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After a big victory, Valérie Plante returns as Montreal mayor with even bigger challenges ahead

After a big victory, Valérie Plante returns as Montreal mayor with even bigger challenges ahead

Valérie Plante is back for another four years. It has been a remarkable run for a politician who burst onto the scene in 2017, upsetting veteran politician Denis Coderre to become mayor of the second largest city in Canada.

In her rematch with Coderre, Plante offered up a more tempered set of proposals than she had the first time around, when she grabbed attention with her idea for a new Metro line, a heightened focus on the environment and a promise to get the traffic-clogged city moving again.

Still, there was no shortage of promises in 2021, and, after four years in power, she demonstrated a more seasoned approach to politics.

Under the banner of Projet Montréal, a growing progressive force in city politics, she presented herself as the best candidate to steer the city through what she called the “ecological transition” to counter climate change, with more money for public transit, an expanded network of bike lanes and a pledge to plant half a million more trees over the next decade.

Her platform still cites the proposed Pink Metro line, but after failing to secure funding from the provincial and federal government during her last mandate, she barely mentioned it during the campaign.

The party’s strongest support remains where it started, in the city’s densely populated, trendy Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, where residents welcomed cycling-friendly planning and traffic-calming measures, but it has also succeeded in gaining support in the city’s more car-reliant outer reaches.

Valérie Plante put an emphasis on public transit and cycling during her second run for mayor. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Given the rising price of housing in a city not long ago envied for its low cost of living, Plante also pledged to create 60,000 affordable housing units by 2030 and bring in new measures to prevent landlords from illegally hiking the rent or kicking tenants out to flip the property.

And, in a bid to fend off Coderre, who played up a spike in gun violence over the summer, she pledged to hire 250 more police officers even though members of her party had called for reforms to the service.

Her candidacy clearly struck a chord.

After a race in which Plante and Coderre were neck and neck in opinion polls throughout most of the campaign, Plante secured 52 per cent of the vote Sunday night, 14 percentage points more than Coderre. Her party is also projected to have a majority of seats on council.

Denis Coderre, a former Liberal MP who was Montreal mayor from 2013 to 2017, delivered a concession speech Sunday after failing to win back his post. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The question now becomes: what will she do with this opportunity?

The city, it should be said, faces immense financial challenges. Hit hard by the pandemic, the city was bailed out in 2020 by the Quebec government to the order of $263 million and, even though it’s facing its own budget challenges, the province will likely need to do so again. 

Housing top priority

The city’s public transit service, the STM, also warned it’s facing a budget shortfall and could be forced to cut back services.  

In an interview with CBC News after her victory, Plante singled out housing as the number one priority, because it was “priority for Montrealers and it’s ours as well.”

She also cited the growing problem of homelessness and the need to improve public transit. But she stressed her plan for the city is costed, and within reach.

“It will be big picture but also detail-oriented,” she said. “It’s very important for me to play both sides.”

WATCH | Valérie Plante on her priorites for her second term:

Valérie Plante celebrates re-election in Montreal

Addressing a crowd of supporters, she said this result proves that “you can lead the city of Montreal with a smile.” 3:35

Earlier, celebrating with her party at Montreal’s Olympia Theatre, Plante spoke about how the past year-and-a-half was dominated by COVID-19.

Everything changed with a “snap of your fingers” in March 2020, she told the crowd.

Then she spoke about the opportunity now ahead, with four more years in power and the pandemic waning.

The city, she said, has the opportunity to be a leader on climate change in Canada and beyond.

While nearly half of her first term was defined by the darkness of the pandemic, Plante, the first woman elected as mayor of Montreal, said she sees the next four years as decisive for the city.

“Montrealers confirmed 2017 was not a fluke, but the beginning of an era,” she said, “and that you can lead the city of Montreal with a smile.”

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