By Kate Watson
In 2010, when I was writing for Transcontinental’s now-defunct Dartmouth – Cole Harbour Weekly News, I had the opportunity to interview Councillor Gloria McCluskey over lunch at the Brightwood Golf Course.
We had a wide-ranging discussion that covered everything from tax reform to grandkids.
Although she is retiring from council this year, there is no doubt that she will remain active and accessible to the residents of Dartmouth Centre. It is who she is.
The Weekly News – Kate Watson
“I’ve had kidney stones, four babies and open-heart surgery,” announces District 5 Councillor Gloria McCluskey as she limps into the dining room at the Brightwood Golf and Country Club. “But the only thing that’s made me cry is this darn cyst.”
She’s not really complaining, just explaining. And it’s quickly apparent that the offending Baker’s cyst—a swelling on the knee that’s soon to be “ripped out” by her surgeon—is not slowing McCluskey down. She’s fresh off the previous day’s 13-hour convention centre council session and has already been to two meetings before this lunch-hour interview.
Her no-nonsense nature is apparent in her terse request for a hotter cup of coffee and her gentle annoyance at the sub-par rolls. But there’s no doubt she’s a people person, addressing each member of the staff by name and chatting with the other diners who stop by the table for a quick hello.
“I love people,” she says. “I love my job. I’m ready every morning for whatever the day brings.”
It’s not every 79-year-old who can say that. But this is a woman who has thrived in the demanding, stressful world of municipal politics for over 16 years.
“When I was first elected in 1985, I ran on the slogan ‘Able. Accessible. Accountable,’” she says, recalling the time frame of her political career beginning as alderman for District 4, moving on to acting mayor in 1992 when then-mayor John Savage left for provincial politics and finally as Dartmouth’s last mayor.
“When amalgamation happened, I wanted no part of it. But in the eight-and-a-half years I stayed away from politics, I was bored and I needed a challenge. I wanted to get back in there for Dartmouth,” she says, explaining her re-entry into politics in 2004.
She describes herself as a definite leader rather than a follower, a person who speaks her mind rather than trying to play politics and please people. She also says she never promises anyone anything except that she’ll do the very best job that she can and that she’ll be fiscally responsible while doing it.
“In this job, you can’t possibly know what every constituent wants, but common sense has to prevail, and cost has to prevail. I’m very conscious of the taxes people pay, and that’s why I fought against tax reform. It was going to be too costly for too many.”
Taxes and expenditures are at the top of McCluskey’s concerns for HRM’s future. She says a way must be found to reduce commercial taxes while keep residential taxes affordable, or else businesses will move elsewhere. She also says people need to stop pitting the commercial area of downtown Halifax against place like Burnside Industrial Park— a spot she refers to as “the goose that laid the golden egg” in terms of tax revenue. And she foresees the need for stringent belt tightening.
“A lot of big projects have come on all once; the four-pad arena at 40 million; the Canada Games Centre, 43 million; the new library, 60 million; the bus terminal, nine million. We can’t enter into any more big projects because we have to watch every penny.”
And though the proposed new convention centre might seem to be an addition to that list of “big projects”, McCluskey is convinced that the project will only go ahead if Council can negotiate concessions from the Province that will ensure the centre is a boost rather than a drain to taxpayers.
As the meeting draws to a close, the conversation drifts to the many things besides work that make McCluskey’s life complete: family (especially her eight “amazing” grandkids), music, sports and the flowers that she buys for herself each week.
“I have lots of energy and I love life,” she announces. “I love what I’m doing, and I’d like to keep doing it as long as people want me to. I look at Hazel McCallion (Mississauga’s 89-year-old mayor) and I think that’s a great way to be.”