Alex Norris wants to go tie-less

Video: Alex Norris won’t wear a tie (18:22)

Alex Norris is on a mission. The former journalist, elected as a member of Projet Montréal in the last election as a city councillor representing the Plateau, is fighting what he considers an archaic unwritten rule of Montreal’s city council that sets minimum standards for “decorum” including the fact that all male councillors must wear a tie.

At the council meeting last week, Norris rose to debate a point about the city’s democratic process (namely the fact that people need to be registered to vote well in advance of voting day, something he considers undemocratic), when immediately councillors from the governing Union Montreal party rose up to object that he wasn’t following the rules.

This wasn’t the first time that Norris showed up without a tie, and council chair Claude Dauphin had made it clear at the April meeting that the rules would be enforced – meaning Norris would be expelled until he put a tie on.

It might have ended as simply as that, except Dauphin wasn’t chairing the meeting when Norris stood up. Caroline Bourgeois, of Vision Montreal, was filling in for him as he had other business to attend to. She refused to eject Norris, preferring to leave the decision to Dauphin when he returned. So instead, she pleaded with Norris to put a tie on so the council could continue its business, while councillors from Union Montreal objected with strong language (Marvin Rotrand called the move “infantile” and described Norris as a “juvenile delinquent”), and Vision’s house leader Anie Samson rose to object about the ways other people were objecting.

Fifteen minutes later, after Richard Deschamps spent a full minute complaining about the 12 minutes that had been wasted so far, Norris finally put on a tie and was allowed to complete his point.

It reminds me of my old days at Concordia Student Union council meetings in terms of the level of absurdity.

“There is in fact no dress code at City Hall,” Norris explained to me via email. “The speaker has traditionally imposed an unwritten rule requiring male councillors to wear ties but there is no basis for this rule in any bylaw or formal written code of any kind. There is a long tradition of progressive councillors objecting to this rule — and then giving in and forgetting about it, which is why we still have an archaic dress code whereas other big cities like Toronto and Vancouver have long gotten rid of theirs.”

Amazingly enough, there’s a body to deal with these kinds of things. It’s called the Commission de la présidence du conseil. But instead of taking a hard line either way, this body appears to have decided to leave it up to the chair of council to enforce “decorum”.

“Bourgeois, a young (and quite progressive) Vision councillor, had told me that she found the tie rule utterly archaic and ridiculous,” Norris wrote. “I surmised that in these new circumstances the tie convention would no longer be enforced. When I rose to speak, however, a number of Tremblay backbenchers went ballistic. I held my ground — briefly — to highlight the absurdity of the rule, then relented and put on the tie.

“So yes, this is a small protest — one to which I have devoted very little time or energy but one on which I have made my views known and will continue to do so, periodically.”

Norris stresses that this is his campaign and not that of his party. Luc Ferrandez and Richard Bergeron wear ties to city council meetings without complaint.

So why make this an issue?

“I think imposing any kind of dress code on a democratically elected body is anti-democratic and sends the wrong message about who we are and what we represent,” Norris wrote. “We are not meant to be a class apart from the people we represent; we are meant to be ‘of the people.’ Also, dress codes inevitably carry cultural and class biases. Is city council meant to be reserved only for business people and white collar workers? If so, how should we regulate women’s clothing? How low can a neckline go? How high a hemline should be permitted? And what about hijabs, kippas, turbans or any other type of attire for that matter? Where does it all end?

“Inevitably, a dress code carries biases of the sort that I think should be avoided in a democratic body representing a culturally diverse, cosmopolitan city such as ours. Ultimately, I think the final judges on this and on all other matters are the voters who elected us — and that neither Claude Dauphin nor any Tremblay backbencher should have any right to tell me or any other councillor how we must dress in order to be able to advocate on behalf of our constituents — just as I would not presume to tell them or anyone else how to dress at City Hall.”

Norris added that he didn’t see any ties on (male) candidates running against him during the campaign. “If we were good enough to win the votes of Mile End voters without ties, I figure we should be good enough for the council chambers without ties.”

