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Council Report Card 2017 

City Hall's roster is filled with rookie sensations and veterans of the game. The Coast’s annual ranking of council performance once again breaks down all the action from the past year—every goal scored and penalty enforced.

click to enlarge Here's your starting lineup.... - RILEY SMITH
  • Here's your starting lineup....
  • RILEY SMITH

There’s a new council in town. Last fall’s election went and disrupted the political DNA at City Hall. Some heavy hitters—at least in terms of career lengths—are gone from council chambers and a new team of fresh, young faces are finding their footing and taking over the city’s reins. It’s a strong group that already has some impressive momentum behind it, even if there have been a few stumbles out the gate.

These are The Coast’s assessments of the councillors and their work. Our observations are built off 12 months of council and committee meetings, along with every good, bad and ugly news story that put these elected officials in front of a camera over the last year. As always, there will be members of the public who feel we let some people off easy. There will also be councillors who argue with our methods, and complain about our stinging remarks. Sorry, not sorry.

The truth is we continue to be impressed by the civic conviction and tough skin needed to hold down a seat at City Hall. All 17 of these folks care deeply for their communities. It’s only their methods and results that so often come up short. When that happens, the best of them openly take accountability for their error—using the crisis as a learning opportunity to correct HRM’s mistakes. Others will cross their arms, stomp their feet and bray about being nature’s truest victim. This is what they ask history to judge them on. We happily oblige.

———

Steve Streatch
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Grade: D+
Last year’s grade: N/A
Waverley–Fall River–Musquodoboit Valley
902-579-6738

Old habits die hard. Steve Streatch fought his way back onto council last fall after losing to former District 1 councillor Barry Dalrymple, back in 2012. Streatch told The Coast during last fall’s election that a successful battle with cancer and some time away from City Hall had given him a fresh perspective. Gone was the man who ignored HRM By Design and called out this paper’s reporting on mayor Peter Kelly as a witch hunt. This would be a revitalized Steve Streatch, who would no longer miss meetings in bulk. To his credit, Streatch has been present since retaking his seat at the table and engaged during budget talks. Sadly, most of his time on the mic has been spent offering history lessons about what life used to be like during his glory days. In terms of action, he’s mostly played to the elderly Fall River base that elected him—pushing for more senior housing and improved services, while championing sure-fire environmental catastrophes like the Moose River gold mine. At the same time, he’s complained too much taxpayer money is being spent on HRM’s Freedom of Information office, suggesting we should increase fees to deter frivolous requests. In an argument that approached an event horizon of stupidity, Streatch complained that conflict of interest accusations from taking developer money were an insult to his honour, because he’s taken a sacred oath—to the Queen. He’s that nostalgic uncle spitting out parables of back in the day that rarely bend around towards anything resembling a point. Any hazard this new and improved Steve Streatch presents to council is, for the moment, abated by how easy he is to ignore. But these things change.


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David Hendsbee
Grade: F
Last year’s grade: C–
Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore
902-483-0705

Well, Mr. Mayor, here we go again—as the councillor is so fond of saying. Four more years with David Hendsbee’s decaying orbit of relevancy. He huffs and puffs about the “good people of Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore” being left behind whenever more competent councillors accomplish things in their respective districts, and cries foul whenever a file skips ahead of his own languishing pet projects. When the Ecology Action Centre supported HRM buying the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes lands, Hendsbee told them to “get in line.” (He was one of two votes trying to overturn a development ban on future parklands near the wilderness area.) Hendsbee’s repeatedly mocked the idea he’s swayed by campaign donations, which is probably true given that he’s so aggressively in the pro-development camp already. Armco’s colossal 29-storey Willow Tree tower won’t drown the Common in depressing shadows, argues Hendsbee. Instead, it’ll helpfully block harmful sunshine from blinding baseball players and melting the Oval. When Kiann Management failed to get approval for its demolition dump in Lake Echo, Hendsbee wrote a letter to Natural Resources minister Lloyd Hines asking the province to buy the company’s now worthless land (a stunt MLA Keith Colwell called “totally inappropriate”). And the hits keep on coming. During council’s debate about taxi licensing, Hendsbee was angrier the mayor “threw us under the bus” in the media than the wildfire of outrage about sexual assaults happening across the city. He’s defended “might not have been perfect” Edward Cornwallis—who commanded men to rape and burn villages and paid money for Mi’kmaq scalps—during last spring’s attempt to “rewrite history.” All the while moaning about the grave injustice of not having Vincent Coleman’s name on a harbour ferry. In a revitalized council full of hungry new challengers looking to build a better future, Hendsbee’s fossilized hokeyness appears more obsolete by the day.


