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Pressing council's reset button 

The October municipal election is going to bring major changes to HRM council no matter what we voters say, because of the Utility and Review Board cutting it from 24 members to 17.

click to enlarge hrm-map.jpg

The municipal elections happening across Nova Scotia on October 20 will serve as a reset for Halifax city politics. This is not always the case with an election, because no matter how great the theoretical power of voters to throw the bums out, there tends to be an intertia to city politics that makes it hard for an incumbent to lose. But this time around, two big changes are guaranteed before a single vote is cast.

For one, Peter Kelly will finally be replaced. The mayor who was impervious to criticism throughout most of his three terms of office has been losing his Teflon coating. Dogged by numerous transgressions, Kelly knew he would be facing serious competition at the ballot box when Dartmouth's former MP Mike Savage announced his mayoral candidacy in early February. A couple weeks later, The Coast's expose of Kelly's handling of the Mary Thibeault estate came out. Six days after that, the mayor announced he would not run for re-election. So HRM is getting a new mayor in October.

But an even greater reset comes thanks to the province's unelected Utility and Review Board, which last year reduced the number of councillors from 23 to 16, and then altered voting district boundaries proposed by the city. People will agree or disagree with the UARB's decisions, but there's no arguing that they amount to a radical departure from business as usual.

Here's the lowdown on the new political map.

District 1: Waverley - Fall River - Musquodoboit Valley
Geography: The northwest stretch of HRM, from Windsor Junction, Waverley and Fall River, out the Old Guysborough Road and he entire Musquodoboit Valley. This district joins the suburban sprawl of Fall River, HRM's wealthiest community, with the city's agricultural zone.

Politics: Sitting councillors Barry Dalrymple and Steve Streatch both live in the new district. We're not aware that any other candidates have come forward, but there's still plenty of time.

District 2: Preston - Porters Lake - Eastern Shore
Geography: The northeast stretch of HRM, from Lawrencetown and East Preston, all the way out to Ecum Secum, and including Lake Echo, Porters Lake and all the eastern shore communities (Musquodoboit Harbour, Ship Harbour, Sheet Harbour and so forth).

Politics: No sitting councillors live in the district. That's not necessarily an impediment to our incumbents, as a citizen may run in any district they like, no matter where they live. But you've got to think any home field advantage in local politics goes to someone who actually lives in the place. A considerable part of this district---the eastern chunk---is currently represented by Steve Streatch, and the Lawrencetown/Porters Lake area is now represented by David Hendsbee.

District 3: Dartmouth South - Eastern Passage
Geography: This district includes Cow Bay, Eastern Passage and Woodside as far as the Circumferential Highway, but then oddly reaches up to include Portland Estates and, even more oddly, part of Woodlawn.

Politics: Sitting councillor Jackie Barkhouse, who now represents the largely working-class Eastern Passage and Cow Bay, lives in the district, but the inclusion of the more upwardly mobile Portland Estates may present an electoral challenge for her. There's no word of a challenger as yet, however.

District 4: Cole Harbour - Westphal
Geography: This district was essentially created by the UARB after sitting councillor Lorelei Nicoll complained that the city's redistricting plan split Cole Harbour into three districts. The new district keeps Cole Harbour whole, and adds Westphal, Lake Major and Cherry Brook.

Politics: Nicoll lives in the new district, as does David Hendsbee. Neither councillor has announced plans, but presumably Nicoll will have the upper hand in the election, so perhaps Hendsbee will run in District 2, part of which he already represents.

District 5: Dartmouth Centre
Geography: This district includes all of Dartmouth inside the Circumferential Highway, except that portion north of Albro Lake Road.

Politics: The new district includes Gloria McCluskey's house. She has announced she will run for re-election, and union activist Bill Zebedee intends to run against her.

District 6: Harbourview - Burnside - Dartmouth East
Geography: This district is a catchall for those parts of Dartmouth not taken in by other districts. It includes Highfield Park, Burnside and Dartmouth Crossing, then stretches to Dartmouth East, the Forest Hills Parkway and the Mount Edward area.

Politics: Sitting councillors Jim Smith, Darren Fisher and Bill Karsten all live in the district. This will be an election to watch.

District 7: Peninsula South - Downtown
Geography: This district is the southern peninsula, with a boundary line that runs along Jubilee Road to Oxford Street, up Oxford to Quinpool Road, east along Quinpool to Cogswell Street through the Common, to North Park Street up to Cornwallis Street and then east to the harbour. The ponies on Sable Island will be represented by this councillor.