As for wasting council’s time, Norris correctly points out that he wasn’t the one talking during those 15 minutes. He simply stood his ground on a rights issue he believed in and watched as others went crazy over the most minor of issues.

Will Norris resume his campaign during the next council meeting? We’ll see. He doesn’t want to distract the council’s business with such a simple issue, but he doesn’t want to surrender either.

UPDATE: I should point out this post on Coolopolis, in which a barber tells Norris to “get a tie!”

UPDATE (Aug. 25): This week’s council meeting (the first since the one in the above video) sparked a bit of media coverage about wearing ties, including a blog post by La Presse’s Ariane Krol and a column by Patrick Lagacé, who doesn’t own a tie (he has reaction on his blog).

UPDATE (May 19): Another incident at city hall, also ending with Norris putting on a tie.

UPDATE (Jan. 23, 2014): Another minor kerfuffle after Norris fails to wear a jacket.

36 thoughts on “Alex Norris wants to go tie-less

  1. Anonymous

    I admire anyone who serves in public office, but what a bunch of clowns! What a waste of time. I am embarrassed for them!

  2. James

    Holy crap. This is a freaking embarrassment. We’re one of the biggest cities in the world, and a former Olympic city. Put a damn tie on and stop wasting the time of the local government.

  3. Vahan

    I see many reasons for why we have to pay taxes. Most of the money is used to make our lives safe, clean and livable in a city with many parks and half decent clean streets, compared to other cities. But seeing this has made me wonder how our money is being spent. What a bunch of pompous self serving a-holes wasting our time and money. Let’s have all the women elected to city hall go back to their kitchens, maybe we should not allow non-white non catholic people into the hall. How about not allowing obese old men from yelling and making a threat of exiting the room from bouncing their fat jiggly asses back into their seats.

  4. Nicolas

    Funny yet sad. Notice how politicians abuse the word “democratic”, as if it was an argument for everything…

  5. Reallynow

    Alex is wasting whatever credibility he had by digging in on a non-issue. Smart guy but he has shown some bad judgment here by seeking out the wrong type of attention.

  6. Anonymous

    Nowadays when I see a man with a tie trying to show me something, I am worried he will steal from me. I work in the corporate scientific academic world and more than ever have we removed our ties, in fact people describe us as ”used car salesmen” when we wear them.

  7. Christopher DeWolf

    Here in Hong Kong, there’s a shit-disturbing left-wing activist who was, much to everyone’s surprise, elected to the local legislature. He makes a habit of always wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, so naturally he wore one to his swearing-in ceremony at the legislature. People tried to kick him out for not adhering to the dress code. But, just like in Montreal, there was no written rule governing the dress of councillors. So he was allowed to wear his silly Che t-shirts and continues to do so. (He has been re-elected twice since then, incidentally.)

    It might seem silly for Norris to insist on not wearing a tie, but he wasn’t the one wasting everyone’s time — it was Rotrand and the other councillors who insisted on objecting to his dress. If conservative Hong Kong can deal with people flouting long-established traditions, surely Montreal can do the same.

    1. Katie

      It’s not just you. Awesome indeed, and in this video she could practically *be* Pam from The Office. Uncanny. Oh, and I think Alex Norris should start wearing ascots.

  8. Goaltender Interference

    The tie in itself, as everyone correctly points out, is not important.
    However, City Hall should not be enforcing *unwritten* rules about anything.
    An unwritten rule kept women out of the federal parliament for its first fifty years.
    The rule of law is probably the most important value we have, and it applies equally to important and unimportant things.

  9. Sean

    This moron was a joke of a journalist, and now he’s a joke of a politician.

    I recall watching this guy interview Mohawk Warriors preceding the Oka Crisis, and the subsequent article he submitted was a complete and utter fabrication! The other Gazette reporters had to disavow themselves from Norris, or they risked expulsion, based on the inaccuracy of his slanted “reporting”. He may appear to lean progressively as a politician, but beware, he’s actually a hater with an agenda.

