Former mayor Jean Doré passed away on Monday, June 15th, after a seven month battle with pancreatic cancer.
From 1986 to 1994 he was our geeky young mayor with the Magnum P.I. moustache and something of a breath of fresh air after twenty-six uninterrupted years of Jean Drapeau. He led the the opposition Montreal Citizens’ Movement to a landslide victory in the 1986 municipal election and will be remembered for a number of modest accomplishments, many of which revolve around the 1992 celebration of the city’s 350th anniversary.
Under his administration the city got its first computers and adopted its first urban master plan. The Pointe-a-Calliere archeological museum, Place Charles de Gaulle and Place Emilie-Gamelin were all inaugurated. Major investments were made in renovating and beautifying Old Montreal, the Old Port and the park islands, not to mention turning the Champs de Mars from a parking lot into an open green space. Saint Catherine Street was renovated and beautified, McGill College was redeveloped to take its present form. Several tall buildings were completed, significantly increasing available class-A office space available in the city (this includes 1000 de la Gauchetiere Ouest, 1250 Boul. René Lévesque Ouest, the Laurentian Bank building, the Montreal Trust building, Tour de la Cathedrale etc).
Despite these significant developments and the relative success of the 350th anniversary renewal and beautification initiatives, Doré lost the 1994 municipal elections to Pierre Bourque, the guy who had previously run the Botanical Gardens and was responsible for the vastly unpopular megacity merger of 2002-2006.
In retrospect, it’s difficult to explain how Doré could lose to Bourque. Doré was the first of three recent mayors who served roughly equal amounts of time, started with a lot of promise and ended their term unpopular and considered something of a ‘do-nothing’ mayor. That said, in terms of his individual accomplishments I would still rank Doré head and shoulders above Pierre Bourque and Gerald Tremblay.
Conflicts arose within the Montreal Citizens’ Movement soon after Doré was first elected in 1986. The major scandal of his administration being the Overdale fiasco, in which a small though vibrant community was expropriated and bulldozed to make way for a massive downtown condo project that never materialized (the location is currently being developed into the ambitious YUL condo and townhouse project). This led to the MCM losing some of its more prominent Anglophone members and support from the urban Anglophone community (a fact which was compounded by Doré’s insistence of a strict interpretation of Bill 101 as it pertained to outdoor commercial signage, not to mention renaming Dorchester after René Lévesque when the former premier passed away in 1987). Later still, his administration would be criticized for not paying down the massive debt left by the Drapeau administration, and was subject to enhanced scrutiny on public spending as a result of his predecessor’s lax attitude to keeping balanced local books.
Other economic and political factors handicapped Doré. During the 1986-1994 period there was a global recession tied to the end of the Cold War and localized restructuring as a consequence of NAFTA and the privatization of numerous crown corporations, many of which had been located in Montreal. The local manufacturing and civil engineering sectors took a heavy hit, as did textiles and food processing, areas of industry that were once foundational. All of these factors were well beyond the influence of the mayor of Montreal. The national question that resurfaced at the time certainly didn’t help, as Montreal, Quebec and Canada’s future was perhaps at its most uncertain point roughly during the same time period as Doré’s mayoralty (consider the failures of the Meech Lake (1987) and Charlottetown Accords (1992), the Oka Crisis (1990) and the re-election of the Parti Quebecois (in 1994, leading to the referendum the following year).
Call it a matter of bad timing – I think Doré would have been an exceptional mayor had he come to power a decade earlier and maintained closer ties with the activist/grassroots foundation of the Montreal Citizens’ Movement. And yet, conversely, the main problem with his administration lied in a lack of political maturity. He only shone compared to Drapeau for the latter’s long political demise over the course of a decade after the Olympics, and yet would ultimately be judged as inferior to man who saddled us with billions in debt and a depopulated urban core.
