Election 2020: Mayor’s Chair

The mayor of the CBRM is, on the one hand, just one vote out of 13 on all matters that come before council, and as I’ve noted before in these pages, the position is barely defined in the province’s Municipal Government Act (MGA) which states:

“mayor” means the council member elected at large to be the chair of the council;

CBRM Electoral Map

The duties of the mayor are as follows:

Mayor or warden
15 (1) The mayor or warden shall preside at all meetings of the council

(2) During the temporary absence of the mayor or warden, the deputy mayor or deputy warden shall preside and, if neither is present, the council may appoint a person to preside from among the council members present.

(3) The mayor or warden may

(a) monitor the administration and government of the municipality; and

(b) communicate such information and recommend such measures to the council as will improve the finances, administration and government of the municipality.

Searching for greater clarification on the role of mayor back in 2016, I asked CBU Poli Sci Professor Tom Urbaniak his opinion, and he, after agreeing there was very little in the MGA about the mayor’s role and responsibilities, said:

The mayor is the leader of council and given that he/she is elected at large for the entire municipality, he/she can rightfully claim to represent the entire municipality in contrast to local councilors who only represent their district.

As leader of council, the key power the mayor has is to set the agenda for council meetings and to direct the flow of discussion. But the mayor has only one vote on council so he/she is very much first amongst equals. The key role of the mayor is very much felt behind the scenes. A mayor is a full-time position while councilors, officially, are only part-time representatives. So it is the mayor who is working with municipal staff in the development of policy and position papers, in meeting with other representatives of other levels of government, and in meeting with local businesspeople, possible investors, members of the local community, etc.

Setting the agenda is not simply confined to directing what council meetings will address and when, but in trying to set the stage for what the municipality will be seeking to accomplish over a four-year term of office.

So let’s meet the people hoping to set the CBRM’s agenda for the next four years.

 

Chris Abbass

Chris Abbass

Chris Abbass

Abbass took offense at a joke the Spectator made about the amount of lumber in his signs (more specifically, he compared it to a joke we made about Amanda McDougall’s signs and apparently found it indicative of bias on our part) and declined to participate in the candidate interviews. He wrote:

Hurricane Ready and Signage to Silage…is that what you call the same approach to all candidates…Your organization smacks of Joe ward Journalism, so respectfully I am going to pass on your questions, and honestly I don’t have time to read your dribble.

First, I assume he meant “drivel;” second, I’m not sure why he felt the need to drag Joe Ward into this (although reading some of his exchanges on social media, he often seems to respond to questions by grabbing somebody else and thrusting them into the line of fire); and third, I’d be curious to see what it looks like when he passes “disrespectfully” on an option, although I’d want to do so from a safe distance.

I am honestly sorry Abbass cannot see his way clear to participate, because I would like to hear from all the candidates and I’d actually asked him a question about one aspect of his platform — his idea that we should have special council sessions during which citizens could raise issues for discussion — that I find really interesting.

 

Amanda McDougall

Amanda McDougall

Amanda McDougall

Why do you want to be mayor of the CBRM?

I have spent my entire career to date working in the community development sector. I have also become well aware of the immediate impact municipal decision making has on the wider community. Council is often the front line in hearing what the community needs and, more often than not, the primary advocate for larger investment and programming from provincial and federal levels of government for the region.

After being a part of council for the past four years, I truly feel CBRM is ready to do things differently. We need to organize and prioritize what we want to achieve and how we intend to achieve it. For any business or non-profit, planning is the key to successfully improving revenues and knowing the best way to invest those revenues. This is something I feel we were missing the past four years as a council and therefore we were unable to track our successes, monitor where we needed to perhaps reassess, and be able to say to the residents we serve, “This is what we accomplished in the past four years and these are the pieces we need to continue working on.” I have a very different background and experience to bring to the table, and it is vested in community engagement, organized planning and results-driven actions that will serve the people of the CBRM.

Your platform lists “reduction of poverty” in the municipality as a priority. How would you achieve this?

We continue to hear the dire statistics around the poverty levels throughout the CBRM, and each time we do they seem to increase and become more dire. In researching the roles other municipalities have taken to respond to poverty — no matter how different the population, primary issues, demographics or geography of the community — the common theme is that the municipal unit for the community is front and center on developing policy and action plans around how to work toward eliminating poverty.

As Mayor, I intend to achieve two things out of the gate: identifying poverty reduction as a priority of council and developing an action plan complete with implementation directives (timelines, roles, stakeholder involvement). We don’t have to re-invent the wheel here. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has already researched and provided a list of recommendations and actions municipalities can take in reducing poverty in their communities. Of course, public input and stakeholder engagement is going be paramount in developing this ‘CBRM-specific Action Plan,’ but council needs to be leaders on this if anything is going to change.

An example of some of the recommendations that the FCM has identified and can help guide this process include:

  • Evaluate investments supporting low-income seniors
  • Strengthen intergovernmental dialogue
  • Systematically incorporate a gender lens
  • Prioritize social and affordable housing construction
  • Distinctly support newcomers’ needs
  • Explore the Homelessness Partnering Strategy
  • Ensure low-income households can access quality child care
  • Explore basic-income guarantee models
  • Distinctly support Indigenous peoples in municipalities
  • Boost access to quality public transit
  • Align with legislation for people living with disabilities
  • Evaluate investments supporting low-income seniors
  • Boost access to essential telecommunications services

I noted that you are a member of the Cape Breton Autonomy Facebook group, can you tell me your thoughts on greater autonomy for Cape Breton? On a related note, what is your position on the Equalization issue?

