Valérie Plante is a city councillor in Ville-Marie and a candidate for the leadership of Projet Montréal, the municipal opposition party that will elect a new leader on Dec. 4th. In this in-depth interview she outlines her positions on Uber and Airbnb, systemic racism, police misconduct, pit bulls and addressing inequalities between Montrealers.
This is the last in a series of three interviews with the candidates for leadership of Projet Montréal. The others are available at the bottom of this page. Party members vote for their next leader on Sunday, Dec. 4.
There’s been a lot of debate in Montreal over the so-called “sharing economy.” Platforms like Uber, Airbnb, etc. What would your approach be?
As a city, we have a responsibility to taxpayers, to people who follow the laws and work hard to earn their living, to homeowners, people who pay taxes, and all those people who are following the rules. There's a reason those rules exist.
Any company, whether it's Uber or Airbnb or whatever, that is not willing to contribute equally to the society where they operate, that's the problem.
I believe in the sharing economy, I believe it's possible, there are models that work but the models that really follow the spirit and the values of the sharing economy are companies that are not only platforms. Most of what we hear about these days is the platform economy and platform monopolies.
We need to make the distinction. I feel like we're lumping everything together when we talk about the "sharing economy," it's such a buzzword. Really there is the sharing economy, which means you follow certain rules, and you actually redistribute the profits, not give them only to the shareholders, and then there's the platform economy. Most of the models we have, most of the companies that we hear about these days, like Uber and Airbnb, are following that model.
They're not following the rules at all, and are asking us to adapt to their rules so they can make higher profits.
We need to change the language. I'm really tired of the evangelists who talk about how wonderful it is, how it is about progress. This is not the progress that I believe in. Progress is about sharing the wealth. It's about making sure that you're contributing in the same way as all the other individuals and companies. Then we can talk about progress.
I would like the real sharing economy to step up. We should support it more, and the social economy is definitely be an area where we could support the growth of that type of economy. The platform economy, which is most of the big models we've seen, they have to follow certain rules to become good corporate citizens. It is important, and those are values that we cannot just put aside because we think their app is cool. Let's be cool, but let's be responsible about it.
Do you think that we have an issue of systemic racism in the Montreal police force, and if so what would you do about it?
Not only do we have a systemic racism issue within the police, we have it throughout our society. This is why I have pushed within Projet Montreal for us to support, very strongly and publicly, this request for a commission of inquiry into systemic racism.
I’m very proud that I was able to push this forward because this was the responsible thing to do. If we want to be able to represent all Montrealers we need to be able to talk about what’s going on, and not look aside or close our eyes, and just say that there is no systemic racism. We only have to look at how many elected officials are racialized or immigrants.
There are so few, there are not enough. Forty per cent of Montrealers are racialized and/or are immigrants, so it doesn’t make sense that there is so little representation within the city. And even within our party we have work to do on that front. Even though we are a very progressive party, and we’ve added some rules to encourage more representation of women and racialized and cultural communities, we have to be more proactive.
About the police force, there are problems. We’ve seen it in Montreal Nord, there have been attacks that have been swept under the rug. In the administration right now it’s mostly about maintaining the status quo, and turning a blind eye to the problem. I think we need to look at the whole police force and question practices. We need to question who’s within the police force.
If I were to become mayor, there would be a major analysis of the practices within the police force. There is systemic racism everywhere, and so there is necessarily also systemic racism in the Montreal police. It’s clear.
We have to analyze police practices, but also we have to analyze the composition of the police force itself. I’m from the school that thinks that to change the mentality there must be sufficient representation of these realities, whether it’s women, or racialized people, or other communities. It doesn’t solve everything, but it’s a start.
We’ve seen a lot of analysis from the U.S. that it’s not just a question of representation within the police, it’s also about accountability and consequences. If you’re mayor, will you do something about the lack of consequences for police misconduct?