Personally, I think Doré shone brightest hosting Nelson Mandela in July of 1990 (click here for Mandela’s speech), shortly after Mandela’s release from a South African prison. He wasn’t supposed to stop in Montreal on his international tour, but Doré made it happen with less than 24 hours to organize a large public ceremony at the Champs de Mars. 15,000 turned up to see Mandela thank Montreal in its efforts to combat Apartheid. He then visited Union United Church, arguably the historic epicentre of Montreal’s Black community (on a tangential note, I’m very happy to see the UUC’s congregation returned home on Sunday June 14th to their historic church on Delisle Street in Saint Henri. The congregation had been forced out in 2011 after an inspection revealed the building was in danger of structural failure and required extensive renovations, renovations which have since been completed).
Mandela’s visit was a high point in an administration consistently beset by circumstances and events well beyond the individual control of the mayor but that nonetheless contributed to an overall sense of malaise that became somewhat entrenched in the character of Montrealers at the time (and which I’d argue we’re only beginning to really emerge from). Consider six months prior to the visit the city endured the horror of the Polytechnique Massacre, and a month after the visit we’d be contending with the Oka Crisis.
All things considered, he did a good job and the city benefitted (for the most part) from his administration, though situation and circumstances being what they were, he probably did as much and as best anyone could do.
By my count he’s number 43 in a list that stretches back to our city’s first mayor, Jacques Viger, in 1832, the year the city was incorporated.
To date Montreal’s mayors have been predominantly of the (at least publicly heterosexual) French Canadian male variety, though we once had a tradition of switching the lingua franca of our mayors with each election (i.e. from 1832 to 1908 mayors here alternated from Francophone to Anglophone).
The last ‘traditionally Anglophone’ mayor of Montreal, from 1906-1908, was Henry Archer Ekers, one of the founders of The National Brewery (also known as the Dow Brewery), which brewed Dawes, Dow, Ekers, Boswell and Fox Head ales, and whose siege sociale still stands at 990 Notre-Dame Ouest, a prime example of Northern Art Deco industrial architecture).
Rounding out the necessary nod to diversity in the workplace, we’ve had several Irish and Scottish mayors, at least one born in Massachusetts (John Easton Mills) and more recently both our first woman mayor (Mairesse? Mayoratrix? Mayoress?) Jane Cowell-Poitras and our first ‘minority’ mayor, the effortlessly bilingual and arguably multi-cultural Michael Applebaum, culturally exotic only by the standards of the most militant variety of separatist Québécois supremacists.
Monsieur Blanchard is third in our year of four mayors, replacing the disgraced Michael Applebaum for a four month period until the next regularly scheduled election. I really hope he manages to somehow last that long without fucking up by getting named at the Charbonneau Commission, in which case it would be as a result of stuff he did several years ago but either way, yet another black eye for our fair city and further proof that the political establishment here is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
So there’s your défi Monsieur Blanchard – don’t fuck up. Keep your head down, kill people with kindness (but don’t lay it on too thick) and for the love of God – stay away from Italian restaurants.
Some assorted thoughts for our new mayor:
Point number one, unlike his predecessor, Mr. Blanchard should not propose to ‘clean up city hall’ or state, dramatically as had his predecessor, that a new leaf had been turned. Applebaum is up on 14 counts of fraud, conspiracy, accepting bribes etc. He’s retained former Tory MP Marcel Danis as legal counsel, and resigned the mayoralty ‘to focus on the case’.
Innocent people don’t typically tend to have a case to focus on. They’re innocent, after all. If the allegations against him are as spurious as he claims, why hire a top-shelf lawyer?
Put it this way – he might believe he’s innocent and that there’s a vast conspiracy against him. Word from the grapevine is that Applebaum was a jumpy character back when he was the borough mayor for Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace, several times indicating he thought various concerned citizens trying to jump-start the Empress Theatre as a community cultural centre were his ‘political enemies’.
I must have forgotten about all the political intrigue and conspiracy coursing through the halls of power in Cote-des-Neiges.