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Bill Karsten
Grade: C–
Last year’s grade: D+
Dartmouth South–Eastern Passage
902-476-1855

The process cop has been promoted to process police chief—or something—as Karsten works his way up the vice-presidency career ladder at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He’s excelled this year chairing budget meetings, helping to walk the many new councillors through city hall’s labyrinthian process and financial tomes. Karsten can also be a voice of reason for good government in the face of wacky populist arguments from some of his colleagues, who often try to make the sun shine down on every resident’s ass. The best free entertainment in town remains watching Karsten’s ghastly reactions as council perverts itself into a Cronenbergian policy nightmare—the resulting political body horror melting his brain. Steve Craig’s revival of the council salary debate left Karsten “speechless.” A private member’s bill from MLA Iain Rankin about the Otter Lake landfill’s operations caused both “shock and awe.” That former colleague Reg Rankin (Iain’s father) knew about the bill ahead of council and spoke in favour of it at the provincial Law Amendments Committee provoked an equally strong reaction. “Shame,” said Karsten. “Again, I say nothing but shame.” The media isn’t immune, either. This week Karsten told The Coast “you embarrass yourself for even talking about” whatever personnel scandal is unfolding involving CAO Jacques Dubé. He’s a wet blanket, sure, but sometimes that’s useful when you have to put out a fire.


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Lorelei Nicoll
Grade: C
Last year’s grade: C–
Cole Harbour–Westphal
902-478-2705

Outside of Matt Whitman, there was little else more embarrassing last year than the zealous yokelism with which this city latched onto Sidney Crosby’s Stanley Cup win. Leading that Cole Harbour parade was Lorelei Nicoll, who still wants to ‘honour’ the Kid by naming some boring slice of municipal infrastructure after him. Technically, that’s against the rules. Crosby is supposed to have fulfilled 25 years volunteer service, be retired or dead first. But there is no rule which can’t be broken, and no length we won’t go to forever bind ourselves to the tiniest scrap of external validity. Other, slightly better ideas Nicoll has recently floated include reducing residential speed limits to 40 kilometres per hour and requiring commercial space demand studies in development applications (though the latter did prompt concerns from her colleagues about ruining the free market). She also achieved a longtime goal in returning the Lake Loon-Cherry Brook Community Centre to its residents after sitting empty for 20 years, and spoke passionately about the matter when it finally came to council. Nicoll’s unobtrusive. Her questions are narrow. Her arguments concise. After a decade at City Hall, her unadventurous character feels more like wisdom than reticence. Hero worship aside, of course.


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Sam Austin
Grade: B–
Last year’s grade: N/A
Dartmouth Centre
902-579-6814

