In just over two years, Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce Borough Mayor Sue Montgomery and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante have gone from the seemingly closest of teammates to not even being in the same party let alone the same page.

For those who don’t follow Montreal municipal politics that closely, it’s turning into quite the saga. Like the Star Wars prequels: just as much politics but with better dialogue and no CGI. Though it’s not blatantly obvious at this point who the Emperor is.

I’ll do by best to reacap:

The Story So Far

Two Fridays ago Plante kicked Montgomery out of the Projet Montréal caucus. Why? Montgomery refused to fire a member of her borough staff accused of psychological harassment of other borough employees despite the Comptroller General calling on her to do just that in a report.

The same evening Montgomery posted on Facebook that both she and Plante didn’t have enough evidence to warrant firing someone. She also stressed that she takes harassment very seriously and also made it clear she will continue as Borough Mayor as an independent (for now, though I’m not ruling out her joining another party at some point in the future).

The following Monday, the Plante Administration countered by releasing some of what they know and arguing there was enough evidence to warrant firing. The next day, Montgomery went on CJAD, reiterated her previous stance and said that “this is about silencing a whistleblower in my borough.”

Montgomery was saying that someone looking into irregularities of CDN/NDG funding versus that of other boroughs may have played a part in all of this. Was she implying that the harassment charge was a smokescreen? Was the employee accused of harassment the whistleblower?

I’m not really sure. What I do know is that people are taking sides.

This past Monday, a large and vocal contingent of Montgomery supporters showed up at the Borough Council meeting, where Montgomery effectively called the Comptroller General’s report BS. The three Projet councillors in the Borough, though, were singing a different tune.

Peter McQueen (NDG), Magda Popeanu (CDN) and Christian Arseneault (Loyola) held a press conference before the meeting where they argued that Montgomery was on a “personal crusade” that made it difficult to get actual borough work done. It seems like the two CDN/NDG opposition councillors Marvin Rotrand and Lionel Perez are on the same page as their local Projet colleagues on this matter.

On Tuesday, Plante said, in a statement, that she would be violating Canada’s Privacy Act if she released a confidential labour report, adding: “It is high time Ms. Montgomery stops fabricating stories and creating alternative facts.”

It’s a good time to let you know that I am a longtime Projet supporter and even volunteered in NDG/CDN for a day on the phones to help get out the vote for both Plante and Montgomery. As such, I’m not going to take sides, at least not in this piece.

Instead, I’m going to try and figure out how this will affect the next Montreal Municipal Election, which happens in just under two years time. And, no, I’m not going

CDN/NDG Isn’t the Plateau

Last year longtime Plateau Borough Mayor Luc Ferrandez quit not only his and Plante’s party, but his job as well. Projet didnt miss a beat, replacing him in a by-election, with another guy named Luc to boot.

That’s the Plateau, a borough where Projet won all the City Council and Borough Council seats plus the mayorship three elections in a row. CDN/NDG is a different story.

In 2009 only McQueen won a council seat under the Projet banner. Popeanu joined him in 2013, giving the party a larger presence on the council, but not control of it.

It wasn’t until the 2017 election, when Arseneault and Montgomery won, that Projet held a majority of the council and the mayorship, effectively giving the party control of the borough. Maintaining or building on that lead wasn’t a sure thing with Montgomery on board and becomes an even more uncertain prospect with a different candidate.

In short, giving up control of the most populous borough in the city on purpose two years after you finally got it is not politically expedient in the slightest. Plante either seriously miscalculated (unlikely) or really felt like she had no choice.

Running Without the Team

Montgomery, I suspect, also truly felt like she had no choice. Either that or thought she was calling the Mayor’s bluff by refusing to fire her staffer.

She must know that getting elected to another term will be considerably more difficult without the party apparatus and volunteer base that helped her win the first time around. Not to mention popular councillors like McQueen urging his constituents to check her box as well.

