Valérie Plante throws hat in ring for Montreal Mayor
Valérie Plante – She is intelligent, experienced, articulate and genuine – and she is leader of Projet Montréal, the official opposition party at City Hall. Valérie Plante’s interest in politics began in her early 20’s when she studied at the Université de Montréal. She has worked as a project and communications coordinator in cultural community and unionized sectors – where her interest in social justice, fighting against poverty and citizen participation greatly increased. Plante also sat on various boards such as the nonpartisan Groupe Femmes Politique et Démocratie and has been involved with the Broadbent Institute – Canada’s leading ‘progressive, independent organization, championing change through the promotion of democracy, equality, and sustainability and the training of a new generation of leaders’.
In 2013 she got into municipal politics when elected the party’s councilor for Sainte-Marie, defeating former provincial minister Louise Harel. She became the opposition critic for downtown tourism as well as women’s affairs – and was also named vice-president of City Council and substitute mayor for the Ville-Marie borough. In December of 2016 she was chosen to lead Projet Montréal into the municipal election next November against Mayor Denis Coderre.
It is an impressive portfolio to date, but do not think it will stop there. Valérie Plante intends to become the next Mayor of Montreal – or rather ‘Mayoress’, as she would be the first woman to hold that office. I had the opportunity to interview her recently at City Hall and afterwards left with the impression she could very well prove to be a great leader and also what Montreal needs.
Not focusing on the party’s official platform for the upcoming municipal elections on November 5th 2017, I chose to ask her about more specific issues that have greatly concerned our readers and Montrealers – about the actions and decisions made by Équipe Denis Coderre since they came into power. Where did she and her party stand on these issues? And how might she have chosen to do things differently, or not? Plante was sharp, focused and open to discussion.
*This interview has been edited for space.
On the Pit-Bull ‘Type’ (Breed Specific) Bylaw:
B – Mayor Coderre did not listen to expert opinions, nor did he listen to pet owners who protested against it and begged him to approach it differently, like Laval’s dangerous dog by-law that puts the responsibility on dog owners. There were children crying who did not understand why they had to put a muzzle on their dogs. The SPCA has been trying to fight it in the courts, but now with Bill 128 on the provincial level and soon to be adopted, the battle seems lost. Where do you stand on this issue?
VP – Since the beginning of the whole situation Projet Montréal has been on the side of wanting to approach it globally and to look at the best practices, because we are not the first city to be confronted with this issue. By the research we did, and you talked about the Laval model, there is also the Calgary one – and in all of those models the responsibility is connected to the person who owns the dog. We are really disappointed the Mayor did not listen to experts, did not listen to citizens, did not have a more positive approach like the other cities – and decided to just go ‘his way’ and not listen, even with all the concerns and studies that came out. And to me that is not a proper way to approach such a sensitive subject… once we will be in City Hall, once I am Mayor, it has always been very clear for us – we will repeal the bylaw. We will get all the experts together and again, we have models… ‘breed-specific’ is a problem, this is very wrong, the whole approach is.
Infrastructure Work and Construction:
B – There are so many infrastructure projects going on at the same time in Montreal, to the point experts in the field of mental health are concerned about the rise in stress and anxiety Montrealers are experiencing. Besides the urgent work that clearly has to be done, such as the water and sewer systems, do you feel some of the work could have been done at later date – and/or could it have been better organized?
VP– Yes, yes. This is a huge subject. What we are seeing right now is the lack of coordination and this is where the stress comes in. As a city Councilor myself, most of the complaints I get is not about a resident who has a hole in front of their house because they are doing some pipes or something that needs to be done… what’s difficult for them is that they finish it – and then there is something else that needs to be done, like Hydro Quebec or other work three weeks after and then reopening it again. It’s still happening. People are just tired of this non-communication between the different companies involved. It could be the city, but sometimes it could be the borough or it could be Hydro-Québec or Gaz Metro… there needs to be more coordination. I hear the citizens… they are tired we open streets then close them and nothing has been changed on the outside and I agree with them, there is no improvement (like) more trees, wider sidewalks, maybe a cycling path… people don’t see a plus to the stress, to the dust, to the noise. We have to plan the work differently. There is no forward thinking. This very frustrating for citizens, they pay the price.
