Working behind the scenes, he helped Montreal elect its most diverse city council
CBC Quebec shines a light on people in Black communities across the province who are giving back, inspiring others and helping shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.
Guedwig Bernier says he took a “leap of faith” when he decided to join Projet Montréal in 2018.
A year earlier, the municipal party had won elections for the first time in its history, but critics complained that the party which presented itself as progressive was not doing enough to help win its elected candidates of color.
Bernier, now president of Projet Montreal, said it took time, trust and hard work to make history last fall when the party won a new mandate.
Gracia Kasoki Katahwa was elected mayor of Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, a first for a black woman in a Montreal borough.
Two other black candidates elected to the city council, Dominique Ollivier and Martine Musau Muele, sit respectively as president of the executive committee and president of the city council — also firsts for the city.
“I’ve always had an interest in politics, but on the fringes,” said Bernier, who was born in Montreal and has lived in the city for most of his life, working in telecommunications and marketing, in addition to sit on the board of directors of the CEGEP. of Old Montreal.
He said he was drawn to Projet Montréal’s vision of a greener city, less focused on car travel.
In 2018, Bernier joined a party committee focused on ethnocultural diversity. He proposed and helped pass resolutions to encourage and support candidates from diverse backgrounds, including making a person in each local party association responsible for diversity.
He lost his first bid to join the party’s board, realizing it would take time to earn the party’s trust.
“In politics, loyalty, [knowing] if they can count on you, that’s very important,” he said. “They want to see if you’ll roll up your sleeves and fight [alongside] them.”
So that’s what he did, working on the by-election campaign for a seat on the city council of the Saint-Michel neighborhood in northeast Montreal. He said Project’s defeat there only made him more excited.
He decided he had to move higher in the party hierarchy to ensure that such an opportunity was not lost again. He was first elected as the party’s treasurer in 2019, then was elected as the party’s chairman in 2020.
Bernier said he knows that for the 2021 campaign, the party needs a different approach to ensure candidates from diverse backgrounds not only run, but get elected. This included fielding candidates of color or people with disabilities in central boroughs that are party strongholds.
“It’s not an automatic buffer: it takes time. It takes courageous decisions,” he said.
“It’s one thing to have diversity as a borough councillor. It’s another thing to have them as city councillors, and another thing to have them as a candidate for mayor.
Bernier said it’s important that candidates feel supported and listened to, and that it’s not the job of just one person to feel responsible for raising issues related to systemic racism.
“If you’re alone around the table, it’s not easy for you to talk about certain topics week after week, month after month, because they’ll say you’re only good at talking about a thing,” he said.
He said if the party hadn’t started the process so soon, it wouldn’t have had the same results.
“Hopefully in 2025 we won’t have to talk about the color of your skin,” he said. “We need to talk about it now.”
The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing people who, regardless of their background or industry, are committed to creating a positive impact in their community. From solving problems to doing small everyday acts of kindness, these changemakers make a difference and inspire others. Meet all the change makers here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.