Award-winning writer and broadcaster Stephen Kimber is a professor of journalism at University of King's College in Halifax. He writes about issues facing Halifax and Nova Scotia every Monday for Metro.
What do you stand for, Mike Savage?
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With nominations closing Tuesday and the municipal election 40 days away, it is time — past time — for the campaign for mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality to begin in earnest.
Even if one quibbles with the fine print of the latest poll from a research company whose CEO is a supporter of candidate Mike Savage — and which shows him with the support of 67 per cent of decided votes in a field of five — it’s hard to argue with its broader conclusion that the mayoralty race is Savage’s “to lose.”
When he first announced his candidacy in February, it seemed more than enough that the affable former federal MP was not the widely loathed incumbent mayor.
But then Peter Kelly dropped out.
And Savage remains little more than Not Peter Kelly.
We know the platitudes. Savage wants “to make HRM the most livable, entrepreneurial and inclusive community in Canada.” He believes “HRM needs to celebrate arts and culture,” and “needs to get on with implementing good plans.”
But how does that translate into policy?
Does Savage favour cutting the commercial tax rate in downtown Halifax to spark development there? By how much? How would he make up any lost tax revenue?
Yes, the white-elephant Cogswell interchange-to-nowhere does represent “one of the most exciting opportunities to imagine the future of our downtown core,” but how does Savage himself imagine it?
What about the urban-rural divide in HRM? Short of undoing the 1996 amalgamation his late father engineered as premier, how will he overcome that?
With the exception of open government and transparency, on which he has been specific, finding the solidity in Savage’s positions is like poking Jell-O before it’s set.
There are, of course, reasons politicians steer clear of promises. Mayors under our system don’t have real power to implement policy. Perhaps more importantly, front-runners rarely ever allow themselves to be trapped by specifics if they don’t have to.
It’s up to us to make sure Savage has to be specific. With at least nine debates scheduled between now and election day, we need to know what Mike Savage stands for.
We don’t need another Peter Kelly.