B – What about the devastating effect on business – especially small business?
VP– There are different things to consider there… but for me the biggest problem is that we don’t financially support our small businesses during these times, and they do lose a lot of money. And the response they get from the city is ‘oh well, but it will get better, later it will be fine’ – but they pay the price now. They don’t understand the situation of ‘Mom and Pop’ shops, and they do need to survive through the construction. We’ve seen it, we’ve seen the devastating effect on small business on Saint-Laurent and St-Denis. I am determined, although it is not a sexy issue, but I will fight for this… go back to Quebec where Denis Coderre was not able to deal properly and to get more flexibility around the source of incomes for the city of Montreal.
Public Transit, Cars and Cyclists
B – Coderre’s answer to the extreme congestion drivers are experiencing due to all the construction work and detours is for them to use Public Transit, which makes sense in theory – but not in reality. Montreal’s public transit system problems continue to persist and have become more apparent – metro delays and shutdowns, buses not showing up or too packed to get on. First, I hear you are an avid cyclist, are you still cycling a lot?
VP – All the time.
B – Do you use Public Transit as well?
VP – I do. It’s a mix. We don’t have a car, but it’s important to understand, we (her family) made this decision because we were able to. I live close to the Blue line and the Orange line. I have a bus line close to me… it’s really easy to navigate and easy to get around – because I have those options. There is no way, with two kids, I would have been able to make that decision if I would live close to the Olympic Stadium for example… I’m not even talking about the West Island, it would have been impossible. It’s because I have options – and this is what I want for all Montrealer’s, to have more options. There is no way I’m going to tell somebody, ‘Hey, just don’t take your car!’. No. It depends where you live. For example, I have a friend who lives in the east side and we took the bus together because I wanted to try it – and from his house to downtown it took an hour and a half.
B – And how would you address that?
VP– One way, one easy way, is to re-invest in the STM – and why I say that is because in 2015, Denis Coderre decided to cut $25 million out of the STM… $25 million! He doesn’t talk about that much. Right now we are in a catching up mode since then and it is not surprising to see there are buses missing on the road, it’s not surprising to see the delays. The development program of the STM was cut off, this is what happened – and it’s a fact. I tell Coderre on every occasion I have when I hear him saying ‘take the bus, take the metro!’… he doesn’t know, he doesn’t take the bus. He never experienced a shutdown. So the first thing would be to re-invest this $25 million cut from the budget, it needs to be back, it needs to be better.
B – Would you put air-conditioning in the buses?
VP – Of course! It’s not comfortable, we need to be proud of our public transit system… it’s not a crazy idea. Everywhere you travel… even in Mexico, they have air-conditioning in some of their buses! If we want people to not use their cars or to use them less, there has to be comfortable, fast options – and we will come up with a global plan. It has to be realized and put together by the STM and the transport agencies. It has to start with experts who know what they are doing. I do not understand how this administration can lecture us on not using cars… they decided at first to cut into the STM (budget) and to me it is so wrong, they don’t get it.
B – What about cyclists, even pedestrians, and the infrastructure they have to work with? There seems to be no thinking to the future.
VP – Just the fact we rebuild streets as they were before, without thinking about cycling paths is a huge problem. And for me, the big issue we have is the reserved lanes – and it would be so easy to change. We have this big cycling circuit, but at the same time it’s mostly just painted lanes – and for a lot of cyclists this is not the way to go. There’s not a lot of money being put into it right now. What we want to do is improve it and make the circuit bigger – but with divided bike lanes and not the painted ones. And another thing as well, the pavement (of the cycling lanes), there is no money being invested in it as well, in repairing holes. It becomes very dangerous, although potholes are not cool for cars either… if there is a big hole what happens? Cyclists have to suddenly go around it… it’s dangerous, even for pedestrians.
B – What about proper crosswalks for pedestrians? What we have now is ineffective and is rarely respected by drivers and cyclists.
VP – We need to make sure that priority goes to pedestrians in terms of security, then cyclists, cars and trucks. It’s backwards right now.
