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Valérie Plante, the smile as armor

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Cheerful, she is. But there stops the game. In five years on the municipal chessboard, “the joyful warrior” has debunked Louise Harel and Denis Coderre to rise at the head of a city of 1.9 million souls. Portrait of the first woman to preside over the destinies of Montreal, “375 years after Jeanne Mance”.
A text by Anne-Marie Lecomte

In the days following Valérie Plante’s victory at Montreal City Hall , things go so fast that even her handbag can not keep up with her. On Thursday, November 9, she leaves behind her on the premises of SmartHalo, an emerging techno company in the trendy Mile-End neighborhood, where the first Montréal mayor holds a press briefing.

The following Saturday, she went on a hair loss at the Bell Center, where she had just attended the Canadiens game, Montreal’s women’s hockey team. A black leather bag just wide enough to hold the essentials: keys and ID cards. But now, in front of Valérie Plante, the doors open and people recognize it: “Hey, it’s the mayor,” exclaimed young men as they saw him in the corridor of the arena. ” Cheers! They shout to the lady who gratifies them with a happy smile.

His smile. His laugh! Actor and host Marc Labrèche made hot throats in a parody, House of Valérie , inspired by the series House of Cards . Interpreting alternately an icy narrator and a delirious Valerie, the artist set the table: “A lot of shuffling work is waiting for you,” he quipped for the newly elected excited. “There are some monohulls that will try,” he predicts.

At the mention of this skit in an interview with Radio-Canada.ca, Valérie Plante laughs. “I laughed a lot here,” she says adding that she has “a lot of self-deprecation”. This satire is all the more “an honor” for her that one of her two sons was amazed: “Hey mom, it’s cool there, it’s been just four days that you’ve been elected” have already Marc Labrèche who imitates you! ”

Stay on her own

Petite despite her high heels, Valérie Plante nestles among the dozen young employees – ten men, two women – SmartHalo for a photo. The company’s team has just launched its flagship product, a smart device for bike mount on the handlebars and equipped with a GPS, an alarm system and a compass.

It is that the very sporty Mayor intends to sulk next spring limousine and drivers to circulate as often as possible by bicycle. It will be a headache for the Police Service of the City of Montreal (SPVM) which must ensure its safety.

In the premises of SmartHalo, the journalist that I am observing. Generous hair, holding without furbelows, a single ring, discreet earrings, neat nails and, for all makeup on her beautiful skin, a thin line of Kohl. I am surprised to note these feminine considerations. Would I spend so much time on her look if she was a man?

Valérie Plante admits having wondered at the beginning of the campaign if she should “lower the” smile “” and be a little more serious because a man who smiles, it’s warm, she says, while a woman? “She’s not credible, maybe silly. Is she trying to please? Reflecting on that, she decided to stay herself. If I win Montreal, she concluded, people will have to love me as I am.

Valerie, she’ll say what she thinks and she’ll smile, that’s clear. And she’ll surround herself with people like her, not grumpy or grumpy.

Constance Lamarre, mother of Valérie Plante

In the premises of SmartHalo, once the photo is taken, the mayor bursts out laughing. Like that, without reason. She laughs as she breathes. “It’s almost a punctuation,” says Steve Shanahan, who worked with him for four years in the central borough of Ville-Marie, as an advisor in Peter-McGill and she in Sainte-Marie. “She laughs because she’s happy, or nervous, she’s laughing all the time,” he says.

This smile, is it an armor? ” Oh yes! she answers me bluntly. It’s a tool for me to get in touch with people. ”

Even in difficult times, I laugh. It’s a beautiful armor! People are so happy that they are offered smiles.

Valérie Plante

On the show Tout le monde en parle , the main interested party was delighted that its stunning victory at the Montreal mayor’s office gave “ben of the world the desire to have fun in life”, including in politics.

That good humor is paying off at the polls did not escape the Premier of Quebec, one year from his own election. In the aftermath of the election, Philippe Couillard said that the company had just said “what kind of politics should be practiced” . And also, what kind of campaign was needed: “[…] with substance, but with a smile,” noted the Liberal leader.

In the municipal arena, this jovial does not, however, neighborhoods.

In 2013, the entourage of the seasoned Louise Harel is convinced that this unknown to the battalion has no chance. Surprised, she beats her.

