Finally, some candidate sparring in District 11: Spryfield—Sambro—Prospect Road

Does it matter that Steve Adams lives in Bedford?

Sunday night I drove out to the Prospect Road Community Centre to catch a debate between the District 11 council candidates. (Yes, I broke my pledge to bus to all the events because Google maps told me it was an hour and a half walk from the end of the #22 bus line to the PRCC, and of course an hour and a half back. I thought about bussing and walking all the same, but I had a 4pm meeting downtown, and the times just didn't work out.)

I've been to a lot of candidate forums lately, and have come to expect, well, not much. Candidates more or less say the same thing, are polite to each other to the point of deference and mouth nonsensical platitudes at the people in the audience, who are assumed, often correctly, to be pretty ignorant about city government. Typically, council races are simply glorified beauty pageants.

Stephen Adams
Stephen Adams
So I was pleasantly surprised when Sunday's forum opened with sitting councillor Stephen Adams apologizing for living in Bedford, followed by Peter Grabosky ripping into Adams for his Bedford address. We have some throw-down politicking for a change. This is good.

"I lived in Spryfield my whole life," explained Adams. "But fell in love with a woman from Bedford. And I wasn't about to tear those children out of school and move them, disrupt their lives like that."

Peter Grabosky
Peter Grabosky
Grabosky led the charge against Adams, and the night shaped up like this: Adams portrayed himself as the voice of experience, the guy who's been representing Spryfield forever and can get things done.

Grabosky in turn was the slightly crazed dude from Prospect with a booming voice, lashing into Adams as the over-ripe politician, the old boy who's been around too long, the dude living in suburban Bedford who thinks he knows what's best for the hamlets of the rural oceanside.

Tom Lavers
Tom Lavers
Then there was Tom Lavers, a jovial and likeable firefighter who, he kept reminding us, took a leave of absence to run for council. Lavers for the most part laid off the Adams-bashing, but besides repeating that he would simply represent the people of the district the best he could, didn't really say much of substance, and several times simply came up blank in response to questions. That's not a sin or anything, but it would've been more forgivable had Lavers something interesting to say when he wasn't fumbling.

The clear "winner" of the debate, so far as these things have winners, was Jim Hoskins, a cop for 35 years who grew up in the north end of Halifax and retired to Spryfield, where he's twice run unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for MLA. Hoskins demonstrated a good understanding of city issues, and tempered his tough-guy cop persona with a refreshing willingness to bring up social issues. Likewise, Hoskins was happy enough to throw a few digs at Adams, but stayed well this side of Grabosky's foaming-at-the-mouth, I just murdered my grandmother sanpaku disposition.

Jim Hoskins
Jim Hoskins
Which is to say, never having met or watched Hoskins before, I immediately liked him. But who cares what the citified newspaper reporter thinks? The question is: Can Hoskins resonate with the residents of the district he's hoping to represent?

It does seem that Adams has a good chance to be thrown out in a general anti-incumbant bloodbath this election, and I suspect Hoskins will poll well in the Spryfield part of the district. But will he be able to get enough votes from the rural parts of the district? I don't know. That's why we have elections.

Adding, all the candidates express more or less the same general good-government ideas about District 11: a stoplight at a busy intersection, more sidewalks, that sort of thing. But I sometimes hope that in the course of these discussions someone pops up with a really great new idea. That's probably asking too much from naturally cautious politicians, so I'm going to throw an idea out there for District 11, just to see if anyone likes it.

One of the big issues in the district is what to do about bicycles. The Ketch Harbour Road-Old Sambro Road loop and the Peggys Cove loop, the eastern half of which is in District 11, which travel through the various fishing villages and rural towns, are understandably attractive to bicyclists, but those bikes present a problem on the old narrow two-lane roads with an increasing amount of commuting traffic.

All the candidates expressed support for adding safer shoulders to the roads, which is old-school thinking, and perfectly reasonable in the context of local governance. But if we're going to spend all that money on asphalting shoulders, why not jump completely to the next orbit and do something like the Moselle Cycling Trail in Europe: a 200-mile bike trail separate from the roads for cars, that takes advantage of the stellar scenery? There are a lot of development pressures in District 11, which is resisted by most of the old-time residents. Imagine if the great viewscapes and small towns could be protected in the name of tourism promotion, directed right at bicyclists?

To put it bluntly, those bicyclists have money. Money they're willing to spend biking from Halifax and eating at seaside restaurants and sleeping at B&Bs and kayaking at those resorts down in Prospect before checking out the overly photographed lighthouse at Peggys Cove. There's a mint to be made on bundling all that up in one nice package peddled to the international lycra crowd, and doing so might protect the countryside in District 11 from the rapacious Clayton Developments of the world. It takes vision, though, and someone with some organizing skills, to make it happen. Just a thought.

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