Realizing our potential
I choose to live in the Halifax Regional Municipality because I think it’s the best place in the world. But best can be even better. As I travel throughout HRM, I hear the same message on this: We have a lot to be proud of, a lot going for us, and a lot of untapped potential. When I launched my campaign on February 6th, I promised to get out and meet people across HRM, to listen to the issues that are important to you as citizens and to offer some ideas of my own. At the time I also said that I want to make HRM the most livable, entrepreneurial and inclusive community in Canada. We all know that any larger vision for our community starts with economic growth.
Good local governments will listen, lead, promote, enable, build, and act with a focus on the economic wellbeing of the community and people they serve. Very good local governments will also work to unite the community in common cause, even when there appears to be competing or conflicting interests. They become the tie that brings a focus to our collective objectives.
Halifax is the economic engine of Nova Scotia and the entire Atlantic region. We have a strong history of international commerce, and we are poised to recover our rightful place in the global economy. The biggest shipbuilding contract ever awarded in Canada is coming to the Irving yard in Halifax. In our universities thousands of bright minds are working on answers to questions that can and will have profound social and economic impacts. The Nova Scotia Community College has proven it can quickly turn out a program to match trained workers with labour force demands. Thousands of university degrees are conferred in Halifax every spring to young and not-so-young people from here, from across Canada and from around the world. Our harbour is a powerful natural asset and our award winning airport is among the world’s best. We accept our environmental responsibility and our community is doing many progressive things in this area. The rural parts of our community are rich in history, natural beauty and resources. We produce more songwriters; visual artists and world-class performers than just about anywhere in the world. Many of them are part of a larger entrepreneurial current that runs through this community. And this only begins the list of our assets.
Communities across Canada and around the world would love to have these strengths. We owe it to ourselves, our children and grandchildren to make the most of what we have. A critical part of seizing our opportunities is strong municipal leadership. As Mayor, working with Council colleagues, I would be determined to provide the vision and leadership to ensure that we reach our potential.
Today, I’m offering some thoughts and ideas on what we need to do to achieve our economic potential. These reflect only some of the conversations I’ve had, and some of my own ideas on ways to strengthen our economy. I frame the thoughts under three key areas:
- Partnerships and entrepreneurial culture
- Focused investment
- Talent and creating opportunity for all
I hope you will join our on-line and in person conversations throughout HRM in the coming weeks to share your views on these ideas and to bring forward your own thoughts on our economy.
Partnerships that work and a strong entrepreneurial culture
-- HRM needs partnerships that work --
Time and again I hear that the biggest role City Hall can play in our community is as a good partner. HRM must be a great partner with other levels of government, with the business community, with not-for-profits and social enterprises, with neighbourhoods, with schools, colleges and universities, with other municipalities and with every citizen of this region.
Municipal government can show leadership by working together more effectively as a council, and with the community it serves. Municipal leaders need to be the biggest champions of HRM and our opportunities. But not the only champions. Our partners in economic growth will come from every sector and settlement within HRM. Sharing our efforts and opportunities will make all of us stronger.
We have a great deal of active leadership right across HRM and I want to see City Hall recognized as a strong and open partner. Here are just a few areas that we should be paying attention to as pivotal partnerships:
- We have incredible opportunity with the shipbuilding contract, offshore and knowledge based economy sector strengths to carefully plan the future growth of our community. Our growth will be steady and must be well thought out. We need a short, medium and long term vision for that growth. To that end, our community leaders know what we need and I want to hear from them regularly. I would like to work with the Greater Halifax Partnership to enhance the role of the Mayor’s Economic Advisory Committee to ensure regular, meaningful and ongoing interaction directly with the Mayor. This forum currently comprises strong representatives from multiple sectors and should continue to be reflective of not only business, but the not for profit sector, arts and culture, academia, government, labour and emerging social entrepreneurs and innovators. It should be a regular sounding board and the Mayor should be a consistent participant.
