Despite relatively low turnout at the polls, a smaller than expected victory margin and the lack of a majority of council seats, new Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has at least one asset: He’s starting with low expectations, and if he turns out to be a sensible and efficient mayor, people will be pleasantly surprised. He actually doesn’t mind being underestimated: “Low expectations, high delivery,” he likes to say, quoting his mentor Jean Chrétien, a man who became a successful prime minister against the odds.
Mr. Coderre, a former Liberal MP, is indeed the spiritual son of Jean Chrétien, with whom he shares a populist style, a pragmatic view of politics and boundless energy. His stint as secretary of state for amateur sports was so productive that he was later elevated to cabinet as immigration minister. But his federal political career began to wane after Mr. Chrétien’s departure.
Monday, in an opinion piece published in La Presse, former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, who has known Mr. Coderre since he was his political science student at the Université de Montréal, noted that those who dismiss Mr. Coderre as just another traditional politician are wrong. Beyond his image as a political animal, Mr. Dion wrote, the new mayor is a “cultured” and “cosmopolitan” man who’s perfectly “able to master complex questions” and often surprised civil servants and other parliamentarians by his decisiveness and his knowledge of the issues.
The new mayor will certainly have a lot on his plate. The city urgently needs to clean up its management, which has been tainted by years of corruption – a system that over the years may have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The actuarial deficit of the municipal employees’ pension fund has reached the astronomical sum of $2.5-billion, which raises the prospect of explosive negotiations with the city’s notoriously rebellious unions.
The mayor also faces difficult negotiations with the federal government about a replacement for the Champlain Bridge, the main link between the Island of Montreal and the South Shore. One among several bones of contention will be Ottawa’s insistence on toll charges.
Moreover, Montreal must regain its autonomy from the provincial government, which treats the province’s largest city – which happens to be its economic centre and its only cosmopolitan hub – as just another administrative region.
It will not be a stumbling block for the new mayor that his team finds itself six seats short of the 33 required for a majority in council. Apart from the left-leaning, eco-activist Projet Montréal, which will form a strong and aggressive opposition, Mr. Coderre will easily recruit allies among the independent councillors and the members of the coalitions run by mayorship contenders Mélanie Joly and Marcel Côté.
These coalitions, including Mr. Coderre’s own team, are far from political parties – more like loose regroupings with no party line. Mr. Coderre hinted Tuesday that he might dissolve his team, which will make it even easier to form the “open, inclusive administration” he’s promised.
And finally, Mr. Coderre has one more reason to find solace in his situation: All he has to do is to look at what’s happening in Toronto.