Politics: Sue Uteck lives in the new district. Former Halifax Pop Explosion director Waye Mason has announced he's running for this seat, as has hot dog vendor extraordinaire The Dawgfather. Dawn Sloane, who now represents downtown, lives just one block outside the new district. Although she hasn't announced her intentions, there's speculation she will run in this district rather than in the new north end district. Expect fiery debates.

District 8: Peninsula North
Geography: The northern peninsula, with District 7 to the south and a western boundary formed by Oxford Street to Bayers Road to Connaught Avenue to Windsor Street to the Fairview Overpass.

Politics: Sitting councillor Jerry Blumenthal has announced he's retiring from politics. That leaves sitting councillors Jennifer Watts and Dawn Sloane both living in the district as potential candidates. They share a left-of-centre perspective, but Watts is probably the stronger candidate for the western and northern parts of the new district, fuelling speculation that Sloane might run in District 7.

District 9: Peninsula West - Armdale
Geography: This district includes that part of the peninsula not included in Districts 7 or 8, as well as Cowie Hill, Armdale and along Purcells Cove Road as far as Williams Lake.

Politics: Sitting councillor Linda Mosher lives in the district, but the inclusion of the western peninsula opens up the opportunity for more candidates.

District 10: Birch Cove - Rockingham - Fairview
Geography: This district includes Fairview, Rockingham and that portion of Clayton Park east of Dunbrack Street, with an arm reaching out to include Kearney Lake.

Politics: Sitting councillors Russell Walker and Debbie Hum live in the district. We've long thought Walker is an odd fit for the working-class Fairview neighbourhood he now represents, and it seems unlikely he'd fare well in the upper-class Clayton Park neighbourhoods where Hum resides. We're guessing Hum has the upper hand.

District 11: Spryfield - Sambro - Prospect Road
Geography: This district is Spryfield and the coastal towns in the southeastern part of the Chebucto peninsula.

Politics: No sitting councillor lives in the new district. Currently, Stephen Adams represents Spryfield, but he lives in Bedford. This situation cries out for a candidate from one of the coastal communities. There are lots of highly educated and wealthy professionals---retired college professors and the like---living in Purcells Cove, Fergusons Cove and Prospect, any one of whom could mount a significant challenge to Adams by tapping into those areas' concerns about rampant development. We're so sure of this our VoteHRM election desk is making a prediction: watch for a new councillor from this area.

District 12: Timberlea - Beechville - Clayton Park West
Geography: This district is a giant "U" reaching around the prospective Birch Coves Lake-Blue Mountain Wilderness. Oddly, it joins the super-bustling suburb of western Clayton Park and BLIP with the lazy wide spots along St. Margarets Bay Road.

Politics: Sitting councillors Reg Rankin and Mary Wile live in the district. We think a Rankin-Wile debate would be the funniest thing, and if the councillors are willing The Coast will sponsor such a debate, and we promise to live-blog the entire thing. Our pleasure, really.

District 13: Hammonds Plains - St. Margarets
Geography: The district is the western edge of HRM, stretching from Peggys Cove to Tantallon and Hubbards, up to Hammonds Plains and Kingswood.

Politics: Sitting councillor Peter Lund lives Tantallon, which is in the new district. Last election, Lund won by just a few dozen votes over challengers Gina Byrne and Doug Poulton. Expect a rematch.

District 14: Upper/Middle Sackville - Beaver Bank
Geography: As its name implies, this district is the upper reaches of Sackville, basically everything past Beaver Bank Road, with Lucasville tacked on.

Politics: Sitting councillor Brad Johns lives in the district. That's all we know, but really, what else do you need to know?

District 15: Lower Sackville
Geography: Ummm, Lower Sackville.

Politics: Sitting councillor Bob Harvey lives in this district, but he's retiring. It's wide open.

District 16: Bedford - Wentworth
Geography: Predominately Bedford, Royal Hemlocks and Wentworth.

Politics: Bedford is currently represented by councillor Tim Outhit. Stephen Adams lives there, too, but he represents Spryfield. Bedford politics can get quite nasty; Outhit was the only successful candidate from the "let's steal power for ourselves by claiming to be populists" Citizens for Halifax group, but he'll likely face a challenge from the Len Goucher/insane-even-for-Conservatives wing of the PCs. It's like choosing between a firing squad or the chair, but with a more alarming result.

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