KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – At seemingly every turn, whether climate change, gaps in health care, access to affordable housing, or child poverty, Nova Scotians are facing a wave of crises.
The new provincial government will inherit a massive deficit, a shortage of long-term care beds, and a province in need of rebuilding its way out of a pandemic.
Julie Melanson knows a thing or two about rebuilding from the ground up. She’s done just that through her recovery, and now she’s eager to do the heavy lifting for her constituency.
Melanson, the NDP candidate for Halifax Armdale, received her nomination in January, one month after celebrating two years of sobriety.
“Honestly,” she says, “It’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m really just trying to honour and enjoy every moment of it.”
I met Melanson, 37, last fall while writing a feature about her recovery. We met for weekly interviews to chat about her life, work, and prospective political career. I wrote of Melanson in December:
“Since becoming sober, Julie has gone from barely surviving to positively thriving. She is both upbeat and straightforward, with a sense of resilience and perseverance that could motivate the most defeated.”
Melanson, who dreamed of becoming a backup dancer for Janet Jackson as a child, now sees serving her community as her destiny.
“My recovery has helped me be the best version of myself that I’ve ever been in my life,” Melanson said, “which allows me to come into politics with compassion, with love, with sincerity and honesty, but also with some views and lived experiences on how we can shape things better for community members that are dealing with similar scenarios.”
Melanson, a Guyanese-Canadian, grew up in New Brunswick before moving to Halifax to study criminology at Eastern College.
Now, eight months later, she has put her job selling home and auto insurance on hold to work full-time on the campaign trail.
Melanson may not have dipped her toes in the political sphere had it not been for the encouragement of outgoing Halifax-Needham MLA Lisa Roberts. Before she knew it, Melanson was on a plane to Ottawa for a visit to Parliament Hill, pondering her own political future for the first time.
Like many first-timers in politics, it didn’t work out for Melanson the first time. Last fall, she vied for the Halifax-Citadel-Sable Island nomination, coming up short to Lisa LaChance.
It may have been a blessing in disguise for Melanson. She’s facing a fresh Liberal face in Halifax Armdale, while LaChance faces former Liberal leadership candidate and incumbent Labi Kousoulis.
“A missed opportunity”
Melanson’s candidness about her past battles with substance use is in stark contrast to Premier Iain Rankin’s failure to disclose his criminal record to the public before he found his back against the wall.
“I’m very grateful and happy for him that he was able to share that information for himself because that can weigh heavily on someone to keep something close,” Melanson said of Premier Rankin’s pre-election admission of a criminal record for drunk driving.
“I do feel that there was a missed opportunity,” she added.
Melanson believes Rankin could have expanded the conversation to talk about resources for mental health and substance use disorders.
“We could have talked so much more about the lack of services that are out there for people that are suffering,” she said.
Running a recovery-first campaign
For Melanson, who is particularly concerned about the affordable housing crisis in HRM, running under the NDP banner was a no brainer.
“It’s really about everyone getting involved and taking away the barriers that would allow someone to live authentically,” she explained, noting her campaign centers around equality.
Melanson is focused on improving mental health and addiction services in the province, as well as senior care and universal PharmaCare. She also wants to see income assistance rates raised.
Asked about the leader of her party, Gary Burrill, Melanson calls him extremely supportive.
“Gary is a fantastic human,” Melanson said. I could not be prouder to call him the leader of our party.”
Melanson has approached her campaign differently from many candidates by taking things one day at a time.
A strategy borrowed from her recovery, she is prepared to accept whatever the outcome may be as “a gift and a blessing.”
“Going into this, there were a couple of non-negotiables that I put on the table,” Melanson explained. “Number one is for myself, I need to put my recovery first, so I’m ensuring that I make my meetings three times a week.”
“That wasn’t even a question,” she added, saying her team’s motto is, “Your mental and physical health come first.”
Asked about winning, Melanson responded:
“I’ve learned that expectations are premeditated resentments,” she said, adding we shouldn’t set ourselves up to potentially not meet our expectations.
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