In December 2016, she won the leadership of Projet Montréal to Guillaume Lavoie, then a consultant in Marie-Victorin. “Valérie Plante brings down the giants,” said Luc Ferrandez, mayor of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, who had been the interim leader of the party.

“She was the one who beat Louise Harel, much to everyone’s surprise. And to the surprise of everyone, she will eventually beat Denis Coderre, “he says. It was a prophecy.

Growing up in Montée-du-Sourire

Valérie Plante was born in Abitibi, with Ontario just west and James Bay to the north, a seven-hour drive from Montreal.

In Rouyn, the one who defines herself as “the joyful warrior” grew up in the Montée-du-Sourire district – it’s not invented! In the 1960s, his maternal grandfather was county prefect and mayor of a small village, Sainte-Claire-de-Colombourg, today merged with Macamic.

His sister Caroline, five years older and mother of three teenagers, works in a restaurant chain Normandin in Quebec City. Of the two, it is Valerie the career woman, recognizes their mother, Constance Lamarre.

In Abitibi, Ms. Lamarre participated in “The street, the night, women without fear”, marches denouncing sexual violence against women: “I took my daughters with me, yes yes yes! Mother and daughter say they are feminists, “even if it is made pejorative, but it’s not my problem, that, and Valerie either,” slice Constance Lamarre.

You do not have to have the same governance as men. We are equal, but we are not the same, huh?

Constance Lamarre, mother of Valérie Plante

His energy is contagious and his strength of conviction is formidable.

In Trois-Rivières, where her mother moves after the separation from her parents, Valérie Plante finishes her high school at De-La-Salle school, where selective waste collection is practically non-existent. Ecologist, the teenager recruits classmates for the situation to change.

Among them, Chloé Leriche who, by his own admission, spent his lunch hours on “the bench of poteux “. In contact with the indefatigable Plante who trains each morning at the pool, Chloé Leriche is mobilized to the point where she stays in the evening, after school, to take care of the recycling bins.

Today committed filmmaker, Chloé Leriche has supported Valérie Plante in her race at the Mayor of Montreal. “Given what she did with me, you can trust her,” she said, laughing at her surroundings.

He is a genuinely sociable, cheerful and enthusiastic person, forever.

Christian Gates St-Pierre, archaeologist, professor of anthropology and friend of Valérie Plante

For her friend and neighbor Christian Gates St-Pierre, it is the anthropologist in her who makes a real populist near people, on the ground, to observe their living conditions in order to improve them. “It’s absolutely sincere [from her] and I know that’s what brought her to politics,” he says.

And what brought her into anthropology is her father. “I come from a very modest community in Abitibi, most of my family members are in the mining sector,” she says. But not his father, a small entrepreneur who had what the new mayor of Montreal today calls a crazy idea: to become a supplier of a thousand objects at this time where the $ 1 stores did not yet exist.

“There were few shopping centers in Abitibi,” she says, and in many villages, the convenience store was the general store. So, my father painted a yellow school bus in blue, and put instead of the benches, shelves all well organized, not the brothel, impeccable! “I spent my time on this bus,” says Valérie Plante.

Each month, Mr. Plante came down to Montreal and Valerie followed him there, already loving this city. At wholesalers, he was stocking up on greeting cards and ” cool stuff ” for the Abitibi convenience stores.

In Rouyn, Amos, La Sarre and in all the small villages, the girl watched her father, “that everyone knew,” interact with his clients. “My desire to be an anthropologist comes from this happiness that I have to be invited into the bubble of people,” she says. It is important. I do not force the bubble, I like when people invite me, even if only two minutes. When it happens, I’m happy, I accept. ”

Get out of your comfort zone

Valérie Plante says she is “really happy” to have learned English “because it’s so practical”. She learned it the hard way, in total immersion during an exile that she imposed herself in mid-adolescence in northern Ontario. Her mother remembers having traveled with her two daughters the four-hour drive between Rouyn and North Bay to find a unilingual Anglophone family willing to welcome her younger daughter for a whole school year.

