Election day is January 23rd for the citizens of District 6 (Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East) when they’ll vote to fill the council seat vacated by Darren Fisher when he won the election as MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.
The four candidates recently took time from their busy campaigns to answer some questions for Hello Dartmouth readers.
By Kate Watson
Tell us a bit about your personal life.
I have been a resident of Dartmouth since 2006 and have been actively involved in politics since first running for council in 1999. I am currently employed as an owner/operator for Bob’s taxi and I enjoy the opportunity it gives me to talk with all sorts of people. I’m interested in fitness and outdoor living, and in spending time with my friends and family.
I am originally from Cape Breton, and have lived in Dartmouth for 21 years with my wife Sharon and children, Lucas and Michaella. In that time I have been a partner with Priority Management, a firm focused on training, consulting and facilitating productivity, and in workload management programs. I am best known as a leading facilitator for Priority’s Working Sm@rt suite of programs and have delivered training throughout the United States and Canada. Personally I am all about healthy active living and participate in running, mountain biking, sea kayaking and backcountry camping.
A bit about myself: Born in Dartmouth; live in District 6; married; five grown children all attended Dartmouth schools; employed for 26 years at Dalhousie University as an educator and Director of the Maritime Municipal Training and Development Board; past 13 years have specialized as a consultant helping municipal governments throughout the Maritimes to improve management and policy making; also teach as a substitute in HRM public schools; lifetime involvement in the artistic community; active in community building. More detailed information can be found at: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/donsmeltzer
I’ve been married to my wife Amy for 14 years. Eight years ago, we moved our family back to Nova Scotia after a decade in Toronto, eventually settling in the neighbourhood where I grew up, Woodlawn. I love that our three daughters now go to the same schools I went to as a kid.
I had a 15-year career in retail management, most recently at Bed Bath and Beyond in Dartmouth Crossing and before that at an independent paint store in Toronto. For the past four and a half years I was the community outreach assistant to the Member of Parliament, Robert Chisholm.
Much of my personal time is spent with my family, which has its own unique twist because our daughters have special needs. Instead of dance recitals or hockey games, we’re at music therapy and adapted swim classes with the kids. Our girls need a fair amount of downtime and support, but we make a point of being out in the community together as much as we can. I also enjoy golfing with my dad, working on the NYT crossword puzzle, walking our dog Ajax, and reading Dr. Seuss books in funny voices.
What motivated you to run in this election?
When I was an 8-year-old boy, I went door to door after school every day with mayoral candidate Art Flynn for the entire campaign. I worked every election as a worker or Official from 1980 to 1999. I had many editorial letters published, and action taken by lobbying government. The primary motivation was the recent Liberal victory. Justin was not expected to win and did. I got phone calls and emails from current sitting local politicians, media, the business community and local people in the area suggesting I get back in the game. With overwhelming support, I had no choice but to put my name in the hat.
I have always been a community involved guy: A long time Scout leader; Coach of school running clubs; Board member of the Homebridge Youth Society; co-chair of the Halifax Comedy Festival, member of School Advisory Councils, volunteer with Shubenacadie Canal Commission, etc. My business is maturing and my children are older, and now with the vacant councillor seat in District 6 the time is right to take my community involvement to the next level.
Sincere interest in serving the community and in representing residents and business owners from every area and demographic of District 6. The municipality needs knowledgeable advocates for positive change around the Council table. I understand how municipal government works and will be a positive change advocate. Further, I believe it is important that representatives on HRM Council live in the District they are representing. I live in District 6.
The decisions our local government makes have a direct impact on our lives and who we elect to make those decisions really does matter. District 6 is a collection of very diverse communities and I see how those decisions play out for different groups of people. Sometimes it works well, but sometimes it doesn’t, and I think we need people on council who are not afraid to stand up and say so. I’m not someone who takes a go-along to get-along approach, nor am I someone who wants to stand on the fringes moaning and groaning about everything that’s wrong. I’m doing this because I want to get things done, which is why I’ve put forward a clear list of priorities and goals I want to accomplish. Ultimately, what motivated me to run is an immense pride in this place and a firm belief that we can do better. To do that, we need to ask the hard questions, listen to different perspectives, and work together.
