by Chantal Hebert
To understand Denis Coderre’s stunning mayoral defeat at the hands of Valerie Plante, a city councillor unknown to most Montrealers only a few months ago, it is useful to turn the clock back four years to the happier 2013 night of his first and only municipal victory.
Even back then, the former federal Liberal minister was widely unloved. He took the mayor’s office with less than one in three votes. Had opposition not split three ways, Coderre might never have become mayor.
His abrasive style rather than his politics was the issue. Since most of the island was amalgamated under a single municipal administration more than a decade ago, Montreal’s mayors have hailed from the federalist side of the spectrum.
For this fall’s re-election campaign, Coderre had assembled a rainbow coalition of federalists and sovereigntists that included former Bloc QuÈbÈcois MP RÈal MÈnard and Hadrien Parizeau, the grandson of the former PQ premier.
But no matter how diversified his team, Coderre still could not stop himself from hogging the spotlight and running the city as if it were a one-man show.
For the past four years, he has been almost daily in the face of the majority of voters who did not want him in the first place. He failed to grow on enough of them to earn a second mandate.
Montrealers did not just choose a mayor with sunnier ways on Sunday; they also voted for a different set of priorities. Plante is entering the mayor’s office with a majority of councillors from her left-leaning Projet Montreal party.
Coderre’s mantra was to put the city back on its feet after the corruption scandals that had seen his two predecessors leave office in disgrace. By and large, his critics agree he accomplished that.
But lost in the whirlwind of the outgoing mayor’s pet projects was the fact that many Montrealers felt that on his watch their quality of life had worsened.
It did not help that he spent the campaign shrugging away queries about how much public money he was prepared to put behind his courtship of a professional baseball team for the city and dismissing questions about the costs/benefits of a controversial electric car race.
Plagued with permanent gridlock, dilapidated schools and a failing-to-cope public transit system, Montrealers gave the keys to city hall to a mayor and a party that promises to spend more of its time trying to make the place more livable for its citizens.
The result is a rebuttal to the city elites and its old-boys’ club. It could herald more change to come at the provincial level.
La Presse, le Devoir and the Gazette had all endorsed Coderre.
Montreal’s corporate establishment was massively behind the outgoing mayor.
Late last week, former Bloc QuÈbÈcois leader Gilles Duceppe even came out in support of his former federal foe.
This is not as unlikely an alliance as it might seem.
Plante’s election is not good news for the main sovereigntist parties or, for that matter, for the Liberals – federal and provincial – who are used to having one of their own running the show at Montreal City Hall.
The grassroots organization that defeated Coderre and his team on Sunday could help QuÈbec Solidaire wipe the PQ and its leader Jean-FranÁois LisÈe off the map of Montreal in next fall’s provincial election. It could also make it a bit easier for Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats to keep their footing in Quebec’s biggest city.
On Sunday night, Coderre said he was leaving the municipal arena. He will not sit in opposition to Plante at city hall. But he is only 54 and he has spent his entire adult life in politics. On Monday, there was already speculation that he might return to his old haunts on the federal scene.
Whether Justin Trudeau would roll out the red carpet for his former Liberal colleague is an open question.
Many Liberals still feel Coderre stabbed former leader Michael Ignatieff in the front when he quit as Quebec lieutenant and alleged the party was run from Toronto backrooms. In Quebec, Ignatieff never recovered from that burst of friendly fire.
Just last month, Coderre used his Twitter feed to dance on the coffin of the defunct Energy East pipeline project – a graceless gesture that makes him something of a toxic commodity on the national scene.
Coderre may not be finished with politics, but politics, at least at the leadership level, is probably finished with him.
Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer.
Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services