Valérie Plante, Montreal’s new mayor, may be an untraditional politician, but she’s a quick study in the art of lowering expectations.
Early in the election campaign, Plante said work would begin on a 27-station subway extension – the Pink Line – by the end of her first mandate. As it dawned on her that she might win, Plante became fuzzier: actually, work would begin “as quickly as possible” during her second mandate. Meanwhile, questions mounted about her vagueness on costs and her contention that the billions required for the line were waiting in federal and provincial infrastructure funds.
But such was Plante’s attractiveness to voters (and Montrealers’ appetite for relief on the overcrowded metro, even if it’s a ways off) that she pulled off the walk-back without denting her poll numbers.
Plante lowered expectations a second time after she stunned observers in the Nov. 5 election, trouncing incumbent Denis Coderre. Plante, Montreal’s first female mayor, announced she had found an unexpected $358-million budgetary shortfall that will require cuts. Maybe some of those election promises will have to wait.
The question of how Plante pulled off the upset is a favourite watercooler topic. Her meteoric rise to mayor of Canada’s second-largest city is extraordinary: Plante, 43, had never run for office before becoming a city councillor in 2013, and only narrowly won her party’s leadership a year ago.
Coderre, a political veteran whom many expected would coast into a second mandate, was a listless campaigner, with little to say about the next four years except that it would be more of the same. There was much to praise about Coderre’s tenure: he tackled corruption and invested to rebuild decrepit infrastructure; partly as a result, the city’s economy boomed. But Montrealers were fed up with his arrogance.
Business leaders tried to throw Coderre a lifeline, coming out of the woodwork to praise him. But that just seemed to cement Coderre’s reputation as being out of touch with regular Montrealers and more in tune with millionaires seeking his help. Two of the businessmen – Mitch Garber and Stephen Bronfman – are keen on reviving professional baseball’s Expos, one of Coderre’s pet projects. Montrealers are wary, worried they’ll get stuck with the bill for a new stadium. Coderre wouldn’t say how much would be required; Plante promised a referendum before spending taxpayer cash.
Plante ran an almost faultless campaign. Her marketing was slick (“The man for the job” was one of her slogans). She has a pleasant personality, a ready laugh and comes off as a regular person (she’s a mom with two sons, ages 11 and 14). She was able to convince voters that her party – Projet Montréal – was ready to govern. A pro-transit, pro-cycling movement, it gained ground steadily since its founding in 2004; it already ran several boroughs, including Plateau-Mont-Royal, which was transformed through cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly measures.
Business is suspicious of Plante’s left-of-centre policies. But for now, Montrealers are ready to give her a chance. Her expectation-lowering is helping, as is her promise not to raise taxes above the inflation rate. After years of Coderre’s grand plans, voters are ready for a mayor with a human touch who knows the value of a dollar.
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