Former staffer Annalisa Harris resets her political career as Loyola’s newest candidate
Caught in a public scandal, Annalisa Harris, former chief of staff to Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough mayor, Sue Montgomery, emerges as a candidate in the Loyola riding for the upcoming Municipal elections on Nov. 7.
Harris was accused of workplace harassment in a report by Montreal’s comptroller general, Alain Bond. However, no formal complaints were ever filed, and the names were kept confidential. In his report, Bond urged for Harris’ immediate dismissal.
Despite pressure from her party, Projet Montréal, Montgomery refused to fire Harris without allowing her the chance to defend herself, claiming the accusations were unfounded. In retaliation, the city released a statement in January 2020 effectively ousting Montgomery for failing to fire Harris.
Harris expressed her disappointment in how Projet Montréal handled the allegations.
“The problem is that Valérie Plante chose to side with the bureaucracy instead of siding with, at the time, what was her own teammate, Sue Montgomery, and in protecting me as a worker,” said Harris.
By April 2020, the city launched an injunction against Montgomery, citing her refusal to obey the directives to cut Harris from her team.
As revealed in a report from the Quebec Municipal Commission (CMQ), Montgomery promptly wrote to long-time borough director, Stéphane Plante, informing him that she would allow Harris to continue her duties as chief of staff.
“In Canada we have the rule of law, where everyone has the right to a defense. My chief of staff has not had that,” said Montgomery during a borough council meeting in February 2020, defending her position to keep Harris on.
Mayor Plante expected Montgomery to fire Harris, in line with the comptroller general’s recommendation. Unwilling to dismiss Harris, Montgomery stood by her second-in-command. She defended that the report had been purposely withheld from her, and she had yet to see the accusations against Harris.
In December 2020, the initial verdict was overturned in Montgomery and Harris’ favour. The presiding Judge Synnott ruled that the comptroller general not only overstepped his bounds in demanding Harris’ dismissal, but also unnecessarily interfered with borough politics. The judge ultimately ordered Alain Bond to release the report to Sue Montgomery.
Harris has since filed a lawsuit against Mayor Plante and the City of Montreal, seeking over $180,000 in defamatory damages.
Following this, Harris and Montgomery were strong in their conviction to continue in politics. Soon, the two hatched a plan to form their own political party— Courage – Équipe Sue Montgomery.
“Ultimately it strengthened my resolve to say the governance here is so broken. We have such a need for better leadership in the city of Montreal,” said Harris.
In deciding values and instilling a positive culture within their party, the two worked together to recruit four other candidates and released a broad and comprehensive platform focused on local governance, environmental action, and community support. This includes affordable social housing projects and the creation of unarmed service teams to work alongside the police.
Harris revealed that while she initially joined the team administratively, she soon realized she could translate her years of studying political science into a successful campaign in the Loyola district.
“I didn’t really think of running until probably six months after we founded the party. For me, it really was a vehicle for the neighbourhood, and I didn’t see myself running until January 2021,” said Harris.
While recognizing the many challenges she has faced over the past year and the emotional toll it has taken on her, Harris hopes to influence change in her riding. “That’s been the biggest challenge, the toll it’s taken on me personally,” Harris admitted.
“Campaigning has actually been positive in a lot of ways, as someone who went through such a public scandal, because for me, it’s an opportunity to tell my story,” said Harris.
* Correction: October 26, 2021
This article has been updated to correct the details of legal proceedings. When it comes to Sue Montgomery’s actions, “Mayor Plante expected Montgomery to fire Harris, in line with the comptroller general’s recommendation. Unwilling to dismiss Harris, Montgomery stood by her second-in-command. She defended that the report had been purposely withheld from her, and she had yet to see the accusations against Harris.” Furthermore, it has been clarified that “the judge ultimately ordered Alain Bond to release the report to Sue Montgomery.”
Photograph courtesy of Annalisa Harris