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)