Districts 2 & 4: MacMullin, Power & Morrison

District 2

Earlene MacMullin

North Sydney resident Earlene MacMullin was an outspoken critic of the process by which Archibald’s Wharf, the town’s waterfront recreation area, was sold in 2015, but her desire to run for council pre-dates that controversial deal. In fact, it stems from a far more positive experience with local government.

Earlene MacMullin, District 2

Earlene MacMullin, District 2

MacMullin attended St. Mary’s University in Halifax but left without graduating to marry and start a family. At the age of 22, she found herself back in North Sydney, a divorced mother of two with a high school education, a part-time job in retail and a conviction that she had to do something to improve her situation:

“Money, obviously, was tight so what I did was, I ended up going to Memorial Composite High School and taking their IT trade program.”

Social assistance paid for her books and helped with child care, but that still left a $1,000 bill for tuition.

I went through all kinds of programs. I tried to fight with assistance—it was only $1,000, not a lot of money, but when you’re on assistance, it’s a lot of money…I kept hitting dead ends and then it got to the point that the money was literally due the very next day and I had nowhere to go and…so, as a last-ditch effort, I reached out to a municipal councilor. I called him…and I explained my situation and I cried to him on the phone and…he said, ‘Whatever you do, dear, I’ll see what I can do, but just go to school tomorrow.’

And so she did, reluctantly, and the question of the $1,000 tuition never came up. Said MacMullin:

I can honestly say, I have no idea what he did. I don’t know if he made a phone call, if assistance helped me out, if he paid for it, I really don’t know. I was too scared to bring it up, to even ask. It could have been a coincidence that the school forgot to bill me, but I give credit to him.


Archibald’s Wharf

She completed the IT program and landed a job with Marine Atlantic, where she’s now been for almost 15 years. She met and married a man (a fellow North Sydney native) with two children of his own, and became a mother of four. She furthered her education, completing the office administration course at Nova Scotia Community College online while working full-time, raising four kids (and coaching two volleyball teams). She climbed the ladder at work, taking advantage of in-house job postings to apply for, and win, a confidential administrative assistant’s post (a job that meant leaving the union, as “confidential” assistants deal with personnel matters that could constitute a conflict of interest for a union member). It’s a position she’s held for the past five years.

And always, she said, she’s been involved in her community, whether pushing for the replacement of a tot lot displaced by a seniors’ housing development or trying to address the problem of child poverty, signs of which were evident among the children at a youth centre near her home. So when word of the Archibald’s Wharf sale broke, it was not surprising that a co-worker hurried to tell her — and to insist they had to do something:

My initial issue with the whole thing wasn’t necessarily the loss of the green space,” said MacMullin. “That’s not why I got involved…I was more worried about the process and the lack of information. So, I contacted our councilor at the time and I asked for details and I got, ‘Just trust me. This is a good thing…There’s going to be hundreds of jobs, 50 to 100 jobs, it’ll bring industry back, you don’t remember what downtown North Sydney used to be, we have the potential to become that again.’

And I explained to him, ‘I’m not going to argue that but you need to give me more information. I need to know the how’s the why’s. Is it guaranteed work? Because if you can give me that information we, as a town, can get behind that. If this is everything you say it is, well then, maybe there is no problem, maybe we can relocate the park, we can work together and do something.’ But, as most people know, there was never any further information. So it all turned out to be really, just a fight to find out what the heck was going on.

Frustrated with the way the deal went down, MacMullin vowed to run against the councilor, Charlie Keagan, in the fall. When he died, she decided to run anyway.


Tax cap

If elected, MacMullin said one of the first things she will do is call for the formation of a municipal taxation committee because, she bluntly put it, “Our taxes are a disaster.” Referencing the cap that was put in place in the CBRM in 2005 to protect property owners from dramatic increases in their taxes, MacMullin said:

[P]eople…think they’re doing okay with their cap, that’s great, but they don’t understand their assessments are going up every year and eventually that cap’s going to come off… I’m on a cap, I get it. I have an 19-year-old daughter. So, in two years, if she wants to buy a home, she’s going to pay double or triple the tax I’m paying. Why? It’s not fair. It shouldn’t be her burden.

