After his first 100 days in office, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has received his grades from the public – a near-unanimous A-plus, a rare feat in an era where a politician is everyone's favourite whipping boy.
"With me, it will be low expectations, high delivery," the former Liberal MP used to say. And indeed, his first weeks in the job came as a pleasant surprise, because he had been seriously underestimated. The chattering classes snubbed him, considering him too much of a populist, not refined enough, to represent Montreal. The business community didn't want a recycled career politician in charge and delegated one of their own, managing consultant Marcel Côté, to run against him – but failed miserably.
Since the election, though, Mr. Coderre has surprised them all with his relentless energy, his hands-on management style and his quick decision-making – a strong contrast with former mayor Gérald Tremblay, an indecisive politician who let the city slide into the dark hole, apparently without noticing what was happening.
Mr. Coderre's first move was to act against corruption. For the new post of inspector-general, which will have sweeping powers to supervise all contracts and financial operations, he chose Denis Gallant, a tough former Crown prosecutor at the anti-corruption Charbonneau commission, who is widely seen as the ideal man for the job. For the equally crucial post of general manager, he hired Alain Marcoux, the well-regarded former top manager of Quebec City.
Contrary to the business community's ill-inspired prejudices against professional politicians, it helped that Mr. Coderre knew all the ins and outs of the tricky art of politics. He has been working with other Quebec mayors to build leverage with other levels of government, and quietly reinforced the city's leadership over the larger Montreal area.
He was among the first public personalities to denounce the Parti Québécois's secular charter, which he has vowed to fight by every means – while still forging a good working relationship with the province. When the PQ government announced (on the eve of an election campaign that's targeting voters outside Montreal) that Quebec City would receive 21/2 times more money than Montreal for infrastructure, Mr. Coderre didn't make a scene. Placidly but resolutely, he told reporters "No, this is not enough," but allowed that "it is a basis for negotiation."
In some cases, he's done even more than what could have been expected. He asked Mr. Côté, his ex-rival for mayor, to act as a special adviser on governance. The non-paying job was gracefully accepted by Mr Côté.
Then, Mr. Coderre asked Richard Bergeron, another contender for the mayorship who now sits on city council as head of the opposition party, to mastermind an important project: the covering of a section of the Ville-Marie Expressway that is often described as an open wound in Old Montreal. Mr. Bergeron, a professional urban planner and a long-time proponent of the project, accepted enthusiastically. (Of course, Mr. Coderre's decision can also be seen as an effort to silence his most vocal opponent, but Mr. Bergeron is no pushover.)
In just 100 days, Mr. Coderre has shown the basic stuff of leadership: He's confident enough to surround himself with strong people, brave enough to make difficult decisions without dithering and capable enough to bring people to work together. After years of despairing about their city, Montrealers are relieved and happy, at least for the moment.