Even if she thought the Plante brand was tarnished in CDN-NDG, being on the same ticket wouldn’t hurt her chances of winning, as people frequently don’t vote along party lines in every box. Going it alone will.

And she will, most likely, be going it alone. Given what Perez, one of the two opposition councillors in CDN-NDG and interim leader of Ensemble Montréal (the former Équipe Denis Coderre) had to say about her, it’s doubtful the Official Opposition would welcome her with open arms (I predict they’ll run Perez as CDN-NDG Borough Mayor, he’s had the job before).

Yes, Montgomery was a public figure with name recognition before the last election and she does have supporters that will board a bus to cheer for her. The question is whether or not they will also canvas, call and get out the vote for her the way the Projet team did and would have done again.

Not Easy to Predict

While people are taking sides now, many had already taken them well before the last election. Projet supporters in the borough will most likely back Plante, the council candidates and whomever they run as Borough Mayor. Newer converts who came into the Projet fold thanks largely to Montgomery, may not.

Projet haters, though, may not latch onto Montgomery, especially if she is running against both her former party and the Official Opposition. She did get elected supporting the Projet platform, which is what most of the party’s haters hate, and her departure from the party had nothing to do with her shifting in policy .

Sure, she could change her tune, but that would seem opportunistic at best and probably wouldn’t help her much. Winning re-election is now a longshot for her, though not an impossible one.

Undoubtedly, Montgomery running again as an independent with a similar platform as that of her former party will hurt Projet’s chances of re-establishing control of the borough. It may, though, benefit the opposition more than it will her.

Plante’s best move right now would be to announce a project or immediate improvement in the borough alongside her city councillors. Something you need the Mayor of Montreal to authorize like more 105 buses.

In the long run, her best move is to pick a Borough Mayor candidate at least as strong as Montgomery was and hope for and work for the best.

This saga isn’t over yet.

Usually when writing these election breakdowns, I always have to search for the silver lining. Not this time.  I’m very proud of Montreal.

First, we have elected a woman as Mayor for the first time in 375 years. And an extremely progressive woman, too.  Valérie Plante, a one-term City Counselor who rose to become the leader of Projet Montréal and in just a few months has unseated career politician, former federal cabinet minister and incumbent Mayor Denis Coderre who has now quit municipal politics after just four years in it.

This is a tectonic shift in Montreal politics which will have repercussions in both the provincial and federal political arenas. No surpise that Plante pretty much put Quebec City and Ottawa on notice, in the most polite way possible, during her victory speech.

As a whole, it was one of the most spontaneous, upbeat, fun and positive bits of political discourse I have ever witnessed. It was also a serious promise to focus on Montreal and bring everyone together to do it.

Definitely worth watching:

While Mayor of Montreal is a very powerful position in and of itself, a majority on City Council makes it that much easier for the winner to hit the ground running. Otherwise, they would need to form coalitions with independent councilors and those from other parties.

Plante would have been able to pull off the latter rather easily, given that pretty much everyone not running on Coderre’s team endorsed her for Mayor. However, that won’t be necessary, as Projet Montréal won 34 of the 65 seats available, giving her a majority.

Thanks to that, she has already started putting together her Executive Committee with Sud Ouest Borough Mayor Benoit Dorais as its President and has already started talking to Quebec officials and is planning to talk to Ottawa about getting more buses on the road and potential funding for the Pink line. It looks like things will move fast, which is great news for transit users, pet owners, cyclists, people who dislike wasteful spending but are fond of transparency and, arguably, all Montrealers.

Huge Borough Gains for Projet Montréal

Projet is also now quite strong in borough governments. Ten borough mayors belong to the party, eleven if you count Ville Marie (Downtown and Old Montreal), as the Mayor of Montreal also leads that central Borough Council.

As a Ville Marie resident, I found that particular setup annoying when Coderre, who was not our voters’ choice for Mayor (he finished third among Ville Marie voters in 2013), wielded power over the council made up entirely of the opposition. This time, Ville Marie voters chose Plante first, just like the city, so who we voted for is who’s in charge at both the city and borough level, a very welcome change.