    1. Ernie

      Alex Norris a hater? That’s a bit of a stretch. I know he was ahead of the curve as a reporter 20 years ago during the Oka crisis, taking pains to distinguish the Warrior Society (and its ties to the casino and cigarette smuggling industries) on the one hand from Mohawk society as a whole. That drove the Warriors and their backers crazy; they tried hard to paint Norris as a racist in order to discredit him but in the end his reporting was vindicated.

      1. Sean

        Alex Norris a hater? That’s a bit of a stretch. I know he was ahead of the curve as a reporter 20 years ago during the Oka crisis, taking pains to distinguish the Warrior Society (and its ties to the casino and cigarette smuggling industries) on the one hand from Mohawk society as a whole. That drove the Warriors and their backers crazy; they tried hard to paint Norris as a racist in order to discredit him but in the end his reporting was vindicated.

        Ahead of the curve? He is personally responsible for half of the fabricated stereotypes about the Warrior Society that persist today. He took irresponsible journalism to levels seldom seen in Canada.

        Contrary to the myths of Norris, the Warrior Society was merely one half of the people of the Longhouse. The other half was the Women’s Society. In Mohawk, “warrior” and “man” are synonyms. In such a context, calling a person a warrior merely indicates their gender. It seems rather obvious that Norris jumped to conclusions based on the nomenclature we used, and went running ahead from there.

        The political boundaries between the factions in Kahnawake are no longer as well-defined as they used to be in 1990, when animosity still persisted between the government-sponsored Band Council and the traditionalist Longhouse. Norris blatantly took sides, and launched a personal smear campaign against the Longhouse, one that was NOT mimicked by other the Gazette reporters like Jeff Heinrich, Andy Riga and Lynn (can’t recall her surname), who behaved more honestly and professionally. Many times, his reporting was so severely slanted, all we could do was shake our heads and laugh. He always described us Warriors as “heavily armed”, regardless of whether or not weapons were actually present. It seemed he considered even a Warrior holding a 2×4 to be “heavily armed”

        The Longhouse opened the Super Bingo in 1989, but we opposed the Council’s casino proposals a few years later. The tobacco trade was initially a Longhouse fundraising initiative, but many non-Longhouse people got in on the act for personal gain, which really wrecked everything. Back when the Longhouse ran the trade, we had no outside backers. I cannot say what the situation is today. There are simply too many to keep track of.

        I don’t know if Norris’ “work” could be described as racist, but it was definitely hateful.

        Anyways, no point arguing further with you. You obviously have strongly set opinions. All I know is what I actually did with my own hands and saw with my own eyes.

  10. Guillaume Theoret

    Rules like these are the easiest way for me to know that’s somewhere I never want to be. They promote mindless bandwagoning rather than actual thought. Any company that has rules like these, especially if unwritten, is typically the large dying company that everyone avoids and most people working there hate.

    I hope Norris wins.

  11. Neath

    “Unwritten” rules have given us “Unspoken” layers of corruption at City Hall. There is no evidence at all that wearing a tie makes someone “better” at doing anything beyond conforming. Personally, I would be completely content with a mayor who looks and acts like a wino if he or she is doing a good honest job. There are zillions of interesting characters in a big city like Montreal – let alone the world – and it is strange to me that we choose to be represented by the most boring looking individuals we can find. If you want rules for Council start by making them all do a little dance before they get down tonight. Open the sessions with a few one liners and make damn sure that it is always principles before personalities.
    Revolutions have been started over less.

  12. Mary

    I had a friend who was a flight attendant with Air Canada in the 1980s. Her supervisor took her aside one day and told her she needed to wear make up, something the male attendants did not have to do. After some discussion, my friend complied but laid the goop on so thick she looked like a forerunner of the Insane Clown Posse. Maybe Alex Norris should start wearing really ugly, fat belly warmer ties.
    Or maybe the councilors should stop banging their d*cks on the table and get down to some real work. We have bigger worries than whether Alex Norris wears a tie.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I don’t know. The tie he put on after this 20-minute debate looked pretty bad. I have a feeling they’d accept it.

