Friday, August 15, 2008

375th Post - Interview With HRM Councilor Dawn Sloane!

I e-mailed Dawn Sloane several weeks ago. She agreed to a sit down with me, so I sent her the questions before I went on vacation in late July. We set the date for our lunch for August 13th at 1pm, right after the scheduled Tunes at Noon at the Grand Parade.

We made our way to the Bluenose restaurant on Hollis Street. (Lovely renovations there, by the way; check it out sometime and tell them Bevboy sent you.) Patricia was already waiting for us. We looked at the menus, ordered our food, and began to talk.

Bevboy: Why did you choose to enter politics?

Dawn Sloane: I entered politics because I saw the need for someone that cares for the community to be there. When I first started doing things in my neighbourhood, such as helping out with litter issues, we had a gentleman who was dumping litter in our community. I found out whom to call and how to have it remedied. Then people saw me helping out with the prostitution and drug problem in the area, and so I ended up knowing who to call when there were problems. So I ended up basically doing the job without getting paid for about five years. And, it was funny because I was working for Heritage Canada at the time on contract and when someone said to me, "You seem to be getting more and more involved in community issues. You should run for Council.", I laughed at them. I said, "I'm not ready for that". And other people thought I was. And that's how this all started was I felt I could do something good for the neigbhourhood.

BB: And didn't [then Mayor] Walter Fitzgerald give you a push as well?

DS: Yes. It was kind of funny because I had done some things in the neigbhourhood for HRM in fixing up an abandoned building. The councilor of the day wanted to take District 12 out of the community council. The community council for the peninsula consists of 4 councilors. If he had dropped out, there would only have been 3. Any issues in the downtown would have gone to full council. So, if someone wanted to do a rezoning, or do an addition or anything on their property such as build or to deconstruct, they would have had to go to full council. And that would have been crazy. There are residential areas in this area. There is the north end and the south end. Some individuals called me and said, "You have to go down to council and speak". I asked why, why would you want me to speak at council? And they said you need to go because you are our voice. "But there are other people. Why not the councilor?". "He is the one who wants to get out of it". "OK, I'll go", I said.

So there was a group of us that went down. I spoke at council. I made a reference to a potato chip commercial that was then running, featuring two Inuits where one asks for a chip from the other. "If I give one to you, I have to give one to everyone else". I alluded to that in my little speech.

When I left, I was standing in the hallway shaking my head saying, "I referenced a potato chip ad at council! This is crazy!". And that is when Walter Fitzgerald came to me and said, "Sloane! You said it right in there. You should run for this district". I said, "No. I am not ready". He said, "When will you be ready?" And that is when all my friends came over and said, "We have been trying to get her to run for the last three years!". I said I wasn't a lawyer. I don't come from a lawyer's background. My parents are working people. My mother was a nurse. My father was in the military. I know about public service in that manner. I just don't think I'm ready. He said, "Well, when will you be ready?"

BB: A good question, really.

It was. It made me think, that's for sure. And then the other ones kept taunting me while I was trying to leave city hall. And I said, "Do you know what? I have no money." I was unemployed at this time. I was a student. I was 33. "I don't have anything. So, I can't run. But, if you want to call my parents, to whom I owe $5000, and see if I can get out of paying them back.". They laughed and said, "Maybe that's why you need the job: so you can pay your parents back".

Well, a couple of days later, I get a phone call from my parents. My mother is like, "Your friends have been calling" [laughter]. I go, "My friends?". All I can think about is credit cards, and what didn't I pay? "Yeah. They're saying they want you to run for Council". I went, "Oh, that! I used that as a scape goat to get out of city hall because they kept taunting me to run." My mother said, "Well, your father has something to say". My father doesn't talk on the phone a lot so, it's like, "Yeah. Your mother and I have been talking. You've been doing the job for free for five years, so you might as well run. We have no money. Don't ask us for money. We'll help you, but we have no money. Here's your mother". [laughter] And that was it. So then I had to take that and I said, "I don't even know if I want to run, Mom". She said, "Think about it for the weekend and then we'll talk."