Her proposal would be a committee made up of concerned citizens from all districts as well as representatives of council to “work with the province, to start with some new ideas, some new equations” to “bring some fairness” to both commercial and residential taxes in the CBRM.


You just need everybody

MacMullin said she wants no special consideration just because she’s a woman. Voters, she said, should choose someone who shares their goals and ideas whether that person is old or young, male or female.

That said, she adds:

I also firmly believe that if you want to have a successful municipal council…or government at any level, you need a varied demographic…To have a council…of 12 members who are between the ages of 30 and 45, is not going to work. A whole council of members who are between the ages of 55 and 70? That’s not going to work. All women? No. All men? No.

What you need, she says, is a mix of people—from the “wide-eyed young,” for whom everything is possible to the “village elders,” who know what’s been tried before.

You just need everybody. It’s the only way to actually have, I think, a healthy, functioning council.


District 2

Diane Power

When she looks back at her life, District 2 candidate Diane Power said she realizes she’s always been advocating for people. Her early efforts tracked her children’s school careers and saw her involved in the Home and School Association at the local, provincial and finally national level, where she now serves as first vice president.

Diane Power, District 2

Diane Power, District 2

But even in her professional life, working for Bell (in every capacity from customer service to climbing telephone poles), Power took on advocacy roles—including sitting on the occupational health and safety board and serving as shop steward for her union, Unifor Local 2289.

I like trying to be able to help to make a difference. I guess that’s part of what made me decide to run…My daughter has just graduated school, she’s gone to CBU…my son’s not far behind, he has two years to go, and I’m ready to retire from what I’m doing now…I want to do something now that I enjoy doing and what I enjoy doing is representing [people].


The Wheels on the Bus

As an example of her advocacy work, Power pointed to the time she re-routed a school bus.

The problem was that the bus stopped a significant distance short of the hilltop house of one of its passengers—a grade primary student. The school board argued there wasn’t enough room for the bus to turn at the top of the hill and that the added distance would throw the bus off schedule, causing kids to miss their connections to other buses.

So Power decided to investigate. First, she read all the relevant school bus regulations. Then she and her husband and children drove the bus route, making all the required stops (the driver supplying appropriate bus-door noises), but adding the hill and the final house. She noted the times and found that the added distance wouldn’t throw the bus off schedule and that there was, in fact, sufficient room for a bus to turn at the top of the hill.

She made her evidence-based case to the board and the route was changed. Power said she won because she was informed but also because she wasn’t adversarial in making her case. It’s an approach she said has served her well in the past and one she’d bring to council, were she elected this fall.


‘We can move mountains’

Power said that while she is “really, really saddened to see everything we’ve lost on the Northside,” and feels the Archibald’s Wharf sale was handled badly, she is very encouraged by a proposed new waterfront development called Victory Park:

That sounds like a really great opportunity and I’m really encouraged to see that…Maybe now we can take some of that frustration and that energy and turn it into something positive…Because I truly believe one of our best assets is the people that we have in our community. When our people are engaged, we can move mountains.

As for the issues facing the CBRM generally and her own community in particular, Power said they are all well known:

We all know we’ve got a declining population, an aging population; we all know about the tax increases and the tax rates, both private and commercial…And if we’re not making it easy, if we’re not taking down some barriers and making it easy for small businesses to start up, we’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot…

Power said she’d like to see more small businesses along Front Street, positioned to take advantage of the foot traffic from the Marine Atlantic terminal. She’d also like to see existing business owners encouraging those just starting out:

We have so many people who are talented…have a lot of business knowledge behind them, that could help foster and mentor other businesses on Front Street…So, what I can see is, more development down on Front Street, because smaller businesses are a little bit more sustainable and statistically, they say, create more jobs. We can’t wait for the next big Magna, or whatever, to come in and save us.