- We must also seize opportunities to work in tandem with our educational institutions. Our universities and college are great storehouses of subject matter expertise. These internationally-acclaimed institutions attract thousands of talented students from HRM, across the Province and around the world. While some great partnerships currently exist, our universities and college offer great potential in driving future economic growth in HRM. They should be vital community and economic partners with the municipality. In fact, I believe that we need to reinvigorate and enhance formal Memoranda of Understanding agreements (MOUs) with our universities and community college to ensure we are capitalizing on innovation, matching skills with jobs and providing opportunities for educated people to contribute to the economy. A renewed partnership with Universities and the Community College, based on mutual interest in various areas, whether strategically, sectorally or otherwise, should be a priority for HRM Council. For example, HRM should have a robust partnership with the Planning and Architecture school in order to ensure integrated, sustainable leading design for our community. This integrated ‘theory and practice’ approach to good government should be applied in all areas
- We must strengthen our role as a partner with our Provincial and Federal counterparts. The partnership must be built on mutual respect, common goals and a desire to move forward together. In 2014, many federal investments in municipalities will expire. These include the Building Canada Plan, Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund, Green infrastructure Fund, and more. The strength of our partnership with provincial and national governments will influence how effective our voice will be in those negotiations. We also want to ensure that we are a strong partner with our provincial government as we help them to deliver a strong economic action plan for all Nova Scotians. Improved relations at the provincial level will also help us as we pursue legislative amendments, like the one proposed on density bonusing, to help us effectively grow our community.
- Our geographic position is envied around the world. We are a significant gateway to North America. Our Port and Airport are major assets. They are significant contributors to our economy. The Port of Halifax boasts direct and spinoff (indirect and induced) impacts of $1.58 billion in gross output, $671 million in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It offers 11,190 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. Our Airport is internationally recognized, represents 2.5% of GDP or $1.27 billion provincially and employs 5500 people onsite. If elected Mayor, I want to be a champion of future opportunity for both our Port and Airport and will be an active advocate to help realize their growth plans.
- The Municipality has an important leadership role in assisting the continued growth of key sectors like Aerospace and Defence, Finance, Life Sciences, IT, Ocean Sciences and others.
- We must establish a clear international brand for our community and work with tourism, Destination Halifax, Events Nova Scotia, Greater Halifax Partnership, Nova Scotia Business Inc., businesses and other partners to showcase the best of HRM.
-- HRM needs an entrepreneurial culture --
Perhaps one of the most important determinants of future success is community culture—the overarching attitude that we project to ourselves and to the world. Our region is entrepreneurial in its nature; our history is rich in success stories. That spirit lives today in young entrepreneurs like the founders of GoInstant and in the recent success of Two if by Sea in achieving funding for its coffee roaster. Today’s entrepreneurs need a government that that can match their imagination, creativity and energy.
Economic growth will happen only in a culture where ideas can thrive, where HRM employees are encouraged to find creative solutions and where we support innovation.
I want to see City Hall become a catalyst for good ideas and new ways of doing things. To that end, we should:
- Celebrate and recognize innovators within city staff and encourage staff to participate in forums where best practices are being shared.
- Be a place to cultivate great ideas and collaborate with local innovators to develop action plans to address challenges and opportunities facing our community.
- Offer municipal resources, such as buildings or land, to support collaborative initiatives that benefit the whole community.
- Work with the Provincial Government and community to ensure social enterprises are recognized and supported.
Strive for customer service excellence and ease of navigation of services. Let’s look to other municipalities’ best practices and also use technology to support efforts like an Open Data initiative, video conferencing from all parts of HRM, increased WIFI access across the municipality and other digital innovations.
If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Municipal government must be a leader in bringing the community together, determining areas of focus and then realizing our goals together.
-- HRM needs to get on with implementing good plans --
HRM is good at planning—we have lots of good plans. It’s in the execution where we seem to falter. Implementation is where risks become real and it could be we are afraid of making mistakes. We need to get over that. We have to get out there and get things done. Whether we are talking about the Regional Plan, the Centre Plan, the Economic Strategy, Imagine Bloomfield, Streetscaping Plans, the Transportation Plan (The Five Big Moves), we must do a better job of identifying priority areas and making implementation part of the way we do business at City Hall.
Some ways to move plans to action:
- Council should review current plans and establish overall priority goals and actions to achieve those goals early in the new mandate.
- Establish a requirement for every report that goes to Council to clearly demonstrate a link to a defined priority within our Plans.
- Establish clear performance measurement tools on these broad plans to show citizens our progress.
-- HRM needs investment in the downtown core --
HRM’s five year economic strategy (2011-2016) must be realized. Its five areas of focus are the right ones. For example, revitalizing the downtown core so it is vibrant and alive, day and night will yield benefits for all citizens in HRM.
- The economic strategy proposes a $50 million investment in downtown and the Mayor and Council must play a leadership role in bringing partners to the table and making this investment happen.
