Wayves Talks to Openly Gay By-Election Candidate Rod Wilson

Posted by Wayves volunteer 24/08/2016

By Hugo Dann, for Wayves

It’s 9 Am on a bright, sunny day in August when Liberal candidate Rod Wilson and I arrive simultaneously at his campaign office on North Park Street for this interview.

For years the North End of riding of Halifax-Needham  has been securely held by the provincial NDP, thanks to the highly regarded Maureen MacDonald.  Now Ms. MacDonald has retired, the seat might be up for grabs.

The riding of Halifax-Needham is one of the most culturally diverse in Nova Scotia, with centuries of playing host to waves of immigrants and refugees: from Black Loyalists escaping slavery following the American revolution, and Irish émigrés fleeing the famine, right up to the Syrian refugees so warmly welcomed by Nova Scotians in 2016, Since the 1980s the North End has also been the closest thing  there is to a "gay ghetto' as any neighbourhood in Atlantic Canada.

As the Executive Director of the North End Community Health Centre on Gottingen Street, Rod Wilson has had a ringside seat from which to view the issues facing the district.

I'd already sent Mr. Wilson an email outlining the things I wanted to discuss. The North End is home to many in Nova Scotia’s cultural industries: artists, musicians, actors, and many in the film industry. I imagine these voters have had a lot to say about the Liberal flip-flop on the film tax credit, so  that’s exactly where we started our conversation.

Wayves: How has it been campaigning? Especially with the film tax credit, the Liberal legacy must be a tough sell. Do you have any thoughts about the handling of that or the new program?

Rod Wilson: Well, everyone was a little fearful, I think, of having those conversations. I started going door to door on July 20th. Prior to that I was knee deep in health care for 30 years, so  my knowledge of the Film Tax Credit was peripheral.That said, the conversations at the door with people in the film industry have been really good. Eight out of ten people out of of ten people have been very reasonable, but they really wanted me to know what the impact has been.  Very pointed but respectful, good conversations. Then there are the 2% who are just out for blood. But I listened. And the immediate repercussions were more than I’d been aware of.

What I heard was that there wasn’t enough consultation; that the cut came as a surprise. Like any negotiations that have broken down, there needs to be some rebuilding of trust. So that's part of my commitment, and that will take both sides, and also to try and restore confidence in the industry as well. What’s happened has happened. But how do we move past a winner and loser scenario. Huge learning curve for me, learning about the ripple effects that the film industry has on the overall economy of the province.

Wayves: It’s good that you’re going through this learning curve. The people in the industry who have stayed here—so many have fled, I think it’s safe to say those who have remained will be coming to the table hoping to repair the relationship. But there will, quite understandably, be some mistrust.

Rod Wilson: Yes, but as long as we’re looking at finding a winner or a loser (government or film industry) then we’re stuck. I come to this with an open mind. My approach throughout my career in health care has always been to bring parties together, to build relationships. How do we respectfully listen, and move the industry forward? I’ve been impressed by the people in the industry I’ve met on the doorstep, and I’m grateful for the conversations I’ve had. I know Minister Furey is looking to rebuild trust. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Wayves: There’s been an announcement in the in the news recently that’s relevant to your particular interests: t $75 Million in federal funding for affordable housing in Nova Scotia.

Rod Wilson: Housing is the number one issue in this riding, (even surpassing the film tax credit,he adds with a touch of irony). Whether it’s from people on assistance, living on disability, first-time home buyers, seniors, I’m hearing about it from everyone: the affordability of housing all across the age spectrum. There are also concerns about density and the impact on neighbourhoods and the environment, in terms of transportation. I don’t think the envormental aspect  is getting as much attention as it needs. I had a chat with the folks at the Ecology Action Centre about this. There are layers to this issue.

The money is going to be a multi-year, multi-project investment, so it’s not going to be a quick fix for everything.  I’ve had a conversation with the Deputy Minister of Community Services and the funding is great, because we need to fix up the housing we already have, it's wearing its age, like Sunrise Manor. If we’re not doing a good job with what we have, how can we be getting into new development?

Wayves: As a member of the Queer/Trans communities, I often think we need culturally specific housing, especially for our Elders. No proposal has been put forward since the collapse of the Spirit Place project. There’s a tidal wave of LGBTQ seniors waiting to break over the shores of Nova Scotia and Halifax in particular.

Rod Wilson: About working with the Queer community, one of the responsibilities of an MLA is to build that bridge between government and the community, a case in point would be the work I did with PrideHealth. So there are opportunities there. But housing seems to be the number one issue, even moreso than health care because it’s right here and now. I hear it everywhere, on Novalea, on Gottingen Street, right across the riding.

Wayves. You mention Gottingen Street, which opens up the issue of gentrification. It seems to me that Gottingen, as a nexus of different cultural communities, is particularly vulnerable at the moment. How is all this development going to affect the social services that are there: Direction 180, Stepping Stone, Hope Blooms? What’s the future going to be for Mi’kmaq institutions there; for the African Nova Scotian residents after all the broken promises, right up to the loss of St. Pat’s Alexandra?

And what about the Queer community, which has made a rich contribution to the area for decades? It seems the whole North End is at risk of losing exactly what makes it such a wonderful place to live. I realize that this is technically a municipal issue, but Nova Scotia is so small that you can’t really separate the roles and responsibilities of municipal, provincial, and even federal governments in these situations, all government is local ...

Rod Wilson: You’re hitting one of the nails on the head. Government tends to work in silos. Part of the reason I’m running is because I think the stars have aligned and we have a real opportunity for change. We’ve got a federal and provincial government that are talking to each other. The Conservatives would never meet with the provinces on health care or anything else. Nobody was communicating.

Now there’s been a shift in the municipal government towards housing, I feel there’s an amazing opportunity in the next two to four years, if we don’t maximize that opportunity who knows when it’s going to come around again, when all three governments can align on health care, housing, and transportation.

I was struck by what Mayor Nenshi said when he was here a couple of years ago, we need neighbourhoods that are economically and culturally diverse. I’m as concerned as you are that Gottingen is on the cusp of being like Vancouver’s Lower East Side. I remember being on the lower East Side talking to a guy on the street and we nearly got run over by a 20 year old in a $110,000 Mercedes. We’re not there yet on Gottingen but we’ll be heading in that direction if we’re not careful.

Wayves: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Rod Wilson: Growing up gay, or queer, however we choose to identify ourselves, you see society through a different lens, whether it’s challenging heterosexism, or gender expectations. I feel I can challenge the Premier on these issues. I don’t think he’s the control freak the media the media is portraying. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here. So, if I win, I’m either going to be very happy or very disappointed, but the only way to find out is to run.

Wayves: Thanks for speaking with us.


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