Halifax mayoral candidates take part in first — and perhaps only — in-person debate

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WATCH: Halifax mayoral candidates take part in first and perhaps only in-person debate – Sep 16, 2020

The three men vying to become Halifax’s next mayor engaged in the first, and perhaps only, mayoral debate to be held in person this election campaign due to COVID-19.

It was also the first chance for these mayoral candidates to share their campaign platforms and debate the other candidates on those issues.

Incumbent Mike Savage is seeking his third term as mayor and says he’s got a proven track record and wants to build on those successes.

Read more: ‘I don’t care if you vote for me’: TikTok star throws wrench in HRM mayoral race

“I think the experience that I have and the maturity that I have and the ability to get things done and to raise the sights of the citizens is important,” said Savage.

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Matt Whitman served two terms as District 13 councillor in Hammonds Plains and was the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring, announcing his run for mayor last October. During the debate, Whitman used most of his time to point out the differences between himself and the incumbent mayor.

“Because of COVID we’re going to need a leader to lead us through COVID and watch the dollars,” said Whitman. “We’re not going to be able to spend $3.5 million on round-a-bouts and $25 million stadiums.”

The live virtual forum was hosted by the Halifax Downtown Business Commission. Both Whitman and Savage said they have no other in-person debates scheduled.

Positioned at a podium between the two political veterans was 22-year-old Max Taylor, a relative unknown to the political scene in Halifax. Taylor has a massive following on social media with more than 600,000 followers and over 20.6 million likes on TikTok.

Taylor was a last-minute entry in the race, filing his nomination papers on deadline day.

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Debate moderator Norma Lee MacLeod asked Taylor if being referred to as “TikTok boy” was a fair assumption.

Taylor said he was fine with it, if it captures headlines and helps sell newspapers, but said he wants to be seen as a legitimate candidate.

“I have never once said anything about social media myself,” said Taylor. “When it comes down to it, we have this mould of what a politician looks like, and as soon as we can break that, the sooner the better.”

The candidates ran through the gamut of issues confronting voters of the Halifax Regional Municipality — everything from the removal of the Cornwallis statue to bike lanes, from COVID-19 to defunding the police, as well as the potential for a CFL stadium.

Read more: Halifax council agrees to spend $20M on CFL stadium

Taylor and Savage both agreed that the major issue of this election is affordable housing.

“This is a great city and a great place to be,” said Taylor. “I love it, but people can’t afford it.”

This is where Savage and Whitman clashed.

Savage promised if elected again, he’ll add a permanent job at city hall for someone to manage the affordable housing file. Whitman fired back, saying it wasn’t enough.

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“You’ve been on council for eight years and I’ve never heard you raise affordable housing as an issue,” said Savage.

“Unfortunately, I spend most of my time talking about your office and the number of staff you have,” said Whitman. “It has to be more than one person working on it. It has to be a whole team.”

The 2020 election will be held on Saturday, Oct. 17,  with telephone and electronic voting running from Oct. 6 to 14, and advanced polling dates open from Oct. 10 to 13.

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