2007 City Council Report Card

Like any school that buses people hundreds of kilometres, city council gets all types. From scrappy go-getters with leadership potential (the Peter Kelly of yore), to the Peter Kelly of today.

The last time this happened, Peter Kelly was exciting.

No, it's true. The last time The Coast published a City Council Report Card, which came in the spring of 2000, Bedford rep Peter Kelly had all the qualities of an ass-kicking/name-taking municipal councillor. He fought hard for his district. He was the most active participant in council sessions. He was the kind of guy who, out of principle, would bring his own office chair to council chambers rather than sit in the $1,000 leather chairs purchased by the city. He spoke truth to power, which usually took the form of then-mayor Walter Fitzgerald. (In 1999, upstart councillor Kelly summed up his antagonistic relationship with the mayor, "Basically, we just see things in a different light.")

But perhaps most importantly, Peter Kelly had people excited about what could be possible in the relatively new Halifax Regional Municipality. To quote an October 2000 opinion piece from the Chronicle-Herald, "If you're satisfied with the status quo, Walter is your man. Then, of course, if you would like to see the whole system turned on its ear by sailing into unchartered waters, go for Peter."

The whole system—the whole city—turned on its ear. And right over there, sitting in that unassuming, cheap chair, is the guy with the vision to do it.

For our part, we gave Kelly a B+ for his efforts as a councillor in 2000—which may not seem glowing, but it was still one of the highest grades we awarded that year. Kelly was a troublemaker, we said. A rebel. A fresh start. Why couldn't more councillors be like Peter Kelly, gosh darn it?

But that was then. And this is now.

Only, now looks far too much like then. In 2007, seven years since our last formal evaluation, many of the problems that councillor Peter Kelly vowed to address, mayor

Kelly, and the current crop of councillors, haven't managed to resolve: the urban/rural divide, the serious failures of our public transportation system, the shortage of bike lanes, the spike in violence, a lack of transparency in municipal politics, emmigration, immigration, shit floating in the harbour (yes, it's still there), racism, downtown garbage, jobs, sprawl.

And glow signs. For god's sake, don't forget glow signs.

Where's that vision? And the passion? And if council is unable to get things done, as they seem to be, how can they expect citizens to take an active interest? Municipal politics is a hard enough sell as it is.

Even councillors themselves have seemed apathetic in the past 12 months: In late March and early April of this year, council could not assemble the minimum 13 members needed in order to debate the municipal budget. Not 13 out of a possible 23 members, to decide how to spend $646 million. Yeesh.

Some coucillors, on top of their $54,250-a-year job as a municipal councillor, hold down full-time jobs, and consequently skip meetings. Or get burnt out. Or don't have enough time to properly fill their roles as councillors.

But, with a September 2008 municipal election looming in the distance, there's always hope for change.

With that in mind, we proudly present the revived Coast City Council Report Card—a breakdown of the opinions, passions and preoccupations of our 23 municipal councillors over the past 12 months.

All were contacted via email for this story, and most took the time to reply. As for the others...well, they can't all be councillor Kellys, right?

District 1 (Eastern Shore - Musquodoboit Valley)

Councillor: Steve StreatchCell: 497-2995

Getting things off to an unresponsive start, councillor Streatch's response to our email survey was nowhere to be found—unfortunate, but also somewhat appropriate: Streatch had one of the worst attendance records at council over the past year. Between June 1 and May 1, Streatch missed almost one quarter of all Regional Council and Committee of the Whole Meetings. Not good. Also on Streatch's mind this year: the extent of the longhorn beetle quarantine and how that would affect the local logging industry, and getting high-speed internet to his rural constituency. Streatch also reacted with skepticism to Halifax's now-infamous "Canada's most violent city" title, generated from a 2005 Statistics Canada report. Streatch remarked in a July budget meeting, "We all know that this is not the crime capital of Canada." Granted, it probably doesn't seem that way in Musquodoboit. Anyway, if you're more concerned by beetles than beatings, Streatch is your man.

Remarks: The absenteeism alone is enough to earn a failing grade. If we couldn't get away with that in grade two, why should it be admissable now?