Point two would be to resist the awesome temptation of being bribed or otherwise caught up in shady real estate transactions, something I think is genetically programmed into nearly all politicians – criminals in sheep’s clothing for the most part, and this city, province and rather obviously the federal government have provided so many fantastic examples of late its difficult to imagine any other reason to get into politics in the first place.
It’s good to know all these ‘pillars’ of various communities are so concerned about the message they send to the ‘most precious resource’ they all seem to work into their photo-ops. Children? they could give a damn – kids don’t vote after all.
So there’s point three – no photo ops with old people, minorities, children or the handicapped. In fact, try not to have any photo ops at all – we want you to sit at your desk and do your job, and we don’t need a photograph to prove this point. A small video camera with a live feed is what I want, so all citizens could tune in and watch the mayor working.
Because we’ll no doubt need to keep our eyes on him.
I don’t know much about Mayor Blanchard other than that he’s a career local politician, was formerly of the former Vision Montreal (Louise Harel stepped aside so that a coalition government could be formed, though it looks like that just means supporting Marcel Coté as leader of something called cityhallmtl but I’ll talk more about this later), had worked as a political attaché in the latter years of the Doré administration, and had previously worked in publishing. More recently he’s been the head of the city’s executive council, part of Applebaum’s ‘coalition government’ initiative.
Personally, he’s old guard, but I won’t judge him too harshly. If he makes it through four months and I enjoy living here while he’s in power, I guess I’ll have little to complain about.
Mr. Applebaum and his predecessor’s story are already well-known. Applebaum has been implicated by the SQ and CEIC in shady real-estate deals while he was borough mayor of Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace. You’ll be delighted to know he’s allowed to vacation abroad despite the 14 charges hanging over his head.
Our last elected mayor is Gerald Tremblay (who received a whopping 159,000 votes in 2009, with less than 40% of citizens participating), who as you may remember stepped aside in November of last year after the heat from so much damning testimony from the Charbonneau Commission became unbearable. Keep in mind that Tremblay hasn’t been charged, just named. Perhaps he was truly not implicated, but just turned a blind eye. Maybe he had been threatened, or really naive. Who knows. The Commish has recessed for summer break.
I love the dedication and their ability to flat out do the opposite of what they earlier said they wouldn’t do, without any attempt to justify their switch. They don’t think they owe us an explanation. They never do.
Personally I don’t get it – an escort is just someone you pay to have sex with, hardly scandalous especially given it was the mayor’s money, and not that of the taxpayers of Laval.
Oh, wait… I think I see the problem now.
Back to the shit show in Montreal.
It seems that nearly all of our mayors in recent memory started with high hopes and ended their careers in one kind of scandal or another. Tremblay advocated an end to forced mergers and promised local small government and commonsense solutions. Prior to him, Pierre Bourque promised to actually deliver on civic improvement initiatives his predecessor didn’t deliver on and cut ‘big government’ waste. He committed political suicide by pushing through forced mergers with the help of the PQ, a measure which literally blew up in his face and sunk his political career. Bourque’s predecessor, Jean Doré, won in a landslide against Jean Drapeau in 1986 (along with the Montreal Citizen’s Movement) by promising to be a more people-focused and less dictatorial mayor than the former Grand Chief Drapeau.
He further promised not to get mixed up in the costly mega-projects characteristic of the Drapeau Era, instead preferring to cut waste at City Hall while developing grassroots initiatives to improve city living. He ended his two terms in office caught up in a failed real-estate mega-project (the Overdale Debacle) and was deemed an unfit leader because of an apparently lax attitude to running a tight ship. It didn’t help that he had a $300,000 window installed in his office, nor that he razed a low-rent but viable neighbourhood for condo projects that were never built and had a police force running wild beating up gays and viciously murdering minorities while turning a blind eye to the biker gangs.