      My suggestion is that he go to the next council meeting wearing only a tie, and see how they react.

  13. emdx

    On my first “serious” job, I had to wear a tie.

    One day, I was in the industrial laboratory, working over on the prototype of a custom-built computer.

    Those things are manually wired and have zillions of little metal pins sticking out of circuit boards.


    Unbeknownst to me, my company-supplied tie-clip broke at this moment, sending the tie against the circuit board. When my boss (who adamantly demanded that everyone wore a tie) called me, I got up, bringing with the tie about a quarter of the computer circuitry with it, and after a brief interlude hanging from my tie, it resolutely crashed to the ground with a vengeance and surprisingly little fanfare, despite my attempts at catching the whole mess.

    The net result was that the research project was made even more late than it was, which eventually led to it’s cancellation and the eventual sacking of the boss.

    But meanwhile, it was the last time I ever wore a tie working for that company…

    1. Fagstein Post author

      My father works with machines on a daily basis, and this is the main reason they don’t wear ties (they have company-branded polo shirts instead).

      First aiders with St. John’s Ambulance first aiders are required to wear clip-on ties for safety reasons (to prevent someone you’re treating from choking you with it, I guess).

      Of course, neither of these issues are likely to be experienced by Alex Norris or any other city councillor.

  14. Bobby

    Marvin Rotrand is turning into a real crank lately. Again and again I hear him telling us (the little people) that this (whatever new law/restriction, gov’t plan, etc) is the way it is, and we little people had better get used to us, because well, Marvin Rotrand knows better than the little people, unwashed, smelly, and non-tie wearing. he sure likes being in power!

    1. Dave


      Instead of attacking the person, why not focus on the individual pieces of legislation you find objectionable. As far as someones appearance goes- I do not care what someone looks like. With regard to appearance and hygiene; Rene Levesque did not exactly try to make himself all that presentable – though most thinking voters either voted for or against him on the basis of his policies.

      I expect the likes of Jean Naimard to make ad hominem attacks. Anyone with any sense knows why (in view of his tribal ie. bigoted beliefs) he constantly refers to “Marvin the martian”. I think you are probably above that?

      P.S. every politican essentially does the same thing (in case you havent noticed)

  15. Murray Levine

    I think that Alex should go tieless untill Tremblay learns to tell the truth.

    And now to tell him how I have been threatened by a newspaper editor. Actually the editor wrote that it was not a threat but “a warning”.

    Check the Conseil de presse du Quebec ruling against l’Echo de l’ouest and u will understand that this is no normal paper!

  16. POOL

    To make a point – He should wear one of those [quite elegant] dress shirts with short collars that canot support a tie.

  17. Jean Naimard

    This is stupid. That Dauphin chooses to exclude Norris for being without a tie clearly shows his utter contempt for due process as there is no written rulle being broken.

    In addition, Dauphin denies the citizens represented by Norris their proper representation in the city council. This is far more serious.

    Were I Norris, I would refuse to put on a tie, and tell Dauphin to have me forcibly removed from council. As this would have been done illegally (that is, without legal standing), Dauphin would be promptly slapped with a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Norris’s constituents.

  18. Devin

    I love how it’s Rotrand who is making such a fuss. He may be wearing a tie, but he pretty much always dresses like crap. In this meeting I would say that Norris is better dressed than Rotrand even if he may not be wearing all the pieces of what constitutes business wear.

  19. Bickerbros

    One only has to watch the evening news a few times to see this gross double standard applied. Men must always wear ties but women get away with wearing whatever they want (leather jackets seem to be a favorite at CFCF), no matter how ridiculous they look.

  20. Phil

    In 30 years, where 500,000 – 600,000 montrealers will be muslims according to studies, where entire boroughs will probably be muslims, you will get the same debate but regarding the muslim veil.

    Its really funny for us today, cause nobody care about ties anymore and its not ideological…will not be as funny in 30 years with other pieces of clothing.

    By the way, will they also force girls to wear skirts? It seems to me the president’s clothing are very ”casual”…maybe there are jeans under the desk…


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