The new Halifax council wasn’t able to sit together for its first meeting in the council chambers due to COVID-19 restrictions and so the welcoming ceremony of sorts had to be held in a virtual forum.
Tuesday’s meeting was a chance to meet the new council and for councillors to get acquainted with one another and then it was time to get down to business, as council was tasked with identifying key issues and priorities that will set the tone for the next four years.
“We’re in that process of finding out what the new councillors want and what hills they are willing to fight for,” said District 7 Coun. Waye Mason, who was voted in for a third term.
The 2020 election brought greater diversity to council and a record eight women, including District 12 Coun. Iona Stoddard, who became the first Black woman elected to Halifax council.
With so many new faces this term, it’s anticipated there will be some learning curves for the new councillors.
“All of us have had opportunities within our career to pull together budgets and be a part of budget planning,” said District 13 Coun. Pam Lovelace. “But this is a new experience for many of the new councillors but also for those returning because of COVID.”
This is Mason’s third term serving as councillor and outside of managing the COVID-19 pandemic, he says there’s no bigger issue at play across HRM than affordable housing.
“The city has grown by 32,000 people in the last four years and construction isn’t keeping pace,” said Mason. “The need for social housing and for lower end of the market housing is growing as the population grows and we’re not seeing the province build that.”
Kathryn Morse, who was elected as councillor for Halifax–Bedford Basin West, agrees with Mason and says housing has to be a top priority this term.
“When I’m talking about affordable housing, I don’t mean people who are about to be homeless, necessarily,” said Morse. “I’m talking about seniors who can no longer afford to stay in the community that they’ve lived in for most of their lives, I’m talking about families, I’m talking about new Canadians.”
All councillors had the chance to introduce themselves and list their top priorities, which ranged from COVID-19 to social justice issues like Black Lives Matters and defunding the police, to everyday issues like road and sidewalk development and traffic enforcement.
The list of council priorities will be revised and staff will come back with a master list for council to review in December.
At that time council will also begin its work on drafting the future budget, where the challenge will be meeting all the listed priorities with a limited budget and financial constraints caused by the pandemic.
Prior to the council meeting, Cuttell was officially sworn in as councillor for Halifax’s District 11, as Cuttell narrowly defeated candidate Bruce Holland by 28 votes to win the seat.
Because of the slim margin of victory, Holland called for a judicial recount. It was held last week and confirmed Cuttell as the winner.
With Cuttell sworn is, she creates gender parity at the council table for the first time in Halifax history, which she says makes her election even sweeter.
“We’re seeing women in all different countries moving forward in politics,” said Cuttell. “Whether it’s the re-election (of) Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand or Kamala Harris in the U.S. or Chrystia Freeland becoming our first (female) finance minister or Iona Stoddard the first Black woman on Halifax council.
“To be a part of this bigger movement is huge and I think it’s wonderful Halifax has its own story as well.”
Halifax council will meet again for a special council meeting on Nov. 17.