The race for city hall enters a critical phase as incumbent Denis Coderre and Projet Montréal's Valérie Plante face-off tonight for the first of two debates that will be held over the next week.

By the time the second debate wraps up on Monday at Concordia University, it should be clear who is carrying momentum heading into election day Nov. 5.

​​Tonight's French-language debate is hosted by the Montreal Chamber of Commerce (start time 6:30 p.m.) and will focus on four themes: living together in Montreal, governing Montreal, succeeding in Montreal and getting around in Montreal.

The two have sparred in city and borough council sessions, but have never debated each other directly before. Their appearance together last week on the French talk show Tout le monde en parle offered a taste though of what to expect tonight.

​While civil, they took subtle jabs at each other as they clashed over issues like the Formula E race, cycling safety and Plante's $6-billion promise to build a new Metro line.

This time, though, they won't be surrounded by celebrity guests holding them to their best behaviour. Expect things to get confrontational.

Denis Coderre

Denis Coderre said earlier this week that he has taken preparing for the debate seriously. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

A study in contrasts

To date, incumbent Denis Coderre has run a subdued campaign. He has avoided flashy promises, opting instead to stress continuity with his four years in power. Indeed many of his campaign announcements have simply reiterated projects his administration already has in the works.  

Plante, on the other hand, has sought to grab headlines with a series of big-ticket promises, most notable of which has been the Pink line, a $6-billion pledge to build a new Metro line connecting Montreal North to Lachine.

The debate will showcase not only how different their respective platforms are, but also their wildly different personalities — offering a clue about their styles of governing. 

Coderre can be a combative debater, a style honed from years as a Liberal MP forced to negotiate the helter-skelter of Question Period. The downside: he can come across as testy and dismissive.

Plante, on the other hand, comes from a community organizing background. She's untested in such high-stakes political games, but has energized her campaign with a blend of idealism and charisma.

Valerie Plante

Valerie Plante, seen here at the Charcuterie Hongroise, has been squeezing in prep-time during breaks in the campaign. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

Getting ready to rumble

Her campaign has brought in undisclosed experienced consultants to help with her preparation. Even though it's her first debate, she'll be helped by the fact she's effectively been campaigning since August, said a Plante staff member.

Earlier this week, while noting this is his 11th campaign for elected office, Coderre said he was nevertheless taking debate prep "seriously."

"We'll talk about the Montreal of tomorrow, the Montreal that's transforming," he told reporters. "We'll answer all the questions, we'll be factual, and we'll show to what point we've put Montreal on the map."

The candidates will square off again on Monday for an English-language debate.


CBC Montreal's municipal election team will have complete coverage of tonight's debate starting at 6:30 p.m. Read our two profiles of the leaders: