Valérie Plante Projet Montréal

Why I’m voting for Valérie Plante

Plante and Projet Montréal have weathered a pandemic and focused on reducing the effects of the climate crisis, while her rivals remain fundamentally flawed.

With incumbent mayor Valérie Plante and former mayor Denis Coderre currently in a statistical tie as Montreal voters prepare to go to the polls, it was imperative that I explain why I’m casting a vote for the former. 

First, let’s take a walk down memory lane. In 2017, Coderre brought on his own downfall with arrogance, a lack of transparency and a type of “father knows best” condescending attitude that led him to steamroll ideas through, even when we told him we weren’t remotely interested in them. Remember the pit bull ban? The Formula E disaster? The rodeo? Speaking to the police chief about journalist Patrick Lagacé, who was later spied on? The $25,000 given to him when he was an MP that went undeclared? These were all major fiascos that chipped away at public trust and served to feed the desire for change. 

When Coderre lost, he didn’t stick around. He immediately announced his departure from municipal politics, leaving Équipe Denis Coderre in the official opposition without… Denis Coderre, but still saddled with major campaign debt. Four years later he magically reappeared, claiming he’s a changed man. When asked if he’ll stay on in opposition if he loses, he responds in very vague terms leading me to believe he would not. In sharp contrast, Plante openly stated in 2017 that she would remain to serve Montrealers, regardless of election results, and has already confirmed she would do the same in this campaign. 

Another major difference between the two? Plante has been transparent with her finances, providing her tax return. Coderre, on the other hand, has refused to reveal his income and how it might be related to financial interests in the private sector since his departure from Montreal City Hall. That’s a big red flag if I ever saw one.

A mayor for the future

Valérie Plante and Denis Coderre
Valérie Plante and Denis Coderre

Mayor Plante said something during the final French debate that spoke to me. She said, “This is a fundamental election because we have to position ourselves for today and for tomorrow. You have to decide which team is really committed and ready to make courageous decisions, and not always easy ones, to bring us to carbon-neutrality.” 

I know which team that is. 

Plante has never been about the easy decisions. She’s undertaken some ambitious projects and has often paid the price for that. Her decision to tackle desperately needed, unsexy problems like road construction, major urban upgrades and the city’s crumbling pipes and sewers has produced criticism. No one wants their street dug up or disruptions to their services, so many politicians will ignore the problem and leave it to the next administration. As a result, Plante was often forced to play a game of catch-up, spending money and resources to tackle way-overdue infrastructure problems.

Regarding constant complaints of construction woes in the city, of course the situation needs improving, but I also suspect many forgot that a major number of traffic jams and detours we faced these past few years had to do with the new Champlain Bridge and the Turcot Interchange redo, major provincial and federal construction projects that often paralyzed the entire city.

Four years into its first mandate, the problem Projet Montréal faces is being a former grassroots movement that’s now a full-fledged city administration that needs to deliver. Politics, and more specifically leading, is, for better or for worse, the art of compromise. It’s about understanding various points of view and trying to find a consensus and a conciliatory, sometimes centrist approach that will work for most. 

As a result, Plante is often accused of straying too far from her progressive roots from the folks to the left of centre, and of being far too progressive and “woke” and bike-obsessed from the people to the right of centre. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and I think she’s learned to successfully navigate that line between economic development and social programs that benefit the most vulnerable. It’s a tricky balance and it requires a constant push and pull, but I would rather have a practical, centrist approach to progressive urban issues than someone who’s dying to let the real estate market regulate itself and thinks developers are the key to Montreal’s success. 

While Coderre has always boasted about flashy projects that were supposed to “put Montreal on the map,” Plante, in fact, did just that — but in her own way. Urban landscapers and environmentalists around the world point to our city as an example of so many things being done right. Montreal has never been more of a joy to walk and bike in, to sit in a park, on a terrasse, or by the waterfront. As far as I’m concerned, that matters — not only for ecological reasons but for the sheer joy of urban living.

Staying on course with top priorities

Four years in, and despite two of those four years practically monopolized by a global pandemic in a city that was at one point the national epicentre of COVID, Plante has managed to stay on course and focus on what she has always presented as the party’s priorities: sustainable mobility, social inclusion and a strong ecological transition. No other party in Montreal’s recent municipal history has come close to recognizing the climate crisis is real, and that we need to be making concrete, bold decisions to fight it, making sure Montreal (itself an island and extremely vulnerable to climate changes) remains a viable city to live in. 

The creation and upkeep of green spaces, plans to upgrade the waterfront, the very successful REV that’s saving lives daily, the Verdun Beach, the reappropriation of the Lachine marina and the area around it for all Montrealers, a by-law to ban single-use plastics, the pedestrianization of commercial streets like Wellington which have now become go-to destinations, investments in the electrification of transport, the focus on reliable and affordable public transit, the many significant and beautiful upgrades to our public spaces, the recent Baby Box program and the adoption of a climate plan that has been well received by many — these are just some highlights. 