Why do you think you’re the best candidate for this job?
I am a grassroots candidate. I have experience and know how things work. I have support from political parties–especially the center-left wing. I have proven my desire to improve the lives and be a warrior in the community. I have already made a difference. Our community is safer and my ideas are now laws. I have done much from outside the government and now is the time for the people to stand up for me as I have always stood up for them. We can do it.
My unique strength is the ability to build strong relationships with people of all classes and political stripes. In addition, I have been an acknowledged expert in time management in Atlantic Canada, which will be a huge advantage in managing the councillor job.
I have spent the better part of my life educating and facilitating positive municipal governance in Atlantic Canada. My professional reputation and curriculum vitae speak for themselves. I am an educated and compassionate person who understands how government works and who has the experience, knowledge, commitment and integrity to represent those who live and work in District 6. I am not motivated by political advancement and I am not affiliated with any particular party.
My experiences and the perspective they give me, my specific skills and approach, and my energy and enthusiasm make me the best candidate for this job.
In my last job I got to know the whole district well, not just my own corner of it. The issues people are facing in one part of the District can be vastly different from those in another. Recognizing that is really important because the councillor needs to hear, understand and respond to everyone’s issues and concerns.
In terms of my specific skills and approach, I am a problem solver who puts a very high value on communication. It’s vital that people know what’s going on and what issues are at play before decisions get made. It’s also extremely important to include people in those decisions and really listen and understand all perspectives, something I don’t think HRM always does very well right now.
I’m also not afraid to speak up when something needs to be said, especially on behalf of people who otherwise might not be heard. We can’t find solutions and make things better if we just close our eyes, cover our ears and walk around singing ‘Everything is Awesome’ at the top of our lungs. Making progress on tough issues starts with listening, and then we build on that by communicating with each other in a timely, clear, and respectful way. That’s not always easy, but it is crucial to good leadership and decision making.
Finally, this is a job that takes a lot of energy to do really well. I wake up every morning excited by the thought of working to make sure that this is a place where everyone can live, work, play, and contribute.
What do you think are the top five issues that need council’s attention?
- End the “Halifax” branding on Dartmouth and other communities.
- Have less red tape for businesses
- Common-sense spending of tax dollars.
- A balanced hand-up and hand-out to fund social programs
- More focus on poverty issues and rent control
- Making our city more accessible for everyone. This would include improving public transit but also making our district walkable and bikeable, and improving crosswalk safety.
- Promoting a more entrepreneurial city, reducing the red tape for small business, creating a fairer business tax assessment
- Working with the province to address affordable housing.
- Becoming more open and welcoming to immigrants
- Keeping young people in the HRM region
The issues are different, depending on who you talk to – transportation, traffic congestion, jobs, housing, business development, urban sprawl, garbage and waste management, government red tape, health, immigration, education, recreation, the arts, increasing crime, drug use, stray animals, – the list goes on. Affordable housing and the increasing cost of living are on the minds of many. The top issues of importance are in the eye or mind of the beholder. Many have emphasized the growing inequality between the haves and the have nots. Residents on fixed or low incomes are feeling financial pressures. HRM may have had balanced budgets for the last two years, but property taxes and cost of services continues to increase. How long can this go on in a municipality where there is an aging population and there is significant out-migration. Many new graduates find it necessary to leave for other parts of the country to obtain livable wages. Additionally, many skilled people in their prime working age are leaving. Affordable housing for many in areas close to where they work is not attainable. A once vibrant film making community has been decimated. These talented artists, who contribute so much to the health and desirability of a community are among those who are leaving. The aforementioned presents some food for thought.
- Public safety. This is a primary responsibility of local government. We can reduce the number of car-pedestrian collisions, improve lighting in public spaces, and resist any attempt to reduce fire protection services.
- Affordability. Whether it’s affordable food, housing, or transportation, more and more people are struggling to pay for the basic necessities of life. Local government can’t control all of these things, but we can help.
