OPENFILE: Peter Kelly, Newsmaker of 2011

It seems inarguable that mayor Kelly was 2011’s Halifax newsmaker of the year, and not in a good way.

Try as I might to find another angle, or another way to spin it, the most recurring theme this year in Halifax politics was the mayor’s role in the various scandals and leadership crises that plagued HRM for much of 2011.

I didn’t blog much for the first three months of the year, but things changed when the concert scandal erupted in March.

This rumbled along through the spring and early summer, until the Auditor General’s report was released, the public became tired of it, and council demonstrated it was unable and unwilling to take any action on the matter. The mayor had a leadership role in this scandal, but he never took personal responsibility, and a pattern of sticking to his talking points and avoiding direct answers to hard questions began to emerge.

The image of the mayor refusing to step down from chairing the meeting debating his own conduct, and council being powerless to do anything about it, will be the enduring snapshot of municipal politics in Halifax in 2011.

It’s been interesting to watch the mayor and his small, embattled team hunker down and hope the concert scandal would evaporate before it could impact the next election. Hopefully, it doesn’t.

The mayor has also become the announcement mayor, the feel good mayor who goes from district to district getting councillors to stand around for photos while the he re-announces spending council had already approved. Or insists ‘we are building a stadium’ for the FIFA Women’s world cup, when even the people we pay to cheer on such endeavors at Trade Centre Limited said we shouldn’t do it. Or takes on the province withthis amazing “Deal is a Deal” video around taxes—imagine, Peter Kelly as a champion for tax fairness!

Meanwhile, the Washmill Overpass was millions over budget. The fast ferry is still unbuilt. There’s still no commuter rail to Bedford. HRM commits to tens of millions in spending on unplanned, unforeseen projects like a stadium while long held plans for Quinpool Road, Spring Garden and downtown are still unfunded dreams for the future.

The Mayor could have survived all this. He has in the past. His “government by polling data” strategy hasn’t failed him yet. But the year ended with a bang.

Any hope of image control and rehabilitation went out the window with the Nov. 11 eviction of OccupyNS from Victoria Park. The Mayor denied he had made any well documented promises to these folks, and again denied, deflected and refused to take any responsibility.

Many may have questioned the value of the Occupy protest, there were serious problems in the camp itself, and many also felt that the park should be available for everyone. There were many problems, but few felt the Mayor had acted in good faith, and fewer felt a Remembrance Day eviction moments after the memorial service was appropriate.

Kelly, who most bull-headedly blocked access, controlled and stage-managed debate, denied discussion and embraced the culture of secrecy and denial at city hall, ended the year by declaring the city would be more open and have fewer secret meetings and reports. Sigh.

So here’s to 2011, a difficult year in the political life of our city. Here’s to Mayor Kelly, stumbling from poll to poll, trying to hold onto his job for another term.

Here’s to 2012, when the electorate gets a direct say and we learn if they agree with the journalists, politicos and bloggers about the state of our government. I hope they do. They, and HRM, deserve better.

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