The more things change
After a “bold” 2014, Halifax turned itself into the city of “real change” in 2015. This year’s change saw an oasis bloom and wither in a food desert, sobbing voters turfed Mr. Congeniality, and a familiar politician hinted he may take us back to the future.
The first change seemed enjoyable enough. Environment Canada appeared to have bulls-eyed its forecast for an unusually mild, warm winter. “I was doing well right up until about January 1,” senior meteorologist Dave Phillips told a radio call-in show.
But winter got Dickensian: from the best of winters on record, we suddenly plunged into the worst winter on record. From January to April, we fought through one of the coldest, snowiest seasons of our lives. Snowfist after snowfist smashed the city, punching holes in the pavement, burying our driveways, and leaving glaciers on our sidewalks. Citizen Paul Vienneau rolled over the ice in his old wheelchair and used a garden shovel to bash clear the sidewalk. A grateful city crowd sourced him a brand-new wheelchair in thanks.
Darren Natolino emerged as an unlikely hero, holding endless press briefings on top of his duties as the city’s superintendent of winter works. In March, Councillor Waye Mason became our Winston Churchill, roaring: “Friends, the arse is right out of ‘er and it is only going to get worse.”
But we survived, mostly, blessed by the double avoided disasters of an alleged Valentine’s Day massacre collapsing on February 13, and an Air Canada plane “hard landing” during a March storm in a near-catastrophe that caused only minor injuries.
The city promises us it has learned from the great snowfail. Natolino left for another job, so the city hired Trevor Harvie to head winter operations. He brings 16 years of experience in snow removal and is “tailor-made to step right in,” according to a city spokesperson. But mostly they’re hoping for a milder winter.
By May, spring had melted the snow mountains and that oasis bloomed in the food desert. For years, people had been talking about the lack of fresh food for sale in the North End. The Community Carrot Co-op operated on Gottingen Street, providing healthy eats to its 5,000 neighbours. The co-op was “over the moon” and confident of success.
But in October, the co-op shut down unexpectedly. The board blamed the untimely harvest on not having enough money to buy enough time to succeed. Norman Greenberg, chairman of the co-op, says they were about to launch a marketing campaign to build the business, but ran out of money.
“We were losing cash steadily,” he told Halifax Magazine. “Other farmers’ markets popped up over the summer. Fresh food was available in a variety of places. We became more of a grocery area than a fresh food area.”
The co-op still believes in the vision of fresh, local food in the North End. “You need to have enough money to be able to make mistakes and still move forward,” Greenberg says. “You have to learn what your customers want.”
Carrot spent the fall seeking a 2.0 version of itself. Stone Hearth Bakery rented space in the building, which the co-op owns, and that stands as the brightest prospect: vendors renting spots to form a little farmers’ market in the North End.
“Fresh, affordable food: we’re still singing the mantra, but we made need to drastically change the business model,” Greenberg says. “That’s really at the heart of this. It’s a community store, so we need the community behind it.”
In August, the longest federal election in Canadian history stumbled off the starter’s blocks. The 78-day campaign that followed fell on us like another winter. Before election day even arrived, a record 113,474 Nova Scotians had already voted.
Summer gave way to autumn, with the NDP trying to convince us it was the real alternative, and the Conservatives arguing for continuity, not change. The Liberals tried to convince us Justin was ready.
As leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002, Harper explained to us that we East Coasters labour under “a culture of defeatism.” In 2015, Nova Scotians returned the favour by defeating every Conservative candidate, along with all the NDPs and Greens. The province sent a full slate of 11 Liberals (10 men and one woman) to Ottawa. The rest of the country followed suit and handed the Liberals a majority government.
One of the surprise casualties was Mr. Congeniality himself, Peter Stoffer. Despite winning the Sackville-Eastern Shore riding since 1997, and despite routinely being voted “most collegial” by other MPs even as he called Conservative MP Rob Anders a “complete dickhead” for comments about Jack Layton’s death, his constituents chucked him out the NDP mainstay for Liberal Darrell Samson.
Sitting in his Ottawa office/man cave amid his 8,000 baseball caps, 9,000 pins, 5,000 buttons, a pool table and a dart board, Stoffer reflected on his unexpected loss. He told a reporter that the day after the election, he’d received a distraught phone call from a sobbing former constituent, “sort of like a Catholic parishioner confessing to a priest.”
“He said, ‘Mr. Stoffer’—between sobs—‘I had your sign on my lawn, but I voted for Trudeau to get rid of Harper.’ I think that’s what happened to a lot of us,” Stoffer explained.
Part of that “us” was Megan Leslie, whose defeat in Halifax to Liberal Andy Fillmore shocked her faithful. Leslie, who spent part of the campaign at the bedside of her ailing mother, has not said what she’ll do next.
Stoffer’s his name often finds itself punted about as a rival to Mayor Mike Savage in the October 2016 municipal election. Stoffer has yet to throw one of his 8,000 hats in the ring and says he won’t. Reached as he cleaned out that legendary Ottawa office, he told me he’s looking forward to volunteering with the Salvation Army kettle drive and getting to “hug my wife again more consistently.”
“We have a very good mayor,” he says. “I want to be very clear: I will not be seeking any office on a municipal level. I support Mike Savage.”
Matt Whitman’s name also gets bandied about, but he sums up his plans thusly: “Whitman2016 for HRM13 Councillor. Whitman2020 for Mayor.”
So who will run against Savage? One candidate emerged to offer a real change back to the past. Peter Kelly declared himself “flattered” by a mysterious website encouraging him to return from his job as chief administrator of Westlock, Alberta, and reclaim the office he surrendered in 2012.
Perhaps Kelly is HRM’s Muhammad Ali, the unbeaten champ come back to claim his throne. Kelly left on an eight-election winning streak; he last lost a political contest in 1983. As Lao Tzu prophesized, if we do not change direction, we may end up where we are heading.
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This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.