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Profile: Desjardins up against council veterans in District 7

Newcomer takes on experienced rivals for Halifax South-Downtown seat on council

4 min read
caption Recent SMU graduate Dominick Desjardins wants to bring a fresh point of view to city council.
Eleanor Davidson
Recent SMU graduate Dominick Desjardins wants to bring a fresh point of view to city council.
caption Recent Saint Mary’s University graduate Dominick Desjardins wants to bring a fresh point of view to municipal council.
Eleanor Davidson

Part of a series of profiles of young candidates running for council in the Halifax Regional Municipality

Every other Friday night, Dominick Desjardins plays bingo at Joseph Howe Manor. At 24, he’s younger than many of his fellow players at this South End housing complex for seniors.

No matter if he wins or loses the election for District 7- Halifax South-Downtown, Desjardins plans to continue his Friday night bingo ritual.

Desjardins is a graduate of Saint Mary’s University and works at Cineplex as a theatre manager. He’s running in District 7 against incumbent councillor Waye Mason and former councillor Sue Uteck, who held the seat from 2000 to 2012.

While his opponents are older and have more experience, Desjardins is resourceful about gathering input from people all over the district. Halifax South-Downtown is home to five of the city’s universities, but Desjardins is looking beyond his student experience to gain knowledge about the problems that the district faces.

Friday night bingo at the Joseph Howe Manor is about more than the game; it’s about gaining insight into a different age demographic.

“They’ll ask you what your platform is, and you’ll say it, and they’ll say ‘30 years ago (the city) did that, and this is why it didn’t work,'” says Desjardins. “It puts what I’m saying in perspective.”

After nearly 10 months of campaigning, Desjardins has knocked on more than 9,000 doors and worn down the soles of three pairs of shoes. The first months of his campaign were focused on research and getting to know people in the district.

Desjardins went everywhere he could think of to meet with voters — from Tim Hortons to street corners to manors and universities. He also held a few information sessions.

“We’d go to the busiest area and ask people what challenges they face, and ask how they think we can get out of that,” he said.

Desjardins speaks with Mary MacDonald during a campaign event at Dalhousie.
caption Desjardins speaks with Mary MacDonald during a campaign event at Dalhousie University.
Eleanor Davidson

From all of these interactions, Desjardins identified several key problems to focus on. These include stopping unrestricted development, improving access to affordable housing and implementing controls on landlords.

For each goal, Desjardins has specific ideas about how it can be accomplished. After speaking with residents living in homes they felt were unsafe, Desjardins promised to license landlords if he is elected. Landlord licensing would require frequent safety inspections in rental units, and would impose penalties on landlords who do not keep their buildings up to code.

Halifax Regional Municipality sets the minimum standards for residential properties in the city, but has no policy in place for licensing landlords.

“He’s knowledgeable; he’s a go-getter,” says supporter Chris Landry. “He would do the city the big change that it requires.”

Desjardin’s knowledge of politics was established during his time at university, where he helped revive the Saint Mary’s Young Liberal Society after years of inactivity, and served as its president.

Pat Burton, current president of the Young Liberals, worked with Desjardins to bring back the society. He has known the candidate for four years, since Desjardins was his supervisor at Empire Theatres. Burton was not surprised when he learned that Desjardins’ was going to run.

“I knew at some point, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal, Dominick Desjardins’ name would be on a ballot.”

In his campaign, policy and community outreach have formed the foundation, but Desjardins faces two significant hurdles: he is relatively unknown and he is young. But he doesn’t think that the many lawn signs posted around the South End for his opponents are a true indicator of who will win.

“I think my opponents really underestimate the young guy, but lawn signs don’t vote,” he says.

“What we’re hearing at the door is absolutely amazing (and it’s) from their own neighbourhoods; I’m just going to let them keep underestimating.”

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