Easily the best of council’s new crop of rookies, Sam Austin has also been running laps around most of the veterans. Straight out of the gate the former urban planner came to City Hall prepared, focused and well-researched. His questions to staff are laser-focused, and he’s made elegantly simple arguments about complicated issues that pre-date his arrival, like the stormwater right-of-way charge. When councillors so often defer to the quote-unquote wisdom of their colleagues, Austin hasn’t been afraid to stand apart. He absolutely eviscerated Bell’s terrible public wifi proposal, for one. He was also able to push through a six-month increased ferry service pilot post-Big Lift in this year’s budget, despite cost concerns from his coworkers. Not to say Austin’s uncooperative. He’s shown a collaborative spirit that was missing from Dartmouth Centre. All of which is great, but we have to dock him for a starkly embarrassing bit of political theatre when he published an open letter tut-tutting Coast writer Melissa Buote’s comparison of Portland Street after dark to horror movie The Haunting. Austin says that’s an outdated stereotype, and encouraged his resident to “get out more.” The councillor might feel it necessary to pen such feel-good pablum about his district, while telling women who actually live in the area that their experiences feeling unsafe aren’t valid. Or maybe shut up and don’t do that. Provided he doesn’t forget about the many people in Dartmouth who don’t live blissful lives of ease on the flower streets, Austin will go far.


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Tony Mancini
Grade: D+
Last year’s grade: N/A
Harbourview–Burnside–Dartmouth East
902-292-4823

Whatever freshmen hesitancy shadowed Tony Mancini’s first few months at City Hall, a year-and-change after his original byelection win, it now feels like that’s all we’re ever going to get from the District 6 representative. Mancini’s time on the mic is a bathroom break; a quick few minutes to get a snack or empty one’s bladder knowing you won’t miss anything important. He’s bashful and vacant at meetings, which wouldn’t stand out so much were he not sitting between the nerd sandwich of bespectacled urban planning duo Sam Austin and Waye Mason. Alas, he is. When Mancini does speak out on an issue—like Stephen Adams’ hijacking of transit amendments—it’s overshadowed by better, hotter arguments from his heavyweight colleagues. He’s earned some accolades for making a strong argument in favour of HRM’s new low-income bus pass program and recently churned up the old plastic bag ban debate. But he also demanded council start referring to human beings as “customers.” That presumably came from some well-meaning hope for effective government, but the whole scene was a grossly inappropriate bit of dehumanizing bombast. People are so much more than customers, and a government has a responsibility to remember that. The Habs fan’s most reliable bit o’ business is mocking the Bruins-loving Hendsbee down the aisle. We’d love to see Mancini step up and take a bigger role in something beyond the playoffs, but we’re not holding our breath.


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Waye Mason
Grade: B+
Last year’s grade: B+
Halifax South Downtown
902-490-8462

Armed with four years experience, self-admitted “policy wonk” Waye Mason has been crafting motions with precision. He was able to get a huge boost to the Parks and Recreation budget through council, threw his weight behind a living wage for HRM contractors and celebrated making affordable housing a key strategic outcome for city hall. He’s stood by Steve Craig’s side in overhauling the board of police commissioners, and moved to finally discharge the past-due Twisted Sisters development agreement. On his bad days Mason has a technocratic snideness. He’ll council-splain government to the plebeians, which is pissy and unpleasant. It’s more effective when that venom is spat at some of his outlandish colleagues. Mason’s had repeated dust-ups with Russell Walker on taxi appeals, Stephen Adams and his Dukes of Hazzard politics over policy when it came to bus routes (a conversation Mason said made him “consumed by despair”) and the rural kids like David Hendsbee, and his attempt to get a subdivision developer included in Halifax’s new large lot bylaws. Mason lambasted that venture as “inappropriate and, frankly, old-fashioned.” The Carleton just sold and the Shoe Shop is closing, so we’ll see what comes from his plans for a “Live Music Strategy” to bolster the local scene. There’s also the Argyle streetscaping inconvenience, the continually delayed Nova Centre and all the upcoming interruptions expected from the Margeretta, Queen’s Marque and other downtown developments. Those garbage fires have earned Mason some legitimate criticism from residents and business owners, and the growing pains won’t be stopping anytime soon. There’s a lot of bricklaying happening in Halifax South Downtown. But Mason seems up to the challenge.


