Time to put the ’Coderre filter’ to the test

Montreal voters stuck with the devil they knew
Denis Coderre celebrates as his wife, Chantale Renaud, looks on after winning the mayoral election Sunday, November 3, 2013 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Ryan Remiorz/CP

Just over a week before Denis Coderre was elected mayor of Montreal, the former Liberal MP gave an interview to La Presse’s Daphné Cameron. As per usual, Coderre spoke in a flurry of mostly meaningless clichés and truisms. (“I’m not married to a political party.” “I don’t assume people are guilty by association.”)

Among the clichés was this gem: Coderre’s roster of candidates, he said, were beacons of integrity in part because they passed the “Coderre filter.” The filtre Coderre came in handy, Coderre said, when vetting the 24 candidates from Union Montréal, the erstwhile municipal party that, at the very least, stood idly by as corruption took hold of the city.

“I had lawyers, there were questionnaires to fill out, interviews and after, there was the Coderre filter. I looked at them in the eye and I spoke to them,” Coderre explained, presumably with a straight face.

It took all of six days for La Presse to show the gaping hole in the Coderre filter. On Halloween, the paper revealed how Michel Bissonnet, Coderre’s star candidate in the eastern Montreal borough of St. Leonard, was at a birthday party organized by Montreal construction magnate Paolo Catania in the mid-2000s. Catania was arrested in May 2012 for allegedly cooking up a sweetheart land deal with former Montreal executive committee president Frank Zampino. Also at the party: Luc Leclerc, a municipal engineer who admitted to taking bribes from the owners of various construction companies—including Nicolo Milioto, who was also in attendance.

In short, Bissonnet is everything wrong with Montreal politics. Not guilty of anything, per se, but just the type of old-world, back-slapping politician the city desperately needs less of.

So what did Coderre do? Not a thing. Bissonnet remained on the slate, and Coderre himself plowed through the ensuing mini-crisis unbowed, filter be damned. And here’s the flabbergasting thing: Montrealers rewarded the pair with the keys to the city. Coderre is now mayor and Bissonnet, freshly re-elected, will in all likelihood retake his position on the city’s executive commission.

It’s frankly hard to believe. For the last three months, Montrealers haven’t missed an opportunity to say how mad they are and how they aren’t going to take it anymore. Poll after poll said corruption was the No. 1 issue on voters’ minds leading up to election day. The collective outrage, the thinking went, would fulminate the mother of what political operatives call the “f–k-off vote,” sweeping the inertia from office and upending Montreal’s scandal-plagued status quo.

Instead, what we saw yesterday was essentially a repeat of the 2009 election: noisy campaign, low voter turnout (42 per cent) and the triumph of the status quo candidate by way of a giant, partisan get-out-the-vote operation.

Coderre has a few good ideas. He plans to create the position of inspector-general, to investigate the public tendering process and report to council. In recruiting candidates like Anie Samson, the dynamic (and nationalist) borough mayor of Villeray-Parc Extension, he has shown a certain outside-the-box thinking atypical of doctrinaire federalist politicians of his vintage. And Coderre was the staunchest of the four mayoral candidates in his opposition to the Parti Québécois’s so-called charter of Quebec values. It’s also worth noting that, Bissonnet aside, many of Coderre’s Union Montréal candidates bit the dust.

Yet his election is an indication of how Montreal’s collective cynicism has seemingly pounded people into indifference. Montreal is difficult to govern at the best of times, which certainly isn’t now. There were no better angels guiding Montrealers on election day. Rather, they stuck with the devil they knew.