With the Quebec Elections coming on October 3rd, this week’s Riding to Watch is one I’ve lived in more or less my whole life: Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG).

NDG is one of the larger ridings in Montreal and has been a Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) stronghold for decades. However, as in many other ridings, the PLQ MNA, Kathleen Weil, has decided not to run again, creating an opening for new blood in the seat.

Why is NDG a riding to watch?

Here’s why:

Riding Breakdown

  • Location and Boundaries: Notre-Dame-de-Grace is comprised of Montreal West and part of the NDG/Côte-des-Neiges borough of Montreal.
  • Population: 72 520 with 46 268 electors
  • Language: 48.3% Anglophone, 24.2% Francophone, and 19.5% Allophone
  • Age: The two largest groups are the 30-39 (15.6%) and 20-29 (14.6%)
  • Average Income: With 17.7 % of the population in the >$9,999 and $19,999 annual household income range, NDG is one of the poorest districts on the Island of Montreal.

This is a borough to watch because it contains 34.2 percent visible minorities, compared to just 13 percent in all of Quebec. It is one to watch as the PLQ’s Kathleen Weil has been in power since 2008 and is choosing not to run again.

The PLQ’s replacement candidate, Désirée McGraw, was former Federal Prime Minister Paul Martin’s senior policy advisor from 2003 to 2006. She also has lots of experience fighting for environmental causes and is clearly one of the more experienced candidates.

In the 2018 provincial election, Québec solidaire (QS) came in second in NDG. While much of Québec solidaire’s platform, such as opposition to Bill 21 and fighting climate change, is ideologically in line with the values of the people of Notre-Dame-de-Grace, their refusal to oppose the aggressive language law, Bill 96, has left a sour note in the mouths of the district’s majority Anglophone population. It is no help to their cause that their candidate, Élisabeth Labelle is fresh out of university and has little to no political experience.

Photo by Samantha Gold

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) candidate is Geneviève Lemay, who has a certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University. The party clearly chose her for her bilingualism and education in an attempt to mollify the riding’s Anglophone and ethnically diverse population. She unlikely to win because despite the deep-seated cynicism of much of the riding’s population, Notre-Dame-de-Grace embraces ethnic and linguistic diversity and social justice in a way wholly incompatible with CAQ’s assimilationist xenophobic rhetoric.

The Conservative Party of Quebec (CPQ) candidate is Dr. Roy Eappen, an endocrinologist. Much like his party, he believes the solution to Quebec’s ailing public healthcare system is to lean more heavily on privatization, a solution that would likely create two-tier system in which the super-rich get better quality healthcare than most Quebeckers. Though Eappen himself immigrated to Canada from Kerala, India, he seems to take no issue with his party’s determination to slash immigration to Quebec.

There are two party leaders running for a seat in Notre-Dame-de-Grace. The first is the Green Party of Quebec (PVQ) Leader Alex Tyrrell, who has led the party since 2013. In the 2018 elections Green Party candidate Chad Walcott came in fourth after the Coalition Avenir Québec candidate in the riding. As it stands, the Green Party has yet to win a seat in the National Assembly and is unlikely to do so this time around.

Former Canadian Football League player Balarama Holness is the other party leader running in Notre-Dame-de-Grace. His party is one of his own creation, called Bloc Montreal. His party is all about ensuring that Montreal’s interests are properly represented in the National Assembly and their platforms begin with a recognition that Montreal represents fifty percent of the Quebec population and fifty percent of the province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The party opposes Bills 21 (the secularism law) and 96 as being harmful to Montrealers. Though much of the party’s platform is meant for all of Quebec, the perception that they stand for Montreal and only Montreal will likely cost the party in this election.

No word on how this could play out locally for Holness, so NDG remains a riding to watch.

Map and stats from Elections Quebec

When I spoke with Indian comedian Vir Das about his Just for Laughs solo show, part of his Wanted World Tour, he assured me that it would have a story and he certainly delivered when he performed at the Olympia.

To a packed theatre with an audience so ethnically diverse it would have given Quebec Premier Francois Legault a stroke, Das put on a show that was as fearless as it was entertaining. As I waited for him to start, part of me worried that he would stick to safe subjects like family and relationship stuff peppered with comparisons of his own ethnic background to that of white, English-speaking Westerners, but that wasn’t what audiences got. It’s a tactic common among many so-called ethnic comedians, and thankfully Vir Das’ comedy is not like that at all.

If there’s one thing you get from Vir Das’, it’s that he’s absolutely fearless. Though he only spoke for an hour, he managed to cover everything from cannabis, to sex, to dogs, to freedom of speech, giving us – the audience, an education, while still keeping it funny.

No one, from Christians, to the British, to babies, to vegans, to his fellow brown people was safe from his mirth. One of his best jokes was about his anger at experiencing physical abuse by his school teachers, adding:

“I would never slap a teacher, their salaries do that,” a remark that resonates with educators in North America who continue to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions.

Das told me that he is first and foremost a comedian and throughout the show it showed. He was comfortable and friendly on stage, making me and so many others laugh and think while providing insights into his life story.

In many ways it didn’t feel like a standup show so much as a storytelling session with someone you know and love, and despite a few disrespectful types who tried to film the performance, the audience welcomed his approach. If I have one criticism of his performance, it’s that he would switch to speaking Hindi once in a while and didn’t always provide an English translation, something that was fine with the many East Asian audience members, but won’t work for English speakers. In the future he needs to translate all of it for English audiences or provide subtitles above or below the stage.

While JFL is over, Vir Das is sure to be back. Until he is, you can check out his Netflix specials

I saw Lesbian Speed Date from Hell this past Sunday and having experienced the emotional rollercoaster of the piece, I was curious as to how it all came about. I had the opportunity to email back and forth with the show’s producer Christina Saliba and she gave me some fascinating insights.

The show was originally submitted to be part of Festival De La Bête Noire, Montreal’s first ever horror-themed festival. One of their writers had an idea for a piece about speed dating.

Saliba’s own experiences with lesbian speed dating events at the popular queer hangout Notre Dame des Quilles and the interesting date encounters she had at them really helped the story come together.

Saliba explains that when she saw the call for submissions for Festival De La Bête Noire, she jumped at the opportunity not only to present something queer-centric, as many working on the production identify as queer, but also to present horror comedy.

“Horror-comedy is a genre that is not commonly seen on stage. The horror aspects of the show are boundary pushing, not only for the audience but for the artists involved. Horror allows you to sit within your fears and anxieties and face them in a safe and controlled environment. There certainly may be some triggering moments for some audience goers as it is a show that tests limitations. However, the comedy aspect to it provides that relief and comfort. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition of genres and a fun medium to work in.”

Many people primarily associate horror comedy with The Evil Dead movies starring Bruce Campbell, so I was intrigued as to what it meant to someone putting on a show of that genre.

“I would say it is more outlandish, over the top, and hysterical rather than gore, terror, and horror. The comedy takes you out of the horror fantasy.”

The cast of Lesbian Speed Dating came from diverse backgrounds including comedy, sketch, improv, TV, and film. For Saliba, this diversity of perspectives elevates the show. While auditions were held, some of the show’s talent were deliberately sought out because of their unique talents.

“The structure and the script are there, but they are all so talented that they bring in the occasional ad-libbing and improv. Half of the team falls under the queer umbrella, as authenticity, particularly with our leads, was essential for me.”

Though the show only ran for two nights during Festival De La Bête Noire, Saliba couldn’t let it die. She had her sights set on it being part of Just for Laughs and a cast member suggested it be part of Pride’s programming. Saliba hopes to eventually take the show on tour internationally.