'Happy warrior' Valérie Plante sets sights on Denis Coderre
New Projet Montréal leader plays up teamwork, grassroots approach to politics
A steady stream of Projet Montréal supporters, many of them young parents pushing strollers, others who braved the December chill on their bikes, filed into Olympia Theatre on Sunday to cast their vote in the party's leadership race.
In the end, Valérie Plante won by fewer than 100 votes.
Now, the 42-year-old with a background in museum studies faces a monumental challenge: taking down political heavyweight Denis Coderre.
Even the party's longtime interim leader, Luc Ferrandez, has expressed skepticism Projet can beat Team Coderre on Nov. 5, 2017.
But in a series of interviews the morning after her victory, Plante maintained she has a shot.
"I'm often called the happy warrior," she told Radio-Canada's Gravel le Matin.
"I'm ready to go to the front, but at the same time I have an easy smile."
Beyond the Plateau
Projet Montréal has traditionally done well in the densest, central parts of the city, where its emphasis on public transportation and cycling tends to resonate.
The goal now is for Plante to recruit a roster of attractive candidates and develop policy proposals that appeal to Montrealers living east, west and north of the party's traditional base.
"We need to find a way to connect with all the citizens, wherever they are on the island," she said Monday on Daybreak.
"The idea is to go on the ground and find out what people want.... If there are good ideas on the Plateau, we will take them; if there are good ideas from China, we'll take them, same if they come from Paris."
Plante was up against Guillaume Lavoie, a fellow city councillor, in the leadership race.
Both have been with the party since 2013.
Plante campaigned on the idea (it's not a promise, at this point, she says) of building a new, $6-billion Metro line that would cut diagonally through the city, of devoting more money toward social housing and improving energy efficiency for buildings owned and operated by the City of Montreal.
The vote was close, with Plante winning by a count of 998 to 919.
Plante, who was first elected in 2013 as the councillor for the Ville-Marie borough's Sainte-Marie district, said she won the leadership by speaking directly to voters, going door to door and holding kitchen parties.
She plans to take on Coderre the same way, by emphasizing her party's team of councillors and its grassroots approach.
"We don't see his team. It's a one-man show," Plante said of the mayor.
Coderre congratulated Plante on her victory on Sunday and said they both shared the same objective — improving the lives of Montrealers — even if they don't agree on the approach.
With less than a year before the vote, however, little co-operation can be expected.
Plante, who would become the city's first elected female mayor, said in her victory speech that Montrealers are "thirsty for change," and a mayor that listens to them.
Despite Coderre's recent controversies over his pit bull bylaw and spending for the 375th anniversary, however, the mayor remains a popular figure with a reputation for quick action.
To have a shot, Plante will need to persuade more Montrealers — not just those with strollers and on bikes — that Projet Montréal can make a difference for the better next November.