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Gérald Tremblay and the tragedy of public life in Montreal

by Henry Milner

There is something Shakespearean about the political and personal consequences of the revelations of the Charbonneau Commission. The names and pictures of officials, politicians and corporate executives have graced the front pages of the tabloids as they have been caught in the web of revelations of collusion to rig contracts with the city of Montreal. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for these people, but there is at least one important exception: former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay. His fall is the stuff of tragedy – for one public official, and even more important, for public life. As I write, Tremblay has just concluded his day in court, six months after he left office, telling his side of the story under the commissioners’ relentless cross-examination.

Tremblay appears to have won a certain measure of public sympathy, but it will not put back the pieces of his shattered career. Nothing will change the fact that between 2001 and 2012 he was at the top of an administration under which contracts went out to favoured construction and engineering companies. The simple thing is to look no further than the Mayor and his party, Union Montreal, which won a majority on City Council in 2001, 2005 and 2009. But if we do look further, and deeper, we find a much more complex story.


The city of Montreal was ruled for many years by one man, Jean Drapeau. In the 1970s a left-wing opposition to the Drapeau administration was formed. The Rassemblement des Citoyens de Montréal (RCM) or Montreal Citizens’ Movement won power in 1986, with labour lawyer Jean Doré elected mayor. No one could accuse this collection of trade unionists, community activists, left-wing Péquistes and progressive intellectuals, which won a second term in 1990, of being a tool of developers and speculators. Beyond ideological incompatibility with developer interests, elected RCM politicians’ decisions were circumscribed by an active grassroots membership that scrutinized their activities at every turn.

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About the Author

Henry Milner
Henry Milner is co-publisher of Inroads and a political scientist at the Université de Montréal.


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