Fresh from a federal election, Montreal is now in the middle of yet another campaign – one that could have big ramifications for the city if it (hopefully) emerges from the pandemic.
Voters will vote on November 6th and 7th to determine the city’s next mayor, district mayor and city council. More than 1,100 parishes across the province also hold elections.
In Montreal, incumbent Valérie Plante from Projet Montréal faces a challenge from her predecessor Denis Coderre and his party ensemble Montréal.
Their dividing lines are the same as last time in 2017, when Plante defeated Coderre with promises to increase funding for local public transport, increase social housing and improve the city’s cycle path network.
Coderre has promised a more balanced, business-friendly approach to bailing the city out of the pandemic.
Balarama Holness, an activist and former professional soccer player, is among the new faces running for mayor as head of the upstart Mouvement Montréal.
Holness – an outspoken figure on social justice issues – made the surprising decision this week to join forces with Ralliement pour Montréal, a party led by Marc-Antoine Desjardins that gained momentum with its pledge to protect the French language.
The unlikely partners have promised a more community-based approach to politics, and policies that aim to address the lack of affordable housing.
There are also several new parties at the district level, including Équipe Anjou, Sue Montgomery’s Courage in Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Quartiers Montreal in Villeray-St-Michel-Parc-Extension.
Local elections tend to have a low turnout – in 2017, only 43 percent of those eligible to vote cast their vote, while 62 percent cast their vote in the federal elections last month.
But a lot is at stake. There are important decisions to be made as the city adapts to the new post-pandemic realities.
Overall, the municipalities are responsible for almost 60 percent the public infrastructure. In Montreal, City Hall oversees services vital to daily life, from parks and police to public transportation and bike paths.
“It’s not abstract. It’s everyday life,” said Caroline Patsias, Professor of Political Science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Big questions and lots of them
On the way to the elections, Montreal faces an ever-tightening housing market, questions about the role of the police following a surge in shootings, growing concerns about the climate crisis and the resulting extreme weather and, yes, the ongoing pandemic.
With rents and property prices rising, living was the top issue in a recent poll of Léger voters, commissioned by Le Devoir.
All of the mayoral candidates have pledged to take steps to address the problem, though much depends on action by federal and state governments.
However, Plante and Coderre in particular differ in their approaches, with the former promising to build more affordable housing on a model that places more demands on developers and the latter advocating a more business-friendly approach.
All three lead candidates have pledged to create registers that would help apartment residents better track rent increases.
As for policing, the Montreal Police Department has received extensive investigations in recent years. given its cost (The SPVM made up 11 percent of the city’s total budget last year), calls for a more community-based approach and cases of racist profiling.
The tone of the debate changed over the summer after a surge in gang-related shootings. Plante announced more money for the Montreal police force ahead of the election to fight gangs, while Coderre has also made the fight against crime a major focus. He recently claimed that “Montreal is not safe” and suggested that security is the question of the ballot box.
For its part, Holness wants more money for social and recreational services instead of police work.
The last local elections focused heavily on local transport and ways to improve getting around the busy city.
Plante won with a promise to get the city moving again, with more bike lanes, bus lanes, and finally a new Pink subway line.
The latter, of course, did not occur and the pandemic has kept many people at home.
With many public health restrictions lifted, candidates will have just over a month to set out their visions for the city when it starts moving again.
How do I vote?
Although the official term began on September 18, aspiring candidates had until October 1 to register with Quebec’s Director General for Elections (DGEQ).
In order to be able to vote in the local elections, you must meet certain criteria and be entered on your local authority’s electoral roll.
The criteria include:
- Be at least 18 years old on election day.
- Be a Canadian citizen as of September 1, 2021.
Because of the pandemic, some municipalities are offering voters the option of postal voting (but not in Montreal). More details are available here.
You must also fill in at least one of the following two criteria:
- Live in the parish and have lived in the province for at least six months.
- Own a building or use a local business for at least 12 months after September 1, 2016.
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