Prior to Doré we have Jean Drapeau, a comparatively ‘good’ mayor in that he presided over the city’s last prolonged period of sustained development and growth. Drapeau began his thirty year career as mayor first in the mid-1950s, when he was a crusading urban reformer who won on a platform of eliminating corruption and vice (sound familiar?), largely by tearing down slums. Drapeau greenlighted expropriations for mega projects throughout his tenure, leading to the elimination of the Quartier de Mélasses (where Radio-Canada is today), Griffintown, Goose Village, a sizeable chunk of what was once Chinatown’s northern extension (where Complexe Guy-Favreau and Complexe Desjardins stand today) and what would eventually be converted into an arguably still working 1950s social housiong project, the Habitations Jeanne-Mance. He’d be defeated by Sarto Fournier in 1957 (Fournier was very well connected to Union Nationale boss and Banana Republic dictator Maurice Duplessis, the super-villain who ruled Québec before the Quiet Revolution) but would be returned to power three years later as part of the well-tempered societal modernization of Quebec and Montreal in the 1960s. Drapeau changed his campaign tone too – from now on it would be about putting Montreal on the map. He’d be greatly assisted by Liberal premier Jean Lesage and later premiers Bourassa and Lévesque, in addition to Prime Ministers Pearson and Trudeau, all of whom were very, shall we say, Montreal-focused. It’s good to have friends in high places – makes me wonder what goodies might float our way with a Montrealer as Prime Minister in less than two years…
From 1960 to 1986 Jean Drapeau was mayor and not universally liked (though, somehow, he managed to cultivate over 80% of the popular vote and faced no serious opposition during his time in office). Under his tenure the city grew and changed dramatically. Drapeau was instrumental in delivering the Métro, the modern city centre we enjoy today, Expo 67, Place des Arts, the Olympics and even the Montreal Expos baseball club. No mayor has done as much for our city before or since his reign (and at thirty years, what a reign it was).
But for all the good he did it is weighed down by his own corrupt practices. Mafia involvement in the construction of Olympic facilities and corruption within the unions were primary factors contributing to the massive cost overruns associated with the games. There are a number of apartment towers throughout this city built with concrete originally intended and ‘delivered’ to the Olympic park construction site, yet re-directed by those in the know. Drapeau was responsible for the nearly-criminal act of destroying Corrid’Art and his slash and burn style of urban redevelopment was not only inelegant but often antagonistic to the people’s interest.
Drapeau may have even ‘cooked the books’ during an election in which his opposition was eliminated after being infiltrated and broken up by the Montreal Police, rendering votes for his opponents ineligible and giving Drapeau a victory with over 90% popular support. Those were the days…
As a city, we need to decide what we want in a mayor, so that we don’t get sucked up into a pointless popularity contest that delivers nothing but more of the same. We need to establish our own metrics for judging a mayoral candidate’s chances of winning, and not fall prey to sophisticated marketing techniques that sell us yet another hands-off mayor. Perhaps most importantly, we need a mayor who fundamentally understands this city, its people, and what makes it great. We need to decide what kind of mayor our city needs, now and for the next ten years. Do we want a builder? Do we want a reformer? Do we want an architect? Do we want someone who’s politically well-connected? Do we want a renovator, a renewer or a redeveloper?
I think we all should spend a moment a think about what we want in a mayor – not just the qualities of the person but most importantly their plan for this city, whether it be growth or renewal – before we head to the polls in November. Otherwise the best we can hope for is another Drapeau, and his breed are rare these days.
But if we ask ourselves first what we want in a mayoral candidate, and define the context of the election before the candidates or media has a chance, the people ultimately manage to wrestle a bit of control over the rhetoric and could maybe make this election about something, rather than simply being the inconvenient selection of our next underwhelming mayor.
If I didn’t know better, I would swear there’s a vast conspiracy on the part of all politicians to become so utterly vile, contemptible, and repugnant to the body politic our society actually turns away from representative democracy altogether, and that such would be desirable for a small group of self-interested elites, be they corporate, fascistic, monarchical or any combination therein. I know it’s a cliched premise – we’ve seen it so many times played out in film it seems impossible, fantastical. And yet, the unbelievable fraud and corruption which has so thoroughly devastated public confidence in Canadian politicians and political parties is severe enough I wonder if it actually is so impossible. It seems these days a lot of our elected officials consider themselves above the law, above accountability and in thorough contempt of the people they’re supposed to represent and the important responsibilities they’ve been given.
