Debbie Hanlon (left) and Sheilagh Guy-Murphy. file photos
There may not be many women running this time for St. John's city council, but you can be sure that a woman will be elected in one council ward. There are only two candidates in Ward 4 and both are women.
Coun. Debbie Hanlon is vying to keep the seat she won in a byelection last year. Her opponent is Sheilagh Guy-Murphy, who has been involved in the local arts community for more than 30 years and is the wife of former mayor John Murphy.
Hanlon was elected in June 2008 to fill the Ward 4 seat, vacated by Ron Ellsworth, who successfully ran for deputy mayor.
The only other women seeking a St. John's council seat next week are Coun. Shannie Duff, who's running for deputy mayor, and Sheilagh O'Leary, who's running for an at-large seat.
Hanlon's run in 2008 wasn't her first attempt at politics. In February of that year, she ran for the federal Liberal nomination in St. John's East, but lost to Walter Noel.
This isn't Guy-Murphy's first attempt at politics, either. In 2001, she ran for a council seat in Ward 1, while her husband, who served several terms as mayor, tried to reclaim the mayor's seat, which he had lost to Andy Wells in 1997.
Coun. Art Puddister defeated Guy-Murphy in the 2001 election, and Wells was re-elected for another term until his resignation last year to take a new job as chairman and CEO of the Public Utilities Board.
Hanlon says she's looking forward to finishing what she started 13 months ago.
She said she's been active in her ward and working for all city residents as well.
"I've taken on issues like the mayor's advisory committee on seniors - myself and Tom Hann brought that to council and got involved," she said. "I've been lobbying for seniors since I started and I'd like to continue. I'd like to have an independent, comprehensive tax study done on the effects of taxing seniors, because I've always felt that seniors are our greatest resource. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have what we have today and I feel we don't treat them properly."
Hanlon said she'd like to see more cash in seniors' pockets because a lot of them are being forced out of their homes by rising taxes and expenses, while their incomes stay the same.
She also believes the mill rate needs to be reviewed in light of higher property values that are causing residents to pay substantially higher taxes.
"Something has to be done, but, to what degree, I'm not going to make any false promises and pretend that I'm going to say drop it from here to there, because you have to look at the expenses of running the city," she said, noting the budget was about $190 million last year, and in her ward alone there's still a lot more funding needed.
Hanlon's campaign slogan is "Keeping it real" and she says she wants to continue using the skills she's developed over 20 years in her business life to get results at city hall.
"If you really look at Debbie Hanlon, the last 24 years my whole life has been so diverse, from raising children here to dealing in the business world to dealing in the social sector," Hanlon said. "I've been on more boards than paint. I'm one of the top 100 female entrepreneurs in Canada; I was top CEO a couple of years in a row in Atlantic Canada, so I bring that, but I also bring the fact that I am a mother and I do believe I bring unique talents to the table and more of us should run."
Hanlon's other priorities include heritage and development and police and traffic issues. She said she believes you can marry heritage and new development successfully while keeping the charm of downtown St. John's that appeals so much to tourists.
She also wants to become more involved in police and traffic issues out of concern for public safety, especially in neighbourhoods with young children.
Although she's a well-known city businesswoman and probably best known as owner of Hanlon Realty, Hanlon said she's committed to being a full-time councillor.
She said her active businesses are now either in trust or being run by other people. Her realty company is being managed by her brother and two of her top realtors.
Sheilagh Guy Murphy
The theme of Guy-Murphy's campaign also echoes compassion for her constituents. It's simply, "I care."
"Basically, I'm running on the platform that I care. I live in the ward and I care about what goes on in the ward," she said in an interview. "I care about the issues that I'm hearing door to door."
Guy-Murphy said she's hearing a lot of common concerns in Ward 4, including neighbourhood security and, more specifically, speeding motorists that threaten the safety of pedestrians, children and seniors.
She said residents are also talking about snowclearing and how it's so difficult in the winter for a senior to even get to a push-button at an intersection because they can't crawl over a mound of snow.
Reducing the mill rate is something else Guy-Murphy said every resident she speaks with brings up.
"I certainly agree with them," she said. "You know the property values, real estate values, are going sky high and people's salaries are remaining the same. People on fixed income or seniors are in a real bind and they're the ones who are taking a big blow there, so that's a concern of mine," she said.
Guy-Murphy said she's committed to dealing with issues brought to her by the people and will be a strong advocate for her constituents.
The water issue is another concern, she said. "I'm a firm believer in seeking out and utilizing new reservoirs of water," Guy-Murphy said.
She has concerns about using a metering system as a conservation measure at a cost of $15 million to $20 million to install, and wonders who would monitor them and regulate the taxes from them.
"Residents already pay a water tax with their taxes, so that is a concern, for sure," she said.
She would prefer to see other options considered to encourage conservation, such as public education and communication with developers to include water conservation toilet systems and shower heads in their development plans.
"But mainly I believe that sourcing new reservoirs of water would be the way I would want the city to go," she said. "Instead of every summer telling someone that they can't use a watering can to do their window box, let's look at some real ways of finding more water and using it. We're surrounded by water, for God's sake, let's tap into it."
Her other priorities include promoting development, while maintaining the unique heritage of the city, waste management and curbside recycling, maintaining green spaces and providing affordable housing.
Guy-Murphy said she believes volunteer work she has done in the last 16 years for the community at large, for individuals and organizations bodes well for her council candidacy.
"I am a person who listens and is a strong advocate and a person who gets things done," she said.
A past recipient of the Governor General's Caring Canadian Awards, Guy-Murphy is well-known for her work with various community organizations and from planning events for organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, the Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism and the Tommy Sexton Centre.