- Accessibility and inclusion. In an older city with an aging population, accessibility is becoming a bigger issue. When we bring down barriers to access and inclusion, we all benefit.
- Transit. Bus users almost universally tell me they think we can do better and I agree. Transit is so focused on 9-5 commuters into downtown, we neglect areas like Burnside or the people who need buses for more than just commuting. We can also increase ridership, revenue, and improve people’s lives with an affordable transit pass program for low-income residents.
- Communication. Frankly, we need to do a lot better at this. With all the specific issues we need to tackle, we must improve how we communicate with people. We need to let people know what’s going on and include more people in decisions before they are made.
Plans for the development of Shannon Park are well under way. Describe your vision for the site and how you, as a municipal councillor, could facilitate good development there.
I will support any current plans for Shannon Park. I have been a member of the Shannon Park Stadium Support Group and would like to see a CFL stadium built.
It is important that all members of the community benefit from the lands in Shannon Park. There needs to be a mixed use approach, such as high-rise and low-rise, businesses, bus depot, recreation etc. Green space will also be an essential component of the plan. The development needs to follow the agreed-to Centre Plan.
Shannon Park development offers huge, exciting possibilities. This is an area that can be turned into a vibrant, model neighbourhood along the Dartmouth waterfront. It is a large area and lends itself well to creating an extension of downtown Dartmouth – with a good mix of residential, office and retail. Shannon Park is in a very convenient location close to the bridge and existing transportation networks in Dartmouth. Development of Shannon Park as a model community opens up unique possibilities to enhance the transportation network in the communities of Halifax/Dartmouth. A third ferry terminal would compliment the area with a direct route to downtown Halifax. This would allow HRM to expand transportation options to citizens. Additionally, bike paths throughout the development would enhance the area and allow residents to stay active and enjoy the community. A key item that should not be forgotten is the opportunity to create an inclusive neighborhood with an appropriate mix of affordable housing options in this area, alongside market priced properties. The size of the area would allow for single housing options, apartments and condos complementing a main street area, providing opportunities for residents to live and work in Shannon Park. Shannon Park could be turned into a unique destination location within the community of Dartmouth. As I vision it, development would include public spaces, along with a museum celebrating the history of Dartmouth and the Mi’kmaw people who once had a community in the area. The community was displaced during the Halifax explosion. Exciting possibilities!
I’ve always supported broad community consultation around this development. So far that’s going fairly well and I would do my part to keep residents informed and seek their input along the way. At this point it looks like it will be a mix of residential and commercial but whatever it is, it has to be accessible in terms of how it’s designed and how we get in and out of that area. How we connect Shannon Park to the rest of the community via transit, trails, and roads is key.
A review of the HRM fire service has lead to recommendations that Station 4 on Lady Hammond Road and Station 13 on King Street switch to volunteer units on overnights and weekends, and Station 11 on Patton Road be staffed with a volunteer crew only. Do you agree with these recommendations? If not, what are your suggestions for managing staff and station resources to ensure all fire trucks in HRM are equipped with four-person crews?
I have attended the public meeting regarding staffing changes at the fire stations and do not support replacing career firefighters with volunteers. Lady Hammond Station #4 is backup for Highfield #12 and it effects the safety of District 6. So keep the current staffing.
Based on the information I have from the many firefighters I have spoken with to date I do not think using volunteers in an urban fire station is wise. We know that Downtown Dartmouth is growing, and replacing professional firefighters with volunteers just does not seem prudent. It is critical that all fire trucks are equipped with four-person crews and I am interested in investigating with Council how to achieve this within the budget.
More information as to possible options and actual cost savings needs to be provided. I have not yet formed an opinion on which course of action is the best. HRM’s Fire Chief insists its safe to scale back paid firefighter staffing at two fire stations. CBC News reported that Fire officials want Station 4 on Lady Hammond Road in Halifax and Station 13 on King Street in Dartmouth to be turned into E Platoons. That means paid firefighters would be at the station during the day, while volunteers would head to calls the rest of the time. Discussions at Council suggest there are a number of options that staff are reluctant to consider. More information will be coming to the January 2016 Council meeting, and perhaps more after that. I will be watching and listening to the discussion.
