Montrealers turned to a veteran federal politician with a populist touch to lead the city into a critical era of rebuilding, sending Denis Coderre to city hall as mayor but ensuring he will face strong opposition on city council.
Mr. Coderre, a former cabinet minister and six-term Liberal MP, picked up nearly 32 per cent of the vote with most polls reporting in the Sunday vote. He was five percentage points ahead of his two nearest rivals, lawyer Mélanie Joly and city councillor Richard Bergeron.
In his victory speech, Mr. Coderre pledged to restore Montreal’s footing and a reputation scarred by scandal in recent years.
“Montreal will be an honest city,” Mr. Coderre told supporters in his victory speech. The city was at a crossroads, he said, and he would show leadership to get it back on its feet.
“We are at the crossroads right now, and I will be the mayor of all Montrealers,” Mr. Coderre said.
While Mr. Coderre secured the mayoralty, his party failed to obtain a majority of council seats to enable him to govern easily and carry out his administration’s agenda.
He was put on notice Sunday that he won’t have it easy. The opposition Projet Montréal party, which has solid roots in the city, gained in strength in Sunday’s vote and has a beefed-up presence on council, forming the official opposition.
And Ms. Joly, who came out of nowhere to place second in the race, told supporters she would remain active in city politics and be a “watchdog” to ensure Montreal didn’t return to the old ways at city hall. She did not earn a seat on city council.
“The results of the vote demonstrate that the population of Montreal didn’t want to give a blank cheque to Denis Coderre,” Ms. Joly said.
Of all the elections Sunday in 1,100 cities and towns across the province, few featured change as drastic as in Laval. The party that controlled that suburb for decades was recently dissolved and the 23-year mayor was deposed and slapped with gangsterism charges.
This time the people of Laval picked a police officer. Like Coderre, and like countless other candidates across the province, retired cop Marc Demers promised a cleanup at city hall.
Montrealers hoped Sunday’s vote would help them turn the page on an annus horribilis in municipal politics. Montrealers lost two mayors to resignation in the past year and were treated to endless disclosures of scandal linked to corruption and illegal party fundraising.
All four main candidates for mayor promised anti-corruption measures and a renewal of public trust if elected. But Mr. Coderre, 50, came to the race with the high profile and political polish of a seasoned politician. He took a quick lead in public-opinion polls and overcame stumbles late in his campaign, when one of his party’s candidates stepped down amid bribery allegations and another came under a cloud for his past associations with figures prominently featured at the Charbonneau corruption probe.
Mr. Coderre ran an old-style campaign in the image of his popular profile, heavy on handshaking and fast-talking quips. Trading on his political experience, he pledged to be a firm leader who would stand up to higher levels of government in Quebec City and Ottawa.
Ms. Joly proved to be the surprise of the campaign, starting out as a complete unknown. But the 34-year-old lawyer, Oxford University graduate and public-relations executive surged in polling as Montrealers saw her as an anti-politician and fresh face in politics. Ms. Joly was active in Justin Trudeau’s campaign for the federal Liberal leadership and she got the support of Mr. Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre, for her mayoralty bid. Ms. Joly says she was also mentored by former Parti Québécois premier Lucien Bouchard when the two worked together at a Montreal law firm.
Marcel Côté, a well-regarded economist whose candidacy was favoured by Montreal’s business community, was in fourth place in the race at 10:45 p.m., with only 12.8 per cent of the vote.
The new mayor’s top priority may be restoring the tattered state of public confidence, but it is not the only issue. Montreal continues to be plagued by crumbling infrastructure. Pensions for city employees, already the fastest-growing item in city spending, gobble up more than 10 per cent of the city budget. And the new mayor will be called upon to bolster Montreal’s political clout when it comes to negotiating with the provincial government, something that has been lacking.
One of the first challenges for the mayor is likely to be city hall’s response to the highly contentious Quebec Charter of Values, which the minority PQ government of Pauline Marois has been promising to table this fall. All four mayoralty candidates pronounced themselves against it, while Mr. Coderre stated he would challenge the law in court.
With a report from The Canadian Press