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Main contender 

Shelia Fougere becomes the first official candidate to oppose incumbent Peter Kelly. Has she got the right mayoral stuff? Jane Kansas sizes her up.

I am out on my porch early, brushing the cat, waiting for Sheila Fougere to arrive for our interview, mulling over questions for her. One good question to ask would be whether she would be the kind of mayor who rides a bicycle or takes a bus.

It's way too early to expect an election platform, but the woman must have views. After all, she's been a councillor for nine years. And I'm going to nail her on the bicycle problem in Halifax.

Sheila Kathleen Fougere arrives. On a bicycle. It's a Challenger Triumph decked out with a strong bike rack holding a pannier and a handle holding a tiny computer. She's geared up too: helmet, gloves, jacket. It's clear this woman is a serious bike rider.

Fougere was born in Halifax 50 years ago, the second youngest of seven children. She attended St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Pat's schools. "I thought I was going to become a french physicist," she says with a laugh, "because those were my two best subjects."

Instead, she worked for a year in the Sears catalogue warehouse and took an optician course. Then it was Dalhousie; she started in physical education but ended up with a BSC in recreation administration. A year at the University of North Texas in Denton, 40 miles north of Dallas, followed.

For the next 14 years she was back in Halifax as manager of conference services and manager of off-campus housing at Dalhousie; marketing co-ordinator for Where Magazine; a meeting and special event planner and mother of Brad (now 21 and playing guitar for Friends of the Red Army Faction, Reganomics and Eviction Party) and Laurel (now 19 and studying at the University of Ottawa).

In 1998 there was a by-election to fill Howard Epstein's vacated seat on city council. Fougere was at home reading in the newspaper about the people running for councillor for District 14, Connaught-Quinpool. She looked up and said to her husband Joe (one of two full-time bicycle cops in town), "Same old, same old. Why doesn't somebody ordinary run?" Joe said, "Well, do something about it."

She did. Only three years later, in 2001, there was a rumour that Fougere was getting ready to run for mayor in 2004. She ended up running for the federal liberals in June of 2004, and lost. By October she was ready for council again.

True to her word, Fougere will not run for council in 2008. She'll run for mayor. "This is such a great place to live," she says, "but I see it as being in stall mode--survive, not thrive." Fougere has seen things in other places she'd like to see in Halifax.

"I want bicycle-friendly intersections like in Norway, Amsterdam and Hamilton, New Zealand, where bikes move ahead of vehicular traffic. I want things like pedestrian walk-ways," she says. "I want better communication with the public. Taronga, New Zealand is a little place half the size of the HRM. They have a monthly newspaper free on newsstands and online; it tells people what that city is doing, what's controversial, and who's responsible.

"Transportation is a big deal," she says. "Chebucto Road is a perfect example of how, as council, we have stuck up for one- dimensional thinking. In the HRM Active Transport report, Chebucto Road is listed as a major east-west bike route. All conventional wisdom tells you widening roads is a bad idea." Fougere pauses and thinks for a moment. "Transit is one of the things we are getting better at—but we can still get better."

Fougere laughs when I suggest she is WYSIWYG—What You See Is What You Get. "I'm complex," she says, "but not complicated. I think you can be both pleasant and intelligent. If I say something, I mean it."

Fougere straps on her helmet and wheels her bicycle into the street. It is a one-way street leading away from downtown, and I thrill at the thought of reporting Fougere riding the wrong way on a one-way street. She looks both ways and rides off, away from downtown. The right way.


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