Working behind the scenes, he helped Montreal elect its most diverse city council


Guedwig Bernier says he took a “leap of faith” when he decided to join Projet Montréal in 2018.

Guedwig Bernier is a 2022 Black Changemaker. (Cassandra Leslie/Ciel Photo)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province’s Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to 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 the election for the first time in its history, but critics complained the party that billed itself as progressive didn’t do enough to help get its candidates of colour elected.

Bernier, now Projet Montréal’s president, 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 in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, a first for a Black woman in any Montreal borough.

Two other Black candidates elected to city council, Dominique Ollivier and Martine Musau Muele, respectively sit as chair of the executive committee and city council speaker — also firsts for the city.

“I always had an interest in politics, but on the sidelines,” said Bernier, who was born in Montreal and has lived in the city for most of his life, working in telecommunications and marketing, as well as serving on the board of CEGEP du Vieux Montréal.

He said he was drawn to Projet Montréal’s vision for a greener city, with less of a focus on car travel.

Guedwig Bernier joined Projet Montréal in 2018, attracted by its vision for a greener city. (Julien Acosta)

In 2018, Bernier joined a party committee focused on ethnocultural diversity. He proposed and helped pass resolutions to encourage and support candidates from many backgrounds — including making one person in every local party association responsible for diversity.

He lost his first bid to join the party’s board of directors, realizing it was going to take time for him to gain the party’s trust.

“In politics, loyalty, [knowing] if they can count on you is very important,” he said. “They want to see if you’re going to roll up your sleeves and fight [alongside] them.”

So that’s what he did, working on the byelection campaign for a city council seat in Montreal’s northeastern Saint-Michel district. He said Projet’s loss there only got him more fired up.

He decided he needed to climb higher in the party hierarchy to make sure that such an opportunity wasn’t lost again. He was first voted party treasurer in 2019 and then was elected party president in 2020.

Bernier said he knew that for the 2021 campaign, the party needed a different approach to ensure that candidates from diverse backgrounds not only ran but were elected. That included running candidates of colour or those living with disabilities in the central boroughs that are the party’s strongholds.

“It’s not a rubber stamp: it takes time. It takes courageous decisions,” he said.

Guedwig Bernier, president of Projet Montréal, says it took years to prove the municipal party could count on him. People ‘want to see you’re going to roll up your sleeves and fight [alongside] them,’ he said. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

“It’s one thing to have diversity as a borough councillor. It’s another thing to have them as city councillor, and another thing to have them as a mayor candidate.”

Bernier said it’s important that candidates feel supported and listened to and that it doesn’t fall on one person to feel responsible to bring up issues related to systemic racism.

“If you are alone around the table, it is not easy for you to discuss certain topics week after week, month after month, because they’re going to say you’re only good for talking about one thing,” he said.

He said if the party hadn’t started the process so early, it wouldn’t have had the same results.

“I hope that in 2025, we don’t have to talk about the colour of your skin,” he said. “We need to talk about this now.”

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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