We didn’t hear all that much about Montreal municipal politics in 2020. Plenty was happening on the local front, but with COVID-19 raging for most of the year, our focus remained on the response.

Yes, our city administration did play a part in that response, but it was mostly limited to initiatives to cope with what was happening. The big picture stuff like what money is coming to bail individuals out and whether or not we are on lockdown and what that means were the perview of our Federal and Provincial governments respectively.

Throw the political madness south of the border into the mix and our local politics just got buried, for the most part. It looked like that would change in 2021, but almost right out of the gate we got a curfew across Quebec and a failed (but still ongoing) coup attempt in the US.

This year, though, is an election year in Montreal, so the local political scene will undoubted come to the forefront, whether world events want it to or not. I spoke with Niall Clapham-Ricardo about the upcoming election in the latest FTB Fridays and one thing that became clear was that this was Valérie Plante’s election to lose.

Who is the Opposition?

While Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and her party Projet Montréal suffered some setbacks in 2020 and did some things that really annoyed even some die-hard supporters, their opposition is divided. She is running opposed by many, but at the same time running pretty much unapposed.

The primary and Official Opposition in City Hall is Ensemble Montréal, formerly known as Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal. Lionel Perez is their interim leader.

And by interim, I mean he’s not running for Mayor of Montreal against Plante. At this point, no one is.

There are rumours that Denis Coderre might try for another kick at the can in 2021, something the former mayor hasn’t ruled out and even hinted at. If he does go for it, he will undoubtedly be able to retake the reigns of the party created for him.

This could explain why Ensemble has waited this long to pick his replacement. If Coderre decides not to run, though, they might find themselves scrambling to find a new standard bearer to challenge Plante.

If the former mayor is in, though, the fact that he chose to stay on the sidelines for four years will undoubtedly be a factor, as will stuff that he did as mayor before losing. The 2017 election was as much a repudiation of Coderre’s pit bull ban, his handling of the Formula E race and his general demeanor as mayor as it was a vote for Plante.

Meanwhile in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Borough Mayor Sue Montgomery is starting her own party. Originally elected under the Projet banner, Plante kicked Montgomery out of the party’s caucus for refusing to fire her Chief-of-Staff earlier last year.

Montgomery recently won a court case against the city and my colleague Samantha spoke with her last week about the decision and the political situation in the borough. It’s important to note that while they’re not against branching out, Montgomery’s new party will currently only be running candidates within the borough (same with the upstart CDN-NDG party which has no affiliation with Montgomery’s organization).

CDN-NDG is the city’s most populous borough, and while losing ground there will almost certainly affect Projet’s control of City Council, there is still no direct challenge to Plante’s leadership coming from the borough. That is unless you count Ensemble Interim Leader Perez, who I don’t.

As for other potential challengers to Plante, some have floated David Heurtel’s name as a potential candidate, but it looks like the former Quebec Immigration Minister is waiting to see if Coderre is in or out before going for Ensemble leadership.

Meanwhile, former Montreal Allouettes player and former Projet candidate for Borough Mayor of Montréal-Nord Balarama Holness is considering a run for the city’s top job, but hasn’t said with which party.

Even former Projet councillor Guillaume Lavoie, who lost a leadership bid to Plante in 2017, is considering running. Some speculate he is looking to take the reigns of Mélanie Joly’s former party Vrai changement Montréal.\

Currently, there is only one declared candiate to unseat Plante as Mayor of Montreal: Félix-Antoine Joli-Coeur, who has previously counselled former Mayor Gérald Tremblay and former Quebec Premier Pauline Marois. This will undoubtedly change, but whether or not they sign up with enough time for the voting public to get to know them remains to be seen.

So, this election is shaping up to be all about Plante. With that in mind, let’s look at how that could play out electorally:

Haters Gonna Hate, Loyalists Gonna be Loyal

Even before the latest election season began, there were people predisposed to hate everything Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal might do. These are people who, for the most part, didn’t vote for them the last time, and certainly won’t vote for them this time.

They’re the type who will find any story that could be spun to show the current administration in a negative light and do just that. You had better believe they will be voting on election day and will likely coalesce behind the candidate and party that has the best chance of beating Plante and Projet, regardless of who that is.

