It used to be a lot easier writing about City Hall.
There was our sprawling 23-member Council, always at loggerheads over something, but always willing to take time to consider the fate of stray cats. Steering the civic ship on its uncertain course was Peter Kelly. Beset by political and personal scandals (the concert-cash fiasco, the probate snafu), largely of his own making, Kelly became an ineffective Mayor, unwilling to corral Council or rally public support to his causes. And by the end of Kelly’s mandate, few could recall what his causes even were.
So for a journalist reporting on City Hall, that was a pretty golden time. In circumstances like those, your stories are ripe and waiting, always another scandal to pluck. And lo, we feasted. Out came story after story, decrying our municipal government, urging change.
A year ago, that change came: a new Mayor, a new, smaller Council. And almost overnight, things changed at City Hall. Suddenly Council seems more collegial and cooperative. Mayor Savage has avoided even a whiff of controversy, governing the city with poise and efficiency. And, as our cover shows, a sense of humour.
Those things are good for the city, but for City Hall watchers, a startling contrast to how things were a year or two ago. In our story, “Mr. Nice Guy,” Suzanne Rent looks at just how much things have changed. As she reviews Savage’s first year as Mayor, we discover just how much he’s used a deft combination of humour and political savvy to get Council working again. Even Dartmouth Councillor Gloria McCluskey, who greeted news of Savage’s mayoral run with… ahem… muted enthusiasm, speaks well of his performance.
But as political-science professor Jeffrey MacLeod points out in Suzanne’s story, it’s tough to grade a mayor who is only 12 months into a four-year mandate. Savage has faced no Occupy Nova Scotia, for example. When he faces a challenge like that, how will Mayor Savage respond? When the city noisily divides and demands action, will he be able to lead us through the crisis? No one can know.
Nothing in his experience as an MP prepares him for a challenge of that sort. Debates over stadiums and new roads and the still-far-from-completion convention centre loom. If I were Mike Savage, I’d lay awake in bed at night obsessing about the Nova Centre. Many Haligonians are very skeptical about pouring public money into a new convention centre. There are many questions about whether it’s even viable. The developers continue to hunt for tenants to justify its construction, and wrangles continue over the plans. There are a million ways it could all go wrong. Savage’s true test will come.
Remember, at this stage in Peter Kelly’s first term as Mayor, he was still a grassroots populist from Bedford, bringing a new atmosphere and fresh style to City Hall. By the time he left, that fresh-faced optimist was forgotten, replaced with a vacillating caricature of a mayor, distant and out of touch, scarcely able to maintain order in a Council meeting, let alone rally support to a cause.
Who knows how we’ll describe Mike Savage in a decade. There’s nothing to suggest his course will follow Kelly’s. But the Mayor hasn’t faced Kelly’s tests yet. We look forward to seeing how he does.
This is our second issue since the redesign. I hope you’ve had some time to absorb the changes. Our goal was to create a more reader-friendly magazine so we want to know, how do you like the new Halifax Magazine? Contact me at email@example.com to share your thoughts.
Correction: Prior to the last election, HRM Council had 23 members, not 21 as reported in an earlier version of this story.