The Formula One Grand Prix has struck Montreal again.
All weekend the high-pitched whine of the Renault, Williams, Ferrari and other teams’ racers will pierce the soundscape of Montreal for a good 10 kilometres surrounding the track.
Downtown streets outside the reach of those irritating decibels have not escaped the frenzy.
It seems this weekend represents a significant addition to the bottom line of restaurateurs, clothiers, jewelers and other high-end enterprises as the rich and consumptive come to town.
Earlier this week, tents at Parc Jean Drapeau’s Gilles Villeneuve racetrack began sprouting up.
The white tents behind the grandstands provide the workspaces for caterers like those from the Queen Elizabeth Hotel who will serve 28,000 meals over the three-day event to VIPs.
Other tents up in the stands themselves offer privacy and respite from the sun for the corporate elite who rent executive boxes.
If the fever surrounding the Canadian Grand Prix weren’t enough, the ‘material girl’, Madonna, came to town for two sold-out concerts at the Bell Centre.
Crowds awaited her motorcycle-escorted limo’s arrival outside the concert venue, and everywhere else she stepped. Add in all the other events marking the Fête Nationale or St. Jean Baptiste Day and you have quite a scene.
Amidst all the hoopla it would seem that the trials and tribulation of the real world vanish, obscured by the bright lights and glitter of all this vanity and false importance.
Still, though, you don’t have to search too hard to find care and concern for pressing issues manifested.
More than 200 people from around the world gathered this week at the University of Quebec at Montreal’s downtown campus for the Fair Trade, Co-operative and Sustainable Development conference.
This fair trade conference aimed “to explore the contributions and limits of fair trade from the perspective of the social, economic and environmental goals of sustainable development,” according to its release.
Conference organizers see fair trade at a crossroads. Its very success poses threats.
Major multinational companies like Nestles and Starbucks claim to be joining the movement, and others like Wal-Mart are moving in this direction as well.
“The most crucial debate is going to be whether these fair-trade organizations can keep their standards high if there’s pressure from the large companies,” professor Marie-France Turcotte noted in a Montreal Gazette interview.
The Montreal-based Canadian Council for Refugees organized another gathering last weekend at York University in Toronto.
More than 400 people from 40 countries gathered at this International Refugee Rights conference. They examined basic questions like how to combat negative public opinion and promote positive attitudes towards refugees in this age of security.
How do we become welcoming communities when fear dominates the public agenda?
“Every day in hundreds of places around the world, refugees and migrants are put into detention,” Janet Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees executive director, said in a pre-conference statement.
“We have allowed our governments to gradually criminalize the act of seeking asylum and to demonize migrants. Even children are locked up.”
Dench hopes that concerned individuals and organizations will “say a loud ‘no’ to the sweeping use and abuse of detention.”
The World Urban Forum III ends and the World Peace Forum begins in Vancouver today.
A number of Yukoners have made an effort to be there. As with the participants at the other gatherings, they are keeping their eyes on the real issues of the day.