Another major highlight? Not a single corruption scandal in the past four years. I don’t know about you, but after years of Montreal City Hall being raided by anti-corruption police, reeling from mayors resigning amidst accusations or being led off to jail in handcuffs, this makes for a nice respite. 

Some Projet Montréal initiatives were laughed at when first proposed but have proven to be resounding successes. Mainly because they’re not hippy dippy flaky projects that some Bougie peeps in the Plateau dreamed up, but very real, very concrete projects that matter and affect the quality of our daily lives in Montreal and ensure the city’s ecological resilience. We can no longer afford to look at any of these issues as secondary, and we need an administration that understands that. 

Coderre’s claims during the debate that he’s the candidate of “hope and change” and would ensure Montreal is carbon-neutral by 2045 made me chuckle. The man who cut over 1,000 healthy, mature trees to make room for a concrete amphitheatre at Parc Jean-Drapeau to cater to private promoters is talking about heat islands and carbon-neutrality? Come on, now.

My concerns with Mouvement Montréal

Balarama Holness of Mouvement Montréal Valérie Plante
Balarama Holness of Mouvement Montréal

Balarama Holness did well in the English debate and his confident, well-argued, progressive arguments will appeal to many in Montreal. There is a real thirst for more representation and acknowledgment of this city’s multicultural and multilingual reality, a fact often downplayed or ignored by Quebec politicians. I don’t personally support efforts to make Montreal bilingual (I want to live in an officially French city that respects and supports all linguistic groups), although a City-State status that could bring us more money and more control is an interesting proposition. 

But the party made some rookie mistakes, and — most importantly — much of what Holness promised is out of his control. The issues he wants to tackle (Bill 21 and Bill 96) are provincial jurisdictions, and municipal administrations are not voted in to take them on. Like any legislation being challenged in front of the courts, we have a judicial system that will decide on their legitimacy. 

Holness is making big, bold, brash statements about things he can’t really deliver on. I like that he’s pushing a progressive agenda, which in turn forces all other parties to shift a little more to the left, but his condescending boys’ club guffawing and smiling with Coderre when they ganged up on Plante during the English debate did absolutely nothing to endear him to me. Women are conditioned to spot sexism and I’ve seen it often during this campaign, most recently with Coderre chastising Plante for “laughing too much” or stating that “the time of unicorns and rose-coloured glasses is over,” implying Plante’s leadership is naïve and frivolous. 

The priorities Plante’s team have outlined and championed are not utopian, silly, “womanly” concerns, Mr. Coderre. They are solid progressive concerns that demand action. Coderre always tries to position himself as this no-nonsense, pragmatic politician who understands business and developers’ concerns better than anyone, but Montreal currently has the best economic recovery in the country and the second-best recovery in North America, so Plante must be doing something right. 

Of course, la mairesse has fumbled. She’s made mistakes, reneged on promises, lost party members I value and backtracked on decisions that were taken too quickly. But she’s quick to admit mistakes, quick to listen to criticism and quick to try and find a solution that will work for all. It’s why, when it comes to public safety, she’s tried to find a middle ground between increased demands for better policing efforts to solve gun violence on the streets (with the creation of ELTA) while also investing in and working closely with community groups. As a result, she’s now being accused by Coderre of wanting to defund the police and by Holness of kowtowing to the police; a thankless position to be in frankly. 

She tries hard to find the middle ground. For some it’s not enough, for others it’s too far. But the result is slow and steady progress and a relentless focus on the issues that matter. Things get done… perhaps not at the rate some would want, but the city is moving forward. It’s simply a better place to live in, and I’ve never been prouder to be a Montrealer, despite Coderre trying to paint it as a disaster zone he’s come to save us from. 

There is no perfect choice here. All parties have some decent points, as well as good candidates running as councillors (you should vote for them in your borough), and they have some questionable points. In politics, the perfect administration is always the one that hasn’t been elected in yet. Once in office, they must quickly come to terms with never-ending demands, the limitations of time constraints and the crushing, often conflicting and mundane details of providing essential city services, all while juggling municipal budgets, growing deficits, voters quick to complain but never able to understand the amount of work that takes place behinds the scenes, and the occasional unexpected deadly pandemic that will railroad the best laid plans. 

Unlike Coderre, who still operates like a cheesy old-school politician, dropping catchy slogans and name-dropping like it’s no one’s business, Plante gave concrete answers to questions during the debates. It’s easy to see that she knows the city’s files like the back of her hand.

She hasn’t swayed from the fundamental promises she made when first elected. She continues to push for progress on all files; particularly the long-term ones she made to protect Montreal’s green space and its public spaces, increase social housing and prioritize public transit, projects whose true benefits Montrealers will only see years after she’s left office. Her eye remains on the prize and she deserves another mandate to see these efforts through to fruition. She’s someone who I genuinely believe entered politics for the right reasons and to make this a better, safer, greener, more progressive, more inclusive, more liveable city. That doesn’t make her perfect, but it makes her my choice. ■

For more on the Montreal municipal election on Nov. 6–7, please visit the Elections Montreal website.

Read more editorials by Toula Drimonis here.