I do not support the proposed reduction in staffing at our fire stations. In an area that is growing, this proposal doesn’t make any sense. We need to make sure service standards are maintained or improved and we need to provide the department with the resources to make it happen.
Last year, council approved changes to allow more commercial and office developments in the Burnside Business Park Expansion Area. Do you see this as movement towards making Burnside a shopping business park like Bayers Lake? In your opinion, would that be a good thing?
I support allowing council-approved changes to allow more commercial and office developments in the Burnside Business Park Expansion Area. I do see this as movement towards making Burnside a shopping business park like Bayers Lake. In my opinion, would that be a good thing. It will attract more big box stores and create a greater tax base.
My understanding is that there were expectations around commitments made prior to the Regional Plan Plus 5. One of my priorities is to help reduce the red tape and to come up with a fair business property tax so businesses can be more successful. Burnside needs to be kept as a light industrial park. I do not believe it would be a good thing to make Burnside another shopping district like Bayers Lake. Dartmouth Crossing seems to be filling that role quite nicely.
Currently Dartmouth Crossing provides these types of developments and my thinking is that Burnside can be better served without new commercial and office developments. With every new expansion, more expensive sprawl is created which takes away from the business centres of the downtown communities of Dartmouth and Halifax. There is still a great deal of space for development in these areas. Until this unused space is fully utilized, it appears to me there is no urgent need to expand office and commercial developments further outside the core of the downtown areas. Centralized business districts promote better transportation options and less of a reliance on the creation of new infrastructure. I am open to being convinced otherwise.
Burnside is an extremely important economic engine for our entire province and Dartmouth is rightly proud of that. I’m not sure how those changes will play out. What I am sure of is that the people who work in Burnside need to have good transit options.
The creative sector makes an important contribution to both the economy and the quality of life of HRM residents. What suggestions do you have for enabling the creation of programs, policy, and funding needed for a healthy and vibrant arts and cultural community?
- Put more art directly in the community. Open an outdoor sculpture museum like the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas. I would like to see sculpture in the community and more micro parks displaying art. Also, park benches and more intersections converted into roundabouts.
- I would like to set up a fund to use public and private money for the arts.
- Build a multimedia website off the HRM District 6 page and post a monthly art newsletter to promote art in the community.
I am pleased to see the city’s commitment to art through the work of the greaterhalifaxarts coalition. I believe it is important for us to continue to have an integrated approach to policy development concerning the arts—one that can reach individuals at various stages of their lives, across generations, and in multiple learning contexts. In study after study, arts participation and arts education have been associated with improved cognitive, social, and behavioral outcomes in individuals across the lifespan.
It has been proven that arts and culture have a direct positive impact on our community. Neptune Theatre recently completed a new economic impact study for its 2013-14 season. The results confirmed that Neptune is a multi-million dollar economic engine that creates jobs, pays taxes and supports local businesses.
You are asking this question of one who has been involved in the creative arts almost all of my life. The cultural sector has a holistic impact on a community. Not only does it affect the economy and provide thousands of jobs, it gives the community a sense of pride. HRM Council and staff need to be working with the different orders of government, the arts and creative sectors, community groups and other stakeholders to create a sustainable environment in which the arts and creative sectors flourish. The publication : Arts and Positive Change in Communities expresses it clearly: “Arts and culture make considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities. Arts and culture are powerful tools with which to engage communities in various levels of change. They are a means to public dialogue, contribute to the development of a community’s creative learning, create healthy communities capable of action, provide a powerful tool for community mobilization and activism, and help build community capacity and leadership.”