District 2 (Waverley - Fall River - Beaver Bank)

Councillor: Krista SnowCell: 476-7206

You could say that councillor Snow is a woman of contrasts. She's an athlete (paddles dragon boat, practices tae kwon do) who ultimately did not support the Halifax Commonwealth Games bid. She's also a businessperson—a president and CEO of two businesses prior to her time on council —who did not support the Tex Park towers development to preserve the view from Citadel Hill. The ability to step back and vote against personal sympathy can be considered an asset, but Snow could stand to be more assertive. When asked what she would do if she were mayor, Snow responded, "Can't answser this question because I believe the Mayor is doing a fantastic job and I can't think of anything I would do differently." Oh, come now; there must be something we could improve upon.

Remarks: Perhaps too many extra-curricular activities? Snow is heavily involved in community sports and committees, but along with District 3 councillor David Hendsbee, she fought this year for taxpayer-funded assistants to help manage her workload. Some councillors sympathized, but the motion was ultimately defeated.

This isn't a knock against Snow, but some councillors with outside jobs have no problem handling their duties, and others without jobs can't keep up? Is being a councillor a full-time job, or isn't it?

District 3 (Preston - Lawrencetown - Chezzetcook)

Councillor: David HendsbeeCell: 483-0705

Long-time politician Hendsbee has a healthy sense of humour, but the fact that he was on vacation during what was supposed to be this spring's budget deliberations is no laughing matter. As for his own theoretical mayoral initiatives, Hensbee offers, "I would advocate for more parkland and recreational areas. Create more multi-use trails. Have a planetarium/botanical gardens complex built next to the public gardens on the site of current HRM greenhouses." Then, the even more ambitious: "Advocate for a new Metro Centre and convert the current facility into an expanded convention centre." And finally, the super-ambitious: "Have a third harbour crossing—tunnel from Woodside to the south end of Halifax to Robie Street via railway cut and incorporate a direct truck route for Halterm within it." Woah.

Remarks: Sorry, you just can't be on vacation during budget season. It's too big a part of your job to miss. It would be like us leaving during Pride Week or Jazzfest or The Annual Best of Food poll (speaking of which, have you cast your ballot?).

District 4 (Cole Harbour)

Councillor: Harry McInroyCell: 221-4805

McInroy is the oldest of the old school—he has 25 years of experience under his belt (including 14 years on Halifax County Council, prior to amalgamation). But experience can be both a blessing and a curse. McInroy was one of the first politicians to question the ballooning cost of the Commonwealth Games, asking if they were too expensive for the city to afford. Had anyone taken notice, perhaps the city and mayor Kelly could have saved some face. However, like Streatch, McInory had a dubious attendance record over the course of last year's council proceedings, missing almost as many regional council sessions and committee meetings. He was first called on this bad habit of leaving meetings early, or showing up late, or not showing up at all, way back in 2000. Just because you've been on council forever doesn't mean you no longer have to show up.

Remarks: Like before, it's a straight-up attendance-based failure. There are just too many missed days. Even if McInroy had chicken pox, this just doesn't add up.

District 5 (Dartmouth Centre)

Councillor: Gloria McCluskeyCell: 476-1667

It takes a heckuva lot to stop the Gloria. She was back at council a mere 18 days after going through open-heart surgery in late April. McCluskey is a tad unpredictable. She's spoken out against the Twisted Sisters, but has been pro-other dense developments within her own riding (King's Wharf, for example).

This past year, McCluskey went on a rampage against the in-camera private council sessions, storming out of one such meeting in frustration. McCluskey also helped bring about action on the unsightly building that used to house the Dartmouth Heritage Museum on Wyse Road, calling the building an eyesore (which it was) and advocating that it be torn down (which it will be this summer). A small thing, but imagine if every councillor made a fuss about the ugly useless buildings in their district...we might have a much sexier city.

Remarks: If nothing else, Gloria seems like she's always willing to speak her mind, to an unnervingly honest degree. It's worth the C simply for the "What's she gonna say next?" factor.