On the other hand, Projet has its loyalists. People who have supported the party since Richard Bergeron was leader and continue to do so. For them, the party can do no wrong.

These two groups will presumably cancel each other out at the polls. So the decision then falls to two other groups:

Group 1: The Projet Machine

This is the smaller of the two groups, but potentially the most influential in the outcome. Voter turnout in municipal elections isn’t traditionally the greatest, so a dedicated group of people getting out the vote can be, and frequently is, the difference.

The Projet Machine is impressive, or at least it was when I last witnessed it in action on Election Day in 2017. Full disclosure, I not only supported and voted for Projet since it was formed, but also volunteered on the phone for the party for the past few elections.

I saw a well-organized, smart and motivated group of people. There were seasoned political professionals as well as people just giving all the time they could to help out.

The one thing they all had in common was dedication. Not to the Projet brand specifically, but to the progressive approach to city management it represented. To a new way of doing things.

While Plante and her party have lived up to many of their promises, they have also taken some decisions that could alienate a good chunk of their militant base. So the question becomes: How much of that base will stick with them?

While I see myself as part of this group, I can’t speak for it as a whole. What I can do is go over some of the things Plante and Projet have done that weaken my resolve to support them.

You won’t find blocking cars from taking a shortcut across the mountain, more bike paths, cancelling the Formula E contract or any of the measures like expanded terrasses and decreased traffic passed to encourage neighborhood tourism during a pandemic on this list. I strongly supported those initiatives and still do. This is what we voted for.

Here is where, IMHO, they screwed up:

  • Sending Riot Cops to a Homeless Encampment: While homelessness is a complex issue, going full authoritarian is never a good move. Instead of coming down personally to the tent city the homeless had built as a safe alternative to shelters in a time of COVID and demanding the Legault Government provide an adequate alternative, Mayor Plante sent in the riot cops.
  • Not Standing Up Forcefully Against Bill 21: This should have been a no-brainer. Montrealers oppose Bill 21 (aka the Religious Symbol Ban) by a wide margin. The current Quebec Government, which only won two seats on the Island of Montreal, wants to impose it to appease their rural base. While Plante said she is personally against it, she decided not to oppose and potentially block its implementation here.
  • Waiting Too Long to Appoint an Anti-Racism Commissioner: Ultimately this one turned out to be something Plante should be applauded for. Naming Bochra Manaï as the city’s first Anti-Racism Commissioner last week was a good move, and one that drew the ire of Premier Legault because Manaï had strongly opposed Bill 21 (apparently Legault had hoped someone from the SPVM would be appointed instead – really). The question remains, though: Why did Plante wait this long?
  • Changing Names: Now this one is a bit personal for me and may not resonate with other former Projet die-hards. Shutting down calls to rename Lionel-Groulx Metro after Oscar Peterson is one thing (and one that is arguably not the city’s call). Changing plans to rename a street after Daisy Sweeney is another (and one that is very much the city’s call). Randomly suggesting that the Griffintown REM stop be named after Bernard Landry and then doubling down on it speaks to a pattern: we don’t mess with history unless it pleases the majority.

Honestly, I’ll probably still vote for Plante again, because the alternative is probably worse. But it would take either a major shift in the administration responding to Quebec City (not on COVID, they don’t really have a choice) or other progressive priorities or the scary prospect of a Coderre victory to get me to volunteer again. Not sure, though, if they can bring the rest of the base back.

Group 2: The General Public

This is the group that doesn’t pay close attention to municipal politics for the most part of each four-year cycle. Their vote will be decided, most likely, in the weeks leading up to the election.

While a solid persuasion campaign, followed by a get-out-the-vote campaign is crucial, people first need to believe that they are voting in their best interest.

Plante is the name that they know. If they are reasonably satisfied with how things are going under her leadership, they will vote for her.

That is unless another name, say Coderre, comes down the pipe and convinces them otherwise. If the challenger is Coderre, then his legacy as Mayor comes into play as well.

Regardless of who it is, this is Plante’s election to lose, or win.

