Montreal·Analysis

Denis Coderre can be loose with the truth. Do people care?

On more than one occasion, Coderre has presented facts and figures that were later proven false. The claims range from allegations that Montreal’s credit rating was going down (it isn’t) to Montreal having “400 shoot-outs” when discussing gun violence (it has not).

Mayoral candidate has claimed city had ‘400 shootouts,’ more cycling deaths, despite statistics

Denis Coderre was mayor of Montreal from 2013 to 2017. He's campaigning to get the job back but some of his statements have clashed with reality. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Over the course of the municipal election campaign, Ensemble Montréal leader and candidate for mayor Denis Coderre has had a complicated relationship with the truth.

On more than one occasion, Coderre has presented facts and figures that were later proven false.

The claims range from allegations that Montreal's credit rating was going down — it isn't — to Montreal having experienced "400 shootouts," when discussing gun violence — it has not.

The comments don't appear to be affecting Coderre's popularity. Recent polls show the former mayor is neck and neck with his main rival, incumbent Valérie Plante, who leads Projet Montréal.

Many of the statements were made when Coderre was speaking off-the-cuff. Most were said when responding to questions at news conferences.

CBC News and Radio-Canada fact-checked some of Coderre's statements. Here's what we found.

400 shootouts

Speaking at a news conference announcing his plan to revitalize the downtown core, Coderre was asked whether or not he was fear-mongering on the campaign trail.

Coderre had previously suggested that Montreal was unsafe and compared it to Beirut after Lebanon's civil war.

"If I'm fear-mongering, what did I say that was fear-mongering?" he asked. "What are you going to say to those families right now, who are afraid because there are over 400 shootouts?" 

There were not 400 shootouts in Montreal this year. 

From January to the end of September, there were 97 incidents where a firearm was discharged, according to Montreal police. 

The SPVM specified that those instances include times when a firearm was used without aiming at someone — shot into the air, for example. 

If one also includes all of 2018, 2019 and 2020, the total comes to 236 incidents.

When asked by CBC this week about the discrepancy, Coderre asserted that he didn't say there were 400 shootouts. He claims he said there were 400 bullet casings found, despite video from the news conference showing otherwise. 

He also said he didn't know what the word for casings was in English. 

The French-language newspaper, La Presse, had previously released an article saying that 367 bullet casings had been found in the city through the end of August.

Credit rating

Speaking to Radio-Canada's Tout un matin radio program in September, Coderre claimed that Montreal's credit rating was at risk of being downgraded due to the Plante administration's financial record.

Coderre had been asked what his definition of an "efficient" mayor was, in reference to his campaign posters. He spoke about how a mayor has to be committed to fiscal responsibility.

"What people want is to have someone who is capable of managing the finances, raising billions of dollars," he told Radio-Canada. "We are even on the cusp of getting downgraded in terms of credit."

Denis Coderre's campaign signs are accompanied by word such as "passionate," "competent" and "efficient." (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

Montreal's credit rating has not been and is not expected to be downgraded.

In late June, the DBRS Morningstar credit agency confirmed that it was maintaining the city of Montreal's "A (High)" rating. It cited the city's "prudent fiscal framework, large and well-diversified economic structure, relatively predictable revenues, and tight spending control."

Standard & Poor also maintained the city's "AA-" rating this year.

Coderre stood by his comments when questioned by CBC. 

"It is true," he asserted. "It depends on which side you are [on]."

He pointed to Montreal's spending and accumulated debt, and the fact that the province of Quebec provided additional funds, which he called "living with Quebec money."

"It's not a matter of truth. It's a matter of perspective," Coderre said.

Michael Yake, senior vice-president at Moody's Canada, said in an interview that while the credit agency is keeping an eye on Montreal's debt, it is not in downgrade territory yet.

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Moody's gave the city an "Aa2" rating, the third-highest rating possible, with a stable outlook. Montreal has held that score since 2015, when Coderre was mayor and before Plante was elected in 2017.

"If we thought that there was a downgrade, we would have a negative outlook," Yake explained. "The fact that it's a stable outlook suggests the rating is there for the next 12 to 18 months."