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Lindell Smith
Grade: B
Last year’s grade: N/A
Halifax Peninsula North
902-579-6975

For both better and worse, Lindell Smith arrived at City Hall facing colossal expectations. As the municipality’s first Black councillor in 16 years, Smith’s youth, his perspective, his voice couldn’t be more needed as a counterbalance to those cud-chewing moments where council farts around ignoring city life that’s increasingly unequal. Of course he wasn’t going to live up to those sky-high hopes. Not yet. Smith is still feeling his way around and getting his bearings in a complicated bureaucratic system. He’s appeared nervous in media scrums and has periodically gotten spun around in a procedural vortex. Those are minor gaffes that’ll correct themselves as days roll on. Indeed, the rookie has already shown an impressive performance during budget season, asking questions and digging down into the nitty-gritty details of business unit finances. Experiencing the other side of that chequebook while working for Public Libraries gave Smith a frame of reference other councillors missed. That’s been the way of things. When other councillors couldn’t congratulate themselves fast enough about how great HRM’s mobile food market program has been, Smith asked whether any mechanisms were in place to ensure the food was getting to those most in need (there weren’t). When council debated affordable housing, it was Smith—who lived in social housing growing up—underscoring the motion’s critical impact. When Smith speaks with conviction, it connects. He’s asked staff to look at a living wage for contracted employees, held the line voting down out-of-place developments and expressed bewilderment at the lack of disclosure on campaign expenses (“I could have bought a horse”). Those shining moments are happening with increased frequency. The bar was set too high for Smith’s arrival at council. Give him another year, and he’ll clear it with ease.


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Shawn Cleary
Grade: C+
Last year’s grade: N/A
Halifax West Armdale
902-490-4090

It takes a while to get used to a new workplace. Newbies Lisa Blackburn and Richard Zurawski still seem to be getting their sea legs navigating council’s choppy waters. Even quieter has been Shawn Cleary, who barely spoke during his first few meetings. Then again, maybe it just seems that way given the all-star performances across the aisle from fellow rookie councillors Austin and Smith. It would be nice if Cleary got over the nervousness and came out of his shell, because when he does take a stand it’s usually for a just cause. He’s advocated for campaign finance reform, more affordable housing and tried to improve sidewalk snow-clearing standards. In one of his best moments, Cleary concisely deflated some of Stephen Adams’ overblown transit rhetoric by pointing out the loss of revenue in discontinuing the 402 would only happen if that bus and driver weren’t deployed on another route. Those bright spots happen so rarely, and with so much less gusto, than one would hope from the bow-tied Buddy Holly of District 9. Recently Cleary showed some life trying to freeze council pay raises, and by being the sole councillor not to vote for this year’s budget (he wasn’t a fan). He also snuck in at the buzzer this week announcing plans for a public engagement on whether HRM should keep honouring historical monster Edward Cornwallis. So we’ve bumped his grade up a notch. These are still very early days for a four-year term, so hopefully the councillor will find his voice and be a bit more visible in debates to come.


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Russell Walker
Grade: D
Last year’s grade: C+
Halifax–Bedford Basin West
902-497-7215

