Most Canadian mayors enjoy breaking ground on new public installations. Montreal's mayor decided this week to break the installation instead.
With the rat-a-tat-tat of a jackhammer, Denis Coderre took a drill to a piece of Canada Post property and dug himself into a controversy in the process.
Mr. Coderre was angry over the Crown corporation's decision this week to pour a concrete base in a park for a future community mailbox. Like several mayors across Canada, he opposes the decision to phase out home mail delivery and replace it with collective "superboxes."
After taxing Canada Post with "arrogance" and calling its expressions of openness "b.s." (he dispensed with the abbreviation in French), the mayor donned a hard hat and work boots Thursday and, with cameras rolling, went to work on the concrete. Soon, he was being called Denis (Jackhammer) Coderre.
Opinion was divided Friday on whether the populist mayor and former federal MP was a hero or zero for the stunt. Many said Mr. Coderre, who has a knack for grabbing attention, took a justifiably tough stand. A meme of the drill-wielding mayor started to circulate online featuring scenes of him applying the jackhammer to other unpopular installations like the Champlain Bridge and Olympic Stadium.
The problem, however, is that Mr. Coderre's bit of DIY-destruction appears to be illegal.
The Canada Post Corporation Act gives the agency the right to install mail-carrying receptacles "in any public place." Constitutionally, the federal agency has primacy over lower jurisdictions such as cities. "[The mayor] clearly contravened the regulations. He doesn't have any right under the law to just go and jackhammer it," said John Mascarin, an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and municipal law specialist. "It was excellent public relations – he came across as combative and sticking up for his residents. But I think it was an illegal act."
Canada Post on Friday refused to say whether it would take action against the mayor. It declined requests for an interview and issued a statement saying it was "always willing to work with municipalities" to find the "best locations" for its community mailboxes.
"Our goal is to find sites that are safe, accessible and convenient for the households in each neighbourhood," the Crown corporation said.
Others say the mayor's gesture could encourage citizen vandalism on the mailboxes. The head of Montreal's firefighters' union, which has been embroiled in conflicts with the city over vandalism on city property, said a municipal employee who did the same thing as the mayor would be hauled before a disciplinary board.
Mr. Coderre insisted Friday his gesture on the concrete foundation at the entrance of a suburban nature park was both symbolic and political, and he succeeded in forcing the issue during the election campaign. He says he wants the federal leaders to take a stand during the race.
Both the Liberals and NDP are on record as saying they would halt the withdrawal of door-to-door delivery to Canada. The NDP says it will reinstate delivery to communities already affected by cuts.
Mr. Coderre's move highlighted an issue that has riled Canadian mayors and angered citizens across the country. It could turn into a hot-button topic during the federal campaign in Quebec, where a group of mayors including Mr. Coderre is joining a legal challenge to halt the community mailboxes.
Peter Trent, who represents the 13 suburban municipalities on the Island of Montreal, says Mr. Coderre's gesture underscores mayors' real frustration over the attitude not only of Canada Post, but the Tory government.
"The federal government has obviously turned a blind eye to Canada Post doing what it wants. To me, they're both equally guilty of the same arrogance," said Mr. Trent, mayor of Westmount. "The federal government tolerates this kind of arrogance. It should have put its foot down and said that Canada Post can't make decisions by diktat."