The legacy of former Montreal mayor Jean Doré

Montreal was significantly reshaped for the better thanks to policies and plans enacted by the late Doré and his MCM party from ’86 to ’94. He deserves greater recognition.

Jean Doré 3 (640x441)
Jean Doré circa 1982. Photo by André Viau
Even as death waited around the corner to collect Jean Doré, the former Montreal mayor was granting media interviews last fall to discuss what his administration had accomplished in eight years in office 20 years earlier. Bald from chemotherapy, his trademark moustache gone, Doré still exhibited the same enthusiasm and energy that marked his political career. Despite the cancer that would claim his last breath on Monday, just a week ago he managed to cross “floatplane fishing” from his bucket list as he flew to an isolated lake north of la Tuque with daughter Amélie and longtime friend Gilles Duceppe.

Mayor of a city of more than a million people (pre-amalgamation), successor to an autocrat who ruled like an emperor for nearly 30 years, Doré led Montreal into the modern democratic era, opening the doors of city hall that had literally been sealed shut to the public by his majesty Jean Drapeau.

Bike paths, Accès Montréal offices, decentralized boroughs, the Biodome, public consultation, modern urban planning and a professional civil service, preservation of Mount Royal, expanded public housing … all these are legacies of his Montreal Citizens Movement administration. Yet until last fall, Doré’s Wikipedia entry was barely a stub.

The only recognition of his contribution was a small beach on Île Notre-Dame — a pet project informally known as Doré Beach after it was opened in 1990 — which was formally baptized Plage Jean-Doré just last fall, after the pancreatic cancer that would inevitably kill him had become public knowledge.

Talking about his Wikipedia entry, Doré was clearly frustrated.  “What the fuck did he do? Nobody knows,” he cracked in an interview with The Gazette’s veteran city hall reporter Linda Gyulai last November.


After eight years in the mayor’s office at Montreal city hall, Jean Doré has lost little of his enthusiasm as he enters his fourth election race. Sitting at a small conference table in  his sparse fourth-floor office — far from the luxury suite some believe it is — Doré takes off his jacket and tackles a series of personal questions with the same energy and detail he uses when asked about development or the city’s debt.

Doré’s excited about a series of public debates — one to be televised — with politicians seeking to unseat the Montreal Citizens Movement (MCM) and its mayor from city hall. His hands in constant motion as he effortlessly spews out facts and arguments, the series of interviews he’s granting journalists are like sparring sessions as he gears up for the toughest political boxing match he has had to face since taking power.

— The MCM’s Jean Doré seeks third mandate

Peter Wheeland, Hour, Oct. 13, 1994


Doré lost that match, badly, to Pierre Bourque, whose Vision Montreal party took 47 per cent of the vote but 80 per cent of the council seats. An attempted comeback in 1998 with Team Montreal fared much worse, with the former mayor attracting just 10.3 per cent of the ballots cast. That was also the last election for the MCM which — under its new leader, Michel Prescot — earned just 14 per cent of the vote and four seats on council.

You can’t talk about Doré without talking about the MCM because — in sharp contrast to Drapeau, Bourque, Gerald Tremblay and Denis Coderre — he was a mayor who served his party rather than a politician who formed a party to serve his own electoral interests. The MCM platform was thick with policies that had been developed over 20 years in collaboration with community activists and urban planners, discussed and reshaped by grassroots party members in local associations and voted on by delegates at congresses where the only sure thing was that the debate would be impassioned.

It was a platform built by a team and implemented by the team that surrounded Doré during two terms of office, including legendary characters like executive committee chairman Michael (Micky) Fainstat, whose integrity would never suffer the indignity of corruption scandals that marked predecessors like Drapeau’s Gérard Niding or successors like Tremblay’s Frank Zampino.

As such, Doré’s legacy more properly belongs to the party, but he was a strong captain of the MCM team as his administration introduced a raft of democratic reforms including public question period at city council and an independent public consultation office for important city projects. For some MCM members and councillors, however, the pace and depth of those changes were disappointing, resulting in some defections from a handful of prominent councillors, including Sam Boskey in NDG and Marvin Rotrand in Snowdon.

Doré, however, saw the reforms as part of an evolving continuum. On the eve of the 1994 election, he told me one of his biggest concerns was to protect the democratic and decentralization reforms the MCM had introduced, especially the freshly created comités conseils d’arrondissements — borough councils where local decisions were debated in public. “When I’ll have finished the job, the CCAs will be cemented into the (city) charter …. I don’t want to see any steps backward from the democratic gains we’ve put in place.”

(That wish was granted eventually despite his electoral loss, but recent changes in city hall rules are chipping away at another of the MCM’s innovations, public question period.)


Doré had his faults, of course. Because he knew so much about the intricacies of city policies and operations, he often came across as a cold technocrat as he rapidly explained in sometimes painful detail the history of this or that decision. And his disdain for populist politics made him blind to key optics, like the time in July 1987 that he decided to stay at his summer chalet retreat in the Laurentians as flash-flooding turned the Décarie Expressway into a concrete urban river. He had little patience for dissidents like Rotrand and Boskey and he ignored opposition from anglo Montreal when he got city council to push through a motion changing the name of Dorchester Blvd. to honour his mentor, former Quebec premier René Lévesque, after his death in 1987.

But Montreal in 2015 has been significantly reshaped thanks to policies and plans first put into place by Doré and the MCM from 1986 to 1994, from the first bike path on Rachel to the first reserved bus lane on Pie-IX. Modern urban plans have put the brakes on piecemeal development and (believe it or not) reduced opportunities for corruption.

Maybe he didn’t go far enough, fast enough for some critics, but most of what Doré did build is still here two decades later, flourishing despite successive administrations that were either more concerned with plants than people or too blind to see a growing culture of corruption that was sapping the city’s finances and profoundly staining its reputation.

Life may be a beach, but Jean Doré was a key architect of modern Montreal and he led a council untainted by accusations of avarice or malfeasance. He deserves greater recognition than a plaque pointing to a mound of trucked-in sand on an artificial pond in Parc Jean-Drapeau. ■
Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.