So, that's how it started. I sat down on a Sunday night and started writing out what I thought was important about our district and what needed to be protected and what needed to be enhanced and started my platform right then and there.

Patricia: How many years have you been in council now?

DS: Eight.

P: So, what do your parents think now?

DS: Very proud. Extremely proud. In fact, I bought my first car in 2001 on my own. I looked out my window one day of my little apartment, and I could see my dad kinda hunched down in front of my car. I thought, "What is he doing? He's trying to open the hood to check on things, I'll bet". [laughter] He wasn't. He was actually putting a license plate on it that said "Councilor" [laughter]

So, it was pretty touching that he would do something like that. So, yeah, they're pretty proud.


BB: What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received?

DS: Be yourself. That has been the best. Don't put on any airs. Don't try to impress people. Just be yourself. If people like you, they will like you. If they don't, they won't. But they will respect you for being yourself. There is nothing worse than seeing fake people. I take that to heart.

P: Who gave you that piece of sage advice?

DS: Funny enough, it was my grandmother, many, many years ago. She passed away in the late 1980's. She always used to say to me, "Don't try to impress the boys. Don't try to impress your friends. Just be yourself. " Since that time, that is what I have tried to stay with because who knows you better than yourself? If you start acting fake, you'll know it and then you're not yourself any more. People catch on to that. There is that smell of fear. People know when you're being fake. When you grab someone's hand and you give them that limp handshake. I can't stand that. I'd rather say, "Hi. How are you doing?" Or, just be who I am.

BB: Are there times when you have to go to some kind of councilor activity, and you think, "I'd rather not go to this baked bean supper"?

DS: If you love this job, you're going to go with as much gusto to a hot dog barbecue as you are to a big fancy big wig thing. If you love it, you're going to do it. And at this time, I am not tired of it. It is part of the roles and responsibilities to represent the district. You're supposed to do it to the best of your ability, so that's what you do.

There are days when you might have a migraine or your phone has been ringing incessantly and you want to get everybody's work done for them, but you know that time is of the essence and you're trying to do two things at once You might end up being late for something, or you might have to leave early so you can deal with some issues, but at least you made an appearance.

Someone said to me a couple of weeks ago, "Dawn Sloane? She'd go to the opening of a can of baked beans!". I said, "You're damn right. I'd even bring the official can opener!". [laughter] That is what your job is, so that is what you do. But it is very difficult at time when an event might be going on and you might have official business to do also. So, what do you go to? The neighbourhood event, or the official business? I believe you can go to both. Spend quality amount of time at each. You don't have to be there for everything. But at least you made an appearance and helped out as much as you could.

BB: What do you mean by official business? Council meetings?

DS: Council meeting. Community council meeting. A board meeting of one of the different boards and committees that we are allotted to. We had Prince Andrew here a while ago, and there was an official reception we were asked to go to. We are willing participants in this: to go and meet someone. We met David Suzuki when he was in town, and Ravi Shankar a couple of years ago. It was interesting to meet him also. So, for every person you meet you learn something. And it's like every day of your life you should learn 5 things. If you're not, you have a pretty boring life, I think.

P: Hello!

DS: Small things. I am not talking rocket science or anything like that. I am talking about interesting facts or something even off the news. If you feel you want to make a difference you have to be involved as much as you can. But you have to have some "me" time, too. A half hour to an hour a day just so that you can be yourself. Just sit around with a bag of Cheetos and watch tv. And then, back to work.

P: It doesn't sound like a lot of "me" time.

DS: No, there isn't. But when you think about, in this district, it is very busy. It is a mini city within itself. It has its own little dynamics going on both sides of the hill [Citadel Hill]. And then you have downtown, which has its own flavour, and also the waterfront. So, when you look at it, you have several different areas, and then there are smaller groups inside that also. So, you might have something happening down on the Commons, but it could affect people in the North Commons, or people on Maynard Street, or on Gottingen. They're doing some things with water pipes up Cunard Street. It is affecting people on Agricola and all those small little areas. There are lots of things going on, so you just try to do your best with that.

