Valerie Plante officially became the first-ever female mayor of Montreal on Thursday. In 375 years, the city has never been led by a woman. Canadiens.com sat down with the politician during her visit to the Bell Centre to take in the CWHL game between Les Canadiennes and the Kunlun Red Star on November 11.
Are you a hockey fan? A Canadiens fan?
VALERIE PLANTE: I really like hockey, I like pretty much all sports, I like to partake in them. You'll rarely find me sitting in front of the TV, because whenever I have a bit of time, I'm going to do some sports. I run, I bike, I do yoga, swimming, I'm very active. But professional sports - and even amateur sports - all sports are very important, for sure.
You have two boys, do they play hockey?
VP: They were given the chance to do everything when they were younger - they're 11 and 14 now - but I think they take after their mother a little bit. I do a lot of individual sports, I'm less into team sports and the two boys do a lot of sports, competitive swimming, Olympic wrestling, karate. So they're very athletic, but they don't play hockey.
Do you have any childhood memories involving the Canadiens?
VP: Yes, because I come from Abitibi and I remember we would watch hockey at home like everyone else, and every time we came to Montreal, I would often go with my dad, and one of my dreams was to come watch the Canadiens. It never ended up working out, so now I think I'll go more often. That's why I found it very moving to come see Les Canadiennes play. When I found myself in their locker room before the game, I said "Wow!" Because when I was young, girls didn't play hockey - or very few of them did, anyway. I was very happy to be there.
Since you come from Rouyn-Noranda, is your family torn between the Nordiques and the Canadiens?
VP: Oh no, it was the Canadiens for us! Honestly, there was never any discussion on it, we always followed the Canadiens!
Do you think women's hockey deserves to have more visibility?
VP: Absolutely. We see that the teams have high-caliber players. There are Olympic athletes among them, that's not nothing! They need more attention, more financial resources, there's definitely an imbalance and an inequality there. Unfortunately, you see that it's not just limited to hockey, because in the other sports, women are always trailing when it comes to sponsorships, having a media presence, coverage, being recognized. It's crazy how it's not changing more quickly.
Video: Valerie Plante meets Les Canadiennes
Will we be seeing another bleu-blanc-rouge team in your city?
VP: Another one? Well, why not. I clearly would like that. I will continue to work on that file. I would like for the Expos to come back, that's for sure. You can feel that people are attached to them. But the question is always about: the will and the desire are there, but beyond that, it's figuring out how to pay for it. It's costly. We know that to build a new stadium will have an impact on Montrealers' taxes. So for me, I'd like to have some breathing room. I like to work with a lot of transparency; even during my campaign, I was an open book, like when I would talk about the pink line. If people tell me it's a bad idea from the start, I'll move on to other things. I don't want to push it, I'm going to put my energy elsewhere. But for me, if Montrealers tell me, 'Yes, we're ready to invest our money, our taxes for a new stadium,' we're going to move forward.
Where are the best hot dogs, at the Bell Centre or Olympic Stadium?
VP: (laughs) You've got me, because I haven't eaten at either one! But I prefer toastés.
Of the 31 cities with NHL teams, only seven of them are led by females. Would you like to see more women get involved in politics?
VP: Yes, absolutely. And you feel it, at least with elections in Quebec at the municipal level where we really saw a major change. In Montreal, more women were elected than men. Out of 103 positions, there were 53 women and 50 men and across the province, a lot of women were elected to lead cities of all sizes. So yes, I think the train has left the station. I think the municipal level is a good option for women who want to get involved and work in civil service because there's also the proximity - it's easier to have that work-life balance. Politics are demanding, but the municipal level is still very accessible for women and young people.
Would you compare your campaign to the playoffs and your election win to a Stanley Cup victory?
VP: Oh, yes! Absolutely and at all levels. That's an interesting parallel because given that I'm an athlete, I prepared for my run for mayor like a race, like a marathon where at the end, you make your final sprint to pick up those last gains to improve your time. I see politics being a lot like sports, so you have to train, eat well, sleep well, lead a balanced life. I just won the Stanley Cup!
Do you think there will be a parade through the streets of your city during your mandate?
VP: Oh, that would be fun!
Will you be hanging up a banner with No. 1 and your last name in the mayor's office (like Jacques Plante's banner at the Bell Centre), to signify that you're the first female mayor of Montreal?
VP: I love that! You're giving me ideas! (laughs)