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Montreal's mascot mayor was at it again last week, this time donning his Minions best to descend into the bowels of his city's sewer system and remind everybody who's the boss.

Granted it was a massive damage control exercise as Denis Coderre aimed to put a friendlier spin on the big stink that has garnered Montreal more global attention than at any time since the Olympics. But his descent underground to show why needed repairs to dilapidated sewer pipes forced the city to dump 4.9 billion litres of untreated waste water into the St. Lawrence River was entirely in keeping with the style Mr. Coderre has cultivated as mayor.

Mr. Coderre's public appearances almost invariably involve props and a uniform. There is nothing he won't do for a photo op, no matter how ridiculous he looks doing it. He donned his tightest tennis whites to hit the ball with Milos Raonic at the Rogers Cup. An oversized Canadiens jersey is a staple of his wardrobe. He is regularly seen out and about in Expos garb, a reminder of his quixotic determination to return major league baseball to his city.

Before he outdid himself with last week's sewer suit, the photo of Mr. Coderre that most made the rounds was of him in a safety vest and hard hat wielding a jackhammer to destroy (quite illegally) a concrete slab Canada Post had installed for one of its hated community mailboxes. The image showed the rest of the country how Montreal's uber-populist mayor operates.

It was supremely rich for Mr. Coderre to accuse the former Conservative government of "just playing politics to score cheap political points" when it last month ordered the mayor to postpone his massive sewage dump pending a federal report on its environmental impact.

Ottawa may have been playing politics, but its intervention had the salutary effect of shedding light on an exercise Mr. Coderre had hoped to complete in the dark of night with a minimum of public scrutiny or scientific follow-up. The delay forced the mayor to be more transparent as Ottawa ordered more monitoring, clean-up and post-dump water quality testing.

Flushgate, as it is known, exposed for the masses what many Montrealers already know. The mayor has a troubling tendency to act without consultation and bulldoze over anyone who questions him in a flurry of demagogical insults. Behind the happy warrior in an Expos hat is an old-style politician on a power trip whose clownish stunts aim to distract voters from what really matters.

Architecture maven Phyllis Lambert has accused Mr. Coderre of taking Montreal "back to the 1980s" with his "willy-nilly" approach to planning and seeming indifference to the city's rich 19th-century heritage. Only post-announcement uproars have forced the Coderre administration to halt or revise plans to raze historic buildings or art installations.

If Mr. Coderre seems at odds with the image of sophisticated charm that Montreal projects in its tourism ads, it's because he hails from a working-class neighbourhood of ugly strip malls and basic bungalows that is much more representative of the city than its elegant old quarter or the Golden Square Mile. The man-of-the-people shtick works like a charm among this Coderre Nation.

It helps Mr. Coderre that his only opposition at City Hall is comprised of a bunch of eco-zealots who have turned the one borough they control into an economic shell, as their anti-car by-laws and red tape lead countless businesses to close or move out of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. After years of corruption under previous municipal administrations, Mr. Coderre can't not seem like an improvement.

Still, the credit for cleaning up the sewage at City Hall mainly lies with the provincial government, which adopted new laws to oversee the granting of municipal contracts. Quebec City has also passed legislation that enables Montreal to finally tackle burdensome employee compensation and pension costs, providing budgetary breathing room for Mr. Coderre.

But the public works projects remain a nightmare for Montrealers, continually taking longer and costing more than promised. Montreal still has the worst roads of any major Canadian city even though it spends twice as much per kilometre as Toronto to maintain them.

The mayor hopes Montrealers won't dwell on the problems by dangling an array of baubles, such as a new outdoor concert venue on Île Saint-Hélène. He's invited the Pope for the city's 375th birthday in 2017 – just in time for the next election.

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