Richard Bergeron on Public Transit, Housing and Life in the Suburbs
Integrity. Competence. Audacity.
Of all the words that can be used to describe one’s character, these are the three words chosen by political party Projet Montréal to define their platform, their leader Richard Bergeron and their slate of 103 candidates running in the Nov. 3 municipal election. These descriptors appear on the party’s campaign material, website and campaign signs.
Bergeron has previously said that only his party can make “an absolute guarantee of integrity.” He has also pointed out that none of the party’s candidates were members of former city mayor Gérald Tremblay’s now-defunct Union Montreal party, which has been the subject of various allegations in the Charbonneau Commission, the public inquiry examining allegations of corruption in the awarding of public contracts in the province’s construction industry.
On competence, there’s little doubt that Bergeron is well-educated and knowledgeable. He has a bachelor’s degree in architecture, a master’s in urban planning and a PhD in regional planning. Additionally, he has years of experience as a city councillor, unlike his opponents in the mayoral race, all of whom are new to municipal politics.
But perhaps what distinguishes Bergeron the most from his rivals in the race to become Montreal’s next mayor is the third quality: audacity. The 58-year-old has a bold vision for Montreal’s renewal. Although his opponents have criticized him for his lofty projects—even dubbing him “Mr. Tramway” because of his unrelenting support for the creation of a tramway network—Bergeron remains unfazed. Montreal, he says, can afford to be ambitious.
In an interview with The Link, Bergeron discussed his plans for the tramway and for more affordable housing, and he also dispelled the myth that his party is strong only in Montreal’s central boroughs, with little to offer suburban electors in the furthest corners of the city.
In Favour of a Tramway
Bergeron is a long-time advocate of tramways. His party’s electoral platform states that tramways are a modern form of public transportation and provide universal accessibility to parents with strollers and people who are disabled. The platform also states that building a tramway network could act as a launching pad for urban development and neighbourhood renewal.
Bergeron told The Link that building a tramway network is also a way of diversifying the public-transit offering in Montreal, something he says is greatly needed.
He said statistics show ridership growing by around 16 per cent in the past few years, while projections into the future show ridership stagnating between 2013 and 2015 because the city’s public transit infrastructure can only accommodate so many passengers.
“We can no longer have more passengers at rush-hour times in the metro or in buses,” he said. “We’re at a point in time where we’re using 100 per cent of the present-day system, and we have to take the whole system and bring it up a level.”
According to Bergeron, the metro lines need to be extended, more reserved lanes for buses must be created and the frequency of regular buses must be increased. He also said the long-awaited bus-rapid-transit line on Pie-IX Boulevard, as well as another BRT line on Henri-Bourassa Boulevard, must be built.
“We need to do all of this, and we need to implement the tramway,” Bergeron continued. “All of this, at the same time.”
In an interview with The Link two weeks ago, mayoral candidate Mélanie Joly said she’d rather build a 130 kilometre-long BRT network which would allow buses to control traffic signals and avoid congestion, given Montreal’s limited resources. Bergeron disagreed, saying there’s enough money for projects like the tramway.
He pointed out that the provincial government’s cost estimate for the reconstruction of the Turcot Interchange has steadily increased from $875 million in 2008 to $3.7 billion this past March.
Another example, he said, is the federal government’s $5-billion cost estimate for a new Champlain Bridge, considerably higher than the $1-billion cost of building the much longer Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in the 1990s.
Projet Montréal’s platform states that the party will push for a 10 to 15 kilometre-long tramway system by 2017, which would later be expanded to 37.5 kilometres divided over six lines.
“When it’s an investment in public transit to benefit Montrealers, everything is always too expensive,” Bergeron said. “I believe that if we’re rich enough to pay for a $5-billion Champlain Bridge, which is completely false and unreasonable [as a cost], or Turcot at $3.7 billion, which is also completely unreasonable, are we not capable of prolonging the metro at around $800 million, to build the initial phase of the tramway at $1 billion?”
Creating Affordable Housing
Stemming the exodus of families to off-island suburbs, where homes are cheaper, is another priority for Projet Montréal. Bergeron said he’d increase the subsidies helping residents buy their own homes, but that alone isn’t enough.
“What must be done is to literally build new neighbourhoods,” he said. “We have extraordinary opportunities [to do so].”
One such project, which Projet Montréal has dubbed the Maritime Gateway, would see the shores of the St-Lawrence River revitalized on either side of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, and a flagship venue like a museum or concert hall built on a site currently occupied by parking lots on St-Helen’s Island.
Bergeron said he’d work to persuade the provincial government to invest the $1.5 billion earmarked for the transformation of Notre-Dame St. into an expressway differently, in such a way as to move the roadway onto rail yards near Montreal’s port and create a bus lane and tramway line. Once that is done, Bergeron says a new neighbourhood could be built by the private sector on land freed up along the riverfront that is currently owned by the provincial government.
“It’s the private sector that will come in and build [the neighbourhood], like it was the private sector that built 7,000 units […] in Dix30,” he said, referring to the Dix30 development built in the South Shore suburb of Brossard.
“It’s like this that I’ll welcome 9,000 [new] households at once; not all [will be] families, but [there will be] 9,000 households. I hope that there will be a couple of thousand families among them.”
Bergeron said he’d also work on projects in Griffintown, the Turcot yards, eastern Lachine and the site of the former Montreal Hippodrome raceway, among other parts of the city. He said working to bring about all of these new neighbourhoods, which would have various types of housing, would allow the city to welcome 100,000 more residents on lands that are all government-owned.
“That’s how to retain families,” he said.
Life in the Suburbs
Projet Montréal, with its emphasis on public transit and urban development, has traditionally fared well in Montreal’s central boroughs in elections, but has yet to see electoral breakthroughs in the city’s more suburban boroughs. However, Bergeron told The Link that his political party has a lot to offer voters in places like Pierrefonds and Rivière-des-Prairies.
He said the urban planning vision for Pierrefonds right now, under the current administration, is to build over “the last agricultural landscape of the island of Montreal” and a portion of one of the island’s remaining forests.
“We’re telling ourselves, ‘It’s not serious, there’s a park that covers about half of the forest,’” Bergeron said. “I’m saying, ‘You don’t have the right to make the other half of the forest disappear.’ To do what? To build monster houses.”
He said that a municipal administration led by Projet Montréal would instead work to transform parking lots around the borough’s municipal offices and public library, as well as other empty spaces along St-Jean Blvd. and Pierrefonds Blvd., into the heart of Pierrefonds, consisting of both commercial and residential buildings.
“Once we’ve created that, we’ll have the same capacity [for new households] as we would by destroying the agricultural landscape and the forest,” he said, adding that it would also mean the city would “have a centre from which [it could] create strong public transit links.”