I did join the Cape Breton Autonomy Facebook group because I felt the need to observe and learn what the premise of this group is and the opinions of the membership. When I think of autonomy in regards to the the CBRM, my mind immediately goes to the need for a Municipal Charter. Without a question, we must become more autonomous in our decision-making and be granted the right to make choices that will dictate the direction the CBRM heads towards for the future. Constantly waiting around for the Province to make decisions for us is part of the reason our progress is so slow.

The CBRM needs greater autonomy and decision-making authority than it has at present. Right now, we are bound entirely by the Municipal Government Act, one piece of legislation designed to govern all municipalities in Nova Scotia. A completed Charter will allow the CBRM more flexibility on issues of taxation and economic development. We began the process two years ago but paused the process to undertake the CBRM Viability Study at the direction of the Province. Now that the Viability Study is complete, we can move forward on coming up with a Charter Framework to present to the public for their input and, ultimately, for their approval.

Do you think large, “silver-bullet” projects like the container terminal are the answer for local economic development, or are there other approaches?

Bringing industry to CBRM is vital to growing our municipality, but must be done in concert with a balanced focus on supporting small business development and tapping into emerging trends like green and sustainable technology that the federal government has allocated tremendous amounts of funding and support towards for the foreseeable future.

It is no secret that early on in my past term as councilor, I was one of the council members concerned with the development agreement pertaining to SHIP [Sydney Harbour Investment Partners] and the Container Terminal. I am proud that we demanded more detail and accountability around the agreement and were provided full-details of that agreement before council voted on it. It is extremely important that we define our role in business development and attraction in the CBRM so that we help, rather than hinder, the process. Clearly defining things we can do (zoning amendments, service agreements, land transfers, etc) is step one. Ensuring we allow opportunity for business to advise on how we can do better on a regular basis is another step I would like to see council take. At each meeting of council, I propose we have a standing agenda item where businesses, REN [Regional Enterprise Network] representatives, the Chamber of Commerce or Business Development Associations can take the mic and share their expertise with council on how we can better support business growth.

In honor of Right-to-Know Week, which the CBRM usually marks, I would note that the CBRM is a very secretive municipality – in camera meetings, delayed release of reports, high fees for access to information requests, a lack of public participation in major municipal decisions. If elected, do you have any plans to make the CBRM more transparent and accountable?

We need to get back to basics. As Mayor of a new council with a minimum of six new members around the table, we have an opportunity to collectively begin our mandate on the same page. By offering a new Councilor Education Program for all councilors – newly elected and incumbents – all of council will have a thorough understanding at the start of their mandate of municipal departments, policies, processes and resources. This will include training on the effective, modern development of good policy and good by-laws. At the forefront of this needs to be a clear message, that City Hall belongs to the residents of the CBRM and they have a right to know and access documentation and information in a reasonable amount of time. I would suggest to council to consider revisiting the policy around charging the public to access files and instead have an open data-type program, where the public can easily access and request information online. Of course, when there are files pertaining to contracts and HR some discretion is required under law, but otherwise, opening up data and information can only build the trust in our decision-making processes.

 

John Strasser

John Strasser

John Strasser

Why do you want to be mayor of CBRM?

I was born and raised in Whitney Pier. I am a product of the Sydney school system up to and including graduation from Sydney Academy. I care deeply for this community and I believe I have the business experience and advanced education to make a contribution to reversing the slippage trend and to develop the resources of the Island.

You say on your website you feel our municipality is “heading in the wrong direction.” Why do you say that?

There is no evidence that CBRM is heading in a positive direction and, in fact, the gap between Sydney and Halifax is widening. Healthcare and employment rates are of considerable concern ad the exodus of young talent continues daily.

Why did you resign from the board of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation?

I got asked to apply for the Port of Sydney Development [Corporation] Board which, in reality I learned, after joining the Board, was an overseer of the Joan Harris Pavilion and the cruise ships. In short, my expectations to help varied considerably from the reality of the situation.

Do you think large, “silver-bullet” projects like the container terminal are the answer for local economic development, or are there other approaches?

Editor’s note: Strasser directed readers to his platform–https://drjohnstrasser.com–and provided the following bullet points in response to this question:

Jobs:
Build economy with targeted business creation

Healthcare:
More Doctors
Clinics strategically positioned

Infrastructure:
Roads are in desperate condition
Sewer
Water

Respect:
Our position in/outside Nova Scotia
Our fair share

In honor of Right-to-Know Week, which the CBRM usually marks, I would note that the CBRM is a very secretive municipality – in camera meetings, delayed release of reports, high fees for access to information requests, a lack of public participation in major municipal decisions. If elected, do you have any plans to make the CBRM more transparent and accountable?

[The o]nly in camera meetings should be sensitive human resources issues (not a rule, but a guiding statement).

 

Still to come

Cecil Clarke

Kevin MacEachern

Archie MacKinnon

 

A note on this feature:

I decided to send candidates questions by email because, while speaking to each in person would be preferable, I knew I wouldn’t have time to conduct (and transcribe) 55 phone interviews.

 

And finally…

Enjoying the election coverage but aren’t ready to commit to a regular subscription? Why not throw a few coins into the Spectator’s (virtual) hat?