Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre meets with the Montreal Gazette editorial board on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, ahead of the Nov. 5 municipal election. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
If you’re happy with the way things are going in Montreal, stick with Denis Coderre.
That’s the message the incumbent mayor kept returning to during a meeting with the Montreal Gazette editorial board Wednesday. And it’s the message he wants to leave with Montrealers before they head to the ballot box on Sunday to decide between himself and Projet Montréal Leader Valérie Plante.
Montreal has come a long way in the last four years, to be sure. When Coderre arrived in office, he was the fourth person to lead the city in just over a year. The city stank so badly of corruption that Montreal’s international reputation was in the dumps.
“People avoided us because we were from Montreal,” Coderre recalled.
Coderre quickly set up the Bureau de l’inspecteur général to act as a watchdog on public contracts, and began the work of burnishing Montreal’s good name on the international stage.
Four years later, there is no doubt Montreal is in a groove. The unemployment rate is at the lowest point in 30 years; the number of direct international flights to global capitals like Shanghai have more than doubled; the city is an Artificial Intelligence hub; it has gained entrance to the prestigious C40, an influential group of cities including Chicago and Paris that are leading the charge on issues like fighting climate change; and it is in talk to get a major-league baseball team back.
Perhaps most notably, Montreal has recently been granted “metropolis” status after Coderre led negotiations with the Quebec government. This provides new powers on housing policy or economic development, and forces the province to adopt a “Montreal reflex” to consider the impact of any legislation on the city.
These are undoubtedly accomplishments Coderre deserves credit for. Even Plante acknowledges setting up the Bureau de l’inspecteur général as a smart move and has herself made campaign promises leveraging Montreal’s new status. But why then are the polls showing a dead heat between Coderre and Plante in the final days of the campaign, with her seeming to have the momentum?
Certainly, incumbents have records to run on and mistakes to answer for that their rivals don’t. But hesitation on voting Coderre seems to come down to style.
Coderre has often been knocked for having an authoritarian streak, for failing to consult and for rejecting criticism. He calls it getting the job done.
“Some people may interpret that as arrogance. But I call it determination,” he said. “It’s not a personality contest, it’s a matter of efficiency… If you want to be relevant and be part of it, you have to have the right people in the right places,”
Some have grumbled Coderre has been too focused on marquee projects rather than bread-and-butter municipal issues. He says everything he does is for Montrealers.
“Every time we’re doing something, it’s not just ‘Oh, this is the international part’ or ‘Oh, it’s for the tourists,’” he said. “It’s for the people here.”
Coderre has also been criticized for a lack of transparency, most recently over the success of the ePrix electric car race held last summer. After months of saying the breakdown of how many tickets were sold versus given away would not be tabulated before Nov. 5, on Wednesday he said it’s up to the organizers to release the information.
Lo and behold, while the editorial board interview was still going on, organizers did just that, revealing that of 45,000 spectators, 20,000 had received free tickets to an event the city is backstopping with a $10-million line of credit.
There is no doubt Coderre is a masterful politician, which some voters may see as an asset and others as a turnoff. But in his view, having a good relationship with cabinet ministers, fellow mayors or those who call the shots in the baseball league, for instance, is crucial to achieving Montreal’s goals.
“If you want the Expo’s back, you need the political will to do so,” he said.
Plante has called Coderre a good “transition” mayor after some of Montreal’s “darkest days.” She said she is the candidate to now make Montreal more livable and get it moving again.
But Coderre makes the case that Montreal has already turned away from its shady past and experienced hands are needed on the wheel as the city coasts toward an “amazing” future.
“This is not a transition; this is the beginning of a great transformation,” Coderre said. “We don’t want to start from scratch.”
So which is it, Montrealers, full steam ahead or a change of course?
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