I SERVED WITH MIKE SAVAGE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS for five years and he was one of the few really respected among all parties. He had an eastern coast sense of humour that was just naturally contagious, was a strong speaker, and somehow took the cold edge out of the House by getting people to temporarily suspend the divisive partisanship long enough to just be human.
These are the traits that have turned him into one of Canada’s most successful mayors and city builders. When Ken Kesey observed that, “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some to place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case,” he could easily have been describing the popular mayor of Halifax.
When he ran for mayor two years ago he challenged Halifax to reach higher and for municipal politics to be more ambitious. The city had been through its difficulties, but it wouldn’t move forward if it merely accepted the status quo. And then he did something unusual: he took positive steps in things that weren’t historically part of a city’s mandate. In issues like health, housing, immigration, disability, and the arts, he challenged Halifax to stop shying away from them because they were perceived to belong to other levels of government.
It was a message that resonated and Savage won the election. No sooner did he win that he practiced those very traits that made him an effective Member of Parliament. In all of these areas mentioned above, he established working relationships with all parties, including the province, and ended up with unanimous support from his sixteen councillors in an ambitious plan to move the city from dysfunctional to more ambitious.
As a new mayor, he held the “Mayors Conversation On A Healthy City – heavily attended with people from multiple sectors spending a day to determine how to make Halifax Canada’s healthiest city by 2020. That’s what mayors can do. And is wasn’t just about nice language. The group identified short, mid, and long-term priorities, from which the City Council passed three immediate priorities on active transportation, food, and people with disabilities.
And this is just the thing about good mayors: when they hit the ground running, they find they have company – people willing to take on the leadership of various aspects of city life who aren’t necessarily politicians. The best mayors understand that good policy is most effective when it is shared in its formulation.
London, Ontario is about to get to know Mike Savage better, since he will be in the city for an important conference in March. He will no doubt sit down with our new mayor and find ways to help one another – something rarely seen in senior levels of government anymore.
A city isn’t merely about politics or power. It can be a living place where a mayor grows up with his or her people and matures in concert with their abilities. If we want better cities, then we require mayors integrated with their people, who could never over-estimate the ability of their citizens. They learn to stop worrying about the future and start creating it.