District 6 (East Dartmouth - The Lakes)

Councillor: Andrew YoungerCell: 476-1727

Younger is a relatively new councillor, serving since 2004. He took the time to draft an in-depth response on his past year on council. On the Rolling Stones concert: "I think this concert went extremely well. I voted in favour of using the site for a concert, but I did not vote in support of contributing municipal dollars...I have yet to be convinced, however, of the validity of using municipal dollars to subsidize such events." On the Commonwealth Games: "I believe even beyond financial issues, secrecy is what killed this bid." True that. On the widening of Chebucto Road: "I do not believe there is merit in many road widening projects because there is little incentive for people to take alternate transportation methods. In fact, in many cases I am in favour of not making it easier to drive as the automatic first response to traffic issues." Double true.

Remarks: Younger by name and younger by nature, the District 6 councillor lends some energy to council proceedings. He's also addressing concerns specific to his district, hosting meetings on violence in his neighbourhood after a series of shootings in January. Think municipally, act neighbourhoodly, as they say.

District 7 (Portland - East Woodlawn)

Councillor: Bill KarstenCell: 476-1855

Karsten is another relative newcomer to council, currently serving in his first term. Generally, he's a fairly quiet member of council—perhaps the reason he wasn't able to respond to our survey? He did, however, generate our absolute favourite press release headline of the year, which came in February of this year in response to a critical article that appeared in the Daily News suggesting council hadn't properly handled the Twisted Sisters decision: "HRM Regional Councillors Well Prepared to Deal With Complex Issues." Stop the presses!

Remarks: Not making enough noise. A middle-of-the-road grade to a relatively middle-of-the-road councillor.

District 8 (Woodside - Eastern Passage)

Councillor: Becky KentCell: 476-1836

Kent has taken on the rather admirable mission of cleaning up McNab's Island, which technically falls within the boundaries of her district. Earlier this spring, she toured the island (with a tag-along Coast reporter) for a first-hand look at the piles of garbage that have been left to rot on McNab's. She described the mess as "an eyesore and dangerous for tourists," and has called out the provincial government for not doing its part. Bravo.

Remarks: Kent seems to still be finding her confidence when it comes to council proceedings—it would be nice to hear her speak up on a greater number of issues. Getting results for the McNab's Island mess would go a long way to proving her effectiveness.

District 9 (Albro Lake - Harbourview)

Councillor: Jim SmithCell: 229-8887

When all of the dust settled after last year's Sensations strip-club debacle, Jim Smith scored what he considered a major victory for his district. After the club was ruled illegal and ordered to shut down last July, Smith said he was "ecstatic" about the decision.

The next big challenge for Smith will be recovering from the blow of losing the Commonwealth Games, a loss that hit his district particularly hard. Bordered by two needy areas—Burnside Industrial Park on one side and failed Shannon Park housing projects on the other—the area would have gained millions in sports infrastructure had Halifax won the Games. Now, Smith has been talking about the possibility of Shannon Park becoming a landing point for the fast ferry, if and when the chance comes along. (Of the fast ferry, he says he's "cautiously in favour, especially if it gets expanded to cover Dartmouth.")

Remarks: Between boobies and evaporating stadiums, Smith had a stressful year.

District 10 (Clayton Park West)

Councillor: Mary WileCell: 476-2048

If any district appreciates the values of the commuter car, it's Wile's, and it shows in her responses to our survey. Sort of. On Grand Parade parking: "Well, I can accept this but we must make it available for special occasions." And on the concrete jungle mess that is the Cogswell Interchange: "Keep in mind that we need interchanges and means of accessing the downtown area." Pretty pro-car. But then, regarding Chebucto Road widening project: "It doesn't solve the problem. You end up in a "tunnel' at the end of the road...are you going to repeat the same measures to those living beyond Connaught????"

Wile also expressed some of the most fervent support for commuter rail: "Personally, I feel this is the only solution but not just from Bedford. Workers now travel from Bridgewater, Truro, the valley etc. into Halifax...We must think of the future." Hmm... decidedly post-car thinking right there. Odd.

Wile also pushed for BLIP sidewalks in this year's municipal budget, a move we wholeheartedly support.

Remarks: The rest of Wile's answers reflect a soft spot for business and development, which makes sense for a councillor representing a business park like Bayers Lake (now, how the BLIP became a condo/apartment mecca is another story. Siiiiigh...). But it's an inconsistent vision. Still, remember those comments about delinquent councillors missing from meetings? Wile maintained a near-perfect attendance record at council functions, making her the coucillor most likely to actually be seen in council. What a concept.

