Plante election is a victory for accountability at city hall

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Valerie Plante city hall

Valérie Plante at city hall

So, Montrealers have a woman in the mayor’s chair for the first time in 375 years. A reason for celebration, but certainly no cause for congratulations. After all, Ottawa had its first female mayor, Charlotte Whitton, 66 years ago — when Louis St. Laurent was prime minister!

Let’s not slap ourselves on the back for electing a woman, then. That’s a little like congratulating a 66-year-old man for learning to tie his shoelaces. Or remembering to leave the seat down.

The election of Valérie Plante and a majority of Projet Montréal councillors to city hall does, however, mark the first time in 23 years — and just the second time in history — that Montrealers have wrested control from the oligarchs and put it in the hands of a political party.

This is no small potatoes. Past mayors such as Camillien Houde, Jean Drapeau and even the weak-kneed Gérald Tremblay have been beholden to no one (except their powerful donors) in between elections. Although formal political parties have been an integral part of municipal politics here since Drapeau formed his Civic Action League in 1951, they have mostly served as window dressing for iron-fisted (or ham-handed) mayors who hand-picked their council candidates and dictated policy behind the closed doors of the executive committee.

That model was broken from 1986 to 1994, when the Montreal Citizens Movement was twice elected with Jean Doré as mayor.  That sparked major changes in the way the city was governed, with MCM policies that had been debated and developed for years within the party becoming the blueprint for changes in everything from public consultation to urban development to environment and taxation. And although the Doré administration would sometimes try to veer from those policies, it could rarely escape scrutiny and debate from the party structures, which provided grassroots MCM members the opportunity to criticize and influence its elected officials and to forcefully remind them of the platform promises that got them elected.

Similarly, the election of a Project Montréal administration is a return to more responsible democracy and is first and foremost a victory for political accountability at city hall between elections. In addition to a detailed platform (available here), PM structures include local councils in every borough, full party congresses every two years, at least five general council meetings between mandates and an administrative council and an executive committee to ensure party policies are respected.

Compare that to the outgoing mayor, who invented policies on the fly and could change them at the drop of a cowboy hat.

In other words, Montreal didn’t just elect a “mayoress,” it elected a large family with roots in every district, even the ones where its candidates weren’t elected. Coderre liked to tell people he “put Montreal on the map.” With Projet Montréal, citizens can actually see the road map and pressure city hall to steer a steady course.

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Since I started writing for Cult MTL over five years ago, I’ve been privileged to share my thoughts on the burning issues of the day with readers virtually every week, with a few weeks off for bad behaviour. Now that I helped get Plante elected (along with 243,241 other Montreal voters), I’m going to take a little break from this weekly column gig.

Fortunately, my break coincides with the addition of a new Cult MTL satirical political column by my friend Ellie MacDonald, a brilliant young feminist, comedian and mother whose wry observations about life will fill any political vacuum created by my temporary absence.

Her debut column is already a huge hit and you can expect much more of the same. But don’t worry, Ellie is a regular addition to Cult MTL’s talented writing staff, not a temporary replacement for the white male pundit class so underrepresented in traditional media. I’ll be back after recharging my intellectual batteries and, hopefully, with fresh insights on life in Quebec, Ink.  ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.

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