Nova Scotia·Q&A

Mike Savage can wear a dress, dance and sing. That's why he wants to be mayor

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

Savage says party politics stifle debate, so he's eager for another four years of municipal governance

Mike Savage says he likes that he can walk the streets of Halifax and have pleasant talks with people, even if they disagree with his policies. (Submitted by Riley Smith)

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 Mike Savage. 

Q. You might be one of the least controversial political leaders in Canada. What do you think is different about how you operate that doesn't attract a lot of controversy? 

Well, I wasn't aware that I was uncontroversial, but I suppose that's probably more good than bad. I am somebody who believes in progressive politics, but believes in trying to bring people together, not create division, to try to bring people together and solve issues in the public square.

That's always been my style as a politician, but at the end of the day we have to make principled decisions and sometimes people like them and sometimes they don't, and that's just the nature of politics.

But I think overall, what we've done with our council has been to discuss issues in an open and forthright manor, recognizing that there are different points of view and respect each person's point of view. That's always been my style. 

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?

One of the things of which I'm most proud is our diversity and inclusion lens in the city. It's an actual department of people who look at these issues. Because I hear quite often on decisions we've made — whether it's the Cornwallis statue or the recognition of the importance of the African Nova Scotian population, work we've done with the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled community — sometimes people think, 'You don't need to do that, why do you go so far with that?'

And people will say to me, 'The folks I talk to aren't concerned about those issues.' 

I believe that if the people you are talking to agree with everything you say, you've got to get some new people. And listen to voices. I can't claim the experience of what it's like to be a young, Black person when you see what happened in Minneapolis, Kenosha and so many other places. But I can listen to what it's like and what they experience. 

Q. Given the high cost many politicians pay — in public and in private life — what drives you to seek another four years in the hot seat, rather than a quieter life in the private sector? 

I really enjoy the work and frankly I think I'm well-suited for it. I don't think that there's any other job in politics I'm interested in at this point in my life, having been a member of Parliament and a mayor. 

Frankly, I can walk the streets of Halifax in a way that my father [former premier John Savage] couldn't at the end of his time in office. People are generally very friendly and supportive of me as mayor and the work of the city. If they have differences, we discuss them in a respectful way. 

I don't have any burning desire to get back into a political venue that is based almost entirely on your party label. I really enjoy the municipal approach to politics, where we have 16 councillors and a mayor. Some of us come from different partisan political backgrounds, but we all look at the issues much less in a partisan way than other orders of government. 

It's harder work, municipal, because you have to make your own decisions. You don't rely on a party and a research bureau and spin doctors and everything else. But it's the best way to do government, in my view. 

Q. You mentioned your father, John Savage. He certainly dealt with a lot of controversy. What was that like from your perspective and what do you think you do differently that avoids a lot of that?

Myself and my six brothers and sisters were growing up when my father became premier. Up until that point, he had been almost universally loved as the mayor of Dartmouth, as a crusading doctor. And all of a sudden he was making decisions based on principle that were difficult. He irritated a lot of people. 

I now have two bright, amazing, young adult children of my own, and so many of the decisions I make, I can't help but think of the impact it has on them and their generation. I think about when my father was the premier and how it affected me and I'm very conscious of wanting to be the mayor of the kind of a city that my children want to live in. And I'm proud to say I am.

I couldn't be prouder of my parents. They both lived exemplary lives, as exemplary as any lives I can think of. Your parents can't help but have an impact on you, but so do your kids, and how they view you and the work you're doing. 

As mayor, I can wear a dress at a Pride festival, I can do a backward line dance at Grand Parade, I can appear at the comedy festival, I can sing at A Different Stage of Mind; there is no shortage of ways to humiliate yourself as mayor.

I think generally, people like a mayor who has a bit of fun and an engaging personality. That's easier in municipal politics for me than it was in federal or provincial. 

Politics needs people to change their minds more often. It's seen as a sign of weakness. And it used to drive me crazy that in Ottawa, all the parties would get together in a caucus and decide their position on legislation [before] going into the debate. So then what is the purpose of the debate?

I watch councillors, and many of them vote in a different way than they would have if they hadn't had that debate, the opportunity to learn from staff and learn from each other.

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

When I was a kid, I was a political nerd. I remember in Grade 7 or 8, somebody said in a social studies class, 'Who are the party leaders of Nova Scotia?' A few people might have mentioned Regan or Buchanan, but I knew Jeremy Akerman of the NDP.

I was always interested in politics, but I didn't think I'd run. I didn't always need to be elected — though my wife might dispute that with a smile.

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