Michael John Savage, mayor of Halifax (2012–present), Member of Parliament (2004–11), businessman (born 13 May 1960 in Belfast, Northern Ireland). The son of former Dartmouth mayor (1985–92) and Nova Scotia premier (1993–97) John Savage, Mike Savage served three terms as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Dartmouth–Cole Harbour. He has been mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) since 2012.
Early Life and Family
Mike Savage was born in Northern Ireland, and raised in south Wales, United Kingdom. He has three brothers and three sisters. His mother, Margaret, a native of Belfast, was a teacher and a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast. His father, John, a Welsh native, was a physician. In 1966, the family immigrated to Canada and settled in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
John Savage became a partner in a medical centre and focused on family medicine. When Mike Savage was a teenager, his father ran unsuccessfully for the Liberal Party in the 1972 and 1979 federal elections.
In 1985, John was elected mayor of Dartmouth. He served three terms before resigning in 1992. He then entered provincial politics as the Liberal leader. John Savage served as premier of Nova Scotia from 1993 to 1997.
Education and Business Career
Mike Savage graduated from Dalhousie University with a Bachelor of Arts (History) in 1980. At Dalhousie, he met his wife, Darlene, who was a student at nearby King's College. Today, the couple have two children and live in Dartmouth.
Savage spent the first 20 years of his career in business. From 1986 to 1997, he was general manager of S. Cunard and Co., a Halifax heating fuels distributor. In 1997, he became director of sales and marketing for the provincial electric utility, Nova Scotia Power. In 2002, he became vice-president at Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette, a corporate recruiting firm.
Savage's parents played an important role in establishing the Dartmouth Book and Writing Awards in 1989. In 2003, Mike and his siblings started the Margaret and John Savage Book Award after their parents had died.
Savage has served as a board member for the IWK Health Centre, a provincial children's hospital. He has volunteered as president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia. He also sat on the national foundation’s board.
Member of Parliament (MP)
In the 1997 federal election, Mike Savage ran unsuccessfully as the Liberal candidate in the riding of Dartmouth. He ran for the Dartmouth–Cole Harbour federal seat in 2004 and was elected. He won the seat again in the 2006 and 2008 elections.
In 2005, as a Member of Parliament (MP), Savage served on the special parliamentary committee to bring in Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act. It extended legal marriage rights to same-sex couples. (See Same-Sex Marriage.) As an MP, he started “Wheelchair on the Hill” day to raise awareness of disability issues. He also served as the Liberal opposition critic for human resources and skills development, and for the status of persons with disabilities.
In the 2011 election, Savage lost his seat to the New Democratic Party (NDP). It became the official opposition that year under leader Jack Layton. After his defeat, Savage returned to the private sector as vice-president at the Halifax public relations firm M5 Communications.
In 2012, Savage announced he would run for mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). The amalgamated city includes Dartmouth, where his father was once mayor. On 20 October, Savage won 57 per cent of the vote, more than double his nearest competitor. He has remained popular in the years since. He won 68 per cent of the vote in the 2016 election and 80 per cent in 2020.
Two themes have dominated the municipal agenda since Savage took office: growth management and climate change mitigation. In September 2019, shortly after Hurricane Dorian caused tens of millions of dollars’ worth of damage to Halifax, Savage wrote a column addressing both sets of challenges faced by the city. “Growth itself can widen the gap between those doing well, and those who struggle. The issues of housing affordability, food insecurity and social isolation that were thrown into relief during Dorian are, in truth, their own emergency,” he wrote.
Growth management has presented some challenges for the HRM, whose population has grown faster than many had expected. In 2012, the population was a little under 400,000. But by 2022, it had expanded to 480,000, making it one of the fastest-growing cities per capita in Canada.
As mayor, Savage is a member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors’ Caucus. In 2015, he co-chaired its task force on Syrian refugee settlement. He has argued that provincial voting laws should be reformed so that immigrants who live in Halifax and are permanent residents of Canada can vote in municipal elections. (As of July 2023, these reforms had not occurred.)
Savage has supported a number of major construction projects, including the Nova Centre convention complex and a new Halifax Central Library. He has also long supported the idea of building a sports stadium in Halifax, possibly to host a Canadian Football League (CFL) team.
Homelessness and Affordable Housing
Savage has expressed concern that the growing economy is making life — and especially housing — less affordable for Haligonians. Home prices rose by 72 per cent between 2012 and 2021. The majority of the change came after 2019.
Halifax’s struggles with homelessness became especially pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic as rents rose, shelters closed and encampments grew. In August 2021, HRM police forcibly removed encampments at four parks in Halifax. They dismantled tents and pepper-sprayed protesters. The move drew considerable public criticism, especially given the absence of clear alternatives for the encampment residents at the time.
Savage’s administration, in co-operation with higher levels of government, also initiated programs to expand affordable housing. At the provincial level he has collaborated with the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia and the Community Housing Acquisition Program. It provides low-interest financing to non-profit landlords, who in turn charge below-market rents. At the federal level, Savage has indicated that Ottawa should rapidly deploy the “accelerator fund” as part of its National Housing Strategy, to boost the construction of new affordable housing.
Climate Change Mitigation
Environmental management and climate change mitigation has been another major theme during Savage’s time in office. In September 2019, the city experienced major devastation as Hurricane Dorian uprooted trees, ripped roofs off buildings, destroyed wharfs and toppled a downtown construction crane. The area is also vulnerable to increasingly frequent forest fires. In May 2023, wildfires just west of the HRM caused the evacuation of more than 16,000 people.
Savage’s administration has tried to address these changing conditions through both local infrastructure projects and emissions-reducing policies. He has defended municipal green space and campaigned in 2016 on a platform of protecting the Blue Mountain–Birch Cove regional park. He offered plans to remove the sprawling Cogswell Interchange in downtown Halifax and replace it with mixed-use spaces. He also advocated improvements to transit services.
In January 2019, HRM city council declared that climate change constitutes an emergency. The following year, the municipality released a plan called HalifACT 2050: Acting on Climate Together. It calls for adaptive strategies, including the expansion of stormwater infrastructure and the improvement of emergency management planning. It also set benchmarks for the long-term decarbonization of Halifax’s economy through increased energy efficiency and the electrification of transport infrastructure. The plan is for the city to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.