District 11 (Halifax North End)

Councillor: Patrick MurphyCell: 476-2238

One major source of controversy in the north end this year came from the state of the Bloomfield Centre. In September of 2006, Murphy expressed surprise upon seeing a report that said Bloomfield would be closed down and demolished; by the spring of 2007, Murphy was touting the renovations and money being utilized to revive the community building. Tenants are still worried about the future of the site, and some groups are critical, accusing Murphy and the city of not listening to the community's suggestions.

Murphy also gave the most concise answer to one of our survey topics. The Cogswell Interchange? "Blow it up."

Like other peninsular councillors, Murphy has concerns about violence: "More police, more intelligence gathering, better behaved bar patrons, responsible bartenders and bar owners that look out for their patrons. We must work on all of these things." And as for video surveillance, a divisive topic that raises privacy and security issues, "If a video can save a life or find a culprit who has taken advantage of someone else, then I vote for video."

Remarks: Murphy is almost always accessible, and seems to be genuinely in touch with the concerns of his district—even with last year's Bloomfield surprise taken into consideration.

District 12 (Halifax Downtown)

Councillor: Dawn SloaneCell: 488-4812

In 2000, we criticized Sloane's predecessor Graham Downey for often sitting in an "impenetrable silence" during council meetings. This is no longer a problem. The feisty Dawn Sloane is many things, but she's rarely at a loss for words. Although her focus during in council sessions does occasionally wander from the heart of the issue she's discussing, when Sloane truly cares about something, rightly or wrongly, she throws herself into it. She describes the urgent situation on the corner of Spring Garden and Queen, where the shitty surface parking lot continues to uglify the downtown core: "We need to move on this immediately. This is a wonderful area for the new library, mixed use and a events plaza. We also need to move immediately on the two parking lots on Clyde St. New businesses want to move into the area." She also displays a certain level of tolerance for graffiti as art, and was one of the few councillors to refer to it as such: "I don't agree with making the victims of graffiti responsible for its cleanup. We should designate areas like the power station site" on Lower Water Street "where people can practice their art, and if they are caught tagging or vandalizing via graffiti elsewhere, the culprit should have to pay for the removal, clean up litter and be barred from purchasing or being in the possession of paint." Dowtown issues being our forte, we could go on; Sloane was instrumental in getting cars off the Grand Parade, for example. But we digress.

Remarks: We appreciate her enthusiasm and Sloane obviously has a lot on her plate. But leading downtown in the HRM is a tough gig. Sloane needs to be able to transcend the day-to-day council bullcrap and present a strong vision—but achieving that could prove a difficult task for such a passionate and sometimes impulsive voice.

District 13 (Northwest Arm - South End)

Councillor: Sue UteckCell: 221-7651

Sue Uteck is not one to shy away from calling bullshit. That might be part of the reason she was named deputy mayor last year. She boldly stated that Halifax was being "unfairly treated' by the Feds and demanded cash for the restoration of Point Pleasant Park. Uteck took some initiative and called Peter MacKay—phoned him up, old-school style—convincing him to get off his arse-licking arse and get PPP a multi-million dollar federal boost. Uteck claims if she weren't a councillor, she would be a cook, but telemarketer seems more fitting.

Uteck also championed the cause of a new downtown library, advocated more cash for downtown public art/downtown cleanup, and describes the Chebucto Road decision "the dumbest decsion of this council since 1999"—so her powers of perception are clear.

Remarks: Uteck has evolved an effective advocate for the south end. She inspires both admirers and detractors, but at least she's speaking clearly and directly, most of the time. She identifies a lack of leadership as one of the biggest problems currently facing Halifax. Hmm...someone angling for a job?

District 14 (Connaught - Quinpool)

Councillor: Sheila K. FougereCell: 452-3209

Fougere has announced she will be running against Peter Kelly in the 2008 election, fo' sho'. Fougere got particularly steamed after the Commonwealth Games fiasco when Kelly arbitrarily decided to pull Halifax out of the running without consulting council first. Fougere had some unkind words for the mayor about how the decision was made.

"I was annoyed and frustrated," she writes, "when political expediency trumped political process to torpedo the Games. There was still a two month time line to work on the final bid. This was highjacked...a total disregard for the democratic process."