Morning and evening, Valerie called her mother crying. But to the latter, who invited her to return, she replied: “I will wait again.” At Christmas, the little Abitibi girl had adapted so well that she dreamed in English …

The new mayor of Montreal says she has often placed herself in vulnerable situations. In an interview, she drops that she is at her best when pushed in her last … but changes her mind before pronouncing the word “entrenchments”. “I’m at my best when I get out of my comfort zones,” she said more cautiously. And all my life, that’s what I did. ”

And this, even when it reaches the bottom of the barrel, what happened to him before embarking on municipal politics. From entrenchments, she did not have any more. Valérie Plante had accepted a job “in a very stimulating environment”, but that did not suit him. The happy warrior stumbled.

Yes, a slump, really. I feel like I have been depressed for a year. […] I remember telling the universe, at the risk of seeming esoteric: “OK, let’s go , I want a challenge”.

Valérie Plante

At the end of April 2013, Valérie Plante participated in a fundraising cocktail party organized by the Women, Politics and Democracy Group, which encourages women to get involved in politics. Ms. Plante sits on the board of directors of this group and tells her director, Esther Lapointe, that she is “really interested in municipal politics”. The director puts her in touch with a Projet Montréal advisor, who will join Plante a few weeks later as a candidate.

“I’m the mayor,” she says five years later.

The cause of women

In the second debate of the leaders opposing Valérie Plante to Denis Coderre, held in English within a week of the elections, the outgoing mayor ventures into the slippery field of “law 62”, the law promoting respect for neutrality religious of the state. Both Ms. Plante and Mr. Coderre oppose this obligation for women to reveal their faces when they receive public services. But Denis Coderre blames Valérie Plante for having dithered on his positions.

She nails him so firmly that applause rushes into the room: “I worked in the field with marginalized and racialized women, I have no lessons to receive from you, Mr. Coderre”.

In her tracks, the candidate first uses the word ” news ” rather than ” lessons “, a benign error that she catches without flinching. Mr. Coderre is the man to be shot and she is “the man of the situation”, slogan that wore one of his pre-election posters, a smoking marketing stroke.

Before going into politics, Valérie Plante notably taught self-defense techniques at the Center for the Prevention of Aggression in Montreal. She has also been involved in women’s issues, leading the Girls Action Foundation, a Canada-wide non-profit organization that promotes and promotes the rights of underprivileged girls.

“She worked hard to diversify our message,” Fabienne Pierre-Jacques, who worked with Valérie Plante at the Foundation, told CBC. “She really tried to understand the contributions of different communities. ”

At the Girls Action Foundation, the plight of some women has marked it. She found it “difficult and shocking” to see them struggling to cope, “but it’s so hard because you’re Aboriginal, refugee, immigrant.” “I have worked hard on social development, with the most vulnerable communities,” she says. For those who are marginalized, it is necessary to find “durable solutions”, she insists.

A curious beating

Going to the front, “she likes it,” says Steve Shanahan, who did not know her Eve or Adam before being elected like her in 2013, he for the True Change party for Montreal and she for Project Montreal. He did not meet him until the day of the swearing-in. “I was his new colleague and she really wanted to know me,” he recalls.

In the interest of Valérie Plante that day, Steve Shanahan felt a sincere desire to work with him in the ranks of the opposition, but also “possibly” against him, if any. The new politician placed her pawns and wanted to know who she was dealing with.

For four years in Ville-Marie, says Steve Shanahan, Councilor Plante has rebuffed the ears of the administration Coderre on the need to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.

“She has this very militant, very demanding approach […],” says Shanahan. When there was a point she wanted to discuss, it was the confrontation, the claim, black and white, “you have to do this and if you do not do it” … ”

In the end, they were “good collaborators,” says Steve Shanahan, who describes Valérie Plante as a “worker” with a real sense of listening. Unlike Denis Coderre who seeks to “swallow” people to rally to his idea, Valerie Plante seeks to “include”, says Steve Shanahan.

She encourages people to get to the bottom of their thoughts and listens to them from A to Z, the 26 letters with serious and acute accents.

Steve Shanahan, former city councilor in Ville-Marie borough

“Unlike some politicians, she loves people,” says Ed Broadbent, who led the New Democratic Party for 14 years and founded the Broadbent Institute, whose board of directors includes Valerie Plante as a member for three years. years. “She is curious about others, a wonderful asset in politics,” he says.

From left, Valérie Plante? “Forget about the label, and look at what it offers,” says the former chef, borrowing a formula from former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas, who was responsible for the first draft of the insurance disease in the country. “Beyond politics, what is the idea? That’s the crucial thing to consider, “said the former member for Ottawa Center.

