Early Life and Education
Valérie Plante was born in Rouyn-Noranda, Québec, on 14 June 1974 and grew up in the Abitibi- Témiscamingue region town. Plante spent many hours of her childhood criss-crossing the region with her father, a traveling salesman. At 15, she moved to North Bay, Ontario to study and learn English. She then moved to Trois-Rivières, QC to live with her mother, and she completed high school at École secondaire De La Salle in 1991. In school she was part of a team charged with picking up recyclable paper in classrooms, and frequently told her classmates about the importance of recycling. Her high school yearbook said her dream was to become the president of the environmental group Greenpeace.
Plante moved to Montréal in 1994 to study anthropology at the Université de Montréal, where she graduated with a BA in 1998. She then went on to obtain a certificate in multiethnic intervention in 1998, and a master in museum studies in 2001 at the university.
After completing her masters, Plante worked as a project and communications co-ordinator for a variety of organizations. She spent eight years with the Girls Action Foundation, a non-profit that provides funding to girls’ programs across Canada.
Plante also helped immigrant women who were victims of domestic violence navigate their way through the justice system, taught self-defence courses to children and women, and organized programs for immigrant and Indigenous women. As an activist, Plante fought against tuition hikes and hydraulic fracking. She also sat on several organization boards, including the Broadbent Institute since 2014 and Groupe Femmes Politique et Démocratie, which promotes greater participation by women in politics.
Plante is married to Pierre-Antoine Harvey, an economist with the Centrale des syndicats du Québec trade union, whom she met at the Université de Montréal. The couple has two sons.
In April 2013, Plante attended a fundraising event hosted by Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocratie. During the event, she told the organization's director: “I'm really interested in municipal politics. Do you know someone I could talk to?” She was introduced to a city councillor with the left-leaning municipal party Projet Montréal. Weeks later, Plante tossed her hat in the ring to run as a Projet Montréal candidate in the November 2013 municipal election. “I decided to run for municipal office in 2013 because I knew I could make an actual difference in the daily lives of the people I met across the city,” she said.
In a surprise victory, Plante was elected city councillor in the downtown Sainte-Marie district, defeating career politician Louise Harel, a long-time provincial cabinet minister. Rising through the Projet Montréal party ranks, Plante was named deputy leader of the city’s official opposition and critic for issues related to downtown, tourism and women.
When Projet Montréal launched a leadership campaign in 2016 to replace interim party leader Luc Ferrandez, Plante entered the fray when no other woman stepped forward. Despite running against Guillaume Lavoie, a fellow councillor who had the support of the party establishment, Plante was elected party leader on 4 December 2016 by a mere 79 votes, 998 to 919. In her victory speech, she criticized Mayor Denis Coderre for his perceived autocratic style. “Montréal deserves better,” she said. “We’ve had enough of a one-man show.”
With the November 2017 municipal election fast approaching, Plante had her work cut out for her. A poll found that only 33 per cent of Montréalers recognized her, only four months before the election, and that she trailed Coderre by 14 percentage points in the polls. However, a poster launched in August brought the unknown candidate to people’s attention. It showed a smiling Plante with the slogan “l'homme de la situation” (the right man for the job). Plante said the cheeky slogan was chosen to attract attention and to raise the debate about women’s place in society.
Plante proved to be a natural campaigner, with a laid-back, ever-smiling approach. “I know what I bring to the table. It's an ability to connect with people, to humanize my party.” She promised to help relieve traffic congestion with the construction of a new, 21-kilometre Pink Line for the Métro subway (that would link Montréal-Nord, downtown and Lachine at a cost of $6 billion) with federal and provincial government funding. She also promised better management of the city’s construction projects and the chronic orange cones that bedevil its motorists.
Her platform also included the building of 12,000 new low-income housing units, and deep cuts in the tax on house purchases. Plante also took advantage of public disgruntlement with the $24 million Formula E electric car race in July 2017 that led to the closure of some city streets for several weeks. Coderre refused to divulge how many of the tickets to the race were given away for free until the dying days of the campaign, a move that focused public attention on his perceived arrogance.
Plante hit a few speedbumps during the campaign by refusing to say how she had voted in the 1995 Québec referendum on sovereignty, and by waffling about her views of Bill 62, the controversial Québec law that requires people receiving public services to uncover their faces. However, these appeared to have little effect on election night, 5 November 2017, with Plante winning 51.3 per cent of the vote compared with 46.7 per cent for Coderre, a lead of more than 26,000 votes.
Plante said Montréalers were thirsty for change. “Tonight, we wrote a new page in Montréal’s history. Three hundred and seventy five years after Jeanne Mance co-founded the city, Montréal has its first woman mayor.” She also recounted that her eldest son told her: “‘Do you realize, Mom, that you will be in the history books as the first woman to become mayor of Montréal?’ I don’t believe I’ve realized it yet. But it’s a mandate I accept with lots of humility.”