Mike Savage has seen a lot happen in the city since he took the chair in the office of mayor, a short walk from half a dozen construction sites.
For one, Savage says he’s proud of the growth reflected in more cranes in the sky and more immigrants coming to Halifax. He also points to the protection of parkland.
But the job has also been demanding.
“You don’t get to keep a lot of secrets as mayor,” he says, leaning back in his seat.
But if he’s re-elected, you’re still not going to find out what TV shows he watches, or what’s in his fridge — nor does he think that matters.
He would, however, continue to keep his social media account active to update everyone on the city decisions he makes, and why.
A look around his office shows he takes what people say seriously. There’s a “thank you” sign from a community given prominent place and a framed municipal award.
Still, he didn’t rush to announce his candidacy. So why run again?
“Well, it’s a question I ask myself,” he said on Friday.
He didn’t see this as an eight- or 12-year plan. He also needed to ensure his family was up for another run.
But he says he’s happy with what he’s done, and knows he can do more.
His biggest priority this time is “good, sustainable growth for the city” which includes anything from development to climate change.
He points to some highlights, naming Halifax winning a “Green Champion Award” in 2015 for the city’s popular Solar City program and being ranked second for having the fastest-growing municipal economy in the country.
There’s also a committee on environmental and sustainable development, a rural planning office and an arts council.
The city does watershed mapping, and they are moving ahead with protecting the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Wilderness area.
His goal is to embrace all that is exciting and “weird” about Halifax’s art scene, while also looking to expand it further.
But the owner of The Carleton Bar & Grill would likely beg to differ.
He recently said he’s filing for bankruptcy protection, citing disruptions from the Nova Centre construction as one reason for his business losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Carleton is one of seven businesses who filed a lawsuit against the convention centre for compensation.
“The whole reason for the convention centre is to bring people to Halifax so they can support local business,” Savage said.
He says council recognizes that there have been issues.
The city recently received a report that details how they can support businesses during construction.
And there’s a report in the works that will look at long-term construction mitigation and whether or not those businesses can be compensated.
Despite the disruption, he says there are new businesses opening in the downtown, and new entrepreneurial tech startups along Barrington Street.
“We have to be sensitive to those businesses that already exist, while also making sure we are doing what we can to be a hub for talent,” he said.
Another big item on his “to-do” list is an anti-poverty plan.
Savage says he wants to start by measuring poverty, and defining what it means to Halifax.
Then the city can decide how they are going to change that, and what partners would make it possible.
He also wants to look at the recommendations of the Mi’kmaqTruth and Reconciliation report.
“The future of our province will largely be shaped by those people who have been here the longest, meaning the Mi’kmaq, and those who have just arrived, meaning new Canadians,” he said.
All of these changes sound promising, but does the municipal budget make them realistic?
At a mayoral debate last Tuesday, Savage mentioned that they are working with a budget that has $2 million less than last year.
But he says this doesn’t affect the police or fire budget, but can be managed through efficiencies.
Savage says the city has fewer managers now, which isn’t a bad thing.
“Governments are really good at hiring people, but they are not as good at making sure what the private sector does all the time which is manage their resources effectively,” he said.
He said he would continue to make investments that fit the needs of communities.
“The key is to not just be a bigger city, but a better city.”
Generally, polls and surveys show most people are giving him a decent grade.
Savage says he doesn’t react to polls but does listen.
“Generally, people tell me that they are pleased,” said Savage.
“But no one has voted yet.”
MIKE SAVAGE ON HRM ISSUES
Savage on development and taxes for local businesses:
“We have taken the step of saying to the province, ‘let us change our tax system to allow it to be more fair to small and medium size businesses.’ Development was an issue four years ago when I ran for mayor — there wasn’t any. Now you see cranes all over the downtown.”
“We know that crime is changing. Ten years ago is might have been swarmings, five years ago it might have been late-night crime…more and more now, we know that it’s sexual violence, social media violence and we still have issue of guns and gangs in the community. Programs like Ceasefire are very important…the funding (for) that is coming to an end. We need to make sure that that program doesn’t end. The community knows what they need and we need to enable those solutions. Some of it’s funding, some of it’s enforcement and some of it’s listening.”
On development in rural communities:
“We set up a rural planning office in the municipality so we can actually deal with the issues. You can’t suggest that rural development is the same as suburban or urban development. We do have a target of 25 per cent of development being rural. In my view, if you have (10 hectares) of land in a rural community, you should be able to build a house on it.”
On the Halifax logo on community signs:
“The branding of Halifax is for international. Nobody is more Dartmouth than me. Dartmouth needs to be Dartmouth, just like Bedford needs to be Bedford. We don’t want to change any of that locally.”
On Halifax’s art and culture scene:
“We have embraced arts and culture funding. We set up this arts council, we funded it, and we are now going to have the peer review process. We are going to take that funding, and my goal is to not only double that arts and cultural funding, but to see if we can go beyond that because I think the payback to the city is immense. .”