Meet the three first-time MLAs who get to have the word “Halifax” in their job title. Ali Duale is the incoming member of the legislative assembly for Halifax Armdale, Suzy Hansen represents Halifax Needham and Lisa Lachance is the MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island. They officially start their new jobs with a swearing-in ceremony Monday afternoon, August 30.
Halifax’s metro ridings highlight the stark political contrast between Nova Scotia’s urban centre, which elected mostly Liberal and NDP candidates on August 17, and the rest of the province, which was hit with a blue wave. Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservatives secured a majority government in the election, winning 31 of 55 seats across the province. But even though it’s a new government, most of the MLAs coming into the legislature are veteran politicians who were re-elected. Premier-designate Houston will be making his debut as premier when he and the cabinet are sworn in at their own ceremony Tuesday, yet he’s been the MLA for rural Pictou East since 2013.
Meanwhile, at the very heart of the province’s urban core, three of the four MLAs who serve peninsular Halifax are rookies. (NDP leader Gary Burrill in Halifax Chebucto is the peninsula’s lone incumbent returning to the legislature.)
For Suzy Hansen, a longtime north end resident and NDP supporter, it “just felt right” to put her name forward in the Halifax Needham riding when incumbent NDP MLA Lisa Roberts decided to leave provincial politics and run for the federal Halifax riding.
“It was a no-brainer, and it felt like the right time. For someone who always second guesses things, when I put my name forward to run it just felt good. I felt that this was the next chapter of my life,” Hansen says, when reached on the phone while camping with her kids.
“You’ve obviously not guaranteed to win anything… but I felt I could do a large number of people a service if I ran.” Hansen was elected as a Halifax Regional School Board member in 2016 and works with Phoenix Youth Programs.
Addressing the housing crisis and caring for Nova Scotia’s aging population are the top two things on her priority list. “Housing is number one, whether we’re talking about rent control or sky-rocketing house prices. Community members who’ve lived here all their lives can’t even afford to buy a home, I’m one of them,” she says.
When it comes to seniors, “they’re not being valued, in my opinion,” says Hansen. “We have seniors who have given their lives, who’ve done so much and they’re not living in a comfortable state.”
Hansen beat Needham runner-up Colin Coady, a Liberal, on Aug 17 by a substantial 1,900 votes. The north end riding has been an NDP stronghold since 1998.
Hansen is one of four Black MLAs in the new the legislature, a record for Nova Scotia. Tony Ince, who’d been Liberal minister of African Nova Scotian affairs when the election was called, was the only Black MLA in the legislature’s last sitting. Ince is returning as MLA for Cole Harbour, and will be joined by Hansen, Duale and incoming MLA Angela Simmonds, who won Preston for the Liberals. Prior to this election, across the legislature’s entire 263-year history, there had only ever been five Black MLAs elected.
On joining the legislature with a majority PC government, Hansen says she “can work with anyone” and is ready to get to work.
“I can see us coming together and doing what’s right for our province. And if not, I’m not afraid to ask questions and critique things,” she says.
Lisa Lachance, Hansen’s NDP colleague, is similarly eager to get to work. Housing is top of their mind, because Lachance says rent control was the most talked-about issue on doorsteps throughout the campaign.
“I’m very concerned about the path forward on housing with the premier-designate in terms of ending rent control,” they say in an interview. “Rent control is really just the first step to stopping the crisis from deepening, and then there needs to be continued work on the housing supply side of things.”
Health is also a priority for Lachance, who’s currently pursuing a PhD in health at Dalhousie University. Their research is on the potential of collaboration between mental health services and the youth-serving nonprofit sector to improve youth mental health. They have previously worked for the federal government on policy, finance and international human rights.
Lachance, who’s non-binary and uses both they and she pronouns, is one of only a few openly gender-queer politicians to win a Canadian election. Uzoma Asagwara, an MLA in Manitoba, is likely the first at the provincial level. They were elected in 2019.
“It’s important and very much time,” for non-binary and trans representation in politics, Lachance says. “Representation was not the reason I ran at all, but I think it’s an important piece.”
Lachance beat out Liberal finance minister Labi Kousoulis by about 450 votes. Kousoulis, who represented the south end Halifax Citadel-Sable Island riding since 2013, was runner-up to premier Iain Rankin in the Liberals’ winter leadership race.
The third new face among the peninsula’s MLAs is Ali Duale, a firefighter who won under the Liberal banner in Armdale, the area connecting the peninsula to the mainland. Duale and his wife fled Somalia in 1991, then spent seven years in a Kenyan refugee camp before arriving in Canada. Duale is the father of eight kids and works at the Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency department.
When reached on the phone by The Coast, Duale had just returned to the Halifax fire station on University Avenue on his last day working as a firefighter. He spent the day responding to the bizarre situation at Little Albro Lake where a robbery suspect dove into the weed-filled water in Dartmouth. The suspect fled police in the water while the police pursued him in a pedal boat, a canoe and paddleboard; the low-speed chase ended when the suspect was retrieved with help from the fire department.
“I’ve been in this job 17 years, and a day like this is how I’m going to end my career?” Duale says with a laugh.
Duale’s community involvement includes membership on the Maritime Muslim Academy’s board, and the basketball and swimming programs he’s coordinated for kids in HRM. He credits the kids from these programs with inspiring him to make the run for politics. As well as being one of the four Black members of the legislature, Duale is Nova Scotia’s first Muslim MLA.
Duale says he was also encouraged to run by Liberal leader Iain Rankin, whom he met in the wake of the murder of a Muslim family in London, ON.
“I have a wife and daughter who wear headscarves. This shook me. It showed me how certain communities are so vulnerable. When this happened I spoke to the premier, he was around for solidarity,” Duale says. “In that discussion he told me that I needed to be involved and sit at the table.”
The firefighter beat NDP candidate Julie Melanson by about 450 votes. The Armdale riding had been held by Liberal MLA Lena Metlege Diab since 2013. Like Lisa Roberts, Metlege Diab retired from the provincial seat to run for federal politics—in Metlege Diab’s case as Liberal candidate in Halifax West
The downtown legislative rookies are joined by two other new faces among HRM MLAs, with the election of lawyer Angela Simmonds in Preston and past city councillor Lorelei Nicoll in the new riding of Cole Harbour-Dartmouth. Nicoll won under the Liberal banner by a margin of over 1,000 votes.
There were three Black contenders in Preston this year—Liberal Simmonds beat the NDP’s Colter Simmonds, the founder of We Will Win Youth Association, and PC Archy Beals—which is believed to be the first time any of Nova Scotia’s ridings have had an all-Black slate of candidates.