Projet also holds the majority on the Ville Marie Borough Council with Plante’s co-candidate Sophie Mauzerolle retaining Sainte-Marie by a healthy margin and Robert Beaudry winning in St-Jacques over the three time Projet mayoral candidate who left the party he co-founded to run with Coderre. Definitely one for the Bad Career Moves Hall of Fame.

Voters in Peter McGill, my district, elected Cathy Wong, the lone Équipe Denis Coderre (probably gonna have to change the party name now) councilor in Ville Marie. While I was hoping for a clean sweep of the borough with Projet’s Jabiz Sharifan, I’m glad that at least Steve Shanahan, who abused his municipal office to run federally for Harper, lost.

Projet maintained complete control of the Plateau, Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie and Sud Ouest. It wasn’t even close in most of those races. The party also swept places like Lachine and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève where they had no representation previously and made significant gains in boroughs like Outremont.

Perhaps the most significant local increase happened in the city’s most populous borough, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. It’s also the part of town hardest hit by Montreal’s traffic woes.

Former Gazette journalist Sue Montgomery unseated former provincial MNA and incumbent Borough Mayor Russell Copeman, who would have been President of the Executive Committee had both he and Coderre won. Peter McQueen won a third consecutive mandate in NDG by one of the largest margins of victory in the city and Magda Popeanu was re-elected to a second term in Côte-des-Neiges.

Voters in Loyola elected Projet’s Christian Arseneault, giving the party three of the borough’s five council seats. He beat out Coderre candidate Gabriel Retta with incumbent independent councilor Jeremy Searle finishing third. I guess calling constituents at 4am to argue with them and showing up at council meetings (allegedly) drunk will cause you to drop in votes.

Former Interim Mayor of the borough Lionel Perez was re-elected in Darlington, making him the only member of Coderre’s team on the Borough Council. Marvin Rotrand, the leader and only elected candidate for Coalition Montreal held on in Snowdon. With 35 years in office, it would take quite a bit to unseat him, though he only beat Projet’s Irina Maria Grecu by 576 votes. He also came out in support of Plante for Mayor during the campaign and just announced that this term will be his last.

It’s clear which party will be running the show in this major borough for the next four years.

The Changing Face of Montreal Politics

With political establishment heavyweights like Copeman and now-former Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension Borough Mayor Anie Samson losing to political newcomers (though ones who have been very involved in their communities), the face of politics in Montreal is changing. Business-as-usual is now in the minority at City Hall.

The Old Boys Club mentality has been show the door both figuratively and literally. There are now more women in positions of power in the city than men. Another first for Montreal.

The new look also fortunately comes with a new, progressive attitude. Plante and Projet won because Montrealers from all over the city and from all walks of life rejected the bread and circuses to hide inaction approach that has guided our development for decades.

We’re on a path of ambitious, though realistic infrastructure development. One of sustainable and fair mobility and a locally-focused attitude. It’s a great time to be a Montrealer.

Anyone living in the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough will tell you that unless you are construction worker with a cushy government contract, the area is a living hell. Entire blocks of main streets have been closed to construction and companies operate in flagrant violation of municipal noise and safety laws.

Everyone is afraid to phone in a complaint because of concerns of reprisals from people wielding heavy machinery. Businesses are suffering, people are losing sleep and getting noise headaches, and even buying groceries has become an obstacle course of spraying gravel and thoroughfares laden with holes, making it hazardous for the borough’s disabled and elderly and anyone with a baby carriage.

It is concerns over the borough’s construction problems and the offer of the most pragmatic solution that will likely determine the outcome of the upcoming municipal election in NDG/Côte des Neiges.

I had the privilege of speaking to one of the candidates for borough mayor, Sue Montgomery, a former journalist now representing Projet Montreal, a party running on a platform of accessibility for the disabled, cultural diversity, and administrative accountability, among other things. She is up against current Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s man, Borough Mayor Russell Copeman, and a newcomer, Zaki Ghavitian, who entered the race last Tuesday.

