Nova Scotia

Record number of female councillors elected in HRM, Mike Savage returned as mayor

Voters in Halifax Regional Municipality gave a record-setting mandate to female councillors in Saturday's municipal election, which also saw Mike Savage returned as mayor for a third term. 

Iona Stoddard becomes first Black female councillor in HRM, defeating incumbent Richard Zurawski

Becky Kent, Trish Purdy, Iona Stoddard, Kathryn Morse and Cathy Deagle Gammon are among the newly elected female councillors in the Halifax Regional Municipality. (Submitted)

Voters in Halifax Regional Municipality gave a record-setting mandate to female councillors in Saturday's municipal election, which also saw Mike Savage returned as mayor for a third term. 

Eight women will sit at the council table, an all-time high based on council's current size and a significant increase from the two female councillors elected in 2016. 

Iona Stoddard made history, defeating incumbent Richard Zurawski in District 12 to become the municipality's first Black female councillor. After finishing fourth in the 2016 election, Stoddard credited her support team, including her husband, who served as her campaign manager.

"It's just amazing, it's all I can say," she told CBC News.

Stoddard said the result shows voters wanted change, and she hopes to be that change. The Black Lives Matter movement has been particularly important to Stoddard and she said it would be reflected in her work as a councillor.

"I am a woman of colour and I've been through a lot of the experiences that they are standing for in Black Lives Matter and I'm going to bring that forward and live it and show people exactly what it's like."

Another woman who bested an incumbent was Cathy Deagle Gammon, topping veteran councillor Steve Streatch in District 1. 

They'll be joined by a new face representing District 3. Becky Kent, the former New Democrat MLA and municipal councillor, won a seat that was previously held by Bill Karsten, who decided not to re-offer.

Kent, who is returning to municipal council after 16 years, said she feels better prepared this time. She said a big focus for her will be housing issues.

"I've grown as an individual, I've grown as a small businesswoman, I've grown as a person and that can only help me at council," she said.

"It's challenging times. I know that, but that also means there's great opportunity."

Another new councillor will be Trish Purdy in District 4, a seat previously held by Lorelei Nicoll who did not re-offer. Purdy finished first among 12 candidates. Kathryn Morse bested seven other candidates to succeed Russell Walker in District 10. Walker did not re-offer.

'We deserve a seat at the table'

Pam Lovelace, meanwhile, becomes the new councillor for District 13, a seat that was vacant after Matt Whitman decided to run for mayor. Lovelace finished second to Whitman in the last election.

The strong result for female candidates wasn't lost on Lovelace.

"We've worked hard to advance the discussion around having women run and having the community support women to run," she told CBC News.

"I'm just thrilled to see that the community agrees that we do need to have more diversity on council. My daughter said it best when she said, 'Mom, they believe in you,' and I think that's the overall message — that women work hard, we deserve a seat at the table, we are creative, we have so much to offer and it's just exciting to know that the community believes that."

Patty Cuttell earned a narrow victory in District 11, which had been represented by Steve Adams in the last council.

The new group of female councillors joins incumbent Lisa Blackburn, who was re-elected in District 14.

Longtime District 2 Coun. David Hendsbee maintained his hold on that seat, outpacing three challengers by a large margin. District 5 will once again be represented by Sam Austin and Tony Mancini will again represent District 6.

Waye Mason and Lindell Smith will both return to their respective seats in District 7 and District 8, as will Shawn Cleary in District 9.

All but one of the municipality's 16 districts were contested. District 16 Coun. Tim Outhit was acclaimed.

In the race for mayor, Savage quickly outpaced challengers Max Taylor and Whitman by a wide margin shortly after the polls closed. The former federal politician from Dartmouth earned more than 80 per cent of the vote. 

The result means Whitman, the councillor for District 13 since 2012, will no longer have a seat around the table at city hall.

'It means the world to me'

Taylor, 22, entered the race with a massive online following on TikTok and the stated goal of trying to get more people to vote in the election, regardless of who they supported. As far as stated goals go, he fared better than Whitman. With some ballots still to be counted, voter turnout was almost 40 per cent, up from 31.8 per cent in 2016.

Taylor said he didn't think the increase could simply be attributed to online voting.

"This year the difference is, with the climate in the world, people in Halifax came together and decided they care," he said.

He won't take credit for the increase in voter turnout, but Taylor said if he did have any hand in it at all "it means the world to me."

Halifax mayor Mike Savage, who's seeking re-election, says the current minimum wage is "not enough." (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Savage told CBC News he was humbled and encouraged by the win in what was "a weird election" due to constraints related to COVID-19.

He said a big part of his mandate would be working on behalf of people who have been traditionally marginalized, including Black and Indigenous citizens, people with disabilities and "many other people who have largely been unable to take advantage of the growth of Halifax."

"I think the Black Lives Matter is a really important social movement," said Savage. "I think it's captured a moment in time that's really important and, you know, we have to take these things very seriously." 

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With files from Jean Laroche

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