Friday, August 3, 2012

HRM election primer


i've got a helpful article in the current edition of Bedford/Southender Magazine. it's not often a city gets to fully re-imagine itself, but the new mayor and new boundaries mean the next HRM council will not resemble the old one. will it be better? should it focus on growth? pushing our transit system from way behind to out front? 
we've got a couple of months to decide.


A Pre-Election Overview



The Halifax Regional Municipality is heading for its fourth election this fall, but fundamental changes to the municipality make the future a blank slate. Mayor Peter Kelly is not reoffering, so we’re getting a new mayor, and boundary changes mean no councillor will be running in the same riding as in 2008.
Cathy Mellett, municipal clerk with HRM, says in some ways it’s like a new supercity. “You really can’t compare the old to the new anymore. It’s an entire re-structuring of the municipality.”
The changes came when the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board ruled HRM had too many districts. “It decided there should be a reduction from 23 to 16. They sent us back to determine where the boundaries should be,” she says.
Mellet and her staff weighed voter equity and community interest to determine the shapes and sizes of the new districts. The 16 new areas range from about 17,000 to 23,000 voters and each is about 30 per cent bigger than any of the old districts.
“When you’re moving from 23 to 16, you’ll have substantial change across the municipality,” she says. “Most people should assume their boundary has changed.”
While some councilors have announced they will re-offer, it’s not clear who will run in which district. HRM doesn’t track declared candidates until the fall. “Candidates can announce they are running in particular districts and start campaigning. Official nomination day is Sept. 11 and we are required to publish after Sept. 12 a final list of who’s on the ballot in what district,” Mellet says.
It’s clear the October elections will pit incumbent councilors against each other over divided turf. Sue Uteck currently serves Northwest Arm-South End, but plans to run in the new Peninsula South-Downtown. That includes the central business district currently represented by Dawn Sloane. Sloane says she’ll run again, but had not said in which district as of press time. If Sloane decides to run in the northern half of her old district, she’ll be competing in Peninsula North against Jennifer Watts, who currently represents Connaught-Quinpool.
Few seats are safe in the new HRM.
Bedford is now Bedford-Wentworth. South End is now Peninsula South, which includes south end and downtown Halifax. District numbers have changed too. The numbering starts with District 1 Waverley-Fall River- Musquodoboit Valley and works around to 16, Bedford-Wentworth.
While the question of which candidates will run in which ridings won’t be clear until September, the issues waiting for the new council are apparent. The P.E.I.-sized municipality still hasn’t meshed the interests of rural and urban. The current council is frequently stalled by those opposing desires. Commuters coming from the outer regions want wider roads for an easier drive, while those living closer to the centre don’t want their front lawns clipped back for cars.
Merrell Moorhead from the Halifax Chamber of Commerce sees smart growth as a major challenge for HRM.
“You’ve got the growth of the suburbs and you’re trying to get people downtown. There are only a few ways to physically tackle that – building new roads, expanding existing roads or increasing transportation options,” he says.
Do we make a major investment in Metro Transit, do we buy a fast Bedford-downtown ferry, and invest in commuter rail? Or do we stick with the car and widen Bayers Road, install a reversing lane on the Bedford Highway and agree to put up with peak-hours traffic jams?
Rural residents often complain about the downtown-centric view of promoting concerts and convention centres, while downtown dwellers see regulations favouring outskirt business parks killing the core.
Most experts agree HRM needs to stop sprawling and start densifying, but where to build up can be contentious. As we saw in the last edition of this magazine, groups like Save the Bedford Reef can object to densification if it comes at too great a cost to their neighbourhood.
Balancing those needs and making HRM function like one city, rather than separate communities, is going to be a major challenge for the new mayor and council.
Where Are You?
You can find out what district you’re in by going to http://www.halifax.ca/boundaryreview and entering your address. You’ll also find maps there so you can see your whole district.
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