She made a name for herself in Montreal and beyond as a star reporter at The Gazette, known for her commitment to social justice, getting the story behind the story, and getting it right.
That confidence and daring to tackle challenging assignments took Montgomery to a range of issues and venues: living conditions of Indigenous communities in Northern Quebec, Namibia becoming independent, South Africa emerging from apartheid, Haiti coping with the 2010 earthquake, and sexual abuse at Collège Notre-Dame.
Now 57, the Brampton, Ont.-born long-time NDG resident is focusing on a new career in municipal politics, as the Projet Montréal candidate for borough mayor in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, vying to replace incumbent Russell Copeman, now part of the Denis Coderre team.
Montgomery says her goals include “more communication with the
residents and more consultation.”
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“Now things are done from the top down – I think we should do things from the bottom up,” she said in an interview at the backyard of the NDG duplex she shares with husband Ian Hamilton, executive director of Montreal-based Equitas, which provides education on how to advance human rights. Their son Michael is a Cegep student, and daughter Molly is in university.
“I don’t think there is enough transparency and when projects are done I don’t think residents are consulted,” she said, recalling she was among area residents who organized opposition to a plan for a Provigo at Claremont and de Maisonneuve, resulting in it being shelved.
As for her politics, she defines herself as a feminist and progressive who supports the $15 minimum wage and is committed “to help the less fortunate among us so we are all raised up. And the one percent needs to pay their fair share.”
Montgomery’s political career – she was a candidate for the New Democratic Party nomination in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount in 2015 – dovetails with her involvement in issues she covered at The Gazette, Canadian Press, and as a reporter during a one-year stint with Gemini News Service.
Reporting on the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989, she recalled that her desire to help out took over when activists seeking to overthrow the Communist regime and planning a general strike asked her to review the English version of their manifesto. Montgomery allowed her instinct to take over: Though she remembers being busy gathering material for her reporting, she sat in front of a typewriter and corrected the manifesto.
While on assignment in Port-au-Prince, she remembers that “Haitians in Montreal were texting me from here saying, ‘my aunt is at such and such a place, can you please go and make sure she is ok. I would go and then send them a message.
“There were people dying, I couldn’t just write about it. I actually helped feed people, helped dress some wounds, helped deliver a baby: You just couldn’t not help.”
Since leaving The Gazette, Montgomery has been looking for a new way to focus her energy.
“The last good story I could do was about the sexual abuse scandal at Collège Notre-Dame,” for which she was awarded the 2009 Judith Jasmin Award for journalistic excellence.
Reduced staff meant there were fewer opportunities for time-consuming investigative reporting, she said. “We just were not making a difference any more, we were just filling space.”
In many ways, she has never stopped making a difference. In 2014, Montgomery, with Toronto Star journalist Antonia Zerbisias, created the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag, which went viral and sparked a global discussion on sexual assault. After brief stints as media advisor with the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and then Amnesty International, Montgomery accepted an invitation to run for the borough mayor’s job with Projet Montréal.
“I am basically an activist, somebody who wants to get things done. When I was fund-raising for Haiti, I said, ‘let’s just do it.’ When families came here (seeking refuge from the earthquake), I said ‘let’s just do it.’
Montgomery doesn’t just talk: She not only raised funds for children from Nepal and Haiti who came
for specialized surgery at the Shriner’s Hospital, she billeted them in her home.
Municipal politics is where she feels she can have a direct impact.
“We live in a fantastic borough. There are amazing community groups here that are energetic, engaged. There is a real neighbourly feeling, but I don’t think we are living up to our potential. Côte-des-Neiges is very rich in all the different immigrant groups that are there, all the support groups. I think I can make a difference in supporting the very strong grass-roots movement here – they are the ones who know what needs to be done.”
When it comes to broad policy, Montgomery promises to campaign for a “fair share” of the city budget. She says the borough, the third largest contributor to city revenues and its most populated, is “underfunded.” She wants to invest more in cultural, recreational, and sports facilities, improve coordination and communication when it comes to road work, and strengthen bus service.
As for incumbent Copeman: “My main beef is that he is not a full-time mayor. He spends time on the Montreal executive committee.” Since November 2013, in addition to his borough mayor’s job, Copeman is responsible for housing and urban planning. “All that does is augment your salary and take you out of the borough,” she says.
“If I were to be mayor I would be here full-time.” Montgomery acknowledges that Copeman, a former Liberal member of the National Assembly and Associate vice-president, external relations at Concordia University, “knows his stuff.” But she points out what she sees as his shortcomings. “I don’t feel any passion from him. I find him very dismissive of residents at borough council meetings. He gets really short with people.”
Montgomery has no experience as a politician or manager – her university degrees are in political science and journalism – but she says her ease with people and her proven ability to learn quickly will make up for it.
When she pursued part of her undergraduate training at the University of Mannheim, she arrived there for courses in German not knowing the language, she said.
“If I can learn German, I think I can learn to be a mayor. People are sick and tired of the Old Boys club, spending $1 billion on the Montreal 375th birthday party when there are so many other things to attend to. Why not put that money into subsidized housing?
“What makes a good manager is someone who listens. People just want to be heard and I am someone who listens.”