NEWS: Women candidates once again scarce in Halifax Civic Election

It’s not every day I get to listen to 8 local political wannabes—full of fury, full of testosterone and frankly, full of themselves.  All running for Halifax Regional Council.

But that’s what I got when I listened to the webinar, Meet Your Candidates: District 7 Halifax South Downtown and District 9 Halifax West Armdale, presented by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce yesterday. For good measure, Sam Austin, incumbent councillor in District 5 (Downtown Dartmouth) also got in on the action.

And what was the action? Well, with an optimistic bright blue sky framing light traffic on a street near the Chamber’s Burnside office, its president Patrick Sullivan, sat in front of his picture window to moderate the meeting. 

The eight white men in 8 little boxes on my zoom screen included District 7’s incumbent councillor, Waye Mason, and hopeful  Craig Roy.  As well there was District 9’s councillor Shawn Cleary, plus four contenders Bill Carr, Stephen Foster, Gerry Lonergan and Shaun Clark.  In total, in all three districts, there is only one woman candidate — Jen Powley, a writer and activist for disability rights She running against Mason in District 7. 

From the outset, the only panelist to note we were in Mi’kma’ki, and Oct. 1 was Treaty Day was Waye Mason.  After the couple of moments to take that in, the male competitor-candidates more or less agreed with one another for 90 minutes.  

Not one candidate said the word “Black”,  or “Indigenous” or “Disabled” or even “Immigrant” except in passing.  Shaun Clark did raise the issue of poverty, low paid work and tenants facing huge rent increases. No one made any useful points about inclusion—or gave an example of it, or talked about changing the composition of Halifax Regional Council to make it inclusive.

The men spoke in generalities but gave few specifics

As for the issue of diversity, while Mason and Cleary tipped their hats to the word – there was no meaningful discussion of it.  No one pointed out that there was no black person or person of colour running in Districts 5, 7 or 9.  No one recognized that Powley was disabled.  At one point, District 9 candidate Shaun Clark said he didn’t notice something on his screen because he was sight-impaired— but his disability seemed to go over everyone’s head.  The fact that Jen Powley had to take the time to type her answers and feed them into a voice recognition program which “voiced” her responses in a disembodied voice, a sharp, almost robotic tone was likewise ignored.  To be fair, Powley never did mention at the webinar she was disabled – but a cursory look at her campaign material explains that. 

It was surprising to hear Bill Carr, an actor and motivational speaker who wants to represent Dist. 9, muse about the need for diversity on council – but never thinking that he as another white man on council could be a roadblock to diversity. 

It was rather surprising to hear Waye Mason (incumbent councillor for District 7) answer a question on why council voted yes to allow UBER and Lyft to compete against mainly immigrant taxi drivers.  Mason said it was because “there aren’t enough taxi drivers,” and “People complain.” He then droned on about the changes in taxi rules, the high cost to drivers  for dispatch service etc.  The issue of possibly depriving immigrants who must work as cab drivers – because their qualifications are seldom recognized here so they can’t get good jobs — was never answered. 

courtesy: familypedia

Truth be told –the wannabe councillors’ responses to most questions sounded aggressive, overblown yet not well thought out. While Mason’s answers were technical, and rules oriented,  Cleary was like a bull in a china shop.  He took control and spewed out the familiar and the obvious with relish.  Craig Roy – who was exposed two days ago as having used another candidate’s answers to a Halifax Examiner questionnaire about affordable housing, heartily agreed with any  pro-business points anyone made, as did Gerry Lonergan.  

All the men candidates were bullish on climate change – they talked passionately about sustainability and green plans—nothing specific of course.  They also liked to wax on about improving transit – despite the fact that Haligonians could prefer UBER to transit because it could be cheaper (for a couple or family)  than taking the bus. Cleary admitted there could be congestion with so many UBER cars – a point Powley had originally raised – but then Cleary just rattled on anyway.   Bill Carr wanted to fight systemic racism – how he never said.  But he insisted “we have the ability to engage the public”. 

“Halifax needs an office of non-market housing in HRM — to deal with the housing crisis in the city.”

–Jen Powley, Candidate for District 7, Halifax South Downtown

All the men agreed there had to be affordable housing and housing of all types.  But there were no ideas about how that could be done.  No one uttered the words “rent control”.  However Mason explained that we need all the tall buildings for housing because more than 32,000 people have moved into Halifax in the last four years.  Only Powley had a new idea: that the city establish an office of “non market housing” to try to come up with viable solutions.

Each male candidate plays the sage on the stage…

All the wannabes wanted to talk about how to give a boost to business due to Covid.  That was humorous because all the men agreed we had to give a break to business, help them and all but love them. Cleary scratched Mason’s back by agreeing with him about how Mason made a silk purse out of the sow’s ear when it came to the controversial 500 car parking garage for the Infirmary.  Mason put himself on a pedestal  by saying he had been on the right side of many progressive stands – and had helped establish Schmidtville (Funny, I don’t remember him doing much at all for us residents). 

The webinar dragged on for 90 minutes.  Like watching paint dry, there was no controversy, no real listening, and no discussions.  Each man was basically his own “sage on the stage” and ignored the others.  The questions were easy and made for pat answers.  If you want to watch it for yourself it will soon be posted on the Chamber’s website.  

Full disclosure: I live in Halifax District 7, and serve on Jen Powley’s election team.

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