Montreal prepares to loosen unwritten rule on wearing ties at city council

While Montreal does not have a specific dress code on the books, an unwritten rule makes it mandatory for male city council members to wear ties at meetings. A move to get rid of that requirement will be presented at the next city council meeting in May.

Coun. Cathy Wong wants City Hall to get with the times by reforming dress code

An unwritten rule makes it mandatory for male city council members (pictured here during a January meeting at City Hall) to wear ties during council meetings. That will soon change, however. (Julie Marceau/Radio-Canada)

City council members will soon no longer be tied down — literally — as Montreal plans to quash a longstanding, unwritten rule requiring male councillors to wear ties during meetings.

A city council commission that oversees procedural rules and conduct made the decision as part of its effort to bring City Hall more in line with the times.

"I want to modernize city council," said Coun. Cathy Wong, who was named city council speaker after the municipal election last fall, becoming the first woman in Montreal's history to take up the post. Wong is also president of the rules and conduct commission.

While the City of Montreal does not have a specific dress code on the books, an unwritten rule makes it mandatory for male city council members to wear ties during council meetings.

The move to get rid of that requirement, which will be presented at the next city council meeting at the end of May, will also propose giving councillors more freedom to wear what they want at City Hall.

"Dress codes evolve, just like norms and customs," said Wong.

She said she hopes to "insert more and more non-binary reflections [related to identities that are not tied to the feminine or masculine genders]" into the dress code discussion.

Rule on mandatory ties 'reflects a certain time'

The neckwear issue was formally challenged by Luis Miranda, the mayor of Anjou, last November.

In a motion tabled at the time, Miranda argued that wearing ties at city council should be "a personal choice rather than an unwritten rule."

Coun. Marvin Rotrand, the head of Coalition Montréal and co-sponsor of last year's motion, said in December that getting rid of mandatory ties would put Montreal in line with other cities.

Ties are no longer part of the mandatory dress code in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and London, U.K., Rotrand said at the time.

"The idea reflects a certain time, when we even forced women to wear skirts or dresses," he said.

"Finally, that practice changed in 1974, when some women came into the room in pants," said Rotrand, referring to Thérèse Daviau, a former Montreal city councillor who was known for taking feminist positions.

The issue has come up before

This isn't the first time the dress code at City Hall has been up for debate.

In 2014, Coun. Alex Norris was expelled from a meeting after he arrived in a short-sleeved polo shirt. Norris had also been reprimanded for refusing to wear a tie a few years before that.

Coun. Frantz Benjamin, who served as council speaker from 2013 to 2017, said wearing a tie at city council is part of "respecting decorum."

Cathy Wong, who was elected as a city councillor in the Ville-Marie borough last fall, says the revised dress code will give councillors more freedom to wear what they want at City Hall — but not too much freedom. (CBC)

"Ninety-five per cent of the time, a councillor can dress however he or she wants, but for me, the council chambers hold a strong, symbolic significance," Benjamin said.

"We come to that place to vote on budgets, on important sums, and we should avoid appearing flippant. Wearing a tie is a tradition."

Benjamin said the decision is ultimately in the hands of the council speaker and will respect any changes that may come.

"But I'll still wear a vest and tie," he said, smiling.

More diverse dress at city hall

According to Wong, a revised dress code doesn't give city councillors a free pass to dress absolutely any way they want.

"I don't want people to show up in flip flops or sweatpants," she said.

Wong said the style of dress needs to stay in line with the work taking place at City Hall.

That could mean going beyond ties, and reflecting on what clothes best reflect the councillors themselves — or Montrealers at large.

"Maybe one day there will be an elected official from Senegal who will want to wear a boubou. Or a councillor of Chinese origins with a Mandarin [standing] collar. All those styles don't include a tie," Wong said.

"Before, a tie was a symbol of confidence and credibility. But today, does it really represent the citizens?"

With files from Radio-Canada's Romain Schué