Good design matters. We know HRM by Design is working as we have seen the first cranes in downtown in years. The new central library, with its robust citizen engagement processes, will provide a building that citizens will use and enjoy for many years to come. The Nova Centre is an opportunity for catalytic economic growth in downtown. We also need to integrate environmental and transportation systems into our planning to show how a historic city can preserve its heritage and charm, while modernizing the systems upon which its citizens depend.
Supports in this area might include:
- Continue to champion and support HRM By Design and the Regional Plan.
- Build on the good work of the Strategic Urban Partnership and investigate Winnipeg’s CentreVenture as well as other models to determine whether establishing a Capital Commission will solidify partnerships and focus for investment in the urban core.
- It costs more to buy, build and pay taxes on a business in the downtown core. Let’s examine the lifecycle benefits of development to the community when applying permitting fees and other charges in areas where we want to see targeted growth.
- Bring the Bloomfield Master Plan to fruition and use the Plan as a template for collaboration and an example of the “art of the possible”. This project has broad based community support. HRM must have the capacity to see this type of initiative through in a timely manner and to create accompanying tax and property leasing policies that contribute to the success of like initiatives.
- The Cogswell Interchange represents one of the most exciting opportunities to imagine the future of our downtown core. We should engage our community to develop the Cogswell land in a way that would serve as an international model of excellence in the design of city space. I will provide more thoughts over the coming weeks on this vital opportunity to create an urban space that defines Halifax and our values.
-- HRM must focus on assets across our vast municipality --
We have to ensure that the strengths of all parts of HRM are recognized and valued. In rural HRM, the products of resource industries – fishing, farming and forestry – will not only find a market, but are a needed asset in a vibrant community.
Some ways to focus on economic growth in all parts of HRM:
- We need to value and protect the tranquility and unspoiled nature of rural HRM, and promote tourism and resource development as important economic activities.
- Growth centres listed in the Regional Plan should focus on development including business development with associated targeted investment.
- Enhance the opportunity for suburban and rural citizens of HRM to participate in Council and Committee meetings with video conferencing facilities and technology supports outside of downtown.
- Let’s learn from experience in other places. Ottawa, for example, has established specific rural business initiatives to provide small, peer-reviewed grants to support projects to stimulate the local economy, to provide signage to direct the public to rural businesses and raise awareness of their products and services, and to promote the activities of not-for-profit and agricultural groups with an online rural events and attractions calendar. Kingston, Ontario has established both a Rural Affairs Coordinator and a Rural Advisory Committee to ensure a rural perspective is considered in issues that are of major concern to rural citizens and businesses.
In addition to targeted investment, we must do a better job of telling the stories of our communities across HRM to highlight the diversity, talent and history of our municipality.
We can support the focus on our diverse communities by:
- Creating an HRM community events section and a historic profile of our community, as well as other interactive forums in our HRM portal. Celebrating great people doing great things and sharing our past, present and future allow us to show our pride of place and invite the world to visit.
HRM also has significant purchasing power. That power can leverage local business growth and new employment. The success of our local markets and “I Love Local” movement shows that our citizens have an affinity for buying local- a growing movement worldwide.
We can support our local businesses by:
- Developing a purchasing policy to provide some preference for local businesses, without incurring significantly higher costs or endangering the competitive position of local enterprise.
Talent and creating opportunity
We have some significant demographic challenges. We need lots of people today and into the future to move our economy forward. We are fortunate to have many places to draw our talent from. In order to take advantage of our opportunities and build on our strengths, we need to attract and hang on to our talent. Part of the solution means acknowledging the talent we have in various parts of our community and finding ways to keep people, and part of it is also removing barriers and allowing people to make the most of their talents.
-- HRM needs to celebrate Arts and Culture --
We have a rich and vibrant arts and culture community within HRM. Music created in Halifax is played around the world. Arts and culture employ significant numbers of citizens of HRM, and artists add to the fabric of the community. A lively arts and culture community is an advantage in the competition to attract new businesses and people. Yet HRM provides some of the lowest per capita funding to this sector in Canada, and Halifax, nearly alone among provincial capitals, is not a member of the Creative City Network of Canada.
Arts Councils are becoming more common in Canadian municipalities. For example, Winnipeg has had one since 1984, and Vancouver has recently created one to advise the municipality on policies to support the arts and culture facilities and businesses within the municipalities. The Winnipeg Arts Council has developed innovative programs to support and integrate the arts community, including a WITHART program that matches artists with community groups to work through community issues and goals by developing an art project.