He said the debt burden would have to be 130 per cent of the city's revenue to trigger a downgrade. Currently, the city's debt is at about 110 per cent and likely to rise to 120 per cent.

"Should this continue over several years, that could add to downward pressure on the rating."

Cycling deaths

At a news conference about his environmental policy in late September, Coderre was asked about a recent cyclist's death and his plans to ensure cycling safety.

"Unfortunately, over the past four years, there have been even more deaths of cyclists," he said.

That is not accurate. The Plante administration was elected in the fall of 2017. According to Montreal police, the number of cycling deaths in the city per year has gone down since then — not up.

"Looking at the numbers, the number of deaths have been decreasing," said Jean-François Rheault, the CEO of the cycling organization Vélo Québec.

As for 2021, the SPVM said there have been three cycling deaths in the city so far this year.

"Deaths and serious injuries are declining. It's safer to cycle in Montreal than it was 10 years ago," Rheault said.

Andrea Rovere, 31, was struck and killed while cycling on Sept. 27, 2021. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC )

"[Coderre's comments] implied that cycling may not be safe, which is not the case."

When asked if it was possible that Coderre could have simply misinterpreted the figures, Rheault was firm.

"The numbers are pretty clear, so — no."

Ensemble Montréal did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this statement.

A change of strategy

At times, Coderre has backtracked during the municipal election. 

As the campaign kicked off, Coderre proposed a new ban on drinking in public parks after 8 P.M. After public backlash, his party dropped the proposal. 

At a news conference on Truth and Reconciliation Day last month, Coderre said he would reinstate a statue of John A. Macdonald in the Place du Canada downtown. The statue was famously pulled down by protesters last year.

Coderre later clarified his position, saying he would not put the statue back in the same place on an elevated platform. 

Even on questions that do not involve public policy, Coderre has made missteps. At the same news conference, he was asked why he attributed a quote in his book, Retrouver Montréal, to Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel when that is not accurate.

Denis Coderre poses with his book, Retrouver Montréal, before the election campaign. Coderre was questioned about a misattributed quote used in his work. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

"No, no, no, no. Elie Wiesel said [it]," Coderre responded at the time.

The quote — "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" — is widely attributed to philosopher George Santayana, not Wiesel.

"[Politicians] are not perfect," said Harold Chorney, a political science professor at Concordia.

"They make mistakes and they sometimes don't tell the truth. We could say, charitably, most of the time, they don't tell the truth by mistake — rather than deliberately going out to lie."

Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal are not immune to making misleading statements. 

The Plante administration claimed it exceeded its goal of creating 6,000 affordable housing units in four years. According to figures provided to CBC by Robert Beaudry, the executive committee member responsible for housing, the city has created 2,736 affordable housing rental units.

Still, Projet disputed the idea that it had not met its goal. The party also counts the Accès Condos program, which offers subsidies to those buying property in the city. The Accès Condos numbers would bring the total to 7,344 units.

Plante, however, does not appear to have the same propensity for bluster as Coderre. 

Denis Coderre, right, and Valérie Plante have taken part in several debates to which other mayoral candidates have not been invited. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Chorney described her as a "more efficient calculator of what's the right thing to say."

Despite that, he said those moments could also be playing to Coderre's advantage.

"He's gregarious, you know? Pat on the shoulder, slap on the back. 'How you doing?'" Chorney said. "He can be charming. I mean, that's part of his appeal."

Being frank and speaking off-the-cuff is part of that charm, he said.

But Danielle Pilette, an associate professor at the Université de Quebec a Montréal (UQAM) who studies municipal governance, said Coderre's comments fit into a bigger strategy.

She said Coderre proposed large, sweeping projects for Montreal, and "justified these projects through a negative view of the current state of the city, with regard to city finances, city safety, et cetera," she told CBC. 

However, when the strategy didn't seem to be paying off, she said the ex-mayor seems to have switched gears to a different kind of campaign.

"Now, Coderre must play on the same political ground as [Plante], which includes green space, quality of life, and affordable housing."

With files from Radio-Canada, Debra Arbec and Steve Rukavina

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