'Fed up with the old boys' club': Women elected to top municipal jobs across Quebec

Not only is Valérie Plante the first woman to be elected Montreal mayor, seven of 18 borough mayors elected in are women, as are many city councillors and mayors in cities across Quebec.

7 of 18 borough mayors elected in Montreal are women, as are many city councillors and other Quebec mayors

Montreal's mayor-elect Valerie Plante meets City Hall employees on Monday. Plante scored a stunning upset in Montreal's mayoral election on Sunday, defeating incumbent Denis Coderre to become the first woman to win the post. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Yesterday, Montrealers elected a woman to be mayor for the first time.

"We have written a new page in Montreal's history books," mayor-elect Valérie Plante said in her victory speech on Sunday. 

Plante may be the most prominent newly elected woman, but in Montreal boroughs, and in cities and towns across the province — which holds elections on the first Sunday of November — other women made significant inroads.

Wave of women elected to municipal office in Quebec

5 years ago
Duration 1:05
A wave of women were elected to municipal office in Quebec, led by Valérie Plante, the first woman elected mayor of Montreal.

Seven of 18 borough mayors elected in Montreal are now women, including former Montreal Gazette journalist Sue Montgomery. (As mayor, Plante also becomes borough mayor of Ville-Marie, the downtown district.)

Montgomery defeated the incumbent mayor of Cote-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Russell Copeman, despite having no prior municipal political experience.

"I think it goes back to just being fed up with the old boys' club," Montgomery told CBC News. "I'm really happy to see that so many young people got involved."

Maja Vodanovic also beat her male rival, Claude Dauphin, for the mayor's post in the borough of Lachine, and women took the top job in five others:

  •   Chantal Rouleau was re-elected in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles.
  •   Manon Barbe was re-elected in LaSalle.
  •   Christine Black was re-elected in Montreal North.
  •   Ahuntsic-Cartierville elected Émilie Thullier.
  •   Giuliana Fumagalli replaces Anie Samson as borough mayor in Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

Women were also elected mayor in the cities of Westmount, Saguenay, Longueuil and Rouyn-Noranda.

In Brossard, on Montreal's South Shore, mayor-elect Doreen Assaad said her council will have gender parity for the first time.

"We have a lot of challenges ahead of us," she said in an interview on CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "We're going to stand tall and make the citizens proud."

Sue Montgomery defeated Russell Copeman, the incumbent mayor of the Cote-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough, without any prior political experience. (CBC)

'Progress toward parity'

"Yesterday's results represent a wind of change," the Quebec Council on the Status of Women said in a statement Monday, adding the "election of many women in municipal politics" represents "progress toward parity."

Of the 19 borough mayor candidates or co-candidates for the municipal party Projet Montréal, 10 were women and nine were men.

Eleven men ran for borough mayor under the Équipe Denis Coderre banner.

The council added that an increased women's presence is crucial to political institutions, calling the election results "a historic breakthrough."

According to the Quebec Ministry of Municipal Affairs, 4,046 women in Quebec sought a municipal post in Sunday's election, including 385 mayoral candidates.

In 2005, 24.7 per cent of municipal candidates were women. By 2017, that figure had risen to 31.3 per cent.

The number of women elected to senior municipal posts indicates a major turning point, according to prominent Quebec feminist Francine Pelletier. (CBC)

'Victory for women'

Those figures represent a major turning point for women, said Quebec writer and prominent feminist Francine Pelletier.

"We all know how difficult it has been for women to get to high places, including political places," Pelletier said. "It's a victory for women."

Montreal is now the largest city in Canada with a female mayor.

Plante's ambitious agenda, such as the proposed construction of a new metro line, will likely be more difficult to achieve simply because the mayor-elect is a woman, Pelletier predicted.

On the other hand, Plante "is riding a feminine wave of disgust with the way politics and powerful people conduct themselves." she said, citing the #BeenRapedNeverReported social media campaign, the sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein and others, and arrogance in the political sphere.

Pelletier suggests the effect is a shift toward women, because they are seen as being free from those habits often associated with men.

She said Plante isn't shy to display what some might see as traditional feminine qualities, "which in the past would have sunk her: the fact that she smiled too much or she giggled too much… those feminine qualities are now paying off."

Exhibiting the confidence of a man without being arrogant, along with some qualities that could be associated with femininity, like listening and integrity, appear to have created a winning combination for Plante, Pelletier said.

With files from CBC Daybreak and CBC's Lauren McCallum