At the Broadbent Institute, where she was picked on the basis of “solid recommendations,” Valerie Plante won the favor of C. A. members for her dynamism, according to Ed Broadbent. Where some shrink from a project too ambitious, Valerie Plante, it is never disassembled, he says.

A huge task

Tonight we wrote a new story page for Montreal. 375 years after Jeanne Mance, Montreal finally has her first mayor.

Valérie Plante, during her victory speech on the night of the November 5, 2017 election

So many expectations are invested in Valérie Plante that one would say it carries a missionary project. In the 17th century, Jeanne Mance had dressed to the hurry and founded a hospital. The new mayor of Montreal has mobility and social housing priorities. In each era his concerns.

On this radiant but cold Saturday, two men sleep in the Lucien-L’Allier metro, one on a bench on the platform, the other on a landing between two staircases. On leaving the station, a young aboriginal begs for cigarettes. A fire truck climbs the rue de la Montagne, all screaming sirens.

That there are so many people in the street and in the metro, Valérie Plante “do not like it”.

“This is not what I want for them and it is not desirable for the City either,” she says, noting in passing her political commitment to “significantly” increase the number of social and affordable.

The Mayor says that “people […] want to feel that their city and the province care for vulnerable people.” The mention of Quebec is not trivial: the costly proposal made by Projet Montréal to build 12,000 social housing units over four years will require the financial participation of the provincial government. In fact, 36 hours after his election, it was the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Martin Coiteux, whom Valérie Plante met .

300 meters from the metro Lucien-L’Allier is the Bell Center. On the horizon, the third round of condos of Canadians rises, “high-end skyscrapers” popular with Airbnb tourists.

“Wealth is good for economic development,” says Valérie Plante, who goes on to say that it can benefit everyone … as long as it is redistributed. Montréal’s status as a metropolis this fall gives the city more “leverage” to “force” the Tower of Canadians and other buildings to invest in social housing, says the mayor.

Montreal, a metropolis island crowned by a mountain, is home to nearly a quarter of Quebec’s population – housed in 19 boroughs divided between the St. Lawrence River and the Rivière des Prairies. The agglomeration of Montreal has 15 reconstituted cities grouped together in council, which is presided by Mayor Plante. Finally, Greater Montreal is divided into 82 municipalities nestled under the hat of the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM), which is also chaired by Mayor Plante.

In total: 4 million inhabitants, a whole kingdom with interests and needs sometimes divergent. “A challenge of representation and coherence at each territorial level,” says UQAM professor Danielle Pilette.

Representation is the primary mandate of the mayor, recalls Ms. Pilette, while the management of operations traditionally returns to the chairman of the executive committee, a function that will assume Benoit Dorais within the administration Plante.

And in this task, Valérie Plante seems to have “exactly what she needs”, according to Danielle Pilette, qualities of convener, mediator and negotiator.

Who says representation says image. In this regard, the new mayor has good reflexes.

On November 11, when she finds her opponent Denis Coderre in Canada Square for the Remembrance Day ceremony, she pulls from the pocket of her black coat her sunglasses, which she will only wear when she finishes. National Anthem of Canada … And she will retire to lay a wreath in front of the Cenotaph, arm in arm with the outgoing mayor.

That day, the cameras have so much for her that in the midst of veterans in kilt or wearing berets, Minister Martin Coiteux looks like a stranger, anonymous in his raincoat.

The magnitude of the task that is now incumbent on the City Hall does not give Vertigo to Valérie Plante. “I know I’m a good mayor because I do not like the minimum,” she says.

She often begins her sentences with “me me”. “I do not owe anything to anyone. Honestly, there? I’m coming and I owe nothing to anyone. ”

She says she does not have a “lift back” because she did not promise anything to Benoit Dorais (mayor of the Sud-Ouest borough) and Normand Marinacci (mayor of L’Île-Bizard-Sainte). -Geneviève) that she rallied to Projet Montréal this year or to François Croteau and Luc Ferrandez, who have been in the party for a longer time.

She only guaranteed them one thing: “If we work together, I will immerse myself and enjoy your experience and together we will go further”.

“So, no, I owe nothing to anyone,” she says. And she smiles.

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