The good news, Fougere is an experienced councillor with some perspective, and has a knack for cutting to the point. The bad news, like David Hendsbee, she was on vacation during budget deliberation time. Gah.

Remarks: Her grade could have been higher. But the budget vacation timing just doesn't sit well.

District 15 (Fairview - Clayton Park)

Councillor: Russell WalkerCell: 497-7215

Walker got himself into a bit of a controversy in July of last year while making a comment a recent shooting incident in Fairview. During an interview with the Herald, Walker joked that the incident more likely happened in Spryfield than Fairview because, you know, it's Spryfield.

Needless to say, it didn't go over well (those jokes about gun violence always fall flat) and Walker apologized. It was probably the most memorable incident of Walker's year.

Despite being former deputy mayor, Walker just didn't seem to have enough presence.

Remarks: We'd like to say something more compelling here, but...well...we would have needed to hear more.

District 16 (Rockingham - Wentworth)

Councillor: Debbie HumCell: 476-7212

Perhaps the most notable thing that Debbie Hum did in the past year to distinguish herself was vote against the municipal budget. Well, she also showed up to vote against the municipal budget. So I guess that's two things she did. Hum said that citizens were tired of being overtaxed and not seeing much put back into their community. The flawed tax system is something many other councillors criticize, but Hum, to her credit, actually followed through.

Remarks: A fine rural area councillor, Hum worries about transportation, car safety, and the trouble of getting to and from City Hall. However, Hum proposed the reasonable idea of creating HRM satellite offices for multiple councillors, as opposed to district 19 coucillor Brad Johns, who proposed...well, something more extreme.

District 17 (Purcell's Cove - Armdale)

Councillor: Linda MosherCell: 476-4117

As you get closer to the end of this list, coucillors get more and more frustrated with the current home of City Hall. Mosher at one point pitched the idea that the current council hall is an inadequate building to do council business.

Mosher made an effort this past year to sort out probems with the Armdale Rotary, and try to stop ugly infilling along the Northwest Arm. Another of the relatively new councillors, one gets the impression that Mosher has good intentions, but not always the best follow through. The rotary/roundabout/whatever it is turned into a bit of a poorly communicated mess.

Remarks: Mosher ousted a fairly popular councillor in Graham Read to get the position. She also supported the Chebucto Road widening project. That's just unacceptable.

District 18 (Spryfield - Herring Cove)

Councillor: Steve Adams Cell: 497-8818

Adams feels like the kind of guy who has been around council long enough to have very little patience for the more foolish aspects of political behavior—a no-nonsense kind of guy. He admitted a failure on the rotary/roundabout switch when it was obvious, at least owning up to how council took a wrong turn.

It's not all roses, unlike Adams' ever-present boutonniere. Adams has expressed frustration at other councillors' tendency to grandstand and make long-winded speeches during council sessions, which would be fine—but there could be an ulterior motive. Adams has previously run into scheduling problems between his duties at council and his other full time job (Adams works as a pharmaceutical rep on the side). So, much as wed like to admire his stand against flowery, useless political speeches, it might just be that he wants to get back to his other job.

Remarks: Despite career conflicts, Adams is a popular rep, and a frequent council speaker—and not in a long-winded way.

District 19 (Middle & Upper Sackville - Lucasville)

Councillor: Brad JohnsCell: 476-1234

In keeping with the theme from some of the other high-teen district councillors—except taking it to a new and nutty extreme—Johns made headlines by suggesting that city hall be moved out of City Hall and into, oh, say, Bedford. Everyone loves Bedford, right?

Johns seems to have a little bit of the downtown envy, or at least, a perception that the downtown takes things away from his more rural riding of Middle and Upper Sackville—which is probably true, to some degree. In March, when council decided to spend $121,000 on new garbage receptacles for the downtown, Johns complained that litter was not confined simply to that area, and that his area should also get new bins.

Remarks: The "I want that too" attitude doesn't do anyone any good in a municipality the size of HRM. Plus, it feels reactionary. And as for the idea of City Hall in Bedford? No offense Bedford, but we doth protest.

