It’s not common to write an exit article for a one-term city councillor. But because Councillor Antoinette Halbderstadt was a unique voice on Revelstoke council in several ways, the Times Review decided to contact her for her views on her experience as a municipal politician. Our main motivation was to provide voters insight into the system from a voice that was often against the grain.
Halberstadt was the only female on council. She always championed social issues and looked at each decision for the effect it might have on the poor or marginalized. The long-time social and political activist brought a left-of-centre perspective. She didn’t hesitate to hold up meetings to dig into a point, even if (in one instance) her fellow male colleagues cast glances at their watches and commented about missing a hockey game.
I interviewed Antoinette Halberstadt for about 45 minutes. Here’s our conversation compressed into the key points.
What were your biggest accomplishments?
Antoinette said engaging the community and ensuring residents had a voice was key. Three controversial issues she worked to help residents have their voice count on included the Clearview Heights sewer extension, the zoning change and construction of the new Best Western and the Westside Road gravel pit controversy. She helped “alarmed” residents who felt “lost” get engaged in these issues.
As for specific highlights and accomplishments, she listed several specific initiatives herself, staff and council worked on. They included the cosmetic pesticide ban, maintaining rec centre funding as much as possible, moving the skatepark forward, working on the youth strategy and working on issues with the animal shelter.
She was the only female councillor. Why? Why is there only one female candidate this election?
“It’s not affordable. Most women have to carry on working, etcetera,” she says off the bat. “Most women don’t have a bunch of spare cash.”
Other issues include a traditionally male-dominated council and an unwillingness to wade into a male world for fear of not fitting in. “Men think differently,” Halberstadt said. “They tend to have a different way of approaching it.” She feels potential candidates will worry: “‘I’ll be alone.'”
However, other than the recent wage increase, she doesn’t think taxpayers want to pay more. She said maybe there’s some room for tweaking the system. Maybe a base wage plus bonus for committee work.
For now, Halberstadt says, it remains an unsolved problem.
How has your idea of what it means to be a councillor changed after having served a term?
She learned lots about process and about council’s limited authority over matters. She also strived to change the way private in camera meetings work. She introduced more accessible explanations for why meetings were going behind closed doors and also prompted council to report the results of those meetings more quickly.
She also learned the importance of political courage when tackling infrastructure issues. The perennial temptation is to put things off to avoid raising taxes. “Things are falling apart because previous councils looked good because they didn’t raise anybody’s taxes,” Halberstadt said. “Now we’re having to pay for them but we don’t have the money in reserves.” Add in downloading of services from the federal and provincial governments and it adds up to a money crunch. “Some of the people who scream about our taxes are the same people who’ve been screaming at other levels of government to lower taxes, and that’s what you get.”
What about affordable housing? It was her main election issue.
Halberstadt says while it’s not on the front burner, it’s still on the stove. The economy dipped and home prices followed; they’ll both be back. “I think it’s still a high priority,” she said. “I hope that the new council will not lose sight of housing as being absolutely essential for the community’s economic security and the city’s social security.”
What was the most important lesson she learned?
“Going to people on their turf,” Halberstadt says. The gavel-banging and procedure of council chamber can be intimidating and alienating for people. If you’re going to put out a fire, you have to go to where it’s burning. Although she was discouraged from doing it by the mayor, one example was wading into online debates on the Revelstoke Times Review website. The worry was the public would mistake her opinion with council’s opinion. “I insisted on carrying on,” Halberstadt says, and agreed to pepper her comments with qualifiers: “In my opinion…”
Coun. Halberstadt previously announced she was bowing out, saying she couldn’t afford the time she lost out from her job as an ambulance paramedic.