Denis Coderre’s scattershot reign

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It won’t come as a surprise to any of the regular readers of this column that I don’t much like our tiny, imperfect mayor and I’d be happy to see him ousted in the November 5 election.

Not long after Denis Coderre was first elected, I wrote about his out-of-the-blue decision to announce a crackdown on prostitution services masquerading as massage parlours. He hadn’t said a word about the problem during the campaign, but after a meeting with the police chief, he was prioritizing a vow to wipe them off the map. “The seemingly improvisational approach to priority-setting bodes ill for democracy at city hall because, as far as I know, the mayor hadn’t consulted anyone else before making the announcement,” I wrote.

“When Coderre stands up and announces a crackdown — whether it’s on prostitution, pot smoking, jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk — he commits resources that all of us have contributed to pay for. At a minimum, he needs to consult with the other people we elected to office before jumping on his white horse and declaring war.”

Whatever happened to that war? Well, it turns out Coderre rode onto the battlefield like Lady Godiva: all bluster and no blunderbuss. First, the parlours weren’t quite the haven for human trafficking and juvenile prostitution that Coderre claimed they were, at least according to his executive committee colleague Anie Samson.

“At first it was thought that trafficking of women was everywhere in the erotic massage parlours. We realized that 90 per cent of women were there on a voluntary basis. It was also thought that there were a lot of minors. There weren’t many minors.”

Still, you’d think that even one minor or one woman forced into the sex trade would be enough to justify continuing the war, but the Coderre administration seemed to lose its zeal once it realized that accusations and suspicions aren’t enough to shut down a massage parlour; you need proof they’re violating some laws, and collecting evidence is much easier said than done.

So while the borough of Saint-Laurent was able to progressively eliminate some 20 erotic massage parlours there, using a patient combination of inspections, police visits and by-law changes, Coderre’s war sputtered to a halt, even in the downtown Ville-Marie borough that he controls. According to Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough mayor François Croteau, a member of the Projet Montréal opposition, efforts to close a parlour in his Rosemont district didn’t get much help from mayor Coderre.

“He abandoned the (massage parlour) problem after seeing how difficult it was to resolve,” Croteau told TVA.

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The quickest way to tell if a restaurant is any good is to look at how many items they have on the menu. If you’ve got pizza, General Tao chicken, souvlaki and chana masala, the chances are pretty good that they don’t do any of the dishes well.

The same is true of priorities: the more you have, the fewer will actually get done.

That’s Coderre’s problem in a nutshell. From Day 1 of his improvisational reign, the former federal Liberal cabinet minister has promised to put Montreal “on the map,” but has instead wandered all over the map. One day he’s banning caleches, the next he’s proposing by-laws to make the drivers follow a dress code. A cyclist is killed, he’s declaring it “one death too many” and vowing to crack down on dangerous intersections (the same ones the city had prioritized for action after the previous death). Promises are made, then remade, then repackaged just in time for the upcoming election.

In his first year in office, Coderre had announced 50 priorities, according to a Projet Montréal tally, just about one every week. The multiple priorities that aren’t quickly shoved onto back-burners are often instead subject to hastily planned and shoddily drafted by-laws, like the city’s controversial pit-bull ban.

Coderre has also shown little inclination to listen to critics, whether it’s over the much-maligned rodeo held as part of the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations, the $40-million disco light show on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, the Formula-E race flop (he won’t even reveal how much money that one cost us) and dozens of other 375th projects like granite tree stumps on Mount Royal.

Not that the mayor hasn’t done anything good. Getting Quebec to agree to the creation of an Inspector General’s Office to help rid the city of corruption in the contract-awarding process was a huge step forward. His leadership on issues like opposing the Energy East pipeline and recognizing the city’s problems with its homeless population was a welcome change.

But the “new sheriff in town,” as he described himself four years ago, has proven to be an easily triggered scattershot with an attention-deficit disorder.

Montreal is already on the map. The problem is that Coderre’s map, like the city’s streets, has been peppered with frequent and costly detours and dead ends. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.

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