Montreal mayor-elect Valérie Plante may be relatively unknown to most of the city, but she is an even bigger mystery to the Jewish community.
What is clear is that the Projet Montréal (PM) leader’s stunning come-from-behind win in the Nov. 5 election has meant the loss of an ally at city hall. Outgoing Mayor Denis Coderre’s friendship with the community, especially its representative organizations and business leaders, was unprecedented – he firmly and repeatedly took stands against anti-Semitism and was an outspoken supporter of Israel.
After failing to achieve a second mandate, Coderre has quit municipal politics.
Plante, 43, who was born and raised in Rouyn-Noranda, Que., in the Abitibi region, appears to have had little connection to the community, even after she was elected to council in 2013. That started to change, following her election as leader of PM, the main opposition party at city hall, in December of last year.
One day after becoming leader, she was in Outremont, attending a public demonstration of solidarity with its Chassidim, who have long felt beleaguered by their borough council. That relationship has grown stronger since then and was helped by the fact that Borough Councillor Mindy Pollak, who was re-elected to a second term, belongs to PM.
In her acceptance speech, Plante stuck a congenial tone, saying that, “The francophone, anglophone and allophone communities of Montreal have more in common than many people want us to believe.”
In its congratulatory statement, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said, “We look forward to building a meaningful relationship with her and PM to address the needs of our community.”
CIJA Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko affirmed that his organization “cherishes Mr. Coderre’s deep friendship, his principled stance against all forms of anti-Semitism and the strengthening of ties between Montreal and Israel.” He also observed that the city has thrived economically under Coderre’s watch and “regained its confidence and rightful place on the global map.”
The genuine amity and understanding between Coderre and the organized community was fostered well before he entered municipal politics. In fact, the relationship transformed dramatically from August 2006, when Coderre, then a Liberal MP, took part in a massive demonstration against Israel’s war with Lebanon.
It was Coderre who prompted Plante’s only known public pronouncement on Israel, when, during their English-language debate on Oct. 23, out of nowhere, Coderre asked whether she supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Plante skated around the question for some time, speaking of the need to “visit both sides.” When pressed by Coderre, she said, “hypothetically, let’s say I was against, to make it easy …” After the debate, she clarified that she does not believe BDS is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Whatever her thoughts on the Middle East, the Chassidic community in Outremont “rejoiced” over Plante’s win and the fact that her party took four of the borough’s five seats, including the election of Philipe Tomlinson as mayor, according to an article in Hamodia, a New York-based publication serving the haredi community.
Coderre had a strained relationship with the Chassidim going back to his first bid for office in 2013, when Pollak, a Chassidic community member who was just 24 at the time, ran under the PM banner, rather than Equipe Denis Coderre (EDC).
The first Chassidic woman elected to political office in Quebec, Pollak was until now the only representative of that party on the borough council.
The sole EDC member elected in Outremont was newcomer Jean-Marc Corbeil, whom the Chassidim regard as having been inimical to them over a period of years. Corbeil is associated with blogger Pierre Lacerte, a longtime critic of the Chassidim, for their alleged violations of municipal regulations.
The Chassidim and their sympathizers unsuccessfully tried to get Coderre to drop Corbeil.
Non-Jewish resident Diane Shea told The CJN that, “Most of the candidates who lost in Outremont engaged in a fear campaign, focusing on the issue of new places of worship/synagogues. There were even pamphlets circulated stating that PM would ignore the results of the referendum (last year) and allow synagogues on Bernard Street.
“Of course, this was false, as the law has to be respected. On the other hand, PM’s campaign had a very positive message, which focused on creating dialogue and working together. Very happily, Outremont voters rejected the populist effort to create fear of minorities and voted overwhelmingly for dialogue and positive co-operation.”
According to Chaya Eigner, writing in Hamodia on Nov. 6, “What alienated the Chassidic community from (EDC) completely was the mayor’s refusal to cut ties with, or even denounce,” Corbeil and Marie Potvin, an incumbent councillor, who’s also seen as an ally of Lacerte.
‘The omni-mayor’s greatest asset became his greatest liability.’
Elsewhere, Russell Copeman, borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and a city executive committee member who was first elected in 2013, was defeated by PM’s Sue Montgomery, despite endorsements from MPs Anthony Housefather and Marc Garneau.
Another Jewish executive committee member with EDC, Lionel Perez, who was first elected in 2009, did maintain his seat in that borough, as did Marvin Rotrand, dean of the Montreal city council, after 35 years in office.
Rotrand, who is with the second opposition party, Coalition Montréal, announced after the election that this would be his last term in office.
In a post on his Facebook page, Perez wrote that, “Since (PM) could not beat us on our record, they made it into a referendum on Denis Coderre’s personality instead. The omni-mayor’s greatest asset became his greatest liability. PM exploited this, and the media were only too happy to play along. PM tactically outmaneuvered us – plain and simple.”
There is one new Jewish councillor in Montreal, Jacques Cohen, who handily won a borough council seat in St-Laurent on the EDC ticket.
The son of Maurice Cohen, who retired after serving as a municipal councillor since 1982, the younger Cohen was a municipal employee from 1986 to 2015.