Between his board and businessworld experience, his academic background in political science, and his 8 years in municipal politics (as a ward councillor and chair of the Public Works Committee, the Audit and Accountability Committee, and the Finance and Administration Committee) our new mayor has amassed a pretty clear vision on how to cure some of what ails the city.

It is quite refreshing to hear a political leader lay out well-articulated and actionable plans, instead of the vague and empty political babble we’re accustomed to in modern politics. This article simply summarizes many of Mayor Breen’s platform promises, as a useful introduction or first impression of your new mayor.


“Additional revenue received from the Province will lessen the reliance of the city on property taxes,” he says, “allowing for a reduction of the tax burden for city residents and businesses.”

St. John’s hosts many provincial buildings, and as a result we bear the costs of being Newfoundland’s capital city. Breen feels St. John’s needs “a new and more equitable fiscal arrangement with the province” and vows to “re-open the discussion with the Province to develop a new and fairer fiscal relationship.” It’s something he’s personally spearheaded in the past. In 2011, as Chair of the City’s Finance Committee, he put forward a plan for a new fiscal arrangement that included a rebate on road tax, HST, and payroll tax, and he also requested payment of property taxes on properties owned by the province in St. John’s. As a result, residents of St. John’s received a partial refund on HST. “Additional revenue received from the Province will lessen the reliance of the city on property taxes,” he says, “allowing for a reduction of the tax burden for city residents and businesses.”


Breen’s intention is to build a “culture of efficiency” at city hall during his reign, in order to keep taxes as low as possible, while still being able to offer the kinds of tax-funded services that make living in the city pleasant. He aims to achieve this primarily through “Program Review,” which he describes as “a continuous process where cost areas are constantly evaluated to achieve savings.” He credits continuous program review for saving over $13.8 million in 2017’s budget, resulting in taxes being lowered to 2015 levels. “I will ensure the delivery of services in the most streamlined and cost effective manner. Increasing efficiency and measuring the effectiveness of programs will ensure that the city maintains taxes at the lowest levels possible … to keep quality of life high, and taxes affordable.” A MUNICIPAL AUDITOR GENERAL He’s also considering the benefit of a Municipal Auditor General. “Strengthening the financial management of the City is important … and it has been suggested for some time that a Municipal Auditor General is a potential way of increasing financial accountability, improving financial management, and providing additional necessary transparency,” he says. As Mayor, he will propose that the new Council undertake a timely