Montreal’s $1 Billion 375th Anniversary Celebration
B – Mayor Coderre felt Montrealers needed to ‘lift their spirits’ and decided to put on a one-year long mega-bash to celebrate the city’s 375th anniversary and the cost of this mega-bash has now been estimated at $1,000,000,000. Moreover, the goal of the 375th party was to celebrate the ‘city’s rich, culturally diverse communities and their history’, but the party appears to be missing its mark on exactly that – our rich, culturally diverse communities and their history. The 375th is a cause for celebration but perhaps not the degree it was taken. Would Project Montréal have put on a party – and how would you have approached it?
VP – The problem right now is that the anniversary is being seen as ‘let’s do a party and this is where it ends’. To me it should have been seen as a springboard of what Montrealer’s want for their city. I wish we would have consulted Montrealer’s and asked ‘what do you envision for your city in the next twenty-five, fifty years’… so we could have put the conditions together to create projects that speak to those wishes. For example, if it would have been me… we’re an island and I’m hoping the city would invest more to make sure the idea of being an island is connected more to the water, and that it’s part of our day to day lives. This is where the problem is. Of course we like to have parties, but ultimately there is no vision. I feel like it’s been pieces here and there. The projects they decided to finance are not really connected – and like the diversity, we missed it… there are so many problems with that. And with the 375th anniversary committee, we have no idea how much money they have and how they are spending it. They are not disclosing that.
B – Would you say the re-lighting of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge was really about Mayor Coderre’s ego, to go and actually spend more money on it?
VP– He was not happy about the (police) protesting… but most of the people there did see it from another location and it was a great success that (first) night. His wanted to do it over again – but at the same time, let’s be honest… Denis Coderre was counting on the 375th to do publicity for him.
B – About the $1 billion dollar price tag, would you have spent that?
VP – Oh my god… no, no – or at least some of it would have been about addressing the important issues like social housing… what I want as the first woman Mayor of Montreal is to make sure everything is put together to keep Montrealer’s on the island – and one of the biggest issues is housing. Right now there are not many options, even for the middle-class, they are moving away because they don’t have options. And this is something we can act on. Let’s have a party, but these issues I will fight for Denis Coderre to speak about during the campaign.
Trust and Transparency:
B – Many people have lost faith and trust in politicians. There has been so much corruption and broken promises… what words can you say to our readers to convince them it would be any different with you and Projet Montréal to restore their faith and hope?
VP – Three years ago I thought the same way, so I hear that, I hear the cynicism and the people who are discouraged by politicians, the corruption and everything. So I truly believe Montrealer’s want a transition, and what they want is a vision for their city. They want to know what we are ready to fight for – and what I am ready to fight for. As Valérie Plant who wants to be the first woman Mayor, I decided to go into active politics because I care… and I know it’s very simple to say, but this is not about promoting myself, it’s not just (part of) a big career plan. I’ve been living in Montreal for twenty years using my bike, walking, using my car… I decided to raise my kids here because I love the island. I’ve worked in so many different neighborhoods, I know the city, I know how important it is to connect with Montrealers in order to understand what their reality is, because I believe every person is the expert of their own life… I need to talk to people and understand what they have to say – that’s what people want. They are tired of being taken for granted. I go out there, I talk to people… and it takes more time than just a photo-op. I truly believe that social change and improving the city happens through those conversations, involving people together.
B – And about transparency, will concrete measures be put into place?
VP – Yes, we have to… with transparency there are so many areas and we are looking at it all – and we have ideas for every specific one.
Valérie Plante listens and lives with Montrealers concerns – and is clear about what she envisions for the city. She is up against an ‘old boys club’ and perhaps it is time for voters to help make the change.
Several other issues we discussed like Social Housing, Waste Management and Light-Rail Electric Transit (REM) were not included in this space – but if you want to know more, Valerie has been attending private citizen’s potluck barbecues, where she’s been more than pleased to address Montrealer’s concerns and answer their questions. You simply have to contact her via email or on social media and extend an invitation. Website: http://en.projetmontreal.org/contact_us