Canada

The morning after the night before

ROBERT LEWIS,RALPH NOSEWORTHY August 1 1976
Canada

The morning after the night before

ROBERT LEWIS,RALPH NOSEWORTHY August 1 1976

The morning after the night before

Canada

The army security officer sat at a vantage point high in Montreal’s Centre Maisonneuve, scanning the crowd below with his binoculars. After protests from a Soviet official, the hunt was on for a person brandishing a sign during Olympic wrestling competitions which, translated from the cyrillic, read: MANGEZ DE LA MERDE. When the man was spotted, the officer barked instructions into his walkie-talkie and the offending sign—and its bearer—were removed. It was one of the lesser dramas of the XXI Olympiad in Montreal last month, but in its way it underlined the trouble-free nature of the games and the attention to detail that helped make them such a popular success.

Of course, what insured the glow were the remarkable performances by hitherto unknown athletes, their names now a roll call of memories: Ender, Naber, Comaneci, Garapick, Juantorena, Crawford, Alexeyev, Viren, Jenner, Joy—and more. For a refreshing fortnight they mostly managed to take precedence over politicians, war, Taiwan and the African boycott (see page 44). It is true that Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau’s games wound up deeply in the red, but the prevailing view in Montreal during the prideful blush was, in

effect, what’s one billion dollars? Noted Brian Gallery, a publisher and Conservative Party worker: “We’re all optimistic. The city can become a real centre of attraction for the world. We’re not thinking of money now.”

But the giddiness of the moment was reminiscent of a New Year’s Eve bash, with the hangover yet to come—in Montreal’s case, a possible economic slump and still simmering scandals related to construction of the Olympic facilities. Probably no other city in Canada could have hosted the games with the engaging élan of Montreal, which turned itself inside out to offer a casually joyful invitation to the world to sample its pleasures.* Old Montreal’s narrow streets and superb restaurants were venues for a foreign take-over to rival anything yet forecast by the Committee for an Independent Canada. In the

*Four Romanian athletes and Soviet diver Sergei Nemtsanov found the atmosphere so invigorating that they left their teams and defected to Canada. The Soviets charged that the 17-year-old Nemtsanov had been kidnapped and brainwashed, and threatened not to participate in this fall’s Canada Cup of hockey. Prime Minister Trudeau termed the Soviet position “unacceptable.” Considering the ¡19 Communist-bloc defections that occurred during the 1972 Munich games, the fuss seemed somewhat overdone.

lively student quarter along St. Denis Street, the cafés overflowed for two weeks and, to the west, Crescent Street was virtually transformed into an all-night disco. In Toronto or Vancouver, shocked city councils would probably have passed bylaws to quiet down the party. In Montreal the reaction was a Gallic shrug.

For Jean Drapeau, the reaction to the games was a kind of vindication, from the roars when he waved the flag on opening day to the ovation when Lord Killanin, president of the International Olympic Committee, thanked him at the closing ceremonies. “I was criticized, chastized, vilified,” Drapeau said after the party was over. “The Olympics had to be a success,” he added in an appropriately regal metaphor, “or I would have had to go into exile. Drapeau’s folly? It was worth it.”

The boast may have been premature, considering that cabinet committees in Ottawa and Quebec City are anxiously studying the uncertain economic future of Montreal, the motor that drives the province of Quebec. Réal Parent, an economist in Montreal with the federal Department of Regional Economic Expansion, estimates that the direct impact of the Olympics on the local economy was $500,000.

Alain Bardoux, an economist with Quebec’s industry and commerce department, adds, “The outlook for Quebec is good, but not as good as for the rest of Canada.” Predictions for Quebec’s real growth rate in 1976 are between 3% and 4%, slightly below the projected national performance, and a perceptible slowdown is expected in 1977.

