MONTREAL -- After months of teasing, Denis Coderre has officially confirmed he will be running to become mayor of Montreal.

But the mayoral candidate had to deal with protesters before speaking to the press.

The high-profile Liberal MP has been dropping hints for months that he would be interested in the position, and this morning he confirmed that he will seek the position in a speech made in Place Jacques Cartier.

He says his reasons for running are simple: Montreal is a great city that deserves better.

"Montreal needs a conductor, Montreal needs a bridge-builder. Montreal needs a catalyst so we can believe in that city again," said Coderre.

Last month the MP registered the party name 'Equipe Denis Coderre pour Montreal' with Elections Quebec, but the day he did so he still pretended he was not the only Coderre interested in becoming mayor.

On Thursday he said Montreal does not need a saviour, but rather someone who can assemble a great teame.

He promised that in the weeks to come he would present a program for Montreal.

News conference besieged by protesters

Police intercepted two masked individuals, aged 31 and 22, following the press conference near the corner of Gilford and Notre-Dame. The older one cooperated with officers, the other resisted. The two could face charges of intimidation.

An 85-year-old man witnessing the arrest objected and tried to physically intervene, jumping on a police officer. The officer pushed the man away and he fell to the ground. He was taken to hospital for treatment for minor injuries, according to police representative Anie Lemieux.

Even before making his official announcement members of the social housing association FRAPRU confronted Coderre.

Banging pots and pans, they marched toward Coderre demanding better social housing for Montrealers and an end to rampant condominium construction.

Coderre reasoned with the crowd, saying that he believes in democracy and had a right to speak.

He ended up delivering his speech flanked by two men wearing masks, against a backdrop of signs held by protesters.

Throughout Coderre's speech the protesters frequently booed his statements, particularly when he expressed support for municipal bylaw P6 which bans masks at protests, although they cheered when, toward the end, he said that as mayor he would work to improve housing in Montreal.

Political opponents not impressed

Louise Harel, who will once again be running for mayor under her Vision Montreal banner, was not impressed with Coderre tossing his hat into the ring.

Despite his status as apparent front-runner, Harel said he doesn't seem to have much substance.

"He promotes himself as a great uniter. He wasn't able to assemble anyone for his news conference," said Harel in a television interview. In reality Coderre was joined by Vision Montreal founder Anie Samson and Montreal-North borough mayor Gilles Deguire.

Even though Harel has said in the past that Montreal requires a strong leader who can exert control over the boroughs, she said being a strong man was not enough.

"If that model works well for a homogeneous city like Quebec, it's not appropriate for Montreal, which is far more complex and heterogeneous [ethnically mixed]."

"Montreal does not need a saviour"

"It’s time to roll up our sleeves and restore our city’s pride, the self-confidence that has always characterized our community," said Coderre.

A former immigration minister, Coderre flirted with Montreal's top job last November at a spaghetti supper in his Bourassa riding. However, he stayed clear of officially announcing his intention to run until today.

He will step down as an federal MP on June 2 -- which by no coincidence is the 16-year anniversary of the date he was first elected.

While the full make-up of Coderre's party is unknown, he has two prominent members so far: Villeray borough mayor Anie Samson, formerly of Vision Montreal, and Montreal-North borough mayor Gilles Deguire, previously of Union Montreal.

He did say that his political party will be different because he thinks political parties should not exist at the municipal level.

"Their existence is largely responsible for the allegations of corruption currently being investigated. As a result, I will not form a party in the traditional sense: we will not exist on a permanent basis, there will be no director-general, and future councillors who will campaign with Team Denis Coderre will not have to toe a party line in the city council," said Coderre.


The first plank in his platform is to create integrity in government through several steps, including hiring an Inspector General with broad power to investigate any project, program and to identify wasteful practices.

Coderre also wants to see civil servants undergoing security screening before they are hired.

Coderre said he believes that, with 103 elected councillors, Montreal has too many elected officials and that number should reduced. He also wants to re-examine how the boroughs and central city interact with the agglomeration -- the municipalities on and around the Island of Montreal -- but did not provide any specifics as to how that would be accomplished.

The mayoral candidate also said he wants to improve economic growth, implement free wi-fi throughout the city, and create more efficient transportation within city limits -- but again, did not provide any specific details about how this would be analyzed or created.

Coderre also announced that on June 2 he will step down as MP in the Montreal riding he has represented for 16 years since winning it in the June 2, 1997 federal election.

In Ottawa, Coderre has a reputation as a populist, backslapping politician who has frequently sought the media spotlight -- and found it.

Coderre made headlines over the years for travelling to Afghanistan on his own to see Canadian troops; publicly feuding with NHL star Shane Doan over what was rumoured to have been an on-ice slur against a francophone referee; and quitting as the Liberals' Quebec lieutenant in a huff.

Even as a boy, Coderre found fodder for the news cameras.

A chatty, 15-year-old Coderre explained to a TV interviewer from the French-language CBC that he once spotted a UFO.

"One night I was in the middle of making observations and an object appeared and floated in the air," said the young Coderre, a self-described amateur astronomer at the time. "At first, I thought it was an airplane."

Coderre, who spent a few years as a radio announcer before entering the House of Commons, held several cabinet posts in the Chretien and Martin governments.

The 49-year-old father of two expressed pride Thursday in his Ottawa track record. He claimed credit for bringing the World Anti-Doping Agency to Montreal when he was sports minister in the 1990s.

Some fellow Liberals have privately complained over the years that Coderre was more interested in promoting himself than his party.

While in the Chretien cabinet, Coderre was seen as a rival of fellow minister Martin Cauchon. Both men were considered future leadership candidates.

But Cauchon now says he believes Coderre would make a good mayor because he's perceived as being close to the people.

"He's going to walk the talk, he's going to be a mayor of action and he's going to shake the apple tree," Cauchon, a former Montreal MP, said in an interview.

"He's going to promote the city, he's going to be a proud mayor... Chances are that Montreal will move forward with him a bit more than with anybody else."

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. Michael Applebaum was elected by city council to serve as mayor after Gerald Tremblay stepped down last fall amid corruption allegations.

So far, Coderre's opponents include veteran mayoral hopefuls Louise Harel and Richard Bergeron -- two candidates who have struggled in past attempts to win over Montreal voters.

Harel said Thursday that she thought Coderre's campaign launch lacked fresh ideas and she questioned what he could accomplish for Montrealers.

"I've followed him (on social media) for more than a year -- he's a very good hockey analyst," she said.

"But I haven't heard him talk about Montreal in any way... (even) as Montreal went through its most difficult period in its history."

Harel acknowledged, however, that Coderre's personality could add some colour to the electoral campaign.

"It's true that he's entertaining -- but we don't need a mascot in Montreal. We don't a need a mascot as our mayor."