The prickly curmudgeon earned himself a respectable C+ last year, largely based around his amusing outrage during council’s ignoble debates. But even amongst a lively new band of councillors, Russell Walker’s still dancing to the same antisocial tune. He’s a feckless presence in meetings, popping up every so often with a cynical “Here we go again, folks” like a less-sympathetic Oscar the Grouch. Walker’s whined about mean comments in the media, snapped at Richard Zurawski for confusing the stormwater charge with the ditch tax and complained about Steve Craig’s resurrection of the salary debate. On that last front, Walker outright said Craig and supporting councillors shouldn’t have run for office if they didn’t like the perks (prompting an admonishment from mayor Savage). He reduced discussions about council’s responsibility to women who’ve been assaulted by taxi drivers into a personal issue, puffing up with bluster and fury at Waye Mason’s suggestion that the unassailable Appeals Standing Committee wasn’t experienced enough in legal matters to not be swayed by defence attorneys. That wording “offended” Walker and caused him to lose sleep—remarks that made the elected representative sound like a petulant child. In between these incredible sulks he’s basically done shit all. Credit to the councillor for helping to put the stormwater right-of-way charge back onto Halifax Water bills instead of property taxes, which Walker at least admitted had been a clusterfuck. He was also useless on the police board. Surprised by all the missing drug exhibits last summer, a wrathful Walker said the cops should have told the board earlier about their disastrous evidence audit, even while admitting to reporters that would have resulted in no actions other than the “perception of oversight” being maintained. Russell Walker eked out a win last fall by the skin of his teeth. More people in District 10 voted against the crotchety councillor than for him. Nevertheless, he persists. The next four years of Walker are going to be a slog.


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Stephen Adams
Grade: C–
Last year’s grade: C–
Spryfield–Sambro Loop–Prospect Road
902-497-8818

Stephen Adams’ maverick antics cut both ways. One day he’s blowing up the carefully assembled Moving Forward Together transit plan to save the least-used bus route in the city because it happens to be in his district. The next he’s tackling the ratcheted-up rhetoric about large rural lots by laying the smackdown on an assembled coterie of pissed-off landowners—letting them know city hall responded to their concerns in four months rather than 18, so knock it off with the rural/urban divide nonsense. Back and forth like that it goes. He was against the mayor’s poverty reduction strategy (because HRM shouldn’t carry the province’s water), while earmarking $250,000 to curb the city’s feral cat population. He successfully pitched council to purchase a huge swath of the Purcells Cove backlands, but only after the Shaw Group brought the idea forward because it wasn’t going to get development approval for the property. He’s argued if we get rid of Cornwallis Park we’ll have to start renaming Moncton and Amherst (for some reason), and then goes and dismantles the abject pointlessness of Engage Nova Scotia, which Adams says does little for economic development other than “just making people excited.” Of course, he’s also rallied against “absolutely obscene” interim development controls and blamed the public for being “reactive” rather than “proactive” to the city’s development. So it goes. During meetings, Adams’ patented move is making a motion he doesn’t support and asking everyone to vote against it. With that, we’ll leave his grade where it was and hand him over to the mercy of the commenting public.


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Richard Zurawski
Grade: D+
Last year’s grade: N/A
Timberlea–Beechville–Clayton Park–Wedgewood
902-579-7453

Look, no one’s doubting Richard Zurawski is a smart guy. If anyone ever did, the councillor would fire off some five-syllable word and hand them a copy of his latest book to set the record straight. Intelligence doesn’t always leave room for congeniality, though, and Zurawski’s people skills are sometimes as impenetrable as his prolix lectures. He has 3,000 books in his personal library and is the kind of person who makes sure to tell you that. Hubris aside, the meteorologist has kicked up a storm about neoliberal policies—even if some of his colleagues don’t appear to know the meaning of the word—and is often the lone voice on council warning about the unavoidable dangers of climate change. Zurawski also delivered a well-composed, much-needed defence of treating HRM residents as human beings, as opposed to Tony Mancini’s suggested classification as “customers.” Arguably those speeches aren’t quite as impactful as putting forward policies, which Zurawski hasn’t been as active in. It behooves us to mention the spiteful streak he displayed after (apparently) boycotting radio station News 95.7 over the ownership of his silly ‘Science Files’ brand. Zurawski—who’s preached about the importance of journalism and the media—offered a stern “no comment” to reporters for that story, then turned around the next day with a snotty retort at council’s meeting about how local news stories were spreading snow removal panic. If Richard Zurawski prays at the altar of evidence-based decision making, then the evidence so far suggests he’s kind of a jerk.


