For the past decade, melodic piano songs have served as a soothing backdrop to those attending Halifax City Hall’s annual levee.
The man behind the keys is Bill Stevenson. He says being able to play every year gives him the unique opportunity of being able to observe members of the public engaging with city officials in a laid back, inviting atmosphere.
Stevenson says the levee is a way to encourage people to voice their hopes and concerns with their elected municipal officials.
“It’s important because we have to take advantage of our say in the development of community, we have to do that and if we don’t do it someone’s going to do it for us and it might not be what we want,” Stevenson said.
Halifax mayor discusses the year ahead
While a line of municipal councillors greeted levee guests, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage was exhibiting signs of optimism as he looked ahead to what opportunities are set to come to Halifax.
“We have a lot of projects, from Cogswell to Shannon Park to the St. Pat’s site, so managing major projects will be a big part of this year.”
The mayor also expressed excitement over the confirmed arrival of two professional sports teams: the HFX Wanderers Football Club, which will play in the Canadian Premier League, as well as a new National Lacrosse League team, yet to be named, that will play out of the Scotiabank Centre.
Of course, a lingering question is whether or not those two teams will be joined by a Canadian Football League team that has already been named the Atlantic Schooners.
The missing piece, of course, is whether or not a stadium will be built to cement the expansion of a 10th CFL team to the Maritimes.
“I know the CFL wants to be here,” Savage said. “The question is can we afford to build a stadium? And I love the guys who are working on it, but we need to see what that means for the city. But obviously that’s something we’ll decide this year.”
WATCH: Halifax CFL team name revealed
New police chief to be chosen and potential tax hikes on radar
This year will also see the retirement of Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean Michel Blais, who will step down from his role at the end of March.
Chief Blais will complete his career leading the police force that he initially took on in 2012.
Mayor Savage commended the challenges he says Blais was able to address and says he’s looking forward to working with whoever is elected to lead the force next.
“This is a community with a history of systemic racism and there’s been some of that in the police force. Our front-line officers, by and large, are awesome and they’ve had good leadership by the chief and also by the RCMP in recognizing that the way we do policing has to change, and I’m sure they’ll continue to be progressive in that regard,” Savage said.
Another key area the mayor says will have to be discussed by regional council is how funding for the Integrated Mobility Plain will be provided.
The IMP aims to significantly reduce the number of vehicles traveling on municipal streets, and though the project has been approved by regional council, it now faces a roadblock. Councillors must vote on how the project will be funded — and that may come with a tax increase, given the police force have been awarded a new contract with pay increases.
“We have a big challenge, which is that we have arbitration mandated raises for our key people,” Savage said. “So, people deserve a good living, we’re proud of our employees but that puts a strain on the budget each year.
So there will be some of a tax increase, I suspect, this year.”