I think we’ve had it; polling of late has indicated, somewhat strongly, that Harper and Marois’ days are numbered.
But that’s still a ways off, and until then we’re going to have to slog through a lot of political mud – it’s in our best interest to resist the temptation to be cynical and continue to work towards a return to peace, social responsibility and good government. Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Laval, Ottawa – so many poles of attraction for the corruption that grips and extorts our nation, our people. Ottawa is a mess; the Senate is filled with crooks. Harper’s rigid and inconsiderate PR apparatus masquerading as a legitimate government has grown tiresome – the whole party has become a bad joke that has nothing to show for seven years in reluctant power. The Charbonneau Commission continues to reveal the depth and magnitude of corruption in all levels of Quebec’s politics, with the SQ’s on-going Operation Hammer ultimately leading to Montreal’s ‘year of the four mayors’. Laval’s under trusteeship, with new information about Gilles Vaillancourt indicating he and his brother were at the heart of the some really slimy real-estate deals, where they effectively re-zoned land and hiked property taxes to force a farmer to sell his property for far below market value. Applebaum, still proclaiming his innocence mind you, resigned to fight his court case, with former Tory MP and intrepid lawyer Marcel Danis to represent him, and North America’s sixth largest city is once again without a mayor. For a while over the last few months Ontario and Quebec competed for the top-source of political chicanery, corruption charges and mayors-behaving-badly on our nation’s nightly news; our international brand has been taking a sustained beating while we air our dirty laundry, and should be cause for concern. Especially in Quebec. Especially in Toronto. For all we know that video of Rob Ford smoking crack may yet surface (Anonymous thinks they’re closing in on it), or maybe we’ll discover high ranking members of the PQ are themselves involved in real-estate fraud or union influence. Who knows – 2013 is the year of the Canadian political free-for-all; where the rules are ignored and the points don’t matter.
This weekend countless Montrealers (and doubtless tens of millions of other North Americans), will go out to the theatre to see the new Superman flick. I’m not sure which reinvention of the franchise we’re presently dealing with, but apparently our psychotic desire to see cities completely destroyed on film is fairly key to the third act as much of Metropolis is destroyed. Someone has calculated what the damage would come out to had the events depicted in the film happened in real life, and the sum is something like $2 trillion.
As an aside, aren’t you glad we live in a day and age in which we can determine the cost of damage caused to an urban environment by acts of terrorism (or their fictional equivalent, superhero duel), so as to be able to offer such a prompt response to such an odd yet telling question?
But unlike the brave denizens of Metropolis, neither Montreal, nor Quebec nor Canada has a superman en route to protect the innocent and defend the just against the rising tide of criminal activity, dishonesty and deception in this city’s halls of power. We don’t just live in a city where the lines between cops and politicians and criminals has blurred almost completely, the province and nation are infested with corruption as well. The problem of corruption is so widespread the people are more likely to give up entirely than try and fix anything. We’re having a hard enough time just understanding all the players and all the lurid details of so many dirty deals, it’s hard to figure out how we’re going to collectively fix this mess, especially since we’re losing faith in all politicians, nearly altogether and simultaneously. Day in and day out we get a clearer and clearer picture of how deep it goes and how bad it gets, and our cynicism rises; reformist politicians are considered suspect, and could very well be in danger – who knows what this criminality might lead to?
On a personal aside, I think part of the problem started more than ten years ago, when in the aftermath of 9/11 Western society casually decided to ignore the true meaning of certain words, and permitted all soldiers to be called heroes, all police officers to be deemed worthy of your undivided respect and admiration, and every politician to crown themselves as leaders, or worse still, visionaries.
What false idols have we created?
