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.