It’s been nearly 10 years since Peter Kelly first sat down behind the mayor’s desk in HRM. Three municipal elections, two devastating storms, billions of dollars in infrastructure investment and one gigantic sewage debacle later, the man many have described as an incurable workaholic is still strolling into city hall each day and pouring himself a steaming cup of green tea.
As the 2000s draw to a close, Metro sat down with the mayor to ask him about HRM’s progress, dream concerts on the Common and why our 23 municipal councillors just can’t seem to get along.
Answers have been edited for length.
Q. You were first elected in 2000, so you’ve spent almost the entire decade as mayor of HRM. What progress do you feel the municipality has made over the past 10 years?
A. Infrastructure. We have four new libraries, six new recreational complexes, five fire halls, new transit routes, three harbour solutions plants, investment in the Alderney Landing complex in Dartmouth … the list goes on. We’ve certainly come leaps and bounds from where we were.
Q. You started this year off with a rather huge catastrophe at the Halifax sewage-treatment facility. There have been complaints that city hall has not been transparent enough about the flood and ensuing cleanup. How do you respond to that?
A. We can’t control how things are. For us, it was an event that was a big setback from where we had arrived with the harbour being clean. We admitted that the communication was not as strong as it could have been, or should have been. For that we apologized, and now we’ve moved on. We now have the Dartmouth plant being commissioned for effluent, the Herring Cove plant is now treating wastewater and the Halifax plant (will be) fully operational by the spring of next year.
Q. We had some big names in music take to the stage in Halifax in 2009. If you could organize your dream concert on the Commons, which acts would you include?
A. It would have to be U2, in terms of a headliner. I think for my son, it would be Blink-182. For my other son, it would have to be rap — so 50 Cent. And for my father, a vintage act. Maybe Andy Williams?
Q. There was a major changeover of power at the provincial level this year, with the NDP elected to a majority government in June. Has this impacted city hall?
A. Not at all. We continue to work with the (provincial) government on many fronts and many projects — for example, the new World Trade Centre, which is a $300-million-plus project and is a key piece of infrastructure for the downtown. We have a long way to go, but the elements of co-operation have always been there, and we expect that to be enhanced.
Q. Have you thought about another run at provincial politics yourself?
A. I ran back in 1993, and I’ve been asked (by members of the public) to run for the provincial leadership for the Tories. But at this time, I like this job. I enjoy the challenge, the contact with people.
Q. Many HRM councillors are now on Facebook and Twitter — sometimes in the middle of meetings. How do you feel about online social networking?
A. I think we have to be moving in that direction. I think there has to be some limitations that one puts on these things, personally. But it’s a necessary approach, and it’s the way we connect. I think you’re going to see it increase more and more.
Q. Are you tweeting?
A. I have commenced to tweet (laughs). It takes a bit of adjustment, but I’ll gradually get better and better.
Q. It seems like you’re constantly working. When was your last complete day off, and what did you do?
A. I moved some furniture for my son last Friday. Normally if you asked me, I probably couldn’t remember, but that one I remember just because I had to move furniture. This job puts in 60, 70, 80, even 90 hours a week. It can be (overwhelming), but at the end of the day, you feel accomplished in the things you’re able to do.
Q. What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
A. (Laughs) Probably running for politics. You just don’t know the outcome, and you put your heart and soul into the running. And you hope … but you just don’t know if you’re going to be successful.
Q. There have long been complaints that the bickering between HRM councillors slows the progress at city hall. Do you agree?
A. Are we perfect? No, we’re not. Sometimes we fail to recognize the need to respect each others’ comments, although we may not agree. It’s important that everybody focus on the job at hand, which is to serve the public. I learned many, many years ago not to get involved with personalities.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge facing HRM in 2010?
A. The budget, partially. That’s part of the discussions with the province as well, in terms up potential downloading and cost pressures moving forward. There’s a lot of infrastructure work and projects in the queue, but it’s important to keep that momentum up.