Residents of East Dartmouth's District Six go to the polls Saturday to elect a replacement for former Halifax councillor Andrew Younger. Younger had to vacate his council seat when he won election to the provincial legislature in June.
The byelection is one of the more interesting in recent memory---seven candidates are vying to fill Younger's municipal shoes, including a former councillor, a Younger campaign worker, two candidates connected to political parties and three others well known in the community.
All the District Six candidates express dissatisfaction with transit service to the area, but most don't have a working knowledge of the Five Year Transit Plan adopted by council last year. All candidates express concern for recreation needs, cars speeding through the district and troubled youth, but none detail how to find the funds to better address those issues. All support the Main Street redevelopment plan initiated by Younger and want it speedily implemented, but none say exactly how that will be achieved.
One of the first issues the new councillor will have to deal with will be tax reform, a contentious plan to radically shift the way Halifax collects taxes, but most candidates are either unfamiliar with the proposal, have a shaky grasp of it or are unwilling to state definitely if they support or reject it.
Tracey Devereaux is a teacher at the Youth Attendance Centre, and ran unsuccessfully as the Liberal Party candidate for Dartmouth East's provincial seat in 2006. He'd like to see the city "work collaboratively" with community organizations dealing with youth. So far as tax reform goes, "I'm still knocking on doors," says Devereaux.
John McMillan is a retired navy petty officer who now works as an operations manager for a trucking company he declines to identify. Asked what his concerns are, McMillan says, "for the most part, tax reform, I think." McMillan faults an "arbitrary" assessment system that puts a difficult burden on seniors, and he'd like a municipal income tax system. But the tax proposal to be voted on this fall does not contain an income tax, and the federal government has disallowed municipal income taxes. "Well, I understand," says McMillan, "but I still think it would be worth pursuing."
Phil Brown was the waste production coordinator in East Hants, then worked in the constituency office for NDP MLA Marilyn More and is now a landlord and stay at home dad (Disclosure: I interact with Brown socially). He avoids party labels, but considers himself the "progressive candidate" in the race. Brown is mostly supportive of the tax reform proposal---"I'd like to see it more geared to ability to pay, rather than assessment," he says---but says he doesn't want residents of the former debt-free City of Dartmouth assuming the debts of the former County of Halifax. He doesn't say how he'd calculate the Halifax County debts, which were subsumed 15 years ago by the HRM.
Brian Warschick was elected to the now-contested seat in 2004, and was replaced by Younger in 2006. "I'd like to finish some projects---I'm very big into recreation needs," he says of his desire to return to office. Warschick hasn't taken a position on tax reform, saying he needs to "further study" the issue and "consult with my constituency."
Darrin Fisher is co-owner of Nic Nax, a small chain of convenience stores in downtown Halifax. "What people talk about at the door are the little things, like speeding up getting a curb fixed," he says. "I'd like to find a way to solve those little things." Fisher says he supports an assessment-based tax system---"you still have to have the guy with the half-million dollar home on the lake pay more than the guy with the $250,000 bungalow in the middle of the neighbourhood."
Robin Allen is a teacher in the district who campaigned for Younger, but says she is unaffiliated with Younger's Liberal Party. She'd like to increase the level of city programming in area rec centres. Like Younger, she's unequivocally in favour of switching away from an assessment-based tax system and to a fee-for-service system.
Shane Dafoe is a manager for Sears Home Central, and says his experience with budgeting will serve him well on council. He defends council secrecy with regard to the failed sewage plant---"that's the type of thing you can't put in the media," he says. Dafoe said those who don't receive full city services shouldn't pay the same taxes as those who do, but he is unclear on the assessment versus fee-for-service issue.