Liberal MP Denis Coderre is finally entering the race to lead Montreal and try to clean up a massive corruption scandal at City Hall, a move that will open up his seat to one of the most interesting by-elections in recent history.
Mr. Coderre is the front-runner in the Montreal mayoral race, according to the most recent poll, although the municipal election is nearly six months away and more candidates could still enter the fray.
He brings widespread recognition to his bid – Mr. Coderre is a ubiquitous presence in the Quebec media and on social networks – although it remains to be seen whether he can effectively transition from federal to municipal politics and convince cynical Montreal voters that he can clean up the city. Originally known as a political organizer for the federal Liberals, Mr. Coderre became an MP in 1997 and was a minister in the Chrétien and Martin governments, never hiding his leadership ambitions.
He is set to officially enter the mayoral race on Thursday morning as the city tries to dig its way out of a debilitating corruption scandal. He will announce his candidacy at a news conference in front of City Hall, a building that has become a symbol for a system of bribery, colluding engineering firms, Mafia-backed construction companies, shoddy infrastructure jobs and corrupt city officials.
Mr. Coderre would be the first big-name challenger for a job that has attracted few marquee figures. Montreal’s business community had approached several high-profile business, political and cultural figures, among them former Grand Prix boss Normand Legault, former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Fortier and former newspaper publisher Lise Bissonnette. None expressed interest in the job.
The Montreal board of trade went so far as to post a faux want ad seeking a mayor whose qualities include “unfailing determination, integrity, leadership and management skills.”
“The mayoralty of Montreal right now is facing a crisis of governance,” Michel Leblanc, head of the business group, said in an interview. “The link of trust between citizens, public institutions and the mayoralty has been very badly damaged.”
The November vote will be crucial in rebuilding confidence in Montreal’s highest office, he said. He has met Mr. Coderre, but the Liberal MP has yet to present his vision for the city.
“Mr. Coderre still hasn’t explained what he wants to do,” Mr. Leblanc said.
A CROP poll published Wednesday placed Mr. Coderre in first place in a race against his two declared rivals, city hall opposition leaders Richard Bergeron and Louise Harel.
Still, Mr. Coderre’s support remains soft. Pulling in only 33 per cent of voter support, his candidacy appears to be generating only moderate enthusiasm. Youri Rivest, vice-president at CROP, said Mr. Coderre’s strongest asset may be that he’s the first fresh face to appear on Montreal’s municipal scene.
“It’s not Coderre-mania, but at least he’s a new player,” Mr. Rivest said.
Mr. Coderre’s exit from the House of Commons will force a by-election in the federal riding of Bourassa, which he first won for the Liberals in the 1997 general election. The race will showcase a faceoff between Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who are both Montreal Island MPs and will be engaged in a battle for Quebec seats in the 2015 general election.
The Liberal Party and the NDP are planning to hold open nominations in Bourassa, which borders Mr. Trudeau’s riding of Papineau and resisted joining the NDP Orange Wave in the last general election.
The NDP is portraying itself as the underdog in the race, calling Bourassa a “Liberal stronghold.”
“Well don’t forget it’s a strong Liberal riding, it’s the Liberals’ race to lose,” Mr. Mulcair told The Globe and Mail.
“We’re going to make sure that we recruit a high-calibre candidate who can put on a tremendous fight and put all of our energy and resources behind that.”
The Liberals, meanwhile, are hoping that the by-election will showcase Mr. Trudeau’s ability to win seats in Quebec. Still, Liberals insisted that it can sometimes be hard for parties to hold on to seats in by-elections after the departure of a highly visible MP such as Mr. Coderre.
“That dynamic is always tricky,” a Liberal strategist said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s going to be tough.”
Mr. Coderre is not expected to resign his seat immediately; he wants to deal with a few final constituency files. Still, Liberals expect that he will leave either later this month or in early June.