Montreal election

How Valérie Plante proved the pundits wrong

Projet Montréal ran a near-flawless campaign that moved the political centre to the left
Montreal's new mayor on her way to work Monday. (Photo: @Val_Plante / Twitter)

Right up to the end, an aura of invincibility surrounded the beleaguered Montreal mayor. Sure, by the campaign’s end Denis Coderre had seemingly sworn off smiling and his entourage looked so glum you couldn’t tell a gaggle of candidates from a crowd at a funeral, but he couldn’t really lose, could he?

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Turns out he could. Because of dogs or construction, e-races or police spying, or a million other reasons that all boiled down to one word: arrogance. It clung to him like a bad odour in poll after poll during the campaign, and he seemed to readily embrace it until the final days.

As Valérie Plante of Projet Montréal sketched out a forward-looking vision of expanded public transit and improved mobility, Coderre chose to look backwards, congratulating himself on what he had already done. In the process, he reminded us that most of his policy ideas were scribbled on the backside of a cocktail napkin in response to the latest polls.

‘Happy warrior’ defies the pundits

The more Coderre scowled his way through the campaign, snapping at any interviewer impertinent enough to challenge him to “be careful,” the more Plante’s easy smile and open manner seemed like a breath of fresh air.

Some will tell you this election was a referendum on Coderre, and Plante wasn’t so much elected as he was rejected. There’s some truth to that; as in many elections, the desire to get rid of the incumbent was often palpable. But it undersells what a truly remarkable candidate the self-described “happy warrior” has become, and what a pitch-perfect campaign she and her team ran from beginning to end.

No one expected Plante to beat Louise Harel, a larger-than-life former cabinet minister in her first run at elected office in 2013, and yet she did. No one expected her to beat Guillaume Lavoie, the centrist darling of the city’s media, for the leadership of Projet Montréal last year, and yet she did. And certainly no one expected her to make Coderre the first one-term mayor of Montreal since Sarto Fournier in 1960, and yet she did.

If I may make a suggestion to her now and future rivals, don’t underestimate Val Plante. As Montreal's first female mayor pointed out to a reporter last night, she has yet to lose an election.

The dimensions of the victory

On Saturday I published an analysis of the race suggesting that non-francophone votes in the western boroughs of the city would decide the outcome, and predicting that Plante’s evident momentum would be enough to carry her to victory so long as turnout was high enough.

As the rain poured down on Sunday and turnout numbers stagnated, I worried that I might have gotten it wrong. But instead of a tight race, we got a near-landslide.

Consider these numbers:

  • Plante won a majority of mayoral votes in 12 of 19 boroughs, including big majorities in the boroughs of Plateau-Mont-Royal, Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Sud-Ouest, Lachine and Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

  • Projet Montréal elected an absolute majority of 34 city councillors, to 25 for Coderre’s party.

  • Projet Montréal won 10 of 18 borough mayor positions and now controls a majority of seats on 11 borough councils.

  • Plateau mayor Luc Ferrandez was reelected with over 65 per cent of the vote, his Rosemont neighbour François Croteau with 68 per cent and Sud-Ouest mayor Benoit Dorais with over 71 per cent of the vote. Those three boroughs have had Projet Montréal majorities on borough council for the past four years and appear to be happy with the experience.

  • Plante won every borough west of downtown, with the exception of Saint Laurent and Pierrefonds-Roxboro, where she lost the mayoral vote by 39 votes out of over 16,000 cast. These are areas with higher concentrations of anglophones and allophones.

  • Plante won seats yesterday in English and French areas, in urban and suburban districts and in three-quarters of Montreal’s boroughs.

Bold, principled and fearless: The new left emerges

As the Broadbent Institute’s Alejandra Bravo wrote on Facebook, Plante beat out entrenched old boy power networks because she “ran bold, principled and fearless from the left.”

That’s how the left wins electorally. By inspiring and motivating its base, which is theoretically huge, to shrug off our cynicism and show up.

In this campaign Plante ran towards her progressive and activist credentials, asking Montrealers to dream of major improvements to their city. Ultimately, she succeeded in moving Montreal’s political centre significantly to the left.

It’s a stark contrast to social democratic leaders who too often seek to move their parties to the centre. It’s also a rebuke to the too certain pundits who sneered at Plante’s chances.

The world has changed over the past ten years, and it sometimes seems those paid to interpret events for us are the last to notice.

Bold ideas and fearless leftism win elections these days. Call it the new normal.

Ethan Cox is an editor with Ricochet Media, and served as director of English communications for Projet Montréal during the 2013 municipal election campaign.
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