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Matt Whitman
Grade: F
Last year’s grade: D–
Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets
902-240-3330

The kind of person who waits for applause when he finishes a sentence, Matt Whitman has always been somewhat of a failed joke. His self-nomination in November for another term as deputy mayor was met with cringeworthy silence. But this year has seen a crueler sense of purpose emerge from the reverse-networking councillor; his contempt for the public standing in sharp defiance to the God-loving, positive-thinking populist hero he projects in the mirror. Whitman’s been absolutely useless during budget talks, focusing his attention instead on bizarre tangents like the war on Christmas, mocking downtown business owners upset by the Nova Centre’s construction and tweeting about provincial politics while sitting in municipal meetings. His mouth cannot be opened without the councillor stuffing his foot into it. During last spring’s Cornwallis debate he stated we should all worry more about how we treat people today, and not concern ourselves with the “stuff” that “every other street name guy” did hundreds of years ago. Would that he would take his own advice. Did we mention the racism yet? Whitman’s half-hearted apology for his “Chinese fire drill” stunt on YouTube would be more believable if this wasn’t the same guy who threw on a poncho, moustache and MAGA hat to go as “Mexican Matt” for Halloween, or two years ago when he dubbed quasi-rooming houses as “watermelons.” At least he used to stand up for his district, but now that’s out the window too. Whitman’s running as a Progressive Conservative lick-spittle in Hammonds Plains-Lucasville. If he wins, he’ll force a by-election on his residents less than a year after his re-election. If he wins, word around City Hall is he won’t be missed.


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Lisa Blackburn
Grade: C+
Last year’s grade: N/A
Middle/Upper Sackville–Beaver Bank–Lucasville
902-579-7164

Eighty percent of success is showing up to the job. Given how bad the prior District 14 councillor was at that basic requirement, Lisa Blackburn has been a dramatic improvement. Like some of the other new councillors she’s still learning the ropes, and doesn’t lean heavily on the mic button to wade in on every rote agenda item that passes across her desk. She did help put the stormwater charge back on Halifax Water bills, in the process getting tax discounts for erroneously charged mobile home residents in her district. The former journalist also stood up for the city’s Freedom of Information process after Steve Streatch moaned about its cost to taxpayers. “Transparency shouldn’t have a price tag that puts it out of the reach of the public,” said Blackburn. After all the talk about diversity in the past election, unfortunately, there are only two women on council. Maybe that shouldn’t matter, but when a dozen male councillors were debating whether the reaction to taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi’s acquittal was overblown, Blackburn let loose. “Women are scared, and I am not overdramatizing the situation,” the councillor stated, in no uncertain terms. It was a powerful speech, and the kind of moral strength that’s needed in the bureaucratic doldrums of municipal politics.


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Steve Craig
Grade: B+
Last year’s grade: C+
Lower Sackville
902-240-0441

Emboldened by his ascension to deputy mayor—along with some new progressive voices on council—Steve Craig rolled up his sleeves last October and immediately got to work. The agenda wasn’t light. Mouths were agape when the deputy revived council’s immoral pay formula debate, despite it having been squashed thoroughly the previous spring. But his biggest success has to be the no-nonsense yeoman’s work he’s done overhauling the Board of Police Commissioners (where he serves as chair) from a loosely-assembled monthly luncheon to the accountable civilian oversight board it’s always supposed to have been. Along with fellow councillors Waye Mason and Tony Mancini, Craig brought forward more motions in one board meeting than the police commission had seen all year. When chief Jean-Michel Blais presented an update on missing drug evidence, Craig was waiting with pointed questions. When the department advised keeping HRP’s street check data from the public, Craig made sure it was released online in full. When legal services warned the commission might not have the authority to ask police for new oversight guidelines, Craig cut through the Gordian knot and said if anyone had a problem they could submit it officially in writing. “Unless it’s appealed and brought to the attorney general, this commission will decide what it wants to do,” said Craig. Helping the board grow a backbone couldn’t have come at a better time. Police relations with the Halifax community have been seriously damaged. There is a deserved call for swift change to correct longstanding injustices. Craig’s measured statements and—since we’re being honest—dry character might not win him over in the eyes of the public demanding a response, but away from the cameras he’s building a strong foundation for a better municipality.