BB: What is it like to enter a room where everybody knows you, but you don't know anybody?

DS: Well, it's a weird feeling; that's for sure. But it's part of the responsibility. The best thing to do is you go around and introduce yourself. "Hi. I'm Dawn Sloane". If they go, "I know who you are", I'd say, "Fine, but I don't know who you are!". It's better to be curious than to be shy about it. I think it is quite difficult at times depending on what kind of event you're walking into, or what kind of room you're walking into. Say you're walking into an issue such as Peninsula Place [The apartment building at the foot of Inglis Street that has flooded sewage into the parking garage three times in the last six months]. People are in a bad mood. They don't want smiley, Pollyanna stuff. They want serious business. They want something done. So, you're going to walk in there. They know who you are. You don't know who they are. And you just go introduce yourself to everybody in the room. You're going to know who's going to be nice, and who is not going to be nice. But that is when the thick skin comes in. And you sit down and find out the answers and get back to them as soon as you can. That's in a tough situation.

If it is a light event, you just walk in and introduce yourself to everybody and find out some information about people. That's the best thing to do. Knowing where someone is from or what kind of work they do, you might have something in common and not even know it. It could be a relative around here. I've done that. You just have to go with the flow. It can be unnerving at times if you're not feeling so good and not at the top of your game.

BB: Is it difficult for a shy person to be in political office? Not asking if you're shy

P: I think we know the answer to that question.

I can be shy. You haven't seen it, but it's there.

BB: Some people seem a little more reserved in political life than others. I'm guessing that those people work harder to be outgoing and gregarious than the ones to whom it comes naturally.

DS: It also depends on your philosophy of life, too. If you're someone that is always negative and you're walking into a room, that aura comes off of you. People can feel it. If you walk in there, and you're relaxed and sit back and positive you'll probably get more positive feedback from people

When I first started in politics, I was very shy. In fact, speaking in public killed me. My knees would sweat. I was a mess. I wouldn't even remember what I would say on the stage half the time. I'd just say it and get off and say, "Oh, my God! What did I just say?". It was very difficult at first. There was a gentleman who came over here from Serbia and gave me a book on public speaking. I have been going through it when I can, just to get some tips of that nature. It has helped a lot. Feeling confident. Taking courses such as The National Advanced Certificate in Local Government Administration and Authority (otherwise known as NACLGAA).

BB: I'll have fun transcribing that tonight!

DS: It is through the University of Alberta. It is all about municipal governance. It is all about the different parts. It covers the law, public consultation, citizen engagement, organizational behaviour, and management. There are 10 parts to this course before you can get your certificate. I am on number 6, which is human resource management. So, learning the behind-the-scenes kind of jargon/vernacular helps me feel more and more confident, which is why I went from being kind of like a wallflower to being able to speak in public a little bit better.

I still don't like reading speeches. I like them to give me the notes in point form, and I absorb it and go out on stage and do what I have to do. That's what I do for an event. Because, again, it is me; it is my reputation. I don't want to be reading someone else's words. They aren't the elected person. I am. It is very nice of them to give me those notes. They are helping me out by doing so, but it is not my style. Every person has a different style.

BB: What is the most misunderstood thing about Dawn Sloane?

DS: That's a hard one. I thought about this after you sent the questions. That is a very hard question.

BB: How about this? On the CJCH Hotline Blog several months ago, Amber LeBlanc wrote about you. People on the Hotline were saying that you were not the nicest person. Amber was defending you by saying that Dawn is an opinionated woman, and people often misinterpret that as being something else.

DS: A b-i-t-c-h?

BB: Yes.

