- Bianca Müller
- Fred Connors: “There’s a right way and a wrong way.”
When friends told Fred Connors he should become mayor, he told them "they were absolutely crazy." But dealing with impending legal action from the city when he insisted on keeping a flock of hens in the backyard of his Bloomfield Street home---something prohibited by Halifax's land use bylaws---prompted him to imagine how he'd do things differently as mayor: "I literally thought to myself, if I was mayor, this is not the vision that I would want to have for my city about local food policies, because not allowing a practice that other municipalities are embracing says so much about the leadership of this city."
Then he couldn't shake the idea of becoming mayor. He remembers feeling like he was going to have a stroke, and thinking "Oh god I'm doomed, because this idea has planted itself in my head and I have to do something about it." He says: "I had this visceral reaction where I started to get red and blotchy."
Connors doesn't have the pedigree one would expect from the typical mayoral candidate. He's perhaps best known as Halifax's most sought-after hairstylist---he was voted Best Hairstylist last year in The Coast's Best of Halifax survey. He's also a seasoned TV personality, working as the self-esteem expert on the reality television show X-Weighted and as CTV's lifestyle expert on The Marilyn Denis Show. You'll find Connors chit-chatting with sex workers about their lives while hosting events for the sex-worker advocacy and support group Stepping Stone at FRED. beauty food art, his Agricola Street cafe/salon/gallery. He's also involved in a handful of other community organizations, such as Adsum House, Leave Out ViolencE and the Commons North Business and Cultural Association, which he founded.
And of course, Connors is the city's outspoken spokesperson for keeping urban hens. His flock lives happily in a slick, modern backyard coop, and thanks to Connors' "open backyard" policy, neighbourhood children come visit his flock of bandit hens from time to time. It's an eco-friendly set-up, as the hens feast on compost from his nearby cafe and their manure helps fertilize his urban garden. If he were elected mayor, he'd vote to permit laying hens on the peninsula and even sees opportunities to introduce other farm animals---like goats---to urban farms.
Growing up in a traditional, nuclear family in Dartmouth, where his mother cooked meals and his father was often away on military duty, left him with self-discipline, focus and a love of food. "There was a right way and a wrong way to do absolutely everything, and if you did things in a way that was inefficient, it was considered disrespectful," explains Connors. He has a somewhat estranged relationship with his adoptive brother, who he says struggles with mental illness and homelessness. "I've never been able to help my brother. I've never been able to do anything that will improve the quality of his life. But if I support organizations that will help improve the quality of his life, I feel that I'm doing something."
So what exactly does Connors support? When we spoke in his bustling cafe/headquarters---he has a campaign map (charting where he'll stick his biodegradable signs) tacked up in the entrance, and "limited edition" Vote for Fred tote bags by artist Michelle SaintOnge are displayed proudly in the window---he hadn't yet released an official platform. But he sums it up: "The whole platform is filtering under what we have decided are the three Ts, which are the areas that I think are most important when it comes to building a healthy, sustainable city with a bright future." Connors plans to focus his campaign on issues pertaining to talent retention, taxation and affordability and transportation.
For Connors, talent-retention hinges on supporting arts and culture. "We have priced our downtown in such a way that it is impossible for artists and entrepreneurs to do business there." He suggests rent-controlling and subsidizing storefronts downtown for young, creative entrepreneurs, and even transforming the soon-to-be-abandoned World Trade and Convention Centre into a "centre of innovation for arts, culture, tech, social and creative enterprises" that creatively re-uses the space---not Class A office space that is planned for the building. "We could get rid of all of the old school, old boys' club decor---peel it back to an open, industrial kind of, you know, Apple- or Google-type workspace and allow the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to be able to work in a space like that affordably, where ideas can be cross-pollinated and grow."
And he'd like to support apprenticeship and mentorship programs with the Nova Scotia Community College to ensure new graduates get jobs in their fields.
If elected mayor, Connors hopes to champion the University Avenue Renewal Plan, which proposes bike lanes on University Avenue, and he advocates for increased signage for bike lanes. But he opposes parts of the Halifax Cycling Coalition's proposed Crosstown Connector, which would create bike lanes on Agricola Street. As an Agricola Street business owner, he worries that clients of FRED and other businesses, and people who work in the area, wouldn't have anywhere to park their cars if bike lanes were created.
Connors also opposes slashing late-night ferry service. He'd like to increase Metro Transit's services---without raising taxes or increasing fares. "If we applied basic business theories to Metro Transit, we would be able to save a lot of money to pay for increased service," he says. "If you're overspending on your staff who are under-delivering services, you need to flip that equation around." He proposes cutting back on the amount of vacation time bus drivers get to cover costs of night ferry service. "It's shocking to me that our police force get eight sick days and our bus drivers get 20."
Much of his platform focuses on sustainability. He'd like Halifax to commit to becoming a "Transition Community"--- joining a network of global communities that respond to climate change, economic hardship and peak oil by developing green solutions. Connors supports the Urban Greenbelt Initiative and wants to prevent urban sprawl, so much so that he advocates making any developers who want to develop in unserviced areas foot 100 percent of the costs of new services. He'd also like to see the city increase the minimum required riparian buffer width to 30 metres, as recommended by Our HRM Alliance. He's a strong supporter of HRM By Design, and is opposed to Skye Halifax, the proposed twin 49-storey skyscrapers on the lot bound by Granville, Sackville and Hollis Streets. It's "the last kind of development we need downtown," he says of Skye.
When you see the Connors at mayoral debates, he's energetic, to the point of leaping off the podium to pour water for his competition. He knows how to get a laugh from his audience, and you can tell he's done his homework as he often references sections of Halifax's Municipal Planning Strategy. It's clear that having his partner Joel Flewelling ---Connors points out the "Joel" is silent, though quite present in the FRED brand---working as his campaign manager and delivering messages to him over the breakfast table, enables Connors to get a lot done.
"Fred is not afraid to piss people off in order to get things done. He is passionate in every single endeavour he embarks on," remarks Flewelling. "Fred gets shit done."See our other mayoral candidate profiles:
Robert (Wesley) McCormack