Who will be Halifax’s next mayor? No candidates yet, but interest is growing

Click to play video: 'A look at who’s considering a shot at becoming Halifax’s next mayor'
A look at who’s considering a shot at becoming Halifax’s next mayor
WATCH: With Halifax Mayor Mike Savage opting out of the municipal race this fall, that leaves the door wide open for others to throw their hats in the ring. As Megan King reports, two local councillors and one member of parliament say they're considering a run, but no one seems to want to be first to commit. – Feb 23, 2024

While there are no confirmed candidates yet for the Halifax municipal election this fall, two local councillors and one member of parliament say they’re considering a run.

Mayor Mike Savage opting out of the race after 12 years and three terms leaves the door wide open for others to throw their hats in the ring.

Political scientist Lori Turnbull said it will be a race to watch.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had an open mayor’s race, because Savage obviously had a hold on that for as long as he wanted it,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Mayor Mike Savage on not seeking reelection'
Mayor Mike Savage on not seeking reelection

Councillors Waye Mason and Pam Lovelace, as well as Halifax member of Parliament Andy Fillmore, have all expressed interest in the job, though none have committed yet.

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“That potential ballot is all people who have name recognition, have political experience,” Turnbull said.

“To me, that gives them a big step up over somebody who’s trying to break through as a first-time candidate in the municipal election.”

She noted that the councillors may have already built trust with the public in terms of stewardship of municipal issues.

However, Fillmore’s name recognition as a Liberal MP could also give him a boost – though that recognition may also be a double-edged sword.

“People would recognize his name on the ballot, which I think would probably give him … at least a starting point lead,” she said.

But Turnbull added that Fillmore is seen as “Justin Trudeau’s guy,” and voters may have an appetite for someone new.

“Those are all things that he’ll have to manage. There’s no slam dunk.”

Click to play video: 'Liberal MP Andy Fillmore considers run for Halifax mayor'
Liberal MP Andy Fillmore considers run for Halifax mayor

Turnbull said now would be a good time for Fillmore to step out of federal politics: polling numbers indicate that it’s a “tricky time for the Liberals,” to put it “very mildly.”

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“Things could happen to change that, but right now, the fortunes for the Liberals don’t look great,” she said.

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“Andy Fillmore’s been in that seat since 2015, and so if he decided to leave now, he would get a pension … and he would avoid what I would suspect to be a very tough (federal) race when it happens.”

‘In campaign mode’

Shortly after Fillmore said he would consider running for mayor, he publicly advocated for a Canada Post facility on Almon Street in Halifax to be relocated to free up room for housing.

Housing has become an increasingly hot-button issue in the city, with vacancy rates at a record low and the cost of rent continuing to rise above unaffordable levels.

Fillmore said up to 5,000 units could fit on the federal land, and its central location makes it a prime spot for new builds.

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A video he posted to social media about the idea – though it doesn’t mention the mayoral race – is reminiscent of other videos we tend to see during election time.

“I think he’s in campaign mode – but that’s normal. This is nothing new in the era that we’re in, with social media, and with politics the way they are now,” she said.

“He may be kind of testing the waters, floating some balloons. That video might have been a part of it to see what the response to his candidacy is going to be like.”

However, Fillmore said in an interview Thursday that the timing of the video was “coincidental,” and doesn’t indicate an early start to election campaigning.

“I’ve been working on this plan since 2010 for the post office site. As an MP, I’ve been working on it for the last two-plus years,” he said.

“None of us had any idea that Mayor Savage was going to make his announcement of not reoffering when he did. My work was already rolling.”

Freeing up land for housing

The Canada Post site, he said, would be perfect for a new housing development. It’s close to shopping, a hospital and other amenities, and would provide some much-needed housing in the strained market.

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“It’s no secret that we’re in the midst of an incredible housing crisis nationwide, and I think it’s incumbent on … all orders of government to make surplus lands available,” he said.

It’s not a new idea. Municipal council has already identified the site as a future growth node, and reviewed a staff report on the topic in November of last year.

Fillmore, a former city planner, said he began engaging with the city about the idea about two years ago, and is in conversations with the municipality, Canada Post and nearby landowners about the plan.

He said it was a “very large project,” and would be happy to see it break ground in four or five years.

If Fillmore decides to run for mayor, and if he is successful, he said he will continue advocating for the project.

“I think it’s a common-sense idea that will make sense no matter where one individual sits,” he said.

Fillmore said he has not yet made a decision on running for mayor, but he hopes to have news soon.

Changing the conversation

The next municipal election is scheduled to take place Oct. 19, at which point council is bound to look very different.

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A number of councillors have already said they will not be running again, including Lisa Blackburn, Shawn Cleary and Tim Outhit.

Lindell Smith and Mason also won’t be reoffering as councillors in the next election, though Mason, who represents Halifax South Downtown, said he’s still considering a run for mayor.

“Since Mike has made his announcement I’ve received hundreds of emails and phone calls from people who want a mayor who is going to fight for a better city,” Mason said in a statement Thursday.

“And I agree. I’m seriously considering it. Because I want the same! But no announcements at this time.”

Click to play video: 'Quarter of Halifax councillors announce they’re not re-offering in this year’s municipal election'
Quarter of Halifax councillors announce they’re not re-offering in this year’s municipal election

In an interview, Lovelace, the councillor for Hammonds Plains – St. Margaret’s, said she would “strongly consider” running for mayor, but is still navigating the details of what the campaign would look like.

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“I’m doing that with very thoughtful consideration. Speaking to my family, talking to colleagues and responding to people who are asking me to run,” she said.

“To be frank, I am so excited to share my vision for what I see as the potential for Nova Scotia’s capital region. So, stay tuned.”

Lovelace said she’s excited to see what the October election brings. With an open mayor seat and several councillors not reoffering, anything is possible.

She expects there to be a lot of people running in the fall election – “and I think that’s great.”

“We need to change the conversation and ensure that Halifax regional council represents the entire region – not just the voices from the urban core. We want to make sure that we’re building a sustainable and vibrant future,” she said.

“This isn’t just about one, or two, or three people on the ballot. I am very hopeful that we’ll see lots of people coming forward to share their vision for Halifax.”

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