Halifax Votes 2016: Metro talks with Mayor Mike Savage about his re-election platform
Mayor Mike Savage came to the Metro office on Tuesday to talk about topics like development, poverty, public safety and more.
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Metro sat down with Mayor Mike Savage on Tuesday to talk about his platform heading into this month’s municipal election.
The following is a selection of questions from Metro managing editor Philip Croucher and reporter Zane Woodford, and answers from Savage, edited for length, and organized into topics.
Where’s the right balance? Are we there yet? Are we going to see more? Or do you think we’re at the point where we need to start slowing down?
“When I was elected mayor, only 17 per cent of all development was in the core of the city. Obviously you want development in the core. The downtown is sort of the showcase to the world for our community. But we only had 17 per cent. We wanted at least 25 per cent. The last couple years, it’s been 40 per cent. So that’s a good thing, as long as it doesn’t take away from rural economic development, which we also target 25 per cent. So I think that there’s room for good development. The answer to development is not that all development is good or all development is bad. Good development is good and bad development is bad.”
Are you still fully supportive of the Nova Centre?
“People seem to either love it or hate it. I think it’s gonna be good for the city. I want to protect the city’s interests throughout the process. So when there’s a delay, for example that may be coming down next year, I want to make sure that what we’re doing in the community for the businesses continues. Ie. The streetscaping on Argyle Street. That needs to go ahead next year. We need to make sure that the delays don’t impact upon that… This is gonna be a development that’s gonna bring conventions that we could never get before. We’re seeing that. So that’s a good thing. But yes, it’s disappointing when things don’t get done… From my point of view, we don’t stand to lose a lot of money on the convention centre if it’s delayed. I’m more concerned about building the community around the convention centre that’s walkable and bikeable and liveable, as green as possible, as friendly to consumers as possible.”
Will you commit to implementing a food security strategy?
“The city’s done really well the last four years economically, but not everybody’s benefiting equally. So yeah, we need to do more on that… Doing more things like the food bus, perhaps doing more things like the community orchards – the fruit and nut trees we have in Dartmouth – community gardens, which we have now, but we can do more. And I think one of the things the city can look at is working with other levels of government to reduce food insecurity, to reduce social exclusion, to increase housing opportunities, to look at how transit should be more available to people… All those things add up to poverty. It’s not just food security or housing or the environment in which people live, it’s all of those things.”
What is your plan to create more affordable and social housing in HRM and how would you go about implementing it?
“Well we’ve already started, I campaigned on housing in the last election, and when we talked about it as council, a lot of councillors said, ‘That’s not our job here in Nova Scotia, that’s the provincial government.’ But as I tell people, when it comes to housing, the feds may have the money and the province may have the responsibility, but the cities have the problem… We’re part of the housing first project that is taking people right off the street, those who are the most destitute, the most in need of a roof, because it all starts with a roof… There are lots of people, if you can get housing opportunities close to transit, they don’t need a car. That saves them money as well… Housing is important for all cities, even those in provinces like Nova Scotia, where you could legislatively say that housing is not our responsibility. It has to be.”
From reader Chris Parsons on Twitter, “Given the last 12 months why have neither policing nor race been issues you've wanted to discuss?”
“I discuss them all the time. You can ask Quentrel Provo, for example, the person who has organized this group, Stop the Violence Spread the Love. We talk about it a lot. I’ve been involved in a number of meetings in the last few months alone with members of the African Nova Scotian community, and with law enforcement and others. Crime is down, and that’s a good thing, but we know we have certain areas where crime is an issue. Social media, sexual violence against women and girls, and we still have issues of gun violence in the city. And as mayor, I see it as my role to try to facilitate a number of those solutions… The murders are down, which is a good thing, but until we get them down to zero, it won’t be good enough.”
After the recent string of alleged sexual assaults by cab drivers, what would you do to make women feel safe in taxis?
“This is an issue that is important to me as a mayor, but it also hits me as a father of a 20-year-old daughter who occasionally goes downtown… We have to have taxis that are safe for people…What I’m asking for is an independent expert to come in and have a look at our circumstances here, and say, ‘Are there ideas that we can come up with?’ And work with the cab industry, and work with the police, and work with groups that deal with violence against women….You can’t say that it’s OK for somebody to drive during the day, but not at night. That goes against the very fundamental principle of making sure that we don’t blame victims for what happens in a cab.”
What would you do to make cycling safer in the municipality?
“Well we’ll continue the momentum we have. I don’t think a lot of people thought we’d have 110 kilometres of bike lanes four years ago. I don’t think people thought we’d have protected bike lanes… I think that cycling is a sign of a progressive city. Cycling is good for health, good for environment, it takes wear and tear off roads… I hear from a lot of people, ‘You’re building all these bike lanes, why are you doing that? I don’t see people in the bike lanes.’ Well, in some cases that’s true. But it’s not just about who’s cycling now, it’s about who’s going to be cycling in five years, and how do we enable that? … We absolutely need a more connected system. The Halifax connector route was important, but we all recognize, you can’t have cycling lanes that just stop and start and stop and start, and expect that more people will get on a bike to get to work or to a doctor’s appointment. Very much, we need more connected bike lanes, and I think we have to look at making it safe. So connected bike lanes, where possible, is important. And that is, for some people, an infringement on what they’re doing on those streets now, I get that. But people need to take into account that cyclists buy stuff, cyclists are citizens, and when we look at major expenditures on bike lanes, as it would be with the Macdonald bikeway, which I’ve been championing for the last few years, that they’re worthwhile investments.”
Medical marijuana dispensaries:
Medical marijuana dispensaries have been popping up all over the municipality, and have faced trouble with municipal licensing. Would you support the creation of a regulatory framework for dispensaries, somewhat like what Vancouver has done, and what might that look like?
“I don’t know what that would look like. Right now, as the law is changing, and I certainly understand why the law is changing, I think that there’s a real appetite for that in a lot of cases, it’s going to put a real burden on municipalities to respond. Before marijuana is deemed legal, we can’t break the law. Once it is determined that there’s a role for that, then as a city we’ll have to react.”
What are your thoughts on usage of Twitter by councillors?
“On the positive side, as I’ve always said, Twitter has the advantage of giving people your immediate unvarnished opinion. On the negative side, it gives people your immediate unvarnished opinion. So you can either be Donald Trump, or you can be somebody who looks at it more judiciously, and says, ‘How do I want to use social media?’ What I try to do is let people know what the mayor is doing, and sort of some thoughts that I have on issues, and support good organizations… The comments that I get from people is they appreciate the way that I use it. I don’t think I blocked anybody… Everybody has to make their own decisions. Do what you’re comfortable with… There are times that I want to tweet at three o’clock in the morning. I won’t tweet at three o’clock in the morning. It makes no sense. That’s the difference between me and some other candidates for different office… All I tell people is, ‘Think twice, and press post once.’… I don’t think you can tell people how they conduct themselves.”
On the possibility of a stadium in Halifax:
Will there be a day that Halifax has an outdoor stadium?
“I think Halifax should have a stadium at some point in time, but whether it’ll be a professional football stadium or whether it might be a smaller sized stadium, whether there’s room in the core of the city to do something…the Wanderers Grounds as an example, maybe there’s something we can do with that that wouldn’t probably be CFL ready, but a stadium is about more than professional sports. It’s about building the kind of community people want to live in. Council had determined last year that a stadium is not on the horizon for us, a big football stadium, so that’s where we are. At some point I think we will have a stadium, but it’s not in the next couple of years.”