The people fell asleep at the switch of democracy, and a sorry bunch of cretins have infected participatory democracy from coast to coast to coast, making it nearly entirely useless. Legislative and executive bodies the nation-over are no longer the driving apparatus of government; it’s the committed yet thoroughly abused civil service that gets the job done (albeit to the best of their restricted abilities – if the people don’t trust government then they vote for the people who say they intend to cut taxes and eliminate services, which in turn has a profoundly negative impact on the quality of subsequent services. In this country, as in the United States, the candidates who vow to cut taxes (particularly for the wealthy) and/or reform government and/or vow to cut government waste, often win relative to the degree of distrust they place in government during their campaign. Imagine that – you could easily win an election by campaigning on a platform of making government (and yourself) less responsible to the people who are electing you. Countless Conservatives and Republicans have already done so.
And in doing so, by lowering our standards, by accepting something second-rate to manage the affairs of the nation, on the macro and micro level, we lose out. Government, nearly across the board in this country, is callously irresponsible and derisive towards the politically motivated citizens critical of their comportment. Those who give a damn are labelled extremists, those who point out what’s wrong are called traitors.
These are bad times for democracy, and so we wait for superheroes to come and make things right, often through an epically violent confrontation.
Cleansing destruction; the people seem to subconsciously desire the escapist fantasy of becoming the uber-mensch to wipe the slate of human corruption clean.
I was hopeful my instincts were off about Applebaum, but now we know he’s as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, just like so many other high-profile Canadian politicians. I suppose there was more than enough documentary evidence to suggest something was amiss at CDN-NDG borough hall (if I’m not mistaken Kristian Gravenor has been keeping a close eye on oddball real estate deals Applebaum may have played a role in), but hey, I was hopeful we had a way out of our ongoing political crisis. I wanted to believe Applebaum was going to run a tight ship and steer us out of this fraud shit storm we’ve become entangled in. I was wrong.
He’s a piece of work, suffice it to say, and has been long involved in local politics and suspect real estate deals.
Perhaps we deserve this mess. Considering less than 40% of Montrealers actually participated in the election which brought in the unmitigated political clusterfuck that is the Tremblay-Applebaum administration, and that Gerald Tremblay was elected by only 159,000 in a city of nearly 1.8 million people, perhaps we should take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we can really afford not to get involved in (at very least) casting a single vote once every four years.
We need a government that will institute Australian-styled mandatory voting at the municipal level; at least that way a new minimum standard of political involvement can be established.
What happened to our city is fairly straightforward. We elect mayors on reformist platforms, and we have high expectations for them in the beginning, and then they gradually let us down. This is the shadow cast by Jean Drapeau, a man who ruled over us for nearly 30 years. Everyone who has followed in his footsteps has been progressively less visionary, less organized, less involved in the administration and design of our city. Drapeau was a visionary (albeit a narrow-minded and dictatorial one), who ended his term in office with very low overall approval. As has every mayor since. Doré turned on the civic-mindedness electoral base that brought him to power, became embroiled in the Overdale Scandal, lost key supporters and spent money foolishly (i.e. a $300,000 window). Bourque went down because of how he poorly managed the fundamentally good idea of ‘One Island, One City’ (a position Drapeau won on in 1960), and well, Tremblay and Applebaum were both knocked out of office for their apparent involvement in the thoroughly corrupt Quebec construction industry and Montreal real-estate development market.
And so, by next week Montreal City Council will approve a new interim mayor. And then on November 3rd we’ll go to polls (who am I kidding, most of us will stay home, get stoned and listen to YYZ at half tempo…) and elect one of several ‘vedettes’ candidates we’ll likely judge with all the sincerity and seriousness of a televised serial singing or dancing competition.
2013 – Year of Star Search, Montreal Mayor edition.
We have all the stereotypes lined up: attractive young lawyer, fatso baby boomer, grumpy old man, unpopular old woman, nerd – shit we should sell tickets!
Because we clearly aren’t taking things seriously in this city.
A simple question for you to consider as I close: of the named candidates, can you tell me what sets them apart, what their over-riding vision for the city is?