July 12, 1996 Halifax Herald

Eating Crow: Fitzgerald deserves praise as leader

Well, the time has come for me to eat Crow for a past opinion about a certain politician's leadership potential. But understand that, related to the comments I've made about the performance or potential of politicians, eating Crow is something I wouldn't mind doing more often. However, due to the tendency they show towards promoting their own agendas, oblivious to the wishes of the people, I don't foresee eating Crow as being part of my daily menu.

Now for the subject. Last Nov 3, I wrote a column wondering if mayoralty candidate Walter Fitzgerald was up to the task of managing something as big, cumbersome and unwieldily as the new Halifax Regional Municipality. I'm happy to say, judging from his performance in office todate, that my worries were unfounded.

Granted, because only three months have elapsed since the new municipality was born (April 1), some may think I'm eating Crow a bit prematurely. But my change of opinion is also based upon Walter's performance over the three-month period leading up to amalgamation - which was the most crucial and nerve-wracking period involved in getting the new municipality up and running. Therefore, my change of opinion is based upon his performance over a six-month period which, to me, is time enough to form an opinion on a person's achievements in carrying out the duties of a tough office.

The following is a short list of the many reasons why I've changed my mind about Walter: Probably like many others, I expected the birth of the new Halifax to be accompanied by much confusion and public wrangling. Instead, to my pleasant surprise, January, February and March saw Walter and his advisors prepare with a great deal of dexterity and professionalism for the death of the old municipal units and the birth of the new. The fact that the birth went rather smoothly speaks volumes for itself.

And in view of the complexity of the personalities involved, the size of the Council and the complex administrative organizing required, this was no easy accomplishment. (I say this as one who has twice gone through a similar type of exercise, but on a much smaller scale.) However, in this instance, Walter seems to have found the formula which encourages most of the diverse personalities involved in the exercise to work and produce reasonably well together. For this, he rates a thumbs up!

Garbage Disposal: When wondering last fall if Walter was up to requirements of the job, garbage disposal was my main concern. Now, dispelling concerns, under his leadership a satisfactory interim arrangement has been found, where metro's garbage will be carried to Cumberland County for disposal. Although a final solution for future garbage disposal still needs to be found, the Council's interim solution indicates that it has the ability to do so.

Municipal Budget: Walter expresses a firm belief that the pay-as-you-go policy of the former City of Halifax should be adopted by the new Municipality. Using as an example the financial mess the federal and provincial government treasuries are in, caused by the tendency of upper-level politicians to make future generations of Canadians pay for today's needs, one cannot help but give full support to this type of budgetary strategy.

When rationalizing support for a pay-as-you-go policy, a Crystal Ball isn't needed to discover that it's not in the long-term best interests of the rate-payers to see 25 percent or more of the municipality's future budgets swallowed up by debt servicing. These funds can be better utilized in improving public services or reducing costs. Further, considering what’s happening today with the Canada Pension Plan and other essential safety net programs, its exceedingly clear that the needs of the present population must be equated with the needs of future generations when budgetary decisions are being made by governments.

Walter's support of the concept of keeping a separate water commission is also sound. The water commission should not be integrated into the general administration of the City - where its resources can be tapped into for non-water-related activities. Its purpose and resources must always be geared towards one activity - providing the citizens with a reliable, high-quality water supply.

By voting on controversial issues, Walter has proven that he is willing to take a stand. This was recently displayed when he voted with the losing side on a proposal to create the same hours of operation for all retail outlets in the extended city. I, being a believer in fair play, concur with the minorities support for uniform retail hours of operation, and wonder why the majority voted to keep discriminatory hours in place for the old Halifax area. Are we to have a Municipality with a level playing field for all players, or one which loads down the field in favour of one area against the other?

By and large, Walter deserves high marks for his efforts during a very trying period. Also, to be fair, one must say that the City's councillors and bureaucrats have also performed, in most aspects, exceedingly well during the difficult city-building process. However, in their future deliberations, when tempted to think only of parochial interests, the members of Council might keep in mind the motto of my former employer, the Confederacy of Mainland Micmacs: "In unity there is strength, and in strength there is power, justice and equality for all."

Daniel N. Paul


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