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2008 City Council Report Card 

The Coast's third attempt to grade our elected city officials

Here we go again---it's regional council report card time.

I'm about to give a letter grade to each of the 23 Halifax regional councillors and the mayor, an exercise which will no doubt completely piss off some councillors and leave few happy. And, if past experience is any guide, readers will level charges of incompetence, stupidity and bias against me.

Nonetheless, there is a method to this madness.

I've been bird-dogging the Halifax council for about a year, attending meetings and going through the tonnes of paperwork related to every minute detail of running city hall. I'm bringing a Coast perspective to the proceedings---environmental concerns and empathy for the little people are very important, and we have little patience for unearned respect for authority.

Several issues weigh heavily in my assessments. Forward-looking transportation thinking is rewarded, traditional "build more roads" thinking is dinged. The so-called "tax reform" initiative---which, if implemented, will rip the city apart politically as tax bills on mansions are slashed and bills on middle-class homes are raised---figures prominently in the rankings. As does the Commonwealth Games fiasco.

Still, I've taken two steps so as to be as fair as possible to the councillors. First, I've tried to assess their broader role as representatives to their constituency, whether or not I agree with their politics: Are they working hard? Do they understand what's going on in their district? How effective are they in getting their issues addressed by the entire council and by city staff?

Second, I've given each councillor the opportunity to speak for him- or herself, by responding to a detailed questionnaire. The complete, un-edited responses are posted at If you don't like or trust my grading, go have a look for yourself and make up your own mind.

(The Coast's website will serve as the most thorough and detailed information centre anywhere for the municipal elections in October. In addition to the questionnaires, in coming months we'll add voter information, candidate profiles and investigations of issues like violence and transit. The site is interactive, and you'll have every opportunity to add your own thoughts.)

I do have a bias that works in the councillors' favour: As much as I criticize them, I have immense respect for the job they do. It's not easy, representing a diverse lot of citizens with competing needs and desires.

Several councillors have taken me on tours of their districts; they invariably point out the playgrounds and take personal credit for them. They also show me the potholes of concern, development issues and infrastructure shortcomings, and they discuss their battles with city staffers. And indeed they should; it doesn't grab headlines, but this mundane, boring stuff is the reason we have councillors---to better connect people to their government. At their best, councillors are citizen advocates, rattling cages and budging the bureaucracy to be a little more responsive.

If done right---and many Halifax councillors do it right---this kind of constituency work fills councillors' days, and many nights besides, and requires more than a working knowledge of administrative and political science, civil engineering, sociology, transportation planning and more.

Councillors get paid about $55,000 annually. I don't think that's enough.

Which is to say, that merely showing up and doing the job is kind of impressive, as far as I'm concerned. Of course, some councillors don't even show up....

And, I'll add, I genuinely like most of the councillors. They're good people, doing good work. Believe me, none of them are in this to get rich or to advance some personal agenda.

But enough of this lovefest, let's get busy grading.

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