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Halifax has a new city council. Now what?

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Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM/flickr

Now what?

With this year's municipal elections history, the question becomes: what should our new-old council do first?

Answering that question is complicated by the reality our mayor and councillors are elected individually and independently. We don't have political parties at the local level, either traditional or uniquely municipal parties.

While that can be positive -- councillors don't have to toe a party line, so they can better reflect their constituents -- it can also be negative. Candidates don't run on a shared platform they can implement, or a be held to account for, and the lack of party organizations make it more difficult to get out the vote on election day.

That said, there were some interesting collective public pronouncements by some candidates in this race -- ranging from calls for term limits for councilors, to the startling joint decision by  17 candidates in nine constituencies not to speak to Chronicle Herald reporters during the strike.

Between now and the next election, would-be candidates should at least consider running on a collaborative platform on key issues.

With that next election four years away, however, it is time council initiated some immediate democratic reform measures, starting with:

  • setting limits on the amounts individuals or corporations can contribute to election campaigns;
  • making sure information on those donations is released before the next election;
  • and -- most important -- banning all donations by developers.

We won't know for a while who took how much from developers in this election, but we do know, thanks to a 2015 CBC News investigation, developers contributed an average of 30 per cent -- in one case, more than 70 per cent -- of funds candidates raised last time around.

Last week, the Willow Tree Group, a neigbourhood lobby organization, issued a news release showing how councillors had voted on three controversial "discretionary" applications to change existing rules to favour -- and enrich -- developers. Councillors who accepted developer donations "consistently" voted to amend existing rules.

So the new council should begin by ending all contributions from developers.

And, given the reality many civic-minded -- not to mention more-diverse-than-your-average-successful -- candidates did not win on Saturday, the new council should find ways to encourage them to continue to participate in municipal politics through boards and commissions, etc.

Now that would be civic minded.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM/flickr

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