Montgomery welcomed me into her home in NDG. Though running for office, there is little that is politician-like about her. She met me at the door and cheerfully joked about how the humid weather impacted her curly hair. It did not feel like an interview but rather like a new friend inviting me for tea.

Here’s what we talked about.

SG: Why are you running?

SM: Part of the reason is what’s going on south of the border. I’m horrified by it like many people and I thought if good people don’t step up, the same thing could possibly happen here. Obviously I’m not running for president but it starts at the grassroots and can go up.

I’ve lived here for 20 years and I think it’s an amazing borough but I don’t think it’s at its potential. I think there are a lot of problems and I think there’s some incredible grassroots groups that are active here and I’d like to work with those groups and coordinate things better. We’re the biggest borough, but I’d like us to be the envy of the other boroughs.

What do you feel the current leadership is doing well?

I don’t think Russell is doing a bad job. He has a lot of experience as a politician. I don’t think he’s really into the job. He’s not here full time. He works downtown on the Executive Committee so he’s really only here a couple of days a week and I think this borough needs a full time mayor, which is what I would be. I have no desire to be on the Executive Committee.

What do you feel you can improve?

In terms of our borough, right now, construction is a nightmare. I would like to improve the coordination of it, the organization of it, and the communication about it. I would also like to improve communication with residents, so instead of having a thing where we meet every month at borough council meetings, I would like to hold casual once a month also in a café.

I think the borough council meeting can be a bit intimidating. A lot of people don’t understand politics – I count myself among them earlier in my life – I didn’t take a lot of interest in it. I think a lot of women and young people don’t because they don’t recognize themselves in the people who are running things, i.e. middle aged white guys. I would like to make it more grassroots, more democratic, more consultation, more discussion.

As mayor, I’m not going to have the answers. I’m going to have a lot of questions: Why are things like this? Why is it working like this? Why is not working like this? Which is my journalistic background. I have ideas, but I don’t have the answers. I think the people who have the answers are groups like Head and Hands and the NDG Food Depot, NDG Community Council, the Immigrant Workers’ Center. These are people at the ground level who know this is what we need and how do we get that.

Regarding the construction in NDG, what do you feel is the source of the problems?

A lot of this work is done by subcontractors, so there should be a mechanism to find them if their worksite is not secure for pedestrians and cyclists. We need people to go around and check that they’re properly set up.

To me it feels like there’s no accountability here. I remember being a journalist when the bridge collapsed. Heads would roll in other provinces for something like that and they didn’t here. No one was ever held accountable. I would want to know do they have a list of complaints? Do they have a list of what was done with those complaints? Was it followed up? How was it followed up? If it wasn’t, why not? Who is responsible here?

Do you think a standard protocol should be set up?

Absolutely! It’s all about accountability. You can’t just have a number people call and nothing happens. I’ve talked to people since the storm (the microburst which hit NDG particularly hard) where they’ve called in about trees and were told it would be 3 years, 5 years…

How do you feel the city reacted to that big storm?

From what I hear from residents, they were pretty impressed with the cleanup and I know that a lot of healthy trees came down. But I would like to know how many of those trees were rotten and how many of them had been reported because we were SUPER lucky that no one was injured.

I’ve talked to an arborist who told me that this borough is the most neglected when it comes to tree maintenance and a lot of the trees that came down were rotten. With climate change, we’re going to see a lot more of these storms and so that has to be a priority, maintaining those trees.

Montgomery chatted openly about the challenges she will face as the only female candidate running in the borough. Her focus is on improving access for people who rely on sidewalks, bicycles, and public transportation while making sure that the more problematic elements in CDN/NDG are held to account.

Her unpolitician-like demeanor is appealing to more cynical voters and her approachability makes her a sure contender. Whether she’ll be able to win over those who want to be led by a politician remains to be seen.