Montreal·Exclusive

Countdown to victory: 72 hours with Valérie Plante

This is what the final days of the campaign looked like from the inside.

CBC News was given exclusive access to Plante's campaign in the final days before the election

CBC’s Sarah Leavitt got exclusive access Valérie Plante's campaign. See what happened in the final hours before her historic win. 4:12

"Can you f--king believe it?"

Valérie Plante is backstage at the Corona Theatre. A few minutes earlier, Denis Coderre called her to concede victory. She is now Montreal's mayor-elect.

The transition of power is already underway. As Plante hugs members of her team, her new security detail looks on.

When she is sworn in later this month, Plante will become Montreal's first female mayor, in charge of Canada's second-largest city and responsible for $5.2 billion worth of spending.

But at 9:45 p.m. on Sunday, the enormity of what she's just accomplished has yet to sink in. 

"I don't even know—," she stammers. "I think I'll get emotional later on. I'm just shocked right now."

CBC's Sarah Leavitt spent the final 72 hours of the Montreal municipal campaign following Plante. She was given exclusive access to Plante's campaign events, her campaign headquarters and her home.

Coderre's campaign declined to accommodate a similar request for access.

This is what the final days of the winning campaign looked like from the inside.     


Friday, Saturday on the hustings

With polls suggesting a close race, the home stretch of the campaign involves what Plante's team says she does best: speaking to citizens.

On Friday and Saturday, she rides the Metro, and visits businesses along Monkland Avenue in N.D.G. and Wellington Avenue in Verdun — two boroughs where she needs to pick up votes if she's going to win. 

She also tours the city's major markets.
Plante with her chief of staff Marie-Eve Gagnon (left) in her campaign's cramped rented Yaris. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

As the campaign wound down, Le Devoir, La Presse and the Montreal Gazette all published editorials endorsing her opponent. Driving from Jean Talon to Maisonneuve market on Saturday, I ask her about the endorsements.  

"I don't think it really matters," she says from the backseat of the small red Yaris her campaign rented to help the cycling enthusiast get around.

"The endorsements come from the owners of those newspapers and I think they have their interests and they aren't necessarily the interests of the population."

Plante's popularity is based less on establishment support, and more on her charm, and a soon-to-be trademarked laugh.

Before she arrives at the market, a six-year-old boy says he'd vote for Coderre. Ten minutes and one conversation with Plante later, he says he's changed his mind.

If Coderre is 'Kid Kodak,' then he's in competition with Polaroid Plante, who is stopped almost every minute so people can take a photo with her.

Plante's campaign manager Guillaume Cloutier says Denis Coderre's team ran a poor campaign, but that the Formula E fiasco was the turning point. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

The campaign guru

It is around 5 p.m. on Saturday — 17 hours until polls open — and Plante has just held her last event of the grueling 45-day campaign. Her campaign manager, Guillaume Cloutier, is feeling good.  

"Their campaign is a disaster and our campaign was really good," Cloutier tells me. "It's why, one day before the election, we can now say it's possible for us to win."

We are sitting in a room at campaign headquarters known as "The Dungeon." It is equipped with only one lamp with a glaring bare bulb. There is a sofa, a table, a shower and a punching bag.

Plante HQ is in a former spa, near Beaudry Metro. Each office is equipped with a shower or bath and, in one instance, an unidentifiable piece of equipment that looks like a tanning bed.

"In December 2016, we started to analyze our business case," Cloutier says. "We started with some focus groups, with some surveys and we started to see the kind of approach we would have for this campaign."

That means Plante began planning her mayoralty campaign almost immediately after her surprise win in the Projet Montréal leadership race. 

Plante's team believes one of her strengths is meeting citizens, no matter what the age. (Radio-Canada)

By the summer she was, however, still unknown to most Montreal voters. But July brought a political gift for Plante, an event that gave her a platform to raise her profile with Montrealers.

"We had the Formula E event and it changed everything," Cloutier says of the sparsely attended electric-car race. He is sitting on the sofa with his legs crossed, wearing a grey hoodie. His exhaustion is apparent. 

"I'm really satisfied by what we did but ... I'm kind of freaking out a little bit."

Decision time

Election Day begins at Caffè Mille Gusti in Rosemont for communications director Marc-André Viau. 

Joined by a Le Devoir journalist and the campaign's official photographer, they stock up on coffee before we make our way to Plante's house.

The Projet leader lives on the bottom floor of a triplex with her partner and two sons.

On Sunday morning, her kitchen and living room are strewn with empty coffee cups and newspapers.

​Her 14-year-old son is oblivious to the action around him, playing a computer game. Her 11-year-old pops in only to grab his iPad before heading upstairs, where his grandmother lives.

On her way to vote, Plante is stopped by a citizen asking for directions to the polling station.

"Do you remember me?" the citizen asks.

"Yes! We saw each other in Outremont. You are the crossing guard at the school," Plante replies.

Plante on the steps of City Hall on the day after her historic win. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Rallying the troops

After voting, Plante and her team make their way to the local borough headquarters. About 30 people are working the phones, calling people to remind them to vote.

Before leaving, Plante's partner, Pierre-Antoine Harvey, writes out "Merci!" on the whiteboard.

She spends a few quiet hours with her family as polls close and results start to come in. The advance ballots are counted first, and give Plante an early lead. 

The lead doesn't waver as more ballots are counted. At 9:14 p.m. CBC News projects she'll win the election.  

At the Corona Theatre, a line up has already formed around the block and security is tight. When Plante arrives about a half-hour later, the riot police standing guard begin to cheer.

​"Go and see them," Viau tells her.

Meanwhile, in the crammed basement backstage, press attaché Youssef Amane scrambles to get Plante's victory speech printed. But the printer doesn't work.

"I don't care how, but figure out a solution," Viau tells him.

Amane runs upstairs and finds a member of the concert hall's staff to print it for him.

Plante makes her way downstairs, where she waits for Coderre to give his concession speech. Before taking the stage to give hers, Plante puts a hand over her heart. 

"375 years after Jeanne Mance," Plante tells the crowd when she finally takes the stage, "Montreal has its first female mayor."


 

About the Author

Sarah Leavitt

Journalist

Sarah Leavitt is a journalist with CBC Montreal.