District 20 (Lower Sackville)

Councillor: Bob HarveyCell: 488-4820

Constituents tend to give positive feedback about Harvey, a long-time municipal politician (18 years, to be exact). A very articulate member of council, Harvey seems to maintain a healthy interest in the environment. In his own riding, he's done work to preserve the Sackville River. And of the Harbour Solutions project, he says, "I look forward to the commissioning of the plants next year and the dramatic results they will bring. Upgrades and separation of storm water and waste water will come in time and when appropriate opportunities present."

Did we mention, articulate?

Remarks: Harvey represents his district with a quiet passion, all the time looking like the friendliest grandfather ever.

District 21 (Bedford)

Councillor: Gary Martin Cell: 476-0021

Bedford, the former riding of wonderboy Peter Kelly, is now captained by Gary Martin, a former police officer of 26 years. One of Martin's major concerns is transportation, including the sexy-but-expensive fast ferry that would connect downtown Halifax with Bedford, and the sprawling municipality beyond. "This could be the way of the future, says Martin. "Not only for transportation but safety means also. Halifax is a peninsula with only so many exits, so this could assist. As HRM grows the fast ferry could be looked at for other sites." Martin successfully lobbied council in April to put aside $200,000 for the ferry project on a municipal wish list.

As a former cop, Martin also had a hand in drafting the current graffiti management plan. "The difference between urban art & graffiti is one thing—permission."

Remarks: That hard-line stance on graffiti is a bit frightening, but he does seem to have an inspiring outlook on the potential of the fast ferry and using the harbour as a viable way to move people around the municipality.

District 22 (Timberlea - Prospect)

Councillor: Reg RankinCell: 499-3744

Rankin's favourite bus route also has a greater significance outside of council—it was one of the major successes in his area this year. " favourite bus route is the new 23 (along St Margarets Rd through the Armdale Rotary) because it seems to be doing the job we hoped for—getting people at peak hours down and back in a reasonable time."

Remarks: Rankin is no slouch. He represents his district adequately, but is more prone to criticizing council than coming up with anything new to say—but then, that could be a very wide criticism in this council.

District 23 (Hammonds Plains - St. Margarets)

Councillor: Gary MeadeCell: 476-4123

A city engineer for decades before becoming the councillor for Hammonds Plains <0x2013> St. Margarets, Meade only joined council in the fall of 2006. Meade has called for a new high school in the Hammonds Plain region to preempt overcrowding at CP Allen and Sir John A. MacDonald. Soooo, good for him.

Remarks: Really, it's a bit early to give Meade a grade. Gotta at least give the new kid time to settle in.


Mayor Peter KellyPhone: 490-4010

And finally, our councillor extraordinaire. Kelly does his best to try to hold things together during contentious council meetings, which must sometimes seem like a full- time job in itself. His right-move-handled-the-wrong-way decision to pull out of the Commonwealth Games hurt relations with many councillors, and the damage has not completely healed.

When it comes to mayor Kelly, especially on the eve of an election year, here's our biggest concern: after seven years on the job, the vision of Halifax that the mayor spoke of in 2000 has not materialized. In the past, Kelly campaigned on the idea of bringing light rail to Bedford, a service that he ultimately has not been able to deliver because of problems working with CN. But it remains a promise undelivered. A few weeks ago, at a speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, Kelly again spoke of "his vision for a prosperous, growing and vibrant HRM where our quality of life is the envy of the country." He mentioned specifically his dream to establish a new Halifax art & culture centre (despite the city's mismanagement of the Khyber building over the past two years), as well as a new sporting and convention complex. Kelly insisted afterwards it was not an early campaign speech. It sure sounded like one.

However, this is not a new upstart campaigner anymore. He's already had seven years on the job. Kelly's vision doesn't match the reality of HRM, and by now, it should.

Remarks: At last count, Kelly is still a hugely popular mayor. He nabbed 80 percent of the popular vote in 2004, despite the fact that his image as the uniting leader of the HRM has never really come to fruition. The city is desperately hungry for some fresh ideas and strong leadership from the mayor's office, and if Kelly can't deliver, it might be time for Halifax to elect a new rebel.

Click here To read the detailed individual councillor responses to our survey.

Coast news editor Mike Fleury keeps his eye on council meetings so you don’t have to. And most of the time, you don’t want to. Trust us.

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