Arts and culture are not a luxury or something to support only after we get all our business and infrastructure ducks in a row. The creative sector is important to how we express ourselves but it’s also an industry in its own right. It helps drive and diversify our economy so our programs, policies and funding should reflect that. Arts and culture can be woven into our lives and our communities in big and small ways – mural projects, music events, theatre and film, or public art installations. This district is full of talented artists. I’d love to see them have the support, the spaces and the engagement with the city they need.
What changes do you propose to create a dependable, efficient transportation network to service HRM?
We need to support the Bunside Expressway. I support cooperation with the federal/provincial governments’ commitment to infrastructure investment. I would like to see a storefront solution. We could set up a privately-owned, inter-modal transit terminal. My idea for an inter-modal transit terminal would be a storefront space similar to the current Maritime Bus Terminal using a standard retail unit. The interior would have a lounge/waiting area (seating, payphones, washrooms, Wi-Fi, etc.). The outside would have bike lockers, two reserved parking spaces for local taxis (i.e. Bobs, Yellow Cab, etc.) and one reserved space for regional shuttle vans (i.e. Scotia Shuttle, McLeod’s Glace Bay) and a Metro Transit bus bay with outside seating. This terminal would become a major hub and focal point of the park to the region. A fee for advertising space and parking meters would cover the maintenance costs. I would like to see more routes servicing the Park and a Metro-X route connecting Cobequid Terminal, Fall River Park & Ride, Burnside and the Dartmouth Bridge Terminal. I would like to see a free Dartmouth Crossing/Burnside shuttle that would go to/from MicMac Mall, like the old FRED service downtown. I am for transit expansion in the Park and district.We need re-routing existing service. Some areas have four or more routes duplicating service. They should cover more streets to get to the same terminals. Four buses travel on Pinecrest, but avoid most of Primrose and Jackson Road. The Admiral Westphal area only has converge on the outside triangle of Main Street, Waverly Road, and Caledonia Road, but no service to Maple Road, Mountain Road and Lakecrest Avenue.
Many Canadian cities use this GPS tracking system for transit which allows the vehicles’ position to be tracked remotely. This would be an excellent investment for Halifax to consider. We need fewer cars in the downtown core. We also need to consider rail transportation and more use of the ferries. Not all services need to be cost-recovery.
My answer relates, in part, to what I have offered in my response to Question 7 regarding creating further sprawl within our communities. In order to create a dependable, efficient transportation network in HRM we need to have regular and affordable transportation options within the urban areas of the municipality. The further one builds outside of the main core, the more difficult this becomes. By encouraging new commercial and business developments in existing neighbourhoods that are already served with transit options, the number of public transit vehicles going to those areas can be more easily increased. For instance, if the majority of jobs are located in the following four areas of HRM – downtown area of the former city of Halifax, downtown area of the former city of Dartmouth, industrial area of Burnside and industrial area of Bayers Lake – the main routes should regularly service these areas. Currently, transportation to the industrial areas are focused on vehicle traffic which puts a strain on our environment and the continuation of “building outwards” has the effect of increasing environmental and budgetary strain.
Creating separate biking lanes within the urban areas of the municipality will decrease traffic on the roads, create healthy transportation options and in turn help the environment. In the long term, from a cost perspective, transportation would become more efficient and economical. The manner in which the municipality is developed is also important in shaping our transportation services. Building new homes in established areas enables utilization of existing infrastructure, creates more density, provides a larger tax base – all without having to build new infrastructure to service the areas. This approach allows for better transportation options in HRM. Council should also seriously look at utilizing the Halifax/Dartmouth/Bedford harbour for transportation options. There is little harbour traffic to worry about. If an expanded harbour-based passenger service is developed and the service is efficient and inexpensive, people will use it.
Transit is not just about employed 9-5 commuters to the peninsula who leave their cars at home or at a park-and-ride. We need better bus services down Main Street, around Burnside, and for all the people who use it throughout the day, many of whom don’t have any other choice.
I’m also a big advocate for an affordable transit pass program for low-income residents. People who rely on transit the most are often people who can afford it the least. It’s not okay that we have buses driving around nearly empty during the day while people are stuck at home because they can’t afford to go anywhere.
For information on voting options, visit the HRM website here.