2021 Montreal Municipal Election: Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal Clean Up but the Real Winner is Montreal

While dancing may only be officially allowed at indoor venues in Quebec starting on November 15th, last night Valérie Plante got the ball rolling early:

And she had reason to celebrate. Not only did Plante get re-elected Mayor of Montreal with a higher percentage of the vote than she got in 2017, her party Projet Montréal increased its seat count in City Council by three. Projet will now control 11 of the city’s 19 boroughs as well.

“Montrealers confirmed 2017 was not a fluke,” Plante said in her victory speech, “but the beginning of an era … and that you can lead the city of Montreal with a smile.”

Projet’s Incumbent Re-Election Streak Continues

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that when a Projet candidate wins a new council seat or borough mayorship, they generally get re-elected. The only time this doesn’t seem to work is when they switch parties before running in the next election (former leader Richard Bergeron, anyone?). That incumbent re-election streak continued, for the most part, last night, and now we can add Mayor of Montreal to the positions it encompasses.

Projet’s dominance in the Plateau, Rosemont and Sud-Ouest continues for the third (and fourth, in the case of the first two boroughs mentioned) election in a row. And now Verdun is squarely in the Projet column (Antoine Richard, Borough Mayor candidate for Denis Coderre’s Ensemble Montréal, and his recent sketchy real estate dealings may have played some part in that).

Outremont, on the other hand, goes against this incumbency narrative with Projet only retaining one of the two Borough Council seats they won in 2017 and incumbent Borough Mayor Philipe Tomlinson of Projet losing to Ensemble’s Laurent Desbois. It’s by only 23 votes, so there will probably be a recount.

The Montgomery/Plante Saga is Over (Maybe) and CDN/NDG Makes History

Montreal’s most populous borough, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CDN-NDG) had become the most controversial and most difficult to call. Sue Montgomery was elected Borough Mayor under the Projet banner in 2017, but after a very public booting from the Projet caucus and subsequent court cases, she formed her own borough-specific party Courage to run to keep the same job.

Projet nominated Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, the first black woman Administration Council of the Ordre des infirmières du Québec, as their candidate to replace her. Meanwhile, former interim opposition leader (when Coderre was in the private sector) Lionel Perez became the Ensemble candidate for the job.

At first, on Election Night, it looked like Perez had won. Several networks and other media outlets even called the race for him. But then on Monday morning, as the final votes were being counted, his lead started to shrink and just before noon, Kasoki Katahwa was declared the winner by just 83 votes, making history as the first Black woman elected to a mayorship in Montreal.

Projet had re-won the control it got in the borough in 2017. Peter McQueen was handily re-elected to his fourth consecutive mandate as City Councilor for NDG and Magda Popeanu to her third in CDN. Despina Sourias won her first mandate in Loyola, but the party’s second in that district (Christian Arseneault had won Loyola as the Projet candidate in 2013 before leaving the party and withdrawing from the election).

With Borough Mayor, Projet continued its incumbent re-election streak. Plante found out about Kasoki Katahwa’s win during a press conference, delcaring “CDN-NDG, we’re coming home!” and added that the party’s plan for the borough had been “interrupted” last mandate.

As for Montgomery, she finished fourth in the Borough Mayor race behind Kashoki Katahwa, Perez and Matthew Kerr, candidate for Balarama Holness’ Mouvement Montréal party. None of the Courage candidates were elected.

If you add Montgomery’s votes (3087) to Kashoki Katahwa’s (11 940), you get 15 027, which is close to the 14 463 votes Plante got in CDN-NDG for Mayor of Montreal. So most of those who voted Montgomery at the Borough Mayor level probably also voted Plante at the City Mayor level, meaning Montgomery could have been a spoiler for Perez if 84 people had stayed home.

But that didn’t happen. And now CDN-NDG has made history.

Coderre, Montrealers Just Aren’t That Into You

While Plante said this vote proved Projet’s victory four years ago wasn’t a fluke, it also proved that Montreal voters rejecting Denis Coderre in 2017 wasn’t just a momentary case of bad election timing following the disaster of the Formula-e, but rather a rejection of his whole arrogant tenure as Mayor.

