Nova Scotia·Q&A

Matt Whitman wants Halifax council to spend 2 days on a bus with him

Three candidates are running to be mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality: Matt Whitman, Mike Savage and Max Taylor. CBC spoke to all three candidates about who they are, and why they're running. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity. This one is with Matt Whitman. 

Mayoral candidate says a bit of controversy can be good for municipal politics

Matt Whitman has been a councillor since 2012. He thinks he's ready to step into the mayor's chair. (Robert Short/CBC)

Three candidates are running to be mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality: Matt Whitman, Mike Savage and Max Taylor. CBC spoke to all three candidates about who they are, and why they're running. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity. This one is with Matt Whitman. 

Q. You've been the minority vote on a lot of big issues in Halifax. Do you think a win for you would show you actually represented the majority of Halifax residents? 

Oh, definitely. Because the people I talk to at the doors share my concerns about smart spending and being smart with the budget. And the things I voted against — like the stadium, the armoured police vehicle, and tearing down the statue — these things aren't what they're saying is important to them at the door. 

Q. As councillor for the area for eight years, you know Hammonds Plains very well, but what are you hearing that's different in the other districts? 

In Hammonds Plains, it's a lot about traffic and lack of transit. On the peninsula, it's about high taxes and everyone feels like they're paying too much. In some areas they're pro-bicycle lane, other areas it's the least important thing on their minds. 

Out in Lake Echo and Porters Lake, there are issues with potential C&D demolition debris facilities. 

The first thing I would do when I win mayor is take all the councillors on a two-day tour in a bus. You can show what you're proud of, what the concerns are, because every councillor votes in every district, and you really should know what's important to those residents, not just in your own district.

Q. There's been a lot of focus in recent years on the importance of diversity in politics. How do you, as a white man, ensure you hear and represent the voices of minorities, women, newcomers — the broad range of citizens?

I don't think the colour of my skin makes me a good listener or not a good listener. And I don't pick who I listen to based on the colour of their skin. When I pick an accountant or a lawyer or a veterinarian, the colour of their skin, or their age, or their sexuality, or religion, is not an issue for me, so I've made it not an issue as an elected official.

Anyone can talk to me anytime about anything.

Q. But on issues like street checks, or accessibility for people who use wheelchairs, obviously someone who uses a wheelchair will have a fuller understanding of the issues than one who doesn't. How do you tap into those voices?

I spent three months in a wheelchair in 2018, so I first-hand got to see how difficult that is and how big an issue accessibility is. 

I have a huge network of about 25,000 connections on LinkedIn, Twitter. I hear from those folks all the time. So if I don't have first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be a woman, or someone in a wheelchair, or someone of a different race, I have connections that do, and I really count on those folks to share their experiences with me. 

Q. You came up with reverse networking years ago, saying it's better to promote others than yourself. Any reverse networking for Max Taylor and Mike Savage from you today? 

Max has got a bright future. He's the same age as my son. I think he's very well-spoken, very engaging, very charming, very intuitive. A great guy. I hope he wins mayor in 2028, after my two terms. 

My friend Mike Savage, we have a mutual respect. We got elected together in 2012, re-elected in 2016. He and I have voted the same way on most issues. We've approved a lot of buildings, a lot of developments. We've had a lot of growth. 

He's a good man, he's a family man, he's a career politician. I think we've seen the best of Mike Savage as a mayor. I think you've seen the best of Matt Whitman as a councillor. 

I don't believe in term limits, but I do believe that I don't have anything better to give as a councillor. I don't believe Mike Savage has been resting, or has anything better to bring as a mayor. 

Q. Being in the public eye takes a toll on people, both in their personal lives and in their public image. After so many years in the spotlight, what drives you to want this even bigger position?

This is probably the most rewarding job I've ever had. The workload is big, but it's fulfilling. I think I have the passion, energy and focus to succeed, to help HRM, all of HRM, succeed. 

I think my passion, my drive, my love for HRM, my smart fiscal spending, the way I run my personal life, is what will help me be a great mayor. 

Q. Do you remember what led you to decide on a life in politics? 

In 2012, it seemed like everything aligned: my personal life, my kids' age, my job situation, my stability, my love for the municipality, all came together just in time for that election. 

I was one of only two councillors that beat an incumbent and the incumbent I beat was someone I had supported four years earlier. I had his sign on my lawn. And I saw how he did it for four years, and I saw what I would do differently, and after supporting someone who won, and seeing what I could do better, that helped seal my decision.

Q. Do you think controversy is sometimes a good thing?

Yeah, I do. I'm known for showing up and speaking out, where some of my colleagues blend in. I think if you ask people on the corner of the street to name four councillors, I think all of them would name me. A lot of folks wouldn't even know who their councillor is in their district. They [councillors] don't question spending, they don't question decisions by our top bureaucrats. 

I think it will help me at the ballot box, where people all across this beautiful municipality know my name. 

I think of Mike Savage and myself as both incumbents, running for the top job. Mike Savage thinks he can spend his way out of this pandemic. I think we need to spend smartly, coming out of the pandemic.

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