation for a generation, and it’s all totally sustainable.

See, I like SimCity. By now it’s an old game, but it’s still a classic. As the benevolent mayor of a few hundred thousand simulated yous and mes, I can flex my muscles and do whatever I like. A housing project in my way? Bring in the bulldozers. I’ve installed add-on packs for everything you can think of: elevated trains, pedestrian malls, depressed freeways. In my town of Saint-Sam-sur-Richelieu, or whatever the current mayoral endeavour is called, there are no elections to speak of—but if I’m reeling from the strain of low mayoral ratings, I can always just build a few landmarks. I drop Statue of Liberty here; a Petronas Tower there.

The fine folks who run the SimCity 4 fan pages—of which your contributor occasionally partakes as one of his most guilty pleasures—have a word for such an act: they call it “plopping.” You can “plop” anything that doesn’t build itself organically. Plop some fully-populated rich-person housing in the middle of a slum to make it that much more tractable. Plop some elevated trains to fix up your frustrating traffic jams. And if you need a quick ratings boost, the path out of a scary fake election season just might require an equally-fake Arc de Triomphe.

It would seem that we’re in the season of the plop. The projected plop, if you will, because here in Real Montreal, construction takes place on the scale of decades and not minutes. But between the four candidates, it’s difficult to decide between the various proposed plops.

Projet Montréal, whose list of proposed capital projects will likely only end when the city does, is this year pushing hard on tramways. Union Montreal, the party with perhaps the most to lose, is talking about adding pretty much anything imaginable (and a fair amount that isn’t): tramways, metro stations, bus corridors, a train line or two, and tram-trains—a transit type which hasn’t existed for half a century, back when trams split off the CP tracks to head to Lachine, and which doesn’t even work particularly well. And then, the peanut galleries: Vision Montreal would shoot for an Expo 2020. And Louise O’Sullivan’s Parti Montréal Ville-Marie would build parking garages on vacant lots downtown, a policy which makes so little sense that I don’t even know where to start.

Any of which is wonderful, I guess. Never mind that not a single one of the above promises would be complete before the end of a single mayoral term, a fact which will certainly provide some convenient accountability loopholes come 2013. Never mind the level of bureaucratic morass, provincial or municipal or borough or public consultation-wise or whatever, that any project will surely encounter since they all seem much more dreamed-up than planned-out. And never mind certain pesky little lines in pesky little documents like Montreal’s city budget:

Notre gestion prudente et rigoureuse des finances publiques profite directement et immédiatement aux Montréalaises et Montréalais, puisque le Budget 2009 maintient le gel des charges fiscales générales pour une quatrième année consécutive.

Aussi, nous nous sommes assurés d’exercer un contrôle serré de notre endettement à long terme. La réputée firme de notation Moody’s le reconnaît : elle accorde à Montréal la cote de crédit Aa2, la plus élevée de son histoire.

It’s not even buried. It’s on page 1. Unlike the fact that 18% of Montreal’s budget goes to service its 4.1 billion dollar debt; that’s on page 11.

In SimCity, you can plop a building called a Cash Bunker into your city: plug it in to your power network, let the little grey wart charge up, and watch an extra five thousand smackers mysteriously drop into your treasury every year. It’s even easier than getting padded envelopes from Tony Accurso.

Richard Bergeron has at least gone on record saying that he anticipates expenditures of upwards of a billion dollars. But as for Tremblay: if he wins, it’ll have to be either a capital program full of expensive plops, or lofty budget language. Not both.

Call me boring, old-fashioned, and devoid of vision, but if we’re talking about transit in a tough economic climate, I’d like a candidate to dispense with the rhetoric of high-flying capital projects and just promise me more buses so that I don’t have to wait outside for so long during the winter. I’d like better information available at stations, online, and on my phone. I’d like some promises that our elected officials can keep.

And so during this autumn election season, while the leaves droop off the trees and the construction industry rubs its chilly hands, I think I’ll curl into a ball and play SimCity at home. In my town, it never snows, the tax rate is near zero, and I can plop the Metro anywhere I darn well like.

To finance my little retreat, I plan on figuring out where Gerald Tremblay keeps the cash bunkers.

This entry was written by Sam Imberman , posted on Tuesday October 20 2009at 10:10 pm , filed under Canada, Politics, Transportation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

4 Responses to “Electoral Politics by Plop”

  • stefan says:

    sometimes I wish that simCity were a bit more life like, so that we would actually run proposals and see their “true” impact on a city over 20 years. If I were mayor I’d enact a law which says no negative budgets. Then go from there :) If only I had Ayn Rand to help run my ideal city

  • AH says:

    gah. i also set out to put down some ideas about the elections and…well, have been turning in circles ever since. Just when I start to feel that a lot of citizens are ready to get engaged at a municipal level, we have a 3-ring circus with a mafioso ring-leader in place of anything that inspires trust…
    thanks for writing anyways.

  • Thanks to the link to Human Transit discussing tram-trains, though I would emphasize that my post wasn’t arguing that tram-trains don’t work, only that they apply to a very narrow range of situations.

    I also did a post on the limitations of Sim City here:


  • simcity is my all time favorite game, my dad even played that game ;~`