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The more things change

New Mayor, same old Council—can Mike Savage really change things?

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Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

For a while, it seemed like it would all be different by now. Former mayor Peter Kelly wasn’t re-offering in the election last month. Cut to  16 districts, we had a leaner Council. With some incumbents not reoffering, others running head-to-head, there was talk of a new municipal government, refocused and re-energized.

But in the end, 13 of the 16 elected Councillors were incumbents. The only new faces are Waye Mason in District 7 (Peninsula South-Downtown), Matt Whitman in District 13 (Hammonds Plains- St. Margarets) and Steve Craig in District 15 (Lower Sackville).

For those of us, including me, who have long felt Council was mired in some sort of ennui of ineffectualness, this is somewhat of a discouraging result. Low voter turnout (tying the all-time-worst showing of 37 per cent), which tends to favour incumbents, was probably a factor. But there will be plenty of time to mull Halifax’s voter-turnout problem between now and the next election.

The more pressing issue this month is ensuring our new municipal government doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the old one. With about 58 per cent of the vote, new Mayor Mike Savage has a relatively strong mandate. If Council gets balky, he shouldn’t be shy about reminding them of that. Kelly often seemed to see his job as chairman of the board, gauging public opinion and building consensus (or following the herd, depending on how you look at it).

What Halifax needs, however, is leadership from the front. During the campaign, Savage talked a lot about leadership. He pointed to the botched St. Pat’s-Alexandra school sale (see page 17) as a failure of leadership. He talked about the need for a comprehensive transportation strategy. He promised to make the downtown a better place to do business. Now, the onus must be on Mayor Savage to find a way to steer this Council, while developing clear plans to deliver on his promises.

The next election may be four years away, but average citizens must stay closely focused on City Hall. Remind the Mayor of his promises (they’re still online at www.mikesavage.ca) and hold him accountable. Let your Councillors know what you expect of them. You can contact all of them here.

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When I think about people shaping this city, Andy Fillmore comes straight to mind. Until June, he was HRM’s head of urban design. In that job, he was an outspoken advocate for fighting urban sprawl and making Halifax a more livable, sustainable city. He was unusually candid for a government employee, sharing frank views that probably didn’t delight HRM’s politicians or bureaucrats. Now he’s working at Dalhousie. Freed to be even more candid, he recently sat down with reporter Lisa Roberts for a frank discussion about his experiences and the city’s issues.

In “Golden dreams,” on page 20, Suzanne Rent has the story of curling legend Colleen Jones’s return with Team Arsenault. Key on the team is a young curler named Jennifer Baxter. Full disclosure: she’s the niece of Halifax Magazine publisher Patty Baxter. However, Patty stays at arm’s length from day-to-day editorial decisions, and the relationship is coincidental to the story.

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CORRECTION: On page 28 of our October issue, we refer to Peter Kelly as “the only mayor HRM has ever known.” That’s a fact-checking error. Walter Fitzgerald was Mayor of the newly formed HRM before Kelly’s election in 2000. We regret the error.

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