Meet your 2020 mayoral candidates

Meet your 2020 mayoral candidates

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Mina Atia
Communications Coordinator
Kathleen MacEachern
Policy Analyst
Halifax Chamber of Commerce
"We don’t want COVID-19 to diminish the importance of hearing from our Mayoral candidates." — Kathleen MacEachern, Policy Analyst, Halifax Chamber of Commerce

Kathleen MacEachern: The Halifax Chamber of Commerce has and will continue to promote the importance of voting. Whether in federal, provincial, or municipal elections, it is our right to vote and truly a privilege to have the opportunity to express our opinion through the ballot box. This year, while voting in the Halifax Regional Municipality election will still occur, the run-up to the election might look a little different.

We don’t want COVID-19 to diminish the importance of hearing from our Mayoral candidates. Learning more about their reasons for running, their plans for the future, and of course how they, as Mayor, will help our greatly impacted business community. That is why we recently reached out to both candidates, current Mayor Savage and Councillor Matt Whitman, to ask them the questions we know matter to you.

With eight years of experience, Mayor Savage hopes to continue the growth of Halifax that he and the councillors have been able to secure. Increasing immigration, protecting our environment, and affordable housing are priorities, along with tackling the big issue of poverty in our city. In his time as mayor, Mr. Savage is incredibly proud to say that (pre-COVID) HRM was the strongest economy in our country!

Councillor Matt Whitman is ready to lead. He believes that his background and years of experience filled with passion and energy for the municipality are what he will bring to the position of Mayor. Mr. Whitman will help ensure taxpayer's dollars are invested wisely while focusing on supporting local and ensuring we remain fiscally viable.

The candidates had a lot more to say about campaigning for mayor. Have a read of their responses to our questions for a glimpse into their campaign. Once again, we want to remind our readers, members, and the community to Get Out and Vote on October 17!

"A country such as Canada and a city that's doing as well as we're doing, tackling poverty in a meaningful way, tackling social exclusion, tackling food insecurity and housing affordability are really important issues." — Mayor Mike Savage

We spoke to Mayor Savage over the phone on Aug. 20, 2020

Why should residents of HRM vote for you?

I’ve shown strong and mature leadership in the city. I represent the city well. I work well with my wonderful Council staff, major community organizations and other orders of government in the community. I also work well with people. They know I have a good sense of the city and I can lead in a positive direction. Overall, I provided strong leadership for the city and I will continue to do that.

What has changed the most in the municipality during your term?

Eight years ago, the council at the time was dysfunctional. Between the mayor, councillors and staff as well, there was virtually no development happening in the city. So the core of the city, or growth, was stagnant. Our population was not growing, and big decisions were being pushed down the road.

Now, we've had the strongest economy in the country for the last four years.

Our population is growing at a record pace. We're becoming more diverse as a city. You could walk down the streets of Halifax and hear languages you wouldn’t recognize, which was very unusual 10 years ago.

We're also investing in big projects for the environment. We're investing and protecting green space for generations. These are all things we take for granted but they didn't exist eight years ago.

There has been a very positive change in the city. I'm very proud of that and pleased to evolve Halifax. We're in a much better city than we were eight years ago.

What is your proud accomplishment?

There is a number of things that make me very excited. We’re hitting our growth targets.

Our population has grown by between 25 and 30 thousand people and I'm proud of the fact that there are people coming here from around the world.

There were people I talked to who didn't even know what Halifax was, when I was first elected. Now, they're coming here to go to school, to invest or find places to visit.

I'm proud of the positive growth of the city and we’re making sure our growth is sustainable both from a social point of view and an environmental one.

I'm proud of the council working well together for the last number of years. We haven't had as much dysfunction in the council and it hasn't really been talked about. My particular style of leadership is what I’m really proud of.

How would you describe your opponent in this race?

I’ve been in seven or eight elections, I never said negative things about opponents and I’m not going to start now. There's only one opponent so far, and Councillor Whitman is energetic and ambitious.

Is there a topic you wish people were talking about more in this election?

I haven't been campaigning and this election starts after Labor Day. So it's hard to say what the big issues are. However, I think one of them is the housing market. It’s something people are talking about in the community. I don't know what those discussions are, but we need more housing or affordable housing options.

Again, when I was elected and developers started to build in the city, people used to question where the people are coming from for those developments and that we don't need them. Now the question is exactly the opposite. We need more places for people to live in and let's get some built. I think housing is an important issue.

I also think poverty overall never gets discussed. It was the case when I was a member of parliament, there wasn’t a lot of work on poverty. Poverty hasn't been as much of a voting issue as it should be.

A country such as Canada and a city that's doing as well as we're doing, tackling poverty in a meaningful way, tackling social exclusion, tackling food insecurity and housing affordability are really important issues.

How has COVID-19 impacted your aspirations for HRM going forward?

