It's typical of modern democracy that in an October 8 debate---covering big topics like uranium mining, alternative energy, sustainable transportation, pesticide use, food supply, planning, green building and waste management---a comment that road tolls are not such a bad idea may have cost Sheila Fougere her remote shot at becoming mayor.
"Asphalt is a petroleum product," Fougere explained. "The price goes up with petroleum. I don't know if are much of a deterrent, but it's something we should carefully look at." Toronto's David Miller had to do some fancy mouth-work to recover from a similar gaffe in his successful run for worshipfulness in Toronto in 2003.
If there's anything people hate worse than carbon taxes, it's road tolls. Incumbent Peter Kelly, ever the populist, knows this. "Road tolls are not a good approach," he stated firmly and clearly. "People pay enough taxes now." Heaven forbid we ask drivers to cover a small portion of the cost of the roads that are their domain.
David Boyd, the tow-truck and taxi driver who is running a monkey-wrench-in-the-machinery campaign, suggested that road costs be recovered by charging companies to advertise alongside the roadways. Some people feel they pay too many taxes but I feel I watch too many advertisements, also against my will.
Meanwhile, back in the big picture, these three candidates offer considerably different positions on environmental issues in HRM. Kelly's vision of sustainability revolves around Halifax's waste-water treatment system (which fails to meet new federal minimum standards) and geothermal power. He is proud of his recent swim at Black Rock Beach and maybe even prouder of the Alderney 5 Advanced Geothermal Energy Project, "a $3.6 million energy efficiency retrofit of five buildings on the Dartmouth waterfront...the first large-scale application of geothermal cold energy storage anywhere in the world."
Fougere's forte is transportation infrastructure. She has amassed a hardy following of eco-nerds for her vocal opposition to the Chebucto Road tomfoolery and meticulous ideas about cycling. "We have hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bike fund that has not been spent yet," she told a board member of the Halifax Cycling Coalition.
"We need to look at the inter-connectivity between on-road and off-road cycling and allow bike lanes to morph into intersections in a way that is clear." Fougere also suggested subsidising Canbike training for cyclists to improve confidence and safety, and inculcating drivers with the message that cyclists belong on the road.
Of the three, it's no surprise that the most bluntly stated positions come from the guy with nothing to lose, who has no city council experience. While Kelly and Fougere passionately support cost-benefit analyses, Boyd has heard enough about high-speed ferries, uranium mining, spreading sludge on farmers' fields and road widening to know that he opposes all of them, period.
His blunt assessments were refreshing compared to Fougere's occasional hedging. On using sewage sludge from the new waste-water treatment plants as farm fertilizer, she said that biosolids "have insignificant heavy metals, but we could use more testing on pharmaceutical" content. Kelly, on the other hand, was adamant that sludge is "class A and almost exceptional quality" despite ample scientific evidence to the contrary.
Unfortunately for Boyd, however, there is a lot to be said for the shades of grey that come with experience. I share his desire to bring leadership in this town back to the people, but sometimes "I would do a public consultation" was Boyd's substitute for "I don't know much about that issue."
Kelly's version of "I would do a public consultation" was "that's not our jurisdiction." Put community-based schools where they are accessible by foot for students? Not our jurisdiction. Affordable sustainable energy for people with low income? Not us. Ban toxic chemicals on sale in a store near you? Shrug, call the province.
I want a mayor who, at the very least, at the end of a four-year term can say, "I fought the province hard on this one and I negotiated and sometimes I even had to compromise for the sake of HRM's environment." Kelly can't say that. Boyd would be wrapped up in a public consultation on whether to contact the province by fax or email.
Fougere holds the most promise of advocating for HRM at higher levels. "In terms of planning we need to speak more co-operatively with the province and the school board," she told the audience last week. She also promised to "work with the province to eliminate the ability to sell" pesticides and she feels that the federation of Canadian municipalities could lobby the feds for better pesticide laws.
A mayor who pays more than lip service to our environment, who won't make excuses as climate change sinks us, would be a breath of fresh air. Sadly, neither challenger to King Kelly blasts enough of it into my lungs for me to hold my breath for true municipal leadership on the environment.