A “Wind of Change” at the Montreal Elections

TRANSLATED BY BEN LITTLEDYKE AND NIAMH WEEKES

The Montreal municipal elections took place on 5th November 2017. As the city had been governed by the liberal Denis Coderre since 2013, the narrow victory of the Projet Montréal party with 51.42% of the vote came as a real surprise. Its candidate Valérie Plante also became the first woman to be elected mayor of Montreal. Alongside her, eighteen district mayors, forty-six city councillors and thirty-eight district councillors complete the election.

A focal point of Plante’s programme is the focus on culture and the arts; an area which has played a key role in her own life since she earned a certificate programme in multi-ethnicity, and completed her studies in anthropology, before later graduating with a master’s degree in Museology. The new mayor is close to community and labour circles, and is still committed in her fight against social inequality, in areas such as aid for migrant women.

Improvements to public transport

The election winners set themselves apart with an ecological, social and inclusive manifesto. “Promoting urban agriculture and a healthy and sustainable food supply,” “protecting and highlighting sources of drinkable water” as well as “recovering landfill waste” are some of the campaign promises laid out in Valérie Plante’s programme.

During her campaign, Plante emphasised the importance of consolidating and improving public transport. For example, one of her initiatives involves imposing a social tariff on public transport, so that lower income passengers can benefit more easily from transport services in the city.

A commitment to equality between individuals

Plante has also paid tribute to the “women and people of cultural communities who have made a great contribution to the city of Montreal”. In light of this, the future metro line – the “Pink Line” will bear the names of the people who have made Montreal. If this gesture seems a little symbolic, it stems from the campaign to promote diversity in the city, and equality between men and women. Some points in the manifesto aim to fight against “harassment of women in the streets and people of different sexualities and genders”. The intention to ensure that Montreal is a more inclusive place for LGBTQ people is clearly present.

Making Montreal a pleasant place to live

The environment is one of the pillars of Plante’s programme. There are plans to grow the network of cycle lanes and to improve public transport (see above). The new mayor also intends to build 12,000 council houses in four years. Projet Montréal has also announced various new security measures. Some of these include “improving transparency and giving more of a sense of responsibility to the police” as well as “developing a police culture which is more respectful of the rights of citizens”. In practical terms, this means offering more concrete training to law enforcement, particularly concerning the use of firearms, but also banning the use of plastic bullets, preventing the deployment of a disproportionate number of police at rallies, and fighting against “racial and social profiling”.

It’s a programme which promotes tolerance, equality, and protection of the environment; a far cry from the political trends in the neighbouring USA, and to a lesser extent, in Europe.

More women than men in office

For the first time, the city has more women than men in government. This is even more revolutionary given that, more than ever, these women occupy high positions such as district mayors. Eight women have been elected to this position, out of a total of nineteen districts. Lachine, one of the districts won by Projet Montréal, has a cabinet with only one man, who is nonetheless part of an ethnic minority. However diversity seems less prominent than the female presence during these elections.

First indigenous person elected

Marie-Josée Parent has been elected to the municipal council of Montreal under the liberal banner. She is one of just seven elected officials belonging to an ethnic minority; however her election still represents progress, as she is the first native Canadian to be elected to office. Of Mi’kmaq and Acadian origin, she has worked towards promoting and reconstructing/rebuilding the cultures of the first nations. In an interview with Radio Canada, she claimed that she wants to concentrate on “everything native”, by giving a voice to communities and promoting indigenous art.

A wider wave of change

The Women’s Rights Council of Quebec describes in a statement that there is a “wind of change” sweeping the province. Montreal is not the only city to have had positive results in terms of the feminisation of political bodies. According to the Quebecois government, 205 women were elected as mayors during the municipal elections in Quebec this year, and many women occupy positions as municipal councillors. In Très-Saint-Rédempteur, a small Quebecois village, Julie Lemieux was elected mayor. Ms. Lemieux is not only the first women to occupy this post, but also the first transgender person to be elected to office in Canada.

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