The pit bull ban, the fake granite tree stumps, abusing his power as Ville-Marie Borough Mayor to block car sharing (even though people in the borough had resoundingly voted for other people for Mayor and the destruction of nightlife. And that’s just the old 2017 Coderre.

The new 2021 Denis Coderre, who claimed to have learned from his mistakes, made a slew of new ones during the campaign. There was the promise of skyscrapers taller than the Mountain, the pledge to put the John A. MacDonald statue back in Place du Canada and the plan to ban drinking in parks after 8pm…all of which he backtracked on.

And then there was the Verdun Borough Mayor candidate who had been engaging in sketchy, though not technically illeagal, practices as a real estate agent but Coderre kept on his ticket. Plus the revelation that Coderre himself was on the payroll of reno-victing giant Cogir during his four-year break from politics.

Coderre always saw Montreal Mayor as a consolation prize and one he was entitled to. After being a Cabinet Minister and then ceding Federal Liberal leadership to Justin Trudeau, he should at least have this.

Dirty politics and Montreal have always gone hand-in-hand, that wasn’t going to change in the long run. This random chick from Abitibi got lucky, but things would soon be back to normal.

He wasn’t really trying. Not when he was Mayor and not during this campaign. The arrogance and entitlement were palpable. Until it was too late.

If Coderre stays on as Leader of the Opposition this time, I’ll be stunned. If he doesn’t but tries to run again next time, I’ll be less stunned. If he does that and his party accepts him back, well, the loss is really on them.

By now, I hope Denis Coderre realizes that Montreal is not a consolation prize and that Montrealers, or at least Montreal voters, really aren’t that into him. And that the only fluke was when Mélanie Joly split the progressive and anti-establishment vote in 2013 and he won.

Balarama Holness Says He’s Here to Stay

Speaking of Joly and vote-splitting then jumping to Federal politics, that’s exactly what I suspected Balarama Holness might be after. However, now that the dust has settled, I realize that the Mouvement Montréal leader didn’t end up being a spoiler for either Coderre or Plante.

Also, his co-candidate was Idil Issa in Peter-McGill, the same district Joly should have picked for hers if she had wanted to stay in municipal politics. If your co-candidate wins their council seat but you aren’t elected Mayor, you get to take their seat.

While Joly’s candidate in Peter-McGill did win, she had placed her co-candidate in NDG against the heavily-favoured McQueen, ensuring there was nothing holding her back from a Federal run if she didn’t get the top job in the city. Holness, on the other hand, chose a running-mate in a district where she had a shot.

Unfortunately, neither Issa nor any other Ensemble candidate won a seat. It wasn’t the best first outing for a new party vote-wise, but they and Holness did impress me by bringing some new ideas to the table such as the City-State and defunding the police. Overall, he helped push Plante and Projet closer to their base (something they probably would have done on their own, but he helped).

Holness says he plans to stay in Montreal and I welcome that decision. His biggest critique of Plante and Projet wasn’t the direction they wanted to head in, but that they weren’t getting there fast enough.

With four years to build his party and critique City Hall from the sidelines of power while growing stronger roots in various communities, he could have a much stronger showing next time. He’s already got the debating chops and the ideas, his party just needs to work on their ground game and get-out-the-vote.

Montreal Wins!

The real winner this year is Montreal. Not only did we dodge the Coderre bullet (that would have been a disaster, and one we already experienced at that), but we decided to make the major political shift of 2017 stick and continue, at least for another four years. We’re not going back to business-as-usual.

Yes, that’s an odd thing to say when we’re talking about a slew of incumbent victories, but the business-as-usual I’m referring to is the way the city operated for decades leading up to 2017. Four years ago we rejected the cronyism, corporatism and paternalism that has governed our city since before I was born. The faces changed, the direction didn’t.

Four years ago we opted for an approach that emphasizes affordable, livable communities, ecologically sustainable development and international participation on our terms, not on our dime. Did Plante and Projet get everything right? No. Especially when it came to diversity and use of the police.

But they have taken steps to improve and fix their mistakes and are still headed on the same path. And Montrealers decided to vote for another four years on that path instead of regressing, And for that reason, Montreal is the real winner of the election.

As Plante said, it wasn’t a fluke, but the beginning of an era.

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