Further afield, Austin, Texas has recognized the value of its music sector, and has built an economic strategy around the celebration of music.
Some ways to realize the potential of our arts and culture sector are:
- Work with the sector to become the cultural capital of Canada.
- Establish a Municipal Arts Council in partnership with the Arts and Culture community.
- Re-join the Creative City Network of Canada to take advantage of the opportunities to share and learn from the experiences across the country.
-- HRM must roll out the red carpet for newcomers --
In addition to the efforts to keep new talent, HRM should roll out the red carpet for people new to our region. We need a concerted effort to attract and retain new citizens to the region. Efforts should focus on immigrants and refugees, as well as military families and other newcomers.
Ways that HRM can attract and keep newcomers include:
- Establishing a broader community wide ‘people attraction’ strategy and key corresponding initiatives with businesses, other governments, not-for-profits, postsecondary institutions, Canadian Military Families and immigrant settlement organizations, to attract and retain newcomers.
- Working with federal and provincial government partners to ensure successful implementation and further expansion of the province’s Immigration Strategy.
-- HRM needs to work to keep our graduates --
We also need to focus intensely on keeping what is currently slipping away from us - talented new graduates. Our universities and community college are very effective at attracting bright and talented students from here at home as well as other parts of Canada and around the world. Allowing under-employment to drive away both local and out-of-province grads is short sighted. The municipal government alone cannot solve unemployment and under-employment problems among new grads, but the city can be a player and a promoter of programs and opportunities designed to open career-starting opportunities to this essential labour force and vital talent pool.
We can keep more of our graduates by:
- Continuing to support efforts like the recent campaign from GHP and FUSION on ‘hiring young’, the Connector program, mentorship and leadership development and establishing other pilot projects that will send the signal that we aim to be a destination of choice for emerging talent from across Canada and around the world.
- HRM should aim to set an example by being a leader in providing new graduates career starting employment opportunities.
- We should also aim to create greater connectivity between municipal government and post-secondary institutions at the student leadership level to offer new and meaningful ways for the student population to feel connected to the broader community.
-- HRM must remove barriers --
We must create more opportunities for everyone. This means working to overcome barriers that exist for some citizens in HRM such as First Nations peoples, African Nova Scotians and other groups.
Our workplaces must also be more open and accessible and there is no reason why we can’t be a leader in both of these areas.
- HRM should commit to an employment target for employees with disabilities. This target would be determined in consultation with local stakeholders, partners, and HRM senior staff and would result in an HRM Plan to Employ Persons with Disabilities.
-- HRM must help everyone reach their potential --
Halifax can’t afford poverty. It destroys lives, causes crime, and hurts our ability to grow. Poverty is not just a case of lost human potential for individuals; it is also lost economic opportunity for our Municipality.
- As Mayor, I would work with organizations like the United Way and others to form the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty and Social Exclusion. I would ask community leaders from business, not for profits, labour and all sectors as well as citizens living in poverty or passionate about this issue to join me in creating and implementing a strategy to fight poverty.
The regional government has many policy tools and opportunities for focused growth. I have identified some of those in this statement. I would be remiss if I did not mention our tax structure, which is perhaps the most powerful tool for both revenue generation and growth potential. In its current form, it often discourages investment in our city core. More broadly, right across HRM both commercially and residentially, our tax structure is seen as unbalanced and therefore unfair.
One of the first challenges for a new council must be to re-examine the tax structure and to look for ways to design a better system—one that will spur economic growth in the downtown core and across the region. This is not an easy task, nor is there an easy answer, but this is something that we must tackle if we are to set up a solid future for our community.
Finally, the national perception is that the east coast is the poor, dependent cousin of Canada. They say we have more history than the rest of the country but less of just about everything else. It’s time we made that perception part of our history, too. We will have to do it with imagination, collective confidence and a whole lot of entrepreneurial spirit. The good news is that we are poised to be whatever we want and go wherever we want to go. Great things are happening all over the region. In the arts, in cultural and social enterprises, in green innovation, in visitor attractions, in business, in the not-for-profit community—right across HRM people are doing amazing, awesome things.
To reach our economic potential, more than anything else, we need people working together. The alternative is to ride “madly off in all directions.” That’s action but to no purpose and it will take us nowhere. We need focus and direction.
All of the answers to HRM’s future can be found by making space for the things that are already happening here, by learning from those who are doing it better elsewhere and most importantly by working together toward a shared vision for the future.