Is it that time again? We’ll, at the time of writing this, not for a few months. The 2021 Montreal Municipal Election is on November 7th, but the campaigning has already begun.

So, with that in mind, we’re launching our 2021 Montreal Municipal Election Poll. And the focus of the poll is the Mayoral race.

We’re making all declared candidates for Mayor of Montreal choices and will be adding new candidates if and when they join. So yes, you can switch your vote right up until the poll closes on November 5th at midnight.

We’ve also added an Undecided category as well as None of the Above. If you make up your mind later, or a new candidate piques your interest, please feel free to change your vote.

If you’re planning on voting for a City Councilor or Borough Mayor from a different party than your choice for Mayor of Montreal, that would be a split ticket in the actual election, but not here. This vote is only for the city-wide Mayor.

The winner of this poll gets the official endorsement of FTB readers and a post to announce it. While we do these polls for all elections where Montrealers can vote (Municipal, Provincial, Federal) and even some where most of them can’t (US Primaries), the 2017 Montreal Municipal Election Poll was the first time FTB readers selected the same candidate that the general electorate did.

So have your say below (or in the sidebar of any page on this site):

Who do you support as the next Mayor of Montreal?

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)