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Judy Haiven: The “Welcome Culture” – Municipal candidates’ election donations blues

The Curve. Photo Southwest Properties

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In 2016, Waye Mason who was running for a second term as councillor for District 7, Halifax South Downtown, assured constituents he did not take money from property developers. At the time, there were few restrictions on who could donate how much to municipal candidates. Eventually, Mason admitted that he did take money from developers but only donations from their personal, non-corporate accounts. Hair-splitting, but significant.  

Here are the developers and big ticket business interests that helped Waye Mason get elected in 2016:

Fred Fountain$1000Halifax lawyer, CEO of Great Eastern Corporation Ltd, an asset management firm which in 2009 had assets of $102 million.  Chancellor of Dalhousie University 2008-2015
George Lawen(Louie Lawen)$ 500Louie Lawen, runs Dexel Development a division of Lawen Group as well as Paramount Management. The companies have more than 1200 residential units, and 300,000 sq feet of office and retail space. A major developer in HRM. 
Jim Spatz$ 500Executive Chairman of Southwest Properties Ltd, one of Atlantic Canada’s biggest real estate development companies. Investments include 700 hotel rooms, 1500 apartments. Just re-appointed to the board of the Halifax Port Authority.  Spatz is the former Board chair of Dalhousie University 
Ross Cantwell$ 250President of Housing Trust of Nova Scotia, a non- profit agency which has guaranteed half its units will be affordable housing.  Received a $3 million grant from the province.  To date not one affordable unit has been built or rented in its development on Maitland St in the city’s north end.  
Dale Godsoe$ 200Chair of the board of Develop Nova Scotia, which has leased land on the waterfront to Southwest Properties to develop the Cunard Block. Also chair of the Community Design Advisory Committee for the city which was responsible for the Centre Plan. The committee supported  the Queen’s Marque development near the Halifax side ferry terminal which provides opulent, high-end apartments, boutique retail space and a luxury hotel. Develop NS is in partnership in development with Southwest Properties.  
Bill Black $ 500Ran for the leadership of the NS Progressive Conservative Party (2006); Lead Director of the Bank of Canada; former President  and CEO of Maritime Life; former Chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce; Chair of the expert board of directors for a new national securities regulator. 
Total$2950Accounts for 18.6% of donations over $50 to Mason 
See:  https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/elections/161015ElectionContributions-rc07.pdf

Under the 2018 regulations, Waye Mason or any other candidate is still entitled to take money from developers – as long it is not more than $1000, and it is from a person, not a company (or a union). 

What does taking money from developers actually mean? Well, if a candidate takes money from a developer, it is really part of the “welcome culture”.  The candidate is putting out a welcome mat, to say that he or she is open to developers. I don’t mean the candidate is corrupt, or means harm to the municipality. I do mean that the candidate believes that developers – like all citizens – have a stake in how the city is developed, for whom and by whom. But of course developers are not like all citizens, they tend to have deep pockets, they own vast amounts of real estate and they can shape the city for generations to come.  

How can it be that with dozens of new buildings developed in the last decade, not one has come through with affordable suites?

How can it be that with dozens of new buildings built in the last decade on the peninsula – that the vast majority are high-end or luxury rentals.  

How is it that HRM council has approved residential development after development which feature small suites (under 1,000 sq. ft), with one or two bedrooms which can’t work well for families as their children grow. 

Every new-build residential apartment building is supposed to have a few accessible suites for people with disabilities. Indeed they do, but the suites are too expensive for most disabled people to afford.  So sometimes the suites are taken by the non-disabled.  

HRM council approved many variances for The Curve, the stylish, luxury apartment complex where the old YMCA and the CBC’s radio building once stood. The developer, Southwest Properties, got the variances because two benefits to the public – a new YMCA fitness club and a childcare centre — were going to be part of the complex.  Though we will have a new YMCA, the promised childcare centre has been scrubbed. Yet this city is in urgent need of more childcare spaces.

Over the last few years, city politicians, who accepted donations from developers  shout, “I can’t be bought.”  But the appearance is the opposite—  money from developers is seen as dirty.   Votes on development issues at HRM Council can be worth millions of dollars to developers.  Donations by developers, real estate and construction firms accounted for 16.6% of contributions to Mayor Savage’s 2016 campaign—and many councillors accepted these types of donations.  

Accepting money from developers sets a tone that creates apathy and even cynicism about politics and politicians.  There have been so few affordable apartment units built in the last eight years, people believe affordable options are not possible. 

Judy Haiven is on Jen Powley’s campaign team. She lives in District 7.

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