November 3, 1995 Halifax Herald
We, the residents of Halifax County's municipalities, shall, on December 2, elect a 24-member council to preside over the affairs of the new Halifax Regional Municipality. The election will give us, a small community of 330,000 souls, a larger Council than many cities with a population of a million or more have.
In my estimation, the size and cost of council contradicts the rational used by its supporters to justify unification in the first place. As I recall, the reasoning used to force amalgamation upon the municipalities was that it would provide us with a lean, efficient and cost-effective mode of government - giving the taxpayer the ultimate bang for a tax buck. In spite of this commendable goal, amalgamation costs are heading upwards fast - i.e., salary scales for the municipality's politicians and bureaucrats are being set at levels that would make a saint envious.
Further, one can't help wondering, in view of the Council's cumbersome size and keeping in mind the oversized egos of many politicians, if there will be enough hours in a year to allow it to function and produce effectively? Imagine this: If each Council member desires to speak for ten minutes on an issue tabled, it equals a total of 240 minutes (four hours) for initial debate. Then, as the matter proceeds through various stages, the Councillors presumably will want several more minutes each to make or speak for amendments, and so on. I foresee a better chance of ice-skating on Nova Scotia lakes in August before a lot of controversial issues get resolved in this type of forum.
Those worries aside, there is another matter bugging me: namely, the political pundits who are, after predicting the election win of Walter Fitzgerald, waiting around expectantly for us to crown him as mayor of the new municipality. To hear them talk, we in the City of Halifax will award our Mayor, without assessing his qualifications for the new job, with something in the neighbourhood of 100 percent of our votes. The rest of their predictions: the Town of Bedford will go to Walter, the County to Randy, and the City of Dartmouth is up for grabs. Not so fast, seers! I kind of suspect that we, the voters, who hopefully are not recent drop-offs from the proverbial turnip truck, will want to assess the candidates on their merits and qualifications before making a decision.
Further, to assist in making individual decisions, we will want some answers from the candidates regarding how they plan to settle such contentious issues as harbour cleanup and landfill location. Most of us have grown exceedingly sick and tired of hearing, on a daily basis for several years, about many of these issues and want them settled responsibly and expeditiously.
Now, lets have a quick look at some of the leadership qualifications of the two mayoralty front-runners, Randy Ball and Walter Fitzgerald.
First, to Mr. Fitzgerald: I think a lot of us will be wondering if the leadership style Walter relies upon for making managerial decisions will enable him to managed a cumbersome Council. When you do as he does - base your decision making processes on the art of trying to find a solution that will please everyone and not offend anyone - you generally wind up with non-productivity and near stagnation.
On a related matter, Walter is a very charming guy and apparently has charmed the pants off the news media; they seem to treat him with kid gloves. Its time these reporters dropped their penchant for acting as what may be perceived by some as part of a cheering section for him, and buckled down to the business that a democracy charges them with during election campaigns - reporting factually in an unbiased and non-partisan manner.
Letís hear them start asking Walter some hard questions on tough issues, and demanding unequivocal answers. For instance, ask how long he would try to procrastinate before finding and putting in place a solution for garbage disposal? His answer, to date, that the deal must be sold to almost everyone and that a decision on the issue can be put off for several more months - is not satisfactory. The Sackville site is nearing the end of its life-span. Do we, the residents of metro, begin to make contingency plans for storing garbage in basements and backyards while politicians procrastinate?
In the case of Randy Ball, I've only met him once, but was very impressed with his public commitments and straight talk on issues. For instance, his stand on the land fill issue is clear and unequivocal: "It must be settled!" From my limited research, I've gathered that Ball is willing to make decisions and thereafter to stick with them, unless persuasive, common-sense arguments can be made to alter. Decisiveness is one of the mandatory characteristics we need in the individual who aspires to fill the mayor's chair.
Experience: Ball has experience in directing a government which has governed over a large land area - having both urban and rural settings. Walter has been a provincial cabinet minister, a city mayor and alderman.
Lets see the news media fill in the gaps and give us balanced information; then, on election day, we can make considered decisions. By the way, editors should give some serious thought to discarding the revolting term "super city."
Daniel N. Paul