It’s increasingly clear we cannot have police investigating and judging police. That doesn’t work. In whatever profession, whether it’s lawyers or doctors or police, at some point there has to be a body that has the capacity and the means, and the independence, to conduct an investigation and make recommendations.
We don’t have that right now, and it’s too bad because we know that this generates criticism of the police. It’s not even helping them, and it’s certainly not helping the public. Wherever there is inappropriate behaviour it must be looked at and addressed, it can’t be swept under the rug. So there has to be an independent body that can make criticisms and be able to implement them.
So you’d like to see a municipal-level civilian review board? Something like that just for Montreal and our police force?
If you’re mayor of Montreal, will you guarantee people’s right to protest, and that there will be no more attempts like P-6 to restrict that right?
I guess it’s my background as well. I’ve been an activist in the streets. And I truly believe, whatever the protest or union action, it is our right to protest. It’s the only way to be heard for a lot of people, for grassroots organizations, for activists of all kinds. To protest, and to be on strike, these are fundamental rights.
What are your thoughts on the pit bull ban?
It’s a good example of how often Denis Coderre improvises. It’s not the first time. We saw it with the horse carriages, and also with him wanting to have the bars open until six. So we see more and more Mayor Coderre having this “daddy’s always right” approach. That’s how he operates, he just pulls an idea out of his hat and he goes for it, without making sure that it is done well.
There is so much scientific research showing that the ban isn’t going to work, but Coderre just wants to be right and he’s willing to do anything. In this case Coderre should have studied the file more. I think there’s a difference between acting quickly and acting responsibly, and Denis Coderre doesn’t see the difference.
Why do you think you’re the strongest candidate against Coderre?
There are three reasons. I’m the real progressive. We need that, both at the head of the party and at the head of the city. Against Coderre, we need someone who is thinking about the good of all the people, someone who has a strong progressive vision. Coderre doesn’t actually have a vision.
My type of leadership is unifying, bringing people together is definitely one of my strengths. I listen to people.
We need to take Coderre out of his comfort zone, and a woman can do that. He’s too comfortable. He’s comfortable with the politicians he’s been facing and debating so far. He knows that type of politician. I feel we need to get him out of his comfort zone, and I think a strong and bold woman can do that.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
What I want to talk the most about during this campaign, and what I want to bring to the forefront within Projet Montréal, and as the first woman mayor of Montreal, is the gaps, the inequalities between citizens.
When we talk about inequalities, right away we think about those between the very rich and the very poor, and of course we need to be concerned about that, but I'm also interested in the gaps between those in the middle class. Specifically on housing, on transit and on job opportunities.
It doesn't make sense that some people have no choice but to buy a car, for example. If you live in Montreal-Nord, or in Pointe-Aux-Trembles, or in Pierrefonds-Roxboro, and work downtown, many don't have the option to take public transit so they buy a car. That makes me sad, and I don't think it's fair.
We need to think globally. I'm really tired of seeing everything done borough by borough, I think we need a global vision. That doesn't mean doing everything the same, but I'm certainly concerned about the gaps between citizens in terms of transit, and in terms of housing. That's major.
The administration is not taking housing seriously, there's no political will and they're investing just a little bit of money. We could be doing so much more.
When I talk about gaps, I'm also talking about social mixité within our neighbourhoods. I don't think it's right that the city is at the service of real estate developers. It doesn't make sense.
Proactive cities around the world, the leaders, they say what they want and then all the developers follow. We are not doing that. There are reasons, of course, and we can go there, but that has to change. There are very concrete ways for the city to become a leader, to be audacious, to be bold and to ensure that Montrealers of all income levels have options.
We can create a réserve foncière (land reserve). A réserve foncière is very important, and we should invest massively in buying land. We have the capacity to do this, but we are not doing it right now and so there are a lot of people who are just leaving Montreal and going to the suburbs. That's a problem.
We lose families, people who are leaving the city, and we are losing so much money. Because when you have a family you spend the most, in terms of clothing, in terms of food, in terms of everything, and it's good for the economy. But we let people go because there are no options for them.
