National Column: Plante is a most coveted catch

Editor’s note: Valérie Plante defeated Denis Coderre in Sunday’s Montreal municipal election.

by Chantal Hebert

Come Monday morning, Valerie Plante will either be Montreal’s first elected female mayor after having scored this year’s biggest municipal upset on Sunday or, alternatively, a most coveted catch on Quebec and Canada’s progressive political market.

Win or lose, she certainly gave Denis Coderre an unexpected run for his money.

Over the course of the past three months, what was expected to be a cakewalk for a high-profile, media-savvy incumbent has turned into a nail-biter.

Last Monday, a CROP poll commissioned by Radio-Canada put Plante – who has led the opposition forces at Montreal city hall for only a year – marginally ahead of Coderre.

Plante already has one giant-slaying victory under her belt. In her first bid for a seat on the city council in 2013, she rose from relative obscurity as a community activist to take down former Parti Quebecois minister Louise Harel.

A good poll does not guarantee a mayoral victory. CROP found 17 per cent of voters to be still undecided. They could swing the outcome either way.

And Plante does best with younger voters whose track record when it comes to actually casting a ballot is spotty.

It is the second time this fall that pre-election polls suggest the reelection of a star mayor in one of Canada’s big cities is not a done deal.

Like Coderre, Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi spent the last stretch of his mayoral campaign on tenterhooks. In the end, though, he prevailed with a comfortable lead on his main rival.

But the Calgary scenario offers Coderre only limited comfort, for some argue that it was the younger cohorts of the electorate that rescued Nenshi.

If the turnout of the millennials and generation Y voters goes up sharply on Sunday, Montreal could end up with a new mayor.

As in the case of Nenshi, Coderre has to fend off allegations of arrogance. Like his Calgary colleague, he does not suffer from a surplus of humility.

As those who watched the Montreal mayor in action over his past tenure as a Liberal MP can testify, there are times when he sounds downright paternalistic.

That tone was not an asset in the few debates that pit him against Plante.

There were days on the campaign trail when it seemed he could not be bothered with being held to account for his record in office.

It is only in the last week – with the polling wind in his face – that Coderre rediscovered sunny ways.

If he overcomes a tone-deaf campaign and goes on to keep his job on Sunday, it will be because he has brought people from a variety of horizons under his tent.

Over the past four years, Coderre has presided over the revival of a city whose previous municipal administrations were plagued with corruption scandals.

One of the features of his first mandate has been a multiplication of initiatives designed to rebrand Montreal. His critics argue that in the process he has relegated Montrealers’ quality of life to second place.

Last summer, an electric-car race made traffic impossible in a large section of the downtown core for the better part of three weeks.

On the scale of the organizers’ projections, attendance was underwhelming. Had they not given away a massive number of tickets, the stands would have been sparsely populated.

It was only in the last week of the campaign, after months of relentless media pressure, that the attendance numbers were belatedly released. They contrasted with Coderre’s dogged assertion that the event that cost municipal taxpayers $24 million had been a roaring success.

In many minds, the e-car imbroglio has become emblematic of a mayor too autocratic for the city’s good. And then Coderre is an old-style politician at a time when Canada’s politics is undergoing the biggest generational change since the mayor’s baby boom generation came of age.

If that does not catch up to him in this election, it well might if he runs again against Plante in four years.

But with provincial and federal elections set to take place between now and then, she will – should she lose Sunday’s vote – have to fend off overtures to run for a seat in the national assembly or in Parliament.

Plante hails from the progressive side of the spectrum.

Her municipal party has links to QuÈbec Solidaire provincially and to the NDP federally. She is on the board of the Broadbent Institute.

If NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh does not try to woo her to run under his party’s banner, Justin Trudeau just might.

Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer.
Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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