Surprisingly, however, bankers, businessmen, economists and government officials are less pessimistic than expected. They believe that private construction, delayed in the orgy of Olympic building, will now get under way as materials and tradesmen become available at less exorbitant rates (crane operators made as much as $30,000 in six to seven months in the rush to complete the Olympic Stadium). “There will be a slowdown compared to the boom period,” predicts Paul Martin Jr., president of Canada Steamship Lines, “but perhaps we’ll see a return to some normality.” Indications are that Quebec will not see anything like the post-Expo letdown, yet

there is cause for concern. In the first quarter of 1976, building permits were up 108% over the comparable four months of 1975, housing starts were up 75%, more jobs were created and prices rose less dramatically than in the rest of the country. But a major worry is that Montreal continues to lose out to Toronto and other cities as a centre of finance and transportation and

much of the future will be determined by the level of confidence in the business community. There is an ill omen in plans by the Bank of Montreal to continue the transfer of large numbers of employees to Toronto over the next two years and to use the title “First Canadian Bank” as the Anglo-Canadian corporate logo.

In Quebec City at least three cabinet documents have been prepared on the economic future of Montreal. One deals with the possibility of a major convention centre in Montreal, a $250-million investment that could justify the current glut of new hotel rooms in the city. Another study deals with land use and industrial develop-

ment in the Montreal region, where the faltering textile industry is a major factor in the weak performance of the manufacturing sector. There is also a seven-point plan to deal with the city’s financial woes, which forced the take-over of the games last year by the government of Premier Robert Bourassa. A likely starting point will be to force Drapeau, for once, to disclose the city’s actual economic position and to prepare a five-year financial plan.

Drapeau’s thoughts may be characteristically fixed on grander visions. Recently a senior Montreal businessman asked the Mayor what he planned to do for an encore. “1 can’t tell you now,” Drapeau replied. “But after the Olympics, something just as.big,or bigger.”More prestige projects are probably the last thing Montreal needs now. Drapeau must come up with a way to cover Montreal’s $200-million share of the one-billion-dollar-plus Olympic deficit. The city’s overextended financial position has already caused a delay in building the island’s first sewage treatment plant and a moratorium on an extension of the subway system. The Save Montreal Committee, composed of activists who oppose Drapeau, estimates that the vacancy rate of housing dropped from 5.7% in 1972 to 0.7 % last year and calculates that half the city centre is now given over to roads and parking lots. On Dorchester Boulevard, just across the street from the Olympic press centre, a stylized pagoda fence around a parking lot serves as a stark reminder that Montreal once had a bustling Chinatown. In the east end along Notre Dame Street hundreds of houses have been leveled to make way for an expressway which has now been shelved for lack of money. Says Martin of Canada Steamships: “I’m glad the mayor got Expo and the Olympics, but the time has come to put money into sewage treatment and urban renewal.”

Drapeau, facing his first opposition at dty council in the past 16 years in the form of the 17-member Montreal Citizens Movement (MCM), is not expected to seek reelection in two years. He has been carting great loads of paper out of his City Hall office and the expectation is that he plans to write his political memoirs. But neither is he expected to face major problems later this month when he goes before the Quebec legislative committee that will examine the games’ deficit. Says one Liberal member of the National Assembly: “It will be a general thing: you know, here today, gone tomorrow.”

So far businessman Joseph Zappia and four associates have been charged with fraud involving $265,000 in connection with construction of the Olympic Village and will appear in court next month. But the expectation is that any further embarrassment will be curtailed by the government-dominated legislative committee. Premier Bourassa is reportedly determined to avoid a repeat of the wide-ranging crime probe last year, which he viewed

as having a negative impact on the province’s image.

In the meantime, Bourassa was reportedly contemplating the merits of a postOlympic election this fall—when the economic climate looks to be more favorable than it will likely be next year when his mandate runs out. The assumption is that, first, Bourassa wants to get the parliamentary hearing on Olympic spending behind him and to settle outstanding contracts with the province’s fractious teachers and construction workers. He will also attend the August 17-21 meeting of First Ministers in Edmonton on the Constitution, after which he is expected to articulate a more nationalistic defense of Quebec’s linguistic and cultural rights in an attempt to outflank René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois. Already there are signs of one of Bourassa’s electoral themes: as part of lavish advertising now being placed in the media, one $500,000 campaign boasts that Quebec “saved the games.”

Montreal’s mood as the games ended was such that Mayor Drapeau enjoyed wide support for his claim that “people will forget all about the negative statements.” As the Mayor submitted in a radio interview, Canadians had entered “a new era” in which “we will all live as Europeans, where amateur sport is a reality.” Certainly, no one could quarrel with that hope. ROBERT LEWIS/RALPH NOSEWORTHY