As mayor of Montreal, what I want to address is the gaps between Montrealers. I want to give them public transit options and options for housing, for living well. I feel that's something that is not being addressed right now, at all.
Finally, the economy. I find that if we put those two conditions in place, the housing and the transit, we create dynamic neighbourhoods. With dynamic neighbourhoods there are more small businesses, it's better for business.
The Mile End is a great example, a very small neighbourhood that became very popular in terms of people wanting to live there, and we've seen big companies say "you know what, I'm not going downtown. I'm going to put my headquarters in that neighbourhood because people want to live there. Because the quality of life is amazing."
We can do that in other places. If we provide options for transit and housing we can create vibrant neighbourhoods.
It recalls a concept that is very dear to Luc Ferrandez [borough mayor in the Plateau Mont-Royal], the idea of "neighbourhoods on a human scale." Places where you can live, work and play. That is what I believe every neighbourhood can be, within their own realities. It's not about creating small Plateau Mont-Royal's all across the city. Every neighbourhood has its own way of doing things, its background, its history and we need to respect that.
But there are ways to create living, vibrant and dynamic neighbourhoods across the city.
How would you pay for it?
We've seen in other places that where there is political will, things start to move. We've seen it in Boston with the big dig, we've seen it in Toronto with the transit system. I think it has a lot to do with taking a strong position and wanting to get those things done.
In terms of taxes, right now, just for example, in the budget of the city of Montreal, there's the budget, and there's the PTI, the Programme triennal d'immobilisations. This is like a blank page, it’s the money we want to invest in the future.
This is where we should be saying "our priority in the next ten years will be housing," for example. Transport is a bit more complex, because of course there has to be agreement with Quebec and even with the federal government on some levels, but mainly with Quebec.
We need to fight for that. It's not normal that the Quebec government has invested so much in all the highways around the city, but invested so little in our public transport. This is a problem.
For transport, there has to be agreement with other levels of government. For housing, the city of Montreal could definitely be investing in buying land, and working with local organizations, because there are so many requests for that.
If the city of Montreal owns the land then different organizations can work together to develop it. There can even be a mixité of condos, coops and affordable housing. Those models work. Not only are they good places to live, but they're also good for social mixité, and good for the local economy.
I don't think it's an unrealistic plan.
Do you see increasing gentrification as a problem in Montreal?
Gentrification isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is a problem when it becomes the norm. It brings some benefits, it brings some wealth, it can be a positive. But it depends on how seriously the city takes its responsibility in terms of planning and bylaws, and in terms of investing in the land to create good housing. This is where we can become proactive, and become a leader, become the city that values mixité.
This is an area where Montreal is really not being a leader right now, we’re doing nothing, and one of the reasons for that is that 70 per cent of the city's revenue comes from property taxes. That is a big problem, because right now we just want the money.
And of course we need the money, because there's so much to be done in the city. But in the long run I'd like to think of how to diversify. Of course it can be a Pandora's box, but at one point you have to look into this. I don't think it's fair for Montrealers to see their tax bill continually increasing. The needs are always growing, so at one point we're going to have to ask "does it make sense that most of the city's revenue is based on property taxes?"
I don't think so. I don't think it's viable. I don't think it's healthy and I think we make bad choices as a result.
Where else should the revenue come from?
There are different ways. Of course there's the carbon tax, there could be a part of the provincial sales tax that goes back to the city, that's something other cities have done, where there's a provincial tax but it goes back to city. That's very interesting.
It's not about changing entirely, but maybe balancing it out a little? It could also be about how close you live to a subway station, although I'm not a fan of that idea.
Whatever it is, why don't we look into it? I think we need to diversify the city of Montreal's sources of revenue so we don't make bad decisions, or we don't feel like our hands are tied, which is the case right now. I don't think we make the best decisions, and the administration just favours the status quo.
I understand that people are tired of paying higher and higher taxes, I get it, but it's not going to change if we continue this way. Not at all.