Dominique Ollivier leads the way as Black women blaze trail to Montreal's city hall
Ollivier won city council seat by landslide during last Sunday's election
Four Black women are set to make their debuts on Montreal's political scene, led by Dominique Ollivier, who will soon become the second-most-powerful elected official in the city.
Ollivier is Montreal's next executive committee president, marking the first time a Black person has held that role in the city.
Ollivier ran alongside Mayor Valérie Plante in the latest municipal elections, and secured the high-pressure gig by winning the city council seat in the Vieux-Rosemont district by a landslide.
"I won't lie. It felt a bit overwhelming," Ollivier said of her victory on Sunday. "It's not that I didn't think I could do it. All of my experiences have prepared me for such a job. But it was just the idea that, first of all, people of Rosemont put their faith in me and elected me."
Ollivier and her parents moved from Haiti to Quebec in 1964, first settling in the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region before moving to Montreal about four years later.
WATCH | Dominique Ollivier explains significance of her election victory:
She has 30 years of experience in project management and communications, and is probably best known for her work as the commissioner and president of the city's public consultation body, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, from 2009 up until September of this year.
She's also worked as a political aide for Parti Québécois governments of the mid-1990s, as well as the federal Bloc Québécois in the early 2000s.
At the age of six, Ollivier says her dream was to become the mayor of Montreal. Decades later, she's set to be the mayor's second-in-command.
As close as she is to the city's top seat, she's more eager to start her new job than think of what her future might hold.
"I think I'm getting a bit old now for those kind of dreams [of becoming mayor]. And, you know, I think that I'm achieving something that is as important and as interesting," she said, smiling from ear to ear.
"For me today, this election, and the fact that I'm not alone, that I'm coming with a lot of other people from different backgrounds, it's kind of the realization of an entire [lifetime]."
Black woman leads city's most populous borough
Ollivier is right. She's not the only one who made history during the municipal election.
After trailing in votes all Sunday evening in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Gracia Kasoki Katahwa roared back to eke out a comeback victory, becoming the first Black woman in the city's history to become borough mayor.
Ericka Alnéus, who is of Haitian descent, was elected as city councillor in the Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie borough, same as Ollivier. Martine Musau Muele won a council seat in the city's Villeray district.
All four women ran under the Projet Montréal banner.
"I'm so proud, I could not think of a better way to enter politics," said Kasoki Katahwa, who grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"We knew each other before even [entering] politics because we were collaborating on different projects. We are people that are engaged in the community and to see that we're going to be able be active all together, it's something that is really inspiring."
Black women will also make their presence felt in off-island municipalities.
Rolanda Balma, Reine Bombo-Allara and Affine Lwalalika will all sit on the city council of Longueuil, on Montreal's South Shore.
Carla Pierre-Paul has grabbed a seat on the town council of Saint-Jerôme, on the city's north shore.
Source of inspiration
Kasoki Katahwa, who is a former nurse and administrator with the province's Order of Nurses, says she wants to make the most of her opportunity so she can inspire others to get involved in politics.
"I hope that it's going to help decrease the cynicism that we have sometimes about politics," she said. "More and more, if anyone wants to do politics, they can do it."
For years, the city of Montreal has faced scrutiny for the lack of diversity among its elected officials, despite the fact visible minorities make up a more than a third of the local population.
Ollivier says having more Black women in office can have a major effect on girls who, like her when she was little, are dreaming of becoming mayor — or even premier or prime minister.
She says it's important to keep highlighting these achievements, even if they are not historical firsts.
"If we want the youth, the children to be able to imagine themselves, to project themselves in all kinds of realms of life, you have to have role models," she said.
"What is important to celebrate is the second [person], the third, the fourth, until it becomes common practice. And that's what I'm hoping we can achieve."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
With files from Simon Nakonechny and CBC Montreal's Daybreak