Have a sit-down

If elected in October, Power said her first move would be to call a meeting with people from across the district:

As a councilor, it’s not just my perspective, it’s not just what I want to see happen, it’s going to be what the people that I’m representing want to see happening…I represent both rural and what you call the town area, and they both have different concerns…[I’d] have a meeting, have a sit-down and say…where do we want to focus and what do we want to tackle first? Because I truly do believe that, first of all, if I’m not listening to the people I represent, I have no business being here, and second of all, if people are engaged and feel a part of it, then you’ve got more support, then you’ve got more of a chance that you’re going to succeed.


Why not?

Power said she believes there should be women on council, saying they can sometimes bring a different perspective than men—although she doesn’t believe there are male and female points of view:

I know a lot of men who agree with my way of thinking, so I wouldn’t want to say that.

But if you’re asking why should women be on council, I would say, why not? We’re half the population, why wouldn’t we be on council?


District 4

Darlene Morrison

“Politics was always in my blood,” said District 4 candidate Darlene Morrison.

Darlene Morrison, District 4

Darlene Morrison, District 4

The daughter of the late Osborne ‘Ossie” McKenzie Fraser—steelworker, county councilor and Liberal MLA for Cape Breton West and later Cape Breton the Lakes—Morrison and her siblings learned the value of public service as children:

At a very early age, we learned how important it was to try to help others…That was always kind of at the back of my mind, that I’d like to try it.

A lifelong Westmount resident (she lives in a house on the same street she grew up on), Morrison served on the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board for 20 years, including four as chair. And while she’s never been elected to provincial or federal office, she’s had a bird’s eye view of both, thanks first to her father and then to a career as a constituency assistant—initially to Liberal MLA Bernie Boudreau (Cape Breton the Lakes) and then to Liberal MP Mark Eyking (Sydney-Victoria). She worked for Eyking for 17 years, and said that in a federal constituency office:

You see everything. We looked after EI cases, Canada Pension, Workers’ Comp, all kinds of issues…It really got you in touch with people and what their problems were.

Working at both the provincial and federal levels also convinced her that “they all should be working together.”


The Breakfast Club

Asked to name one issue she would be sure to raise were she elected to council this fall, Morrison said, “[O]ne thing that really worries me, and that’s since I’ve been on the school board, is child poverty.”

Reports of children falling asleep in class, coming to school tired and having difficulty concentrating prompted the board to launch the breakfast program.

In the beginning it was kind of sad, because those who really needed it were kind of embarrassed to go. So we had to open it more…you have to encourage them all to come in so you get the ones who really need it. But there’s lots of families out there with two parents working who don’t have a chance to get a breakfast ready, so it is good for everybody.

Morrison said she thinks the CBRM could help out “a bit” with the breakfast program but in the meantime, poverty is “not just the CBRM’s problem, it belongs to all levels of government.

Now it seems that there’s so many on just the minimum wage and it’s so hard on the families and the poor children, and I’d like to work hard with whoever is elected to see if there isn’t something that we can do to solve the problem. It’s not going to be overnight, but we’ve got to do something. Our children deserve to have a better education and more nutrition—we learn better on a full stomach, we all know that. It just seems such a shame that they wouldn’t even be able to get into the recreation programs that other families would be able to do…

Morrison thinks a new Sydney library “would be wonderful,” and a boon to children living in poverty:

Children learning at an early age to read and get interested in using the library and using the internet—for looking up things, not playing games [laughs]. And a lot of the children wouldn’t have that access.


A different perspective

Asked if she thought it was important to have women on council, Morrison was unequivocal:

Absolutely, 51% of the population is women, so there should be at least that many on council or any other organization. I think we have a different way of seeing things than the men do. I think we have a little bit more compassion—maybe that’s not fair, but I think we do see things in a different light than men and I think we have a lot to offer.

Kenny and I raised six and he was the only one working. I was doing housecleaning for other people to get a few dollars. We’ve six kids, now we’ve got 11 grandkids [and] it really does put a different perspective on things.

Morrison said three of her six children live in Cape Breton, as do six of her grandchildren, who are helping her campaign. “All but the three-year-old,” she laughed, “Who would if we let him.”

Of campaigning Morrison said, “It’s hard and you’re tired when you’re finished, but you’re meeting an awful lot of nice people.”