Denis Coderre appears set to become Montreal mayor
Published Sunday, November 3, 2013 10:22AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 4, 2013 12:04AM EST
MONTREAL -- He talked his way onto television as a boy by declaring he'd encountered a possible UFO. Years later, as a federal politician, he talked his way onto an Afghan military base in one of his numerous high-publicity adventures that included a memorable tiff with hockey player Shane Doan.
Now, for his next act, Denis Coderre appears likely to become mayor of Montreal.
The veteran politician took a sizable lead as votes were being counted in the municipal race Sunday and he was declared the victor by different media.
The former immigration minister and political organizer for the federal Liberals held a nearly seven-percentage-point edge, although that margin had slimmed considerably over the course of the evening.
The downtown concert hall where Coderre's supporters gathered had barely had a chance to fill up when the news broke.
When asked why they back Coderre, supporters brought up the same traits came up again and again: he's friendly, politically savvy, and has the contacts to work effectively with governments in Quebec City and Ottawa.
Coderre stood at 32 per cent to 26 per cent for Melanie Joly, a fellow federal Liberal and a political newcomer who began her campaign in such obscurity that she was initially barred from participating in debates.
The political rookie forced her way into the debates in the final weeks as polls showed she'd become the principal threat to Coderre.
Across Quebec, voters hoped to turn the page on an era of scandal-ridden leadership in provincewide municipal elections.
The elections come as the province's Charbonneau Commission continues to hear shocking testimony detailing a system of kickbacks and illegal party financing at the municipal level.
The longtime mayors of Montreal and the suburb of Laval were forced to step down a year ago amid corruption allegations.
Months later, their interim replacements resigned in scandal as well.
One supporter, who met Coderre when he helped organize a federal Liberal fundraising event in 2011, said the new mayor has a personal touch that's not common among politicians.
"He's very accessible," said Madi Abou, who works as a management consultant.
"He's also someone who can say no when he needs to."
Coderre was the perceived frontrunner from the start, as a household name in Quebec. But he was dogged by attacks from his opponents on ethics issues, most notably his party's ties to former members of the corruption-ridden, now-dissolved Union Montreal party.
One borough mayor aligned with Coderre's ticket, Michel Bissonnet, was the subject of a two-page spread last weekend in Montreal La Presse exploring his ties to key actors under the scrutiny of the province's corruption commission. Still, Bissonnet won his St-Leonard borough with 66 per cent of the vote.
In total, there were elections in 1,100 cities and towns across the province.
In Quebec City, the city's firebrand mayor, Regis Labeaume, was easily elected to a third term with nearly three-quarters of the popular vote.
Jean Tremblay, who has fought a legal battle for the right to pray at council meetings, was elected mayor of Saguenay for a fourth term.
Quebec's minister of municipal affairs, Sylvain Gaudreault, issued a statement urging more Quebecers to head to the polls this time around.
During the last municipal election, in 2009, voter turnout across the province was around 45 per cent. In Montreal, it was 39 per cent.
But the early turnout results appeared marginally higher than the last election.