Halifax is trying to make municipal elections more equitable | The Coast Halifax

Halifax is trying to make municipal elections more equitable

Budget season is coming—get excited!

Catch up on what happened at HRM's executive committee meeting on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.
Catch up on what happened at HRM's executive committee meeting on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

The majority of Monday’s HRM executive committee meeting was devoted to trying to make municipal elections more fair.

The debate started with a seemingly innocuous request from councillor Paul Russell to remove the word “spouse” from the municipal elections bylaw. After a prolonged debate, this item was deferred and will come back to this committee and will contain some proposals to make municipal elections in Halifax have a more fair playing field.

Under current municipal election finance laws, a municipal candidate and their spouse can both contribute $10,000. In this report, staff were recommending that be upped to $15,000. Inflation and all that. Councillor Patty Cuttell pointed out that this puts people who don’t have spouses at an immediate disadvantage. So staff should look at changing how the city defines “spouse”—because if there’s going to be an advantage for being rich, it shouldn’t discriminate based on marital status.

Mayor Mike Savage and deputy mayor Sam Austin both pointed out that the high limits on donations were unfair, in and of themselves. Savage said that a $300,000 ceiling for donations to a mayoral campaign was too high. For his part, Austin said that having high familial limits benefit rich families who can all afford to hit their max contributions, which can sometimes be seen at the provincial level. All in all, councillors who spoke pointed out ways in which our current election finance laws (that the city can control) benefit rich retired men. Staff have said they’ll come back with ways to start addressing that. Expect that report to come back sometime in October.

Budget pre-season also started with today’s executive council meeting. Be forewarned, I use sports analogies for budget season to try and make people care as much about how they are governed as they do about their fantasy sports teams. Staff’s recommending some slight scheduling changes to budget season. They don’t want to change the strategic priorities meeting as that’s just an update on how the 2021-25 plan is going. Here’s my coverage from the meeting from when they set the plan in 2021, and a bit of an explainer on what strategic priorities are and why I think they are important. Otherwise, staff are recommending consolidating some of the boring meetings. There may be a slight change in this to accommodate a meeting, but your budget season schedule is looking like the budget exhibition games will start on Nov. 28 (strategic outlook meetings, AKA how last year went/the plan for this year). And budget outlook (AKA what our team looks like for the season).

The regular-season meetings will kick off with capital projects on Jan. 24, going until March 1, when the rookie department of community safety will make its professional debut. Playoffs (AKA budget adjustment list debates) will be March 27 and April 3. Expect the budget to be ratified on April 23, 2024. Can you feel the excitement of the new season starting to build!?

The committee also did some boring stuff like set council’s meeting schedule and appoint councillors to the Halifax Water Board of Commissioners.