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Montreal’s mayor loves his job – a little too much

Not since Jean Drapeau has a Montreal mayor so dominated civic life. Denis Coderre is everywhere, all the time. He's like his own cable news network. He's always on, talking at you, telling you why he's right, everyone else is wrong and if you don't like it, you can take a hike.

If loving one's job was the sole criterion for getting to keep it, then Montreal's 44th mayor would deserve to be re-elected in a landslide on Nov. 5. But Mr. Coderre, who ended up in municipal politics mainly because his federal prospects dimmed so significantly when Justin Trudeau took over the Liberal Party of Canada, seems to love his current job just a bit too much for comfort.

It's like he's on the power trip he's dreamed of all his life, throwing his weight around like he owns the place. If Denis – and everyone calls him Denis – thinks there's political mileage to be squeezed out of taking on Canada Post, there is no rule of decorum or law that is going to stop him. We learned that when the mayor took a jackhammer to the concrete slab that was to serve as the base for a super mailbox and proceeded to pound it into smithereens.

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If the mayor thinks he can boost his green credentials by having the city host an electric-car race, then nothing is going to stop him from opening the municipal spigots and fencing off entire kilometres of downtown Montreal for nearly a month in midsummer without consulting the residents, businesses or commuters inconvenienced by this electric headache. Some residents did get free tickets to the race – not because they wanted them, but because the mayor needed to fill the stands. Montrealers learned last week that a full accounting of how much July's Formula E race ended up costing taxpayers won't be available before election day. That's Denis.

When La Presse reveals that the greener-than-thou mayor owns two gas-guzzling SUVs, Mr. Coderre complains of journalists crossing the line into his personal life. When a police officer tries to guide a glad-handing mayor out of the security corridor he's blocking at a crowded public festival, he tells the officer to keep her hands to herself and snaps: "You work for me!" When the mayor wonders how a La Presse journalist got wind of a traffic ticket he had received several years earlier, Mr. Mayor simply calls up the chief of police to ask.

At least Montrealers have been spared the endless corruption scandals that erupted under Mr. Coderre's immediate predecessors. The current mayor deserves somewhere between zero and some credit for that. The scrutiny of a long public inquiry and police investigation – which yielded eight more arrests just last week – seems to have made municipal politics a no-go zone for crooked politicians, at least for now.

City Hall has run fairly smoothly, by Montreal standards, under Mr. Coderre. But executive committee chair Pierre Desrochers, not the mayor, has been mainly responsible for budgetary and operational matters in the Coderre administration. He's not running for re-election, so Mr. Coderre will need to find a new manager at least as competent to oversee day-to-day operations. The mayor prefers to be out and about the people rather than making the numbers work.

The municipal election campaign that got under way on Friday promises to be a snoozer, unlike in 2013, when a wide-open race made for an unpredictable outcome. Mr. Coderre has been working every seniors residence, folk dance festival and bridge club ever since, so he begins this campaign with a Denis-sized advantage over his lesser-known rivals.

Mr. Coderre is a political giant next to Valérie Plante, the earnest leader of the environmentalist Projet Montréal party, and Jean Fortier, a bland former executive committee chair who is running under the Coalition Montréal banner. Neither pretender to the mayor's job has anywhere near Mr. Coderre's name recognition, skills as a retail politician or sheer will to win.

At this point, the question is not whether Mr. Coderre will win but by how much. His Équipe Denis Coderre party is aiming for two-thirds of the 65 seats on city council, which would enable Mr. Coderre to centralize power like no mayor since, well, Jean Drapeau.

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It was the latter who said the 1976 Olympics could no more run a deficit than a man could have a baby. So, maybe there is some hope for Ms. Plante or Mr. Fortier.

Video: Archeologists dig for artifacts at site of old parliament in Montreal (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More

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