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Friday, September 26, 2008

Mayoral debate notes

Posted By on Fri, Sep 26, 2008 at 7:09 AM

After Peter Kelly gave a milquetoast "everything's fine and getting better" opening statement, Sheila Fougere came out swinging, saying that “back room chats and the lack of a strong leader” had left HRM taxpayers paying 2/3 of the harbour solutions cleanup costs (as opposed to the 1/3 that the city had originally hoped to pay), the loss of $700 million in federal funding and the lost opportunity to take advantage of CN's abandonment of tracks that could be used for commuter rail purposes. It was quite refreshing to hear these charges, as if anyone's going to vote to replace Peter Kelly, they need a reason for it.

But not much significant happened after that. I counted exactly three substantive policy differences articulated at the debate:

  • Peter Kelly opposes doing away with the deed transfer tax, correctly pointing out the loss of $30 million in revenue would have to be made up with an eight percent increase in property taxes. Good on him for making this point before an audience packed with people who trade real estate around as a business. Sheila Fougere came out in support of scrapping the tax.

  • Peter Kelly supports the formation of a Transportation Authority to administer all bridges, transit and highways in the HRM. Sheila Fougere opposes it. I discussed this issue at some length here.

  • Peter Kelly remains supportive of the speedy-- two to five years-- implementation of a fast ferry to Bedford. Shela Fougere suggested putting the fast ferry on a ten-year schedule and using the money instead for buses.

    These are real differences, but they really fail to inspire much. Shortly into the debate I wondered aloud, "why do we even elect the mayor?" I mean, we don't have a "strong mayor" form of government where the mayor runs the bureaucracy; there are very few legislative duties for the Halifax mayor--- he or she basically runs council meetings and cuts ribbons. So, unless a mayor is going to use the position as a bully pulpit and to inspire the populace to take action---that is, unless the mayor shows real community leadership on a range of issues---what's the point? We may as well just have council choose among themselves the person they want to run meetings, and save the rest of us all the hassle.

    As an example of the lack of leadership, consider two issues raised yesterday-- the proposals for tax reform and breaking up the HRM. In the mealy mouth sort of way he's famous for, Peter Kelly said he's vaguely against the current tax reform proposal, but didn't say why he's against it, what he opposes, or what he'd rather see. All the same, he wants the process to continue.

    (Adding, two hours after original post: I suppose the deed transfer tax issue can be considered part of the tax reform issue, but I think of them as being slightly different, if related. Still, Kelly didn't connect the two, and didn't get into the issue of suburban v urban tax rates.)

    On breaking up the HRM, Sheila Fougere wants to hold a plebiscite to see what everyone else thinks, but she won't offer up her own opinion on the matter until she gets "more information." Well, sure, but we're getting into yawn territory here.

    I want a mayor who stands for things, takes hard positions, leads the community. Either that, or someone who can run a decent meeting. (On that front, Kelly fails miserably, btw.)

    There are issues out there that the Chamber of Commerce crowd wouldn't necessarily be expected to touch on, but need to be raised: addressing climate change and preparing for our coming energy crisis. Both candidates mouthed platitudes, but it was evident that neither has given such issues serious thought. Those would be some good things to show some leadership on.

    Oh, lastly: David Boyd doesn't know anything about how government works. He admitted he hadn't read and doesn't know what the five-year transit plan consists of, and he seems to be ignorant of the existence of the HRM planning department. He's a non-contender, and for good reason.

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