It’s been a tough year. A virus is killing people left and right, and Quebec is under curfew from 8 pm to 5 am every day in an attempt to curb its spread. Leaders have had to make tough choices, and that includes Côte-des-Neiges— Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough mayor Sue Montgomery.

In addition to running the borough through the pandemic, Montgomery has been dealing with issues with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante that culminated in Montgomery’s expulsion from Plante’s party, Projet Montréal and her victory is Superior Court against the City of Montreal in December 2020. I had an opportunity to speak to Montgomery by phone about the pandemic and her recent legal victory.

We spoke just after Quebec had announced the curfew. When asked about the new rules, Montgomery pointed out that no one has ever been through a pandemic like this before. She spoke of how adherence to the new measures speaks to a broader sense of civic responsibility among the citizens of the borough.

“I understand the frustration with people…We’re all tired, we’d like get back to work, but the bottom line is that everyone has to do their bit,” she said, repeating the public health guidelines of hand-washing, mask wearing, and social distancing. “The sooner we all start doing that, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

As to what role the borough has in the implementation of public health guidelines, Montgomery points out that the province sets the rules and municipal governments are there to play a supportive role. The borough’s activities include supporting community organizations that help the less fortunate and vulnerable, mentioning the unemployed, elderly, and disabled. She noted that since the start of the pandemic, the demand at food banks has skyrocketed.

Montgomery mentioned that the unusual circumstances created by the pandemic have brought to light certain issues, such as the need for affordable housing to combat homelessness, and places for people to be able to relieve themselves with dignity, as safety measures have made it impossible for people to avail themselves of toilets in restaurants and cafes. The latter is not only a disability issue, but also a sanitation issue.

Regarding her recent Superior Court victory, Montgomery’s feelings are mixed: she’s thrilled at her win and she’s saddened by the fact they had to go through it.

For those of you who don’t know what led to Montgomery’s expulsion from Projet Montréal, here’s a quick summary:

Sue Montgomery was elected Borough Mayor of CDN-NDG in November 2017 as a member of Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal. When she took office, she brought with her Annalisa Harris, her chief of staff.

Harris and the Borough Director, Stephane Plante (no relation to the mayor) clashed, with the latter claiming psychological harassment by the former. The City of Montreal ordered a report that they claimed confirmed psychological harassment by Harris of the Borough Director and Mayor Plante demanded that Montgomery fire her.

Montgomery refused, requesting to see the report first. The City of Montreal refused to provide it, and Montgomery refused to fire Harris without proof of misconduct.

In response, Plante kicked Montgomery out of her party. After numerous attempts to settle the dispute amicably, it ended up in court.

The Superior Court, presided over by Judge Bernard Synnott, ruled in Montgomery’s favor, confirming the claims of psychological harassment by Harris were bogus, but also affirming elected officials’ authority over bureaucrats like the Borough Director, and allowing her access to the aforementioned report.

The City of Montreal had until January 11, 2021 to appeal the decision, but there’s no news of them filing an appeal.

Despite every road block, Montgomery is positive about all she’s been able to accomplish. As for Plante’s role in the events leading up to the legal decision, Montgomery has some choice words:

“Had Valérie Plante done her job from the get-go and read this report about so-called harassment, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Because of this court procedure, I have now been able to get the report and there is nothing in there that could even be remotely considered psychological harassment. There’s been a lot of effort, a lot of money, a lot of drafts throughout this last year because Valérie Plante didn’t do her job… Valérie should have supported me the way I supported Annalisa. She preferred to not take a stand.”

Montgomery says she stood by Annalisa Harris because it was the right thing to do, and rightfully points out that to fire her without evidence would have been illegal under Quebec labor law. She feels she handled it as best she could. Montgomery gave Annalisa Harris a choice as to whether to fight the accusations or not because the borough mayor would not fire her, speaking highly of her chief of staff’s abilities.

Montgomery knows that the issues leading up to her victory in court will still need to be addressed but she is prepared to offer an olive branch to the City of Montreal and Mayor Plante. With the municipal elections in November 2021, Montgomery confirmed that she is running again and is creating a new party, though the name of it is still in the works.

Featured Image: Sue Montgomery running for CDN-NDG Borough Mayor in 2017 (photo by Samantha Gold)

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.