Out of sight, out of mind

In early November, Halifax Regional Council voted 10-7 in favour of meeting every other week, rather than weekly as it has been doing. This isn’t the sort of thing that’s going to send Haligonians to the streets with pitchforks and torches, but you should care about this a great deal. It’s a bad sign for our democracy.
Municipal politics are the politics that intersect the most with your life. Development, roads, property taxes, transit, garbage collection, water and waste management—these decisions, some of the most fundamental decisions politicians can make, all happen at the municipal level. Ottawa might deal with sexier issues, but let’s face it: a new fighter jet probably won’t affect your life much; property-tax reform likely will.
The main rationale for the change is that committees now play a bigger part in governing the municipality. In addition to the six standing committees, there are now three community councils, representing HRM’s different geographic regions. These committees do play an important part in local-level politics. And unlike Regional Council, they offer an opportunity for citizens to directly question Councillors.
But putting more decision making in the hands of those committees also means a few Councillors in a specific region will be making more decisions without the input of the whole Council. This is certain to increase parochialism and small-picture thinking—decision making to please small local communities, rather than what’s best for the city as a whole. This kind of governing is already HRM’s curse. Bedford Councillor Tim Outhit described the decision as “ass backwards,” and I’d say he summed it up just right.
It means people are going to know less about what this government is up to. Regional Council meetings are televised on EastLink and streamed live online. The daily news media cover them well. Committee meetings aren’t broadcast or streamed and draw scant media coverage. And that’s not likely to change, as newsrooms across the country continue to cut reporter positions.
But what Council decides, it can undecide. If you want to know what your government is up to, let your Councillor and Mayor Savage know. They can reverse the decision just as easily as they made it.
This is the final issue of Halifax Magazine that Dana Edgar worked on—she recently left Metro Guide Publishing to embark on a new career with the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency. Working on this magazine for almost five years, first as production coordinator and later as production manager, Dana was an invaluable member of our team. She had one of those behind-the-scenes jobs, rarely visible to the readers yet integral to bringing the words, design elements and advertising together to create the end product for each issue. Thanks to Dana for her fantastic work, most recently on the Halifax Magazine redesign, and best of luck in the new role.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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