On Nov. 5, a municipal election is happening in Montreal, and there’s a chance that the city will elect its first female mayor.
Though low on name recognition, Valérie Plante became the leader of Projet Montréal in December 2016. Since then she’s been making efforts to boost her profile, get her message out and help the party bring enough new candidates aboard to achieve not only gender parity, but significant diversity: 42 per cent of candidates in this election represent either aboriginal, racialized, immigrant, disabled or LGBT communities.
Nico Ogilvy: So how did you get involved in politics in the first place? What drew you to it?
Valérie Plante:I did my studies in anthropology and museum science so I did a lot of work in community and cultural structures, and I’ve just been very engaged in my community, fighting for different causes supporting different initiatives at the borough leveI. I’ve always had ideas about how the city should be developed and how to make Montreal better for everyone. I was elected city councillor in the Sainte Marie district of Ville-Marie in 2013, then Projet Montréal approached me in 2015 and said, “Hey, how about running?” They’d heard about me from different networks and they were actively looking for women to join the party.
A big issue for me is that all Montrealers are represented within different decision-making and power areas. Though 30 per cent of Montrealers are racialized, only three per cent of elected officials right now in the city council have this background and to me that is not enough. Women have come a long way: we’re in the parity zone for city council, we’re almost there, but for people who identify as aboriginal, racialized, immigrants, living with a disability and from the LGBT community, this needs to be pushed forward. If we want to make good decisions for all Montrealers, we need to have those ideas, those concerns in mind. We can all be allies and take a step forward.
NO: What do you see as Montreal’s biggest challenges?
VP: One of them is definitely mobility. If you’re driving your car, you’re going crazy ’cause you’re stuck in traffic all the time, you’ve got to navigate through construction sites, orange cones, but it also has a big impact on how we can bike in the city — do we feel safe or not, and again as pedestrians, everything related to public transport, how are we gonna continue to grow our population while having to deal with these needs. We can’t just say, “Oh well, these are the roads that we have, these are the buses that we have, this is the metro that we have.” We can adapt the streets to be more efficient, we can build new metro lines.
The second one is housing. We are so lucky in Montreal that all kinds of people live in the city, whatever their economic, cultural and social background, we are lucky to have that diversity in pretty much every neighbourhood and I want to protect that. I’m tired of seeing families leaving the island because they cannot afford a place to stay or it’s not big enough for them. We have to compete with the suburbs, and for that to happen, the city needs to get involved directly in the housing options for families and all kinds of Montrealers.
NO: A lot of people in the art community feel that they’ve been at odds with the city in recent years, especially when it comes to infrastructure downtown vs. uptown, as well as problems with noise complaints and unlicensed venues. What is Projet Montréal’s stance on this right now?
VP: One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s been a lot of attention paid to the big players — and I don’t wanna minimize and say it’s not important — but at the same time we need to put more investment and thinking into our smaller artists, whether they’re in the dance scene or painting or music.
For Projet Montréal it’s very simple things like making sure we offer some ateliers at a low price, and that we protect some of those warehouses to keep low rents so our creators can do their work and be able to create, because it’s hard for them. It’s also important to support financially, in terms of taxes, some of those players that are not big enough but still very important. For example we have some theatres that are having trouble paying taxes because the rates are so high. To me, it’s the basics: How do we make sure that we have a diversified and vibrant art scene, and that means supporting the big ones and small and medium ones, too. ■