COVID-19 has thrown the world for a loop. There has been a movement in the last couple of years about the mid-sized city and the attraction of a mid-size city like Halifax.

I think COVID has shown people you don't need to go to the office; you could work from home and you can work from anywhere.

You don't need to pay $4,000 worth of rent in Toronto and you don't need to fight the Toronto traffic. Halifax has a beautiful downtown and has many cool neighbourhoods. You can work from downtown or in a county half an hour away within large and small communities, through a rural or suburban component.

Halifax has a lot to offer. Companies have come to Halifax even during COVID. They've been looking at many locations but ended up coming down here to start businesses. We're going to continue to grow.

With that being said, first let's not be isolationist. Let's not reduce our commitment to immigration and international students. Let's recognize the growth. Let's follow all the protocols around COVID-19, but let's not be insular in our thinking.

Second, let’s recognize the strengths of Halifax. It makes us really attractive and the way we have handled COVID as a province is even more sellable.

Finding a good place to do business is going to help us long term. COVID has been tough on a lot of people, businesses and organizations. But we have to make sure we learn the lessons and come out stronger than ever.

Businesses were greatly impacted and continue to be impacted by COVID-19, what will you do as Mayor to help them through?

First of all, as a city, we have to recognize those things we can do and the things we cannot do.

What we can do is manage the tax rate. Our tax rate this year was 1.4%, if not the lowest of any major city in Canada.

We can manage our affairs in an appropriate way. We cut our budgets, and in some cases it hurts. We try to maintain essential services and programs that people need.

The first thing to do in a crisis is to be responsible with the money that the people had to procure and businesses have given you.

We are working with individuals and businesses who can't pay their property taxes, to see if we can come up with a plan that allows them to pay and/or to further deduct in a sensible way.

Second, there are sectors in our community that are absolutely pulverized by COVID. The hospitality and tourism industry is one. I've tried to spend a lot of time with Pat Sullivan at the Chamber, the Halifax partnership, the hotel association and the restaurant associations to find out what we can do to help.

For example, we made patios free. We've extended streets and closed streets to traffic so businesses have a better chance to bring more people in.

There’s an advocacy piece here. I've worked very closely with the provincial government, as well as the federal government to urge support for those sectors who have been most dramatically hurt. The federal government has done a tremendous amount of investment for people in the hospitality industry.

I think all parts of government have to work together and in some cases we may have to accept the fact that we have to be part of the solution.

The other industry is the arts and culture. It has been really destroyed. Neptune Theatre is not going to have a season this year. There are tons of great artists who haven’t brought in any income from their profession.

As a city, and as a leader, we need to make sure we work with them to help. We need to work with their business improvement district and make sure its resources are supported throughout this difficult time.

"I’m not a career politician. I will meddle in every department to ensure taxpayer dollars are invested wisely and that taxpayer priorities are HRM Council’s priorities." — Matt Whitman, HRM13 Regional Councillor, Halifax

We reached Councillor Whitman via email
Why should residents of HRM vote for you?

Thanks to a 28-year career in finance, legal and technology – including eight years as an HRM Regional Councillor – I not only have the background and experience to lead HRM but the passion, energy and love for this great municipality!

I’ve seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t. I’ve listened to residents’ priorities and I have the skills to guide us out of the pandemic through smart spending and tough choices.

What’s changed the most in your district since 2016?

My specific district, District 13, continues to grow and experience the benefit of being beautiful and a great place to live, work and play but also the challenges of needing more City Hall infrastructure and value to taxpayers for their tax dollar.

I’m a Regional Councillor and make decisions in all 16 districts and need to represent all of HRM in partnership with my Council colleagues.

Why did you decide to run for Mayor?

After eight years as a Council member, I’ve seen what works well and what needs help. HRM taxpayers deserve better value for their tax dollars. Spending needs to be prioritized and Council should not pander to get projects and expensive items that don’t deliver value for the taxpayer.

How would you describe your opponent in this race?

Mike is a friend, and he’s been a mentor at times. We have a mutual respect for each other. We’ve voted together on many issues, but the CFL stadium, History & Heritage, smoking ban, bike lanes, bloated staffing levels, Halifax branding in Dartmouth, Cornwallis removal and UBER delays are all differentiations between us.

How will your leadership differ from Mayor Mike Savage’s?

Mike plays it safe. He’s been described as laid back, sitting on the fence, fun, even a “coaster”. I’m not a career politician. I will meddle in every department to ensure taxpayer dollars are invested wisely and that taxpayer priorities are HRM Council’s priorities.

What are some of your concerns about the Halifax Regional Municipality and the issues it's facing?

HRM is booming, even during COVID. But we need to spend wisely to protect taxpayers. Tough times lay ahead. We are impacted by external issues and global markets. We need to spend wisely. Housing affordability is a key area where HRM can do better by working with the Provincial and Federal Government.