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Tim Outhit
Grade: B–
Last year’s grade: B–
Bedford–Wentworth
902-229-6385

Things keep chugging right along for Tim Outhit. Council’s on track to finish off the Integrated Mobility and Green Network plans he’s so eagerly been anticipating, and with an unsolicited study from Via Rail, it’s looking like the Bedford–Wentworth representative’s dream of a commuter train system might finally pull into station. All the while he remains the same Tim Outhit, never short on puns during meetings and quick to advise the media on what is and isn’t a “good news” story. He’s correctly pointed out councillors aren’t trained to deal with criminal lawyers and so maybe shouldn’t be in a quasi-judicial position like the Appeals Standing Committee was on taxi licensing, and neatly detailed all the many flaws in HRM’s public wifi proposal (most of which benefit Bell’s bottom line). At the same time, Outhit’s called campaign finance reform a “bit of a red herring,” and doubted any accusation that councillors could be biased by a few thousand bucks. He was a big supporter of HRM’s new affordable housing measures, calling for density bonusing regulations to extend beyond developments in the urban centre and into his own rapidly growing district. All of which leaves us with the same mildly optimistic performance review as last year. Outhit remains an above-average councillor at City Hall, but just barely.



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Mike Savage
Grade: B–
Last year’s grade: B+
Mayor
902-490-4010

We’re “just getting started,” said Mike Savage during last fall’s election. The municipality—its growth, economy, diversity—was improving. With another four years as mayor he promised to continue that work and not rest on his laurels. This is where we find ourselves.

Savage can be a bit of a lark. He cheerfully partakes in the minor league carnival of municipal politics, watching over this new crop of political heavyweights with a soft hand (save for periodic warnings to Richard Zurawski). He’s an accessible mayor, too. Savage always makes himself available to the media, even when he has little to say, even when it won’t look good.

So far, the mayor hasn’t faced a genuine crisis at City Hall. Last year’s departure of Richard Butts and 2015’s hellish winter being the closest he’s come to a bonafide scandal. Until now, it seems. Complaints from senior managers are dogging CAO Jacques Dubé, and so far the mayor and council emphatically—with tremendous gravitas—have held the line that it’s a personnel matter. None of your business, they’ve told the public.

That storm on the horizon aside, Savage has had a decent year in office. The municipality is in a better fiscal state (for the moment) than its provincial government a few blocks over. His biggest play has been trying to address the city’s homelessness. Savage helped usher forth a United Way-organized anti-poverty strategy, and spearheaded council’s affordable housing commitment of 5,000 new units in the next five years. For both he swept down from off his risen throne at Regional Council and addressed the city directly.

The mayor spoke about the needs of HRM’s most vulnerable with poise and promise. Time will tell whether that obligation is met. There will be limits to HRM’s generosity when it comes to new contracts for police, firefighters and transit workers. It’s easy to install “kindness” parking meters to let people donate a buck to charity, but a living wage for the municipality’s contracted employees will be a harder sell.

There are other matters to address. The last 12 months have seen a plague of murders, sexual assaults and racial intolerance scattered across Halifax’s headlines. Savage has a responsibility to deal with those problems (and the systemic causes of those problems) even, maybe especially, if the job of mayor is more spokesperson than policy engineer.

This year the Canadian government turns 150. The Halifax Explosion commemorates its centennial. The municipality has its 21st birthday and mayor Mike Savage will be 57. Four years ago he was younger than the average city councillor. Time flies. In 2016, Savage is an elder statesman for this chic new batch of progressives. Hopefully, that inspires, rather than depresses the mayor. Halifax still has a long way to go. As he said, we’re just getting started.

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