MONTREAL – Denis Coderre’s arrival in municipal politics wound up being crafted in the image of the man himself — destined to get attention.
It ended with one injury, two arrests, and much heckling.
The surreal scene was certainly not the one Coderre would have scripted but it achieved a feat he has pursued, and achieved repeatedly, in a colourful political career: lots of media coverage.
The longtime federal politician had to deal with booing protesters who sought to sabotage an event where he announced he’s leaving Ottawa for a Montreal mayoral bid.
Thursday’s announcement had been planned for months. Coderre chose the picturesque square in front of city hall to declare his entry into municipal politics.
But the backdrop wasn’t what he’d planned.
Behind him were protesters, some of whom held up signs demanding social housing. A couple of the protesters were wearing masks and sunglasses.
They booed when he announced his run. Looming practically over Coderre’s shoulder was a man wearing dark sunglasses with a black bandana over his face.
At one point, Coderre began taunting back: He pointed dismissively at the people behind him and said he wanted to tell Montrealers that those people did not represent their city.
At the end of the event, two men in masks — part of Coderre’s unofficial, unwanted campaign backdrop — were approached by police and arrested.
He also expressed support for a municipal bylaw banning masks at protests, which drew more jeers from the hecklers. That bylaw has drawn the ire of protesters who have regularly spilled into the city streets since last year’s student strikes.
Things became especially heated when police arrested a masked protester. At one point, an elderly man was pushed to the ground during a scuffle involving police; he was brought to hospital.
Coderre had also announced his long-anticipated run in a short video distributed via his social network pages.
He has cultivated a huge online following by sharing his thoughts on a variety of issues, such as offering running commentary on hockey games.
In Thursday’s video, the former Liberal immigration minister refers to the corruption scandals that have engulfed city hall.
“It’s all fine to have been a federal MP for 16 years. But as a Montrealer for the last 40 years, (I) can’t be indifferent to what’s going on right now,” Coderre said.
“Montreal is a magnificent city, with an extraordinary international reputation. But Montreal is kind of lost right now, with a flagrant lack of leadership in its political institutions.
“So at one point, you can either watch the parade go by or enter it.”
Coderre has also scheduled a news conference today in front of Montreal City Hall.
The 49-year-old is believed to have been planning a mayoral run for over a year.
To run for mayor, Coderre would likely have to step down as MP in the Montreal riding he has represented for 16 years.
“Montreal doesn’t need a saviour. Montreal needs a orchestra conductor, a catalyst, a uniter. That’s what I’m offering you today. That’s why I’ve decided to run,” he said in the video.
Polls have suggested he is the early front-runner, with a big lead, although the race could be tossed into uncertainty by any number of variables. One such variable is whether the current interim mayor will break his promise not to run.
Interim Mayor Michael Applebaum has said he will not run in the next election.
Applebaum was elected by city council to serve as mayor after Gerald Tremblay stepped down last fall amid corruption allegations.