How has being on council prepared you?

I’ve been in on all the important conversations. I’m very aware of the important issues and taxpayer priorities. I show up and speak up. I don’t sit on the fence or coast. I’m prepared to guide HRM through the next eight years.

What have you learned from being a councillor that will apply if you become Mayor?

The key is to focus on taxpayer priorities. Spend wisely. Deliver value to residents and businesses for every tax dollar invested.

What is going to be the biggest challenge?

Post COVID, HRM will feel the financial pain for years to come. We can’t spend our way out of this pandemic. We need to watch every nickel, dime and quarter.

Has COVID-19 impacted your aspirations for HRM going forward?

I’d like to see HRM think and act more locally. Not focus so much on our international brand, but rather focus on our local businesses, citizens and most vulnerable population.

Businesses were greatly impacted and continue to be impacted by COVID-19, what will you do as Mayor to help them through?

I will continue to listen and work with the business improvement groups, including the Chamber, implement smart business, and advice and reduce red tape to make life easier for businesses to thrive in HRM.

"I bring a different perspective as someone who's not a career politician. I just bring some new views to the table. And it's very important right now." – Max Taylor

Business Voice interviewed Max Taylor over the phone.

Why should residents of HRM vote for you?

When it comes down to it, I don't want to tell anyone who to vote for. I think it's their decision to make. It's the voter’s decision.

That being said, what I bring to the table is someone who can listen and somebody who's ready to bring about change in all its forms.

How would you describe your opponents in the race?

They're both very experienced, and I'm very pleased to be in the company of both these men. I mean, win or lose, the fact that I get to be around them and get to kind of pick their brain a little bit… fabulous.

I have great respect for both of them.

How will your leadership differ from Mike Savage’s?

I bring a different perspective as someone who's not a career politician. I just bring some new views to the table. And it's very important right now.

Especially in a university town, having a young perspective means a lot.

What are some of your concerns about the Halifax Regional Municipality and the issues it's facing?

Some of the opinions are very one sided. We need to get a dialogue going to see the different perspectives on things.

I think one of the biggest problems is, right now, we're not gathering enough perspectives to really make a solid decision that would please everyone.

We need to gather more information before we make decisions, as opposed to saying this is probably what's best so let's try it out.

That being said, the response to COVID has been really well handled so far in Halifax. But there's definitely tweaks we can do, little things, like the environment and affordable housing to make this a much better city.

If you get elected, what are your plans for working with the council?

If I get elected, I plan to have a lot of one-on-one time with councillors. It's important because when you're in a big public setting, obviously there's a lot of room for debate, which is good.

But opinions are going to clash. And I don't think there's enough of one-on-one talk. So you really need to sit down and get someone's perspective with no debates, to get the way they feel right away.

And once we get everyone's opinion, we can come together to make decisions. My main thing, to sum it all up, would be dialogue.

We're going to need to bring people together. It’s what's best for the city.

What is going to be the biggest change, if you were elected?

I definitely want to put pressure on the provincial government to make changes to affordable housing. I know, in Halifax, there's not a ton we can do when it comes to affordable housing as a municipality.

There're things we can do, absolutely, but I'd like to see more change. We need to talk to the provincial government and put pressure on them; we have the power to do that.

I think affordable housing is my number one concern, and number two would have to be the environment. Every city has to tackle that differently.

Has COVID-19 impacted your aspirations for HRM going forward?

There's a lot of different things that COVID-19 has affected, and I think there's no guidebook for how to handle an epidemic. No one knows the right or wrong answers. It's all a learning process.

Me personally, I don't think it's affected my aspirations for HRM. I just think something definitely needs to be put on hold. For example I still hear debates about CFL stadiums or bringing teams to Halifax. These conversations can’t happen right now.

We need to take some time off, maybe a year or two, until we figure out what to do with COVID and how to get the economy and small businesses back up. Then we can talk about bigger plans for the city.

But right now, our focus needs to be on how to keep the COVID-19 response going.

Businesses were greatly impacted and continue to be by COVID-19, so what will you do as a mayor to help them through it?

As a small business owner, there's a lot of red tape issues. To get permits or to grow your business or to start a business, you have to jump through a million hoops to get things done in Halifax.

To make a small decision, you have to go to four different departments in HRM and that's ridiculous. I think it should be a one-stop shop, essentially one place to go to get all the paperwork. Changes to small businesses should be made easier.

Small business owners should have more power in how their business is run.

And we should reach out to them a little bit more. Sometimes their voices get neglected and need to be heard.

Anything else you'd like to add?

My three main points are: number one, we need better affordable housing solutions; number two, we need better transit systems, especially in a university town; and number three, we need to help figure out how to fix the environment.

And above all else, we need dialogue. We need to talk to people to see what their perspective is.

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