Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante's distinct laugh and bright smile project a jovial warmth in public, but the two councillors who quit her party this month say that warmth turns cold in the face of dissent.
Though she's the first woman to hold the position, Plante ironically called herself "the right man for the job" in the run-up to the 2017 municipal election — her win slingshotting her environmentalist party to the top of the political food chain for the first time.
Now, Projet Montréal is one seat away from losing its majority and the most recent councillor to abandon ship. Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie Coun. Christine Gosselin says it's time for change.
"Things are bad at Projet Montréal," Gosselin wrote on Facebook on Friday as she announced that she'll start the new year as an independent, leaving the party with only 50 of 103 council seats.
"The recipe does not work. We have to change the ingredients."
She accused Plante of being "retrograde and authoritarian," taking particular aim at the way Plante handled harassment allegations in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
Those allegations led to one of Plante's star candidates, borough Mayor Sue Montgomery, to be forced out of the party.
And Montgomery, known for speaking her mind, didn't pull any punches on her way out.
"There is something horribly wrong here. We are lacking transparency, and that is what we need in this city," Montgomery said back in January.
Montgomery's decision to stand her ground against Plante was vindicated in Quebec Superior Court earlier this month when a judge ruled the City of Montreal did not have the power to force her to fire her chief of staff, Annalisa Harris, over harassment allegations.
But Montgomery and Gosselin are not the only elected officials to quit or be forced out of the caucus.
Arseneault speaks out after voting against budget
Loyola district Coun. Christian Arseneault took a stand on Dec. 9 against the lack of budgetary resources allocated to his borough.
Though Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce has the largest population and one of the wealthiest when it comes to property value, its capital budget is the city's ninth largest out of 19 boroughs, he said on Facebook.
Arsenault voted against the budget and resigned from the party. But it's not just the budgetary imbalance that was getting under his skin.
Arseneault told Radio-Canada that Plante should listen more to her caucus if she wants to avoid losing additional elected officials.
He believes he's been punished for opposing the naming of a light-rail station after former premier Bernard Landry.
"Because of that, I got taken off a commission," he said.
"A little disagreement on the name of a station, and I was told it was like a personal attack on the mayor. It's ridiculous."
Booted for disagreeing with Projet's marina plans
Arseneault's assessment falls in line with what Radio-Canada uncovered back in October: a growing tension in the party as elected officials feel silenced and unable to express their opinion.
Borough councillor Julie-Pascale Provost described the last three years as "extremely difficult" after she was kicked out of the party for disagreeing with the Plante administration's plan to turn the Lachine marina into a park.
"It is more and more difficult to express a different idea at Projet Montréal," Provost said in October, describing the work climate as "hostile."
Well before Provost lost her spot, the mayor of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, Giuliana Fumagalli, was kicked out of Projet in 2018 after borough employees accused her of harassment.
A year later, Plateau-Mont-Royal borough Mayor Luc Ferrandez left municipal politics altogether, saying the Plante administration isn't doing enough to slow down "the rate at which we are destroying our planet."
A Projet candidate was able to take the by-election by 67 per cent and maintain the party's long-standing rule over the borough, but Ferrandez walked off into the sunset after running the borough for a decade.
Opposition slams Plante's leadership struggles
The mayor's office says changes within a party are normal when municipal elections are approaching.
"It is always sad when a respected colleague leaves us," said spokesperson Geneviève Jutras after Gosselin announced her departure.
However, Lionel Perez, leader of the official opposition says there's plenty of reason to worry.
"With three departures in a few weeks, the crisis is real and I seriously question the mayor's ability to manage Montreal while her party implodes," Perez said in a statement.
"Distracted by the internal wars, she is too busy to meet the needs of the citizens of Montreal."
Coun. Karine Boivin-Roy, house leader for the opposition, also took aim at the mayor for losing yet "another strong and courageous woman who decides to no longer join the authoritarian and questionable management of Montreal."
She said it's time for Plante and her party to take a hard look at the issue and "respond publicly to the allegations of an unhealthy climate that's abound in their ranks."