KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Public transit and city recreation services would be free, if it were up to Halifax council candidate and long-time poverty activist Gabriel Enxuga.
Last week Enxuga announced that he wants to be the next councillor for District 5, Dartmouth Centre. The seat will be anyone’s to win with the retirement of long-time councillor Gloria McCluskey.
“I am running because I want to be a voice on city council for low income and working people,” says Enxuga. “We want city hall to represent the interests of working people, and not just big developers.”
There is nothing wishy washy about Enxuga’s proposals. Free public transit will be front and centre on his campaign platform, he says.
“Free public transit, would actually cost less per year than the city’s share of the construction costs for the new convention centre, just three percent of the city’s entire budget,” he says.
Enxuga is also proposing that recreation services offered by the city be entirely free.
“We can do it. We need a city where people can take the bus, where they can afford their rent, and where they can afford to buy groceries,” Enxuga says.
Affordable and healthy housing is another issue Enxuga plans to push during his campaign..
“I believe that there is a lot that the city can do to address issues around housing standards, affordability and gentrification,” says Enxuga. “Right now city council tends to view housing as the jurisdiction of the Province, but I think that overlooks the powers that the city has.”
Enxuga points to the Centre Plan, the new planning strategy that is being developed for peninsular Halifax and downtown Dartmouth, and says that in that context he wants to push for inclusionary zoning, mandating that all new development include affordable housing.
“When I say affordable housing I means that it is actually affordable for low income persons, not just less than market value,” Enxuga emphasizes.
Enxuga, through his work with ACORN Nova Scotia, has first hand knowledge of the terrible housing conditions so many low income Nova Scotians are forced to deal with, including in district 5.
ACORN Nova Scotia is an organization of low income Nova Scotians with chapters in the Halifax North End, North Dartmouth, and Spryfield.
In just a few years it has become a force to be reckoned with, exposing slum landlords and payday loan companies, and advocating for affordable internet, decent minimum wages, and better housing conditions.
We have a city bylaw that defines minimum housing standards, but those are often not enforced because it is a complaint-based system, says Enxuga. Turning that into a proactive inspection-based system would actually enable the city to ensure that everybody has safe and healthy homes, he says.
Enxuga has harsh words for the recent decision by city council to not even allow a discussion around the renaming of Cornwallis Park. The park is named after Edward Cornwallis, the founder of Halifax who actively engaged in ethnic cleansing.
“I was deeply disappointed in the result of that vote,” Enxuga says. “We are continually rewriting history, we are always creating narratives around identity and who we are as a people.”
It comes down to the question whether are we honouring colonial and racist legacy or are we looking forward toward reconciliation and addressing the historic injustices that happened and are still ongoing,” he says.
The non-sectarian anti-capitalist group Solidarity Halifax plays a prominent role in Enxuga’s campaign. What does that relationship entail?
“At Solidarity Halifax we have some unifing beliefs, essentially that this world would be a better world without capitalism, says Enxuga. “ Everybody is welcome to join. We’re not a political party, but that is likely the closest to our current structure. We make decisions as a group.”
“Being part of Solidarity Halifax suggests that it’s not necessarily about me, and how great I am, but about listening to people and trying to represent that,” Enxuga says.
Enxuga will be the only candidate running on behalf or Solidarity Halifax this year, he adds.
And why should people consider Enxuga when they decide their vote? What is it that he will bring to council meetings?
“Often people who make decisions and hold power are disconnected from the experiences of low income and working people, they just lack the experience. They often never lived on minimum wage, they don’t typically struggle to pay the rent, their power bill and groceries,” says Enxuga.
“But that is the perspective I bring. I spent the last three years talking to low income people every day about changes we need to see in this city. That has really shaped my thinking.”
Check out the Gabriel Enxuga for Dartmouth Centre – District 5 Facebook page.
This article by Robert Devet originally appeared in the Nova Scotia Advocate