Education and Early Career
The son of carpenter Elphège Coderre and housewife Lucie Baillargeon, Denis Coderre was born in Joliette, Québec, on 25 July 1963. He grew up in the tiny village of Saint-Adolphe-de-Rodriguez, about 100 kilometres from Montréal, and moved to Montréal-Nord in 1973. Coderre caught the politics bug at an early age as head of the student association at his high school, Polyvalente Henri-Bourassa.
At age 17, Coderre campaigned for the Yes side (in favour of sovereignty-association) in the 1980 referendum out of admiration for then–Parti Québécois premier René Lévesque. However, years later he became a staunch federalist. He completed a political science degree at the Université de Montréal and obtained an Executive Master of Business Administration from the University of Ottawa. In 1985, Coderre was elected the Québec chapter president of the Young Liberals of Canada.
Coderre was a Liberal Party candidate in the federal elections of 1988 and 1993, and also in a 1990 by-election. He lost all three contests (in the 1993 election he was defeated by a mere 53 votes). He finally won a seat in the House of Commons in 1997, and went on to represent the Montréal riding of Bourassa as a Liberal MP for the next 16 years.
In 1999, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien named Coderre as Secretary of State for Amateur Sport. Coderre managed to shine in the normally obscure post, by playing a role in bringing the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) from Lausanne, Switzerland, to Montréal in 2002. That same year he was named minister of Citizenship and Immigration — giving him national security responsibilities in the months following the 11 September 2001 terror attacks. Coderre also played an influential role in the adoption of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and the implementation of measures designed to regulate immigration consultants.
Coderre faced controversy in 2006 when Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan filed a $250,000 lawsuit against the Liberal MP, claiming Coderre falsely accused him of making an ethnic slur against francophone referees during a National Hockey League (NHL) game between Phoenix and Montréal. Coderre asked Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson to expel the Coyotes captain from Canada's Olympic team unless he formally apologized. The NHL reviewed the allegations against Doan and concluded they were baseless.
On 22 January 2009, Coderre became Québec lieutenant for federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (responsible for party operations in Québec), but quit the post months later over a disagreement about who should be nominated as the candidate in the Montréal riding of Outremont. Coderre criticized Ignatieff for trying to run Québec politics from Ontario.
In June 2013, Coderre resigned his seat in Parliament to run for mayor of Montréal. He was elected mayor on 3 November, garnering only 32 per cent of the vote — the lowest percentage in the history of Montreal’s elected mayors. He assumed office after what had been a tumultuous 12-month period in Montréal politics — in which long-time mayor Gérald Tremblay had resigned after his political party was implicated in an illegal financing scheme, and interim mayor Michael Applebaum had quit after being arrested on corruption charges. One of Coderre's first moves as mayor was to recruit Denis Gallant, a lawyer on the Charbonneau commission that investigated the corruption, as the city’s inspector general overseeing the tendering and execution of city contracts.
Coderre immediately set out to instill a new sense of optimism in the city, frequently repeating the catchphrase, “Montréal is back.” During his tenure he campaigned tirelessly for the return of the Montréal Expos, the baseball team that left the city in 2004. Coderre introduced a municipal baseball policy to upgrade neglected baseball fields in the city, and met with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to stress the city’s interest in a franchise. “In my mind, it’s not an if, it’s a when,” Coderre said about the Expos’ return.
Along with Expos memorabilia, his office was furnished with
a desk that belonged to former Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau, who presided over projects such as the city’s subway system and
Olympic Stadium. Opposition critics complained that Coderre channelled Drapeau’s
No stranger to garnering attention, Coderre took a jackhammer in 2015 to the concrete base of a Canada Post community mailbox, a publicity stunt against the postage system’s leaders, who had decided to install community boxes against the city’s wishes. The same year Coderre proceeded, despite harsh opposition, with a plan to dump an estimated 8-billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River, so as to conduct needed repairs to the sewage treatment system. Donning a protective suit and mask, Coderre toured the area undergoing repairs, something he said convinced him of the necessity of the move.
Coderre also gained national attention in January 2016 when he attacked the proposed Energy East pipeline, which would carry Alberta crude oil through Québec to New Brunswick, saying it presented unacceptable environmental risks. “Let’s face it. We are players,” Coderre said of mayors of major cities in Canada. “I really believe that now we define the world through cities.”
Entering the fall 2017 municipal election campaign, Coderre seemed to be well ahead of challenger Valérie Plante in the polls. He said Montréal was “living an exceptional time,” and listed some of his accomplishments as a buoyant city economy, heavy spending on infrastructure, a planned light-rail system and the creation of an inspector- general’s office to fight corruption.
However, Coderre drew flak for his perceived arrogant and autocratic style. A $24 million Formula E electric car race in July 2017 shut city streets for several weeks, angering residents. And Coderre refused to divulge how many tickets to the event had been given away, until the final days of the campaign. Some dog owners greeted a city ban on pit-bulls with outrage. Coderre also appeared to take his re-election for granted until polls late in the campaign showed him actually tied with Plante, a city councillor. After all, the city had not had a one-term mayor since 1960 when Jean Drapeau defeated incumbent Sarto Fournier.
But on election day on 5 November 2017, Coderre lost to Plante by five percentage points. Afterwards, Coderre said he was "proud,” “humbled,” and “privileged” to have held the mayor’s office. He noted that under his mayoralty, stability returned to a corruption-plagued city hall, city finances improved and foreign investment increased. “Things are happening . . . We can say mission accomplished. Montreal is in an extraordinary position today.”