Concordia, Meet Mélanie Joly
The Youngest Frontrunner in Montreal’s Mayoral Race on Public Transit, Culture and Municipal Bylaw P-6
The City of Montreal has seen its fair share of controversy and scandal in the past two years, perhaps none greater than the resignation of former mayor Gérald Tremblay and the arrest of his replacement, interim Mayor Michael Applebaum, on 14 charges including fraud and breach of trust.
At just 34 years old, Mélanie Joly is the youngest of the four frontrunners in the race to become Montreal’s next mayor, and she hopes to be able to restore public trust in the city’s elected officials. The political party she’s leading into the Nov. 3 election—Le vrai changement pour Montréal, Groupe Mélanie Joly—is presenting 56 candidates throughout the city.
In an interview with The Link last week, Joly spoke about public transit, arts and culture, improving business conditions and municipal bylaw P-6. But there’s another issue she says is even more pressing in Montreal.
“The main issue of this campaign is not families, it’s not collective transport—it’s more than that,” Joly told The Link. “It’s at the foundations of our democracy. It’s corruption and the trust we have in our elected officials.”
“[Our party’s candidates] are all new in politics,” she said. “A lot of us are aged between 25 and 45. We have great experience of involvement in our community, great professional experience. We are creative people, engaged and motivated, and we have a lot of integrity.”
If elected mayor of Montreal, Joly said she’d post a video to YouTube every month updating Montrealers on the progress being made on the implementation of her “pragmatic” 10-point platform. She would also make public the data held by the city and its 19 boroughs, including information related to tenders and public contracts.
A Rapid Bus Network
A central part of Joly’s platform is a commitment to create a 130 kilometre-long bus rapid transit network. Joly told The Link a BRT network could become “the emblem of Montreal.”
In BRT systems, buses travel in reserved lanes along most of their route, allowing them to avoid traffic congestion. Additionally, BRT vehicles often can control traffic signals and have priority at intersections, distinguishing them from buses that merely use reserved lanes.
Joly’s platform calls for air-conditioned buses and a “limited number of closed, heated and air-conditioned stations that are universally accessible” along the proposed BRT lines. According to Joly’s platform, six initial lines would be created by 2017, with the network doubling in size by 2020.
Joly acknowledged that a BRT system would reduce the amount of road space for cars by creating more reserved bus lanes, but said it would result in a much more effective type of public transit.
The City of Montreal’s 10-year transportation plan published in 2008 already called for the creation of two BRT lines—one along Pie-IX Boulevard and another along a portion of Henri-Bourassa Boulevard. Five years later, neither line has been created.
The plan also called for the construction of a tramway line along Côte-des-Neiges Road, an infrastructure project that Joly says she is opposed to. A feasibility study conducted for the city of Montreal found the tramway would improve nearby residents’ quality of life and estimated the cost of the line at $849 million without taxes and contingencies included.
“I’m a very pragmatic person,” Joly said. “There’s a political analyst [who] said that my approach was one of a young mother that wants the best for her children, but at the same time knows the constraints of her finances.
“I know that Montreal doesn’t have that much money. We have huge debts in our pension plan, our infrastructure is crumbling,” she continued. “I’d rather [build] 130 kilometres of BRT than 15 kilometres […] of a tramway.”
She said a BRT system would cost eight times less per kilometre than a tramway—which Joly’s mayoral rival Richard Bergeron has said would cost between $40 million and $50 million per kilometre—and 40 times less than a subway.
On the Arts and Helping Businesses
According to her platform, Joly would create a municipal chief of economic development, who would “serve as a ‘one-stop shop’ for the promotion of, and access to, various government subsidy programs” and would “advise and assist entrepreneurs in the process of obtaining permits and regulatory approvals required to start a project of any nature.”
In addition, Joly said she’d look to help small retailers by working with the provincial government to allow businesses on certain commercial streets to stay open later on weekends. She said she would also implement variable fees for the city’s street parking to help attract more shoppers.
Meanwhile, a “nightlife charter” formulated through public consultation would tackle an “increasing tension between bar and restaurant owners and some residents,” Joly said, allowing the city to keep its nightlife while bettering the quality of life of people living near nightlife hubs.
As for culture and the arts, Joly has proposed a plan to hire a chief curator for the city to help preserve and make better use of the city’s public art.
“Montreal needs to really promote its visual arts and its public art, not only the existing [art], but also make sure there is coherence and an artistic direction in terms of future investments [in public art],” she said.
Joly’s platform also includes a proposal to project videos and images submitted by Montrealers onto the side of Silo No. 5, located on the western edge of the Old Port.
“It’s harmony between art and civic participation,” she said.
On Bylaw P-6 and Safe Injection Sites
Municipal bylaw P-6 was amended during the 2012 student protests to prohibit demonstrators from covering their faces with scarves or masks. The amended bylaw also makes it mandatory for organizers to provide an itinerary to police ahead of a protest.
When asked what her stance was on the controversial bylaw, Joly told The Link she doesn’t agree with the ban on masks.
“I don’t think it’s logical,” she said, adding that Canada’s criminal code can already handle cases where someone commits a crime while wearing a disguise.
Joly does agree with the requirement that organizers provide a protest route to police, however.
“I think it’s normal that […] organizers of demonstrations give to the police their itinerary in advance, because it’s a question of balancing rights between using the public space and also the freedom of expression,” she said.
Last week, mayoral hopeful Denis Coderre said he supported the idea of creating supervised safe injection sites in Montreal. Joly is also in favour of the creation of safe injection sites, though she added that “we need to make sure that the community is involved in the process and that we go in a case-by-case basis rather than in an overall solution, because each neighbourhood has its own particularities.”
Joly studied law at the Université de Montréal and completed a master’s degree in European and comparative law at Oxford University in England. Most recently, she worked as an associate director at communications and public relations agency Cohn & Wolfe.