City Hall

Disability advocate now an HRM staffer

‘Staff is where the magic happens,’ says Paul Vienneau

A disability advocate has just been hired by the Halifax Regional Municipality to consult on issues he was critical of in the past.

Paul Vienneau is the new accessibility adviser to the chief administrative officer, Jacques Dubé. He signed a one-year-contract Tuesday.

“I love it,” said Vienneau. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do this because not everybody gets to have this voice.”

Mayor Mike Savage said the position was created just for Vienneau.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Savage. “It’s validation of the fact that we are going in a new direction.”

Vienneau said he will be working with both the municipality and the province on Bill 59, the Accessibility Act. He will also be assigned tasks by Dubé.

One change Vienneau would like to see is accessible entrances at both city hall and Province House. Right now Vienneau, who uses a wheelchair, has to use a side door to get inside city hall.

“I believe that everybody should be able to physically experience democracy the same way,” said Vienneau.

He doesn’t want to just make life easier for people in wheelchairs or those with mobility difficulties. He has spoken to people with a range of disabilities to hear their specific concerns.

“This is about making it a better city for all citizens,” said Vienneau.

Savage agrees.

“We recognize that there are points of view and perspectives that we need to bring in to all aspects of city building,” said Savage.

Vienneau said Jan. 9, 2015, is when he first became an advocate. He began breaking up ice on crosswalks on Spring Garden Road, dubbing himself “asshole with a shovel.”

“I was really happy with it being like a public service,” said Vienneau.

But, after four years, he was ready to turn it into a formal position. He didn’t think he could be a councillor because of the schedule. He approached Dubé a few weeks ago to say he wanted to work with municipal staff.

“Staff is where the magic happens,” Vienneau said.

He vows to keep being vocal and will keep sharing his opinions and criticisms. Vienneau said that one of his conditions to work for the municipality is that he won’t be used as a photo prop.