DS: Well, I'm far from that. I think I'm a pretty nice person. I guess that would be the thing I would say. They see me when I am in work mode. I will defend downtown Halifax to the hilt. I will die on that hill. I believe in downtown that much. If you look at the things that I have done, where I have worked with other people on, such as "Milk for Moms", where we donated 2,740 litres of milk during Hurricane Juan. It was my idea with J.C. Douglas and the Q104 morning crew. When it came to the fire aid, it was my idea with the other people to raise money for people who lost their homes up on Gottingen Street back in 2002. We raised enough money for each of the 23 people was able to get $1100 to start their life off. None of them had any insurance.

So, people who think I am a b-i-t-c-h: I am like that because I am defending my community. I think if they saw what I do in my spare time, such as helping out with things, and trying to foster groups, and trying to get people to build their social capital, to make this a better place to live, they would see that I am not a b-i-t-c-h, that I only play one on tv.

BB: What political figures do you most admire?

DS: Trudeau. Alexa McDonough. John Kennedy. Malcolm X. Gandhi. Bobby Sands.

BB: The guy who starved himself to death because his belief system was so strong that he was willing to die for that belief system?

DS: Yes. Princess Diana. Joseph Howe.

BB: What techy device do you need or use the most?

DS: BlackBerry. I was the first one on council to have one as part of a pilot project. It was black and white. I could send and receive e-mails, but I couldn't use it as a phone. When people saw that I was sitting over in a corner and I was able to do my work, they were astounded. The next thing you know, we started upgrading. And now, we're on to the new ones.

BB: What model do you have now?

DS: Right now I have a Curve. This is the Pearl, which they gave me at the beginning, but unfortunately, it crashed and I lost all of my data, twice. So, I told them I needed something reliable. I am back to square one, where I have a phone, and a BlackBerry on the side. That is absolutely ridiculous, but I don't want them to screw up my phones for a day. It is too important to get phone calls. I was without a phone for a weekend, and I was going mad. I didn't know what to do, when the phone wasn't ringing.

BB: What are your thoughts about the cancelation of the Hotline?

Very disappointed in CTV Globemedia. That was one facet where democracy could be discussed. It was an outlet for those who needed to vent. It was an informational area for those who wanted to learn. And Rick [Howe] was able to stir the pot just enough to make sure everybody was informed. He was able to keep a discussion going sometimes for days. I think that was really important.

Democracy is really difficult to foster at the best of times. And negativity breeds negativity. You see that in the Chronicle Herald now, with their comments section.

There also needs to be a place where information can be disseminated. It can be given to people in a way and means where they can give feedback and ask questions. You probably get that on your blog.

Oh, yes!

DS: I get it on my Facebook. I get it in my e-mails. I get it on my phone. I get it in person. I'm lucky enough that I'm able to be out there enough that if someone has a problem with me, and they want to talk to me, they can walk up to me, and I'll talk to them. I had one person come up to me and say, "You know what? Not a lot of people like you, but I think you're doing a damned good job." I said, "Thanks, but who doesn't like me?" It was when I first started as a Councilor, and I had to get over that. That is just the way it is. That's the hard part.

BB: Were there times when Rick Howe would say something on the air that would be wrong?

DS: I'd e-mail him. Immediately. Where ever I was. I heard him one time talking about sewage treatment. I e-mailed him back, and he corrected himself on the air. But you see that with every media source. You're not going to print something that's boring. As they say, "If it bleeds, it leads". If it is controversy, it leads also.

I hope that there is a Hotline, soon. It can be called Rick's Line.

BB: I've got an idea for Rick's first billboard. It would be a picture of him sitting behind the mic, and the caption would say, "Now, where were we?"

DS: That would be perfect.

BB: Do you prefer cats or dogs?

DS: I like both. At this time, I have two cats, Eight-Ball and Minnesota Fats. They are both fixed and indoor cats. The reason why I don't have a dog at this time is that I am never home. I am not home enough for a dog. They are very needy creatures, and it wouldn't be fair to them. I have a friend who has a dog that comes over; that's my adopted dog.

BB: When HRM council was talking about cat bylaws on and on and on, I was thinking to myself, "If people just kept their damn cats at home, we wouldn't need to talk about this".

DS: Exactly. If you have your cats trained properly, you can have them so that they don't want to go outside. You can have them so that when you do go outside, they'll come with you for a walk and then go right back in the house. Minnesota Fats is a good example. She is about 13 years old, fixed. She goes outside with me. She'll sit on the deck. She'll go into my backyard when I beckon her. She'll chew on some grass. She throws it up five seconds later. And then she'll walk up the stairs and stand by the door. "That was my fun. Thank you. I want to go in now". She doesn't want to stay outside.

Now, for Eight-Ball, who's only four years old, she is a little more rangy because she is so young, and I don't want her outside because I know she is skittish, and it wouldn't be fair to her. So, instead, I raise her in the house.

Minnesota Fats was found outside a pool hall, and when my old cat died, Pookie, Minnesota didn't know how to be an alpha cat, so I adopted Eight Ball to be her Alpha Over. Eight-Ball tried to be Alpha, but it didn't work very well.

BB: What is the most fun part of your job?

DS: I would have to say, all the events we go to. All the events for Natal Day and Canada Day, celebrating our city would be the answer to that. It could be anything, like the "Tunes at Noon" is a prime example. It might be a small facet of 100 or 150 people, but they listen to great music, new music, local music, and people are enjoying themselves. The kids were dancing around today, people were clapping. We're celebrating our community. That is my favourite part of the job.

BB: What is the most challenging part of your job?

DS: Getting people to understand the dynamics of downtown. The reason why I have certain views on certain topics. A good example is last night's Farmer's Market [discussion at the Regional Council on August 12th focused on whether HRM should fund the new Halifax Farmer's Market; the motion carried by a wide margin to fund one million dollars toward that cost], how important it is to foster things in our community, foster the communities that spill out to other areas, or the exterior areas and how they affect our downtown.

When you look at development, for example, some people want tall buildings, and some people want short buildings. Some people don't want any changes at all. Others want everything modernized. Finding that good balance of new and old; being able to celebrate heritage but not shrink wrap the city, I think will be the biggest challenge really, but understanding the dynamics of downtown. Like I told you, one person [on Council] didn't even know where the Pogue Fado was. The other person [on Council] asked what was the charge to get into the Farmer's Market. I mean, my God! You can tell who really doesn't use their city to its optimum.

BB: So, you still have the fire in your belly, and you'll keep running for Council for years to come?

DS: Well, not years to come. I would like to do it for the next term, and then decide on what I'm going to do. If I am able to achieve a lot of things that I need to do, then I will pass it on to someone if I know that person would do just as good a job.

My passion is my community. And, as someone said to me the other day, "What about your private life?" I said, "I'm married to the district. This is my husband. I take care of it the best I can. My children are the different parts of the district". So, I make it very clear that this comes first. Because there is so much that we can be if we were only given a chance, if we were actually given the ability to build on things like Tunes at Noon, on the Farmer's Market. Can you imagine? We're getting free transit for the downtown next year. I don't know if you heard about it.

BB: Fred on steroids! [Fred is short for Free Rides Everywhere Downtown]

DS: Exactly. So, if you had that, plus a new Farmer's Market, music at lunch time for free, wouldn't you want to live in an area like that? That's the ultimate: To have all of those amenities right there at your fingertips within a two block radius of where you live or where you work or where you play.

We have a Pharmasave in Timberlea.

DS: Well, I'll have to go out there now. I'm actually as you know a Shoppers Drug Mart kind of gal. But that's just it. In your community you're going to want those kinds of amenities or things that you want. You have a Pharmasave, but you probably also want a Sobeys. You probably also want a library. Every area has its own little node of amenities. Downtown has Centennial Pool, the George Dixon Centre, the Grand Parade, Citadel Hill (which is federal but still ours), the waterfront. We have Cornwallis Park. We have Victoria Park. We have the Public Gardens. Think of all that. That's all in one district, which everyone can use and celebrate. That's why I love my district.


DS: I think Joel Plaskett said it the best, though.

BB: "I Love This Town".

DS: Yes. My favourite song.

BB: It's a great song. Well, thank you very much, Dawn Sloane, for doing this.

DS: Oh, no problem. Any time.

I got up to pay our bill, and asked Patricia if she had any final questions for Dawn. She did.

P: With regards to the Farmer's Market, it's a lovely location because it has that Old World feel. The proposed talk is that it will move down to the Pier section. What will happen to the [existing] location [at the Brewery Market]?

DS: I love the old ambience, too. But, when the rent goes up and you can't afford to be there, they were going to move anyway. Now, with that being said, the new one will be a first grade, Leed certification, which basically means that they're going to have their waste water is going to be reintroduced into the system. They're going to have wind power, solar power. They're going to have a roof garden. So, there are going to be all of these wonderful amenities that go along with it. Granted, yes, I love the old brick and walking down the winding, weird ways.

P: But the history. The archway is worn away from where the barrels were moved through.

DS: The interesting thing is that it never used to be down there. For years it was at the old Market Street location [that is how the street got its name]. So, it's been all over the place. It is the oldest farmer's market in North America. I didn't know that, but I found that out while doing some research.

P: When is the Farmer's Market moving to its new location? Is there a year?

DS: Probably in about a year. After they finish off the building.

P: So, for the existing building, what will become of that?

DS: As you know, Halkirk Properties is going in next door, that 22 story building. Greenwood Lane said they were going to make it so that the parking lot could also be converted into a farmer's market. So, they might even try to rival the [existing] Farmer's Market people. Which isn't bad! Competition is good. The more local food we can get into our gullets around here, the better, I think.

You know, I went into the store the other day. I went, "Oh, blueberries!" So, I picked up a pack and it was only $1.99. I thought that was a pretty good price. I get home. I look at the package, guess where they're from! B.C.

I like to buy local. Unfortunately, our big chain stores don't really go for that. They believe in taking in all produce that goes to Moncton and distribute it evenly to all the stores. Well, what if I just want to get the plants from Tantallon? I don't want to have them be shipped all the way to Moncton (a waste of gas), and then shipped all the way back (a waste of gas). And packaged? How much does that cost? So, your buy local has just gone up.

I know that the Farmer's Market will do very well for itself. I'm hoping that if there is an alternative market or an extra market, where the quality is as good as what we have right now. And, we'll see what happens. Wouldn't it be nice to have two Farmer's Markets? And have them seven days a week?

P: I guess I just have that fear that that wonderful stone building will fall apart.

DS: Yeah, I know. And that is because we have lost our civic pride. We lost it when we became HRM. How can you have any kind of affection for an acronym? Seriously. You can't. When I was doing my projects on human resource management this year (HRM!) I couldn't put in any of my essays "HRM" for Halifax Regional Municipality. I had to write it all out because I'd say, "the HR department of HRM". No. I had to write out "Halifax Regional Municipality". How can you love an acronym? How can you love something that has become not a public service any more, but an actual corporation? People don't love Hasbro.

BB: People love the products, but not the company.

Exactly. They don't want the bureaucratic stuff that goes on behind the scenes or the working operation part. They care about what they see up front.


Thanks again for doing this, Dawn Sloane! And, remember: You told me you would put in a good word for me with the mayor, so that I could interview him, too.

Stay tuned to Bevboy's Blog for more amazing interviews with local movers and shakers!


1 comment:

Steve Vernon said...

Great interview. I've known Dawn in a very small way for several years. Dealt with her back when I used to work on the waterfront. She listened to my concerns and brought them directly to the council - who acted on them. Then, earlier this year she met me at a book signing at Historic Properties (Carrefour), bought a copy of my book and took a photo of me which she posted on her Facebook. A real down to earth lady and a definite asset to Council.