City council report card 2011

It’s The Coast’s fifth annual ratings of Halifax councillors and the mayor, and the grades have never been worse. Can they improve in time for the fall 2012 elections?

Political winds change. Last year, Halifax council dealt with a profound philosophical challenge called “tax reform,” which, if implemented, would have fundamentally shifted the property tax system---it was, quite literally, the most radical proposed change in municipal governance in all of North America for the last century and a half. In the end, council did the right thing by declining to go down that route, but the council report card was heavily weighted by that single issue.

This year, there’s no one issue that’s anywhere near as important. Even the hotly contested convention centre pales in comparison. To be sure, as the world smacks straight up against peak oil, chasing airline travellers is an incredibly short-sighted and stupid economic development strategy, but the self-serving Haligonian managerial class is no more stupid in that regard than self-serving mucky-mucks elsewhere; the lemmings are smugly satisfied, the cliff unseen.

Still, while the convention centre was and remains an important issue, it’s just one of the many challenges council had to deal with since last year’s report card, including: huge cost overruns and bureaucratic bumbling on the Washmill underpass and Bridge Terminal projects; a multi-million dollar concert loan scandal that reached into the mayor’s office; the debate about whether council should be made smaller; a change in the top management position at city hall; tweaking the configuration of bus lines to rural areas; bike lanes and taxi regulations and many more lesser issues.

Council has been lucky this year on the financial front. The local real estate market continues to boom at a rate far exceeding the growth in people’s incomes, which is the very definition of a bubble, but for the time being property tax receipts are up. The bloated tax coffers allowed council to easily deal with the cost overruns and even add costly new facilities like the Common skating oval without increasing the tax rate. After the real estate bubble pops there will be a day of reckoning in city hall, but for now it’s Easy Street.

In some ways this past year has been a return to past normality for council, but council is doing a subpar job---this is the worst report card in the five years we’ve been doing them. That’s something to remember during the next election, in October of next year.

As usual, the grading in this report card is completely subjective. Readers will have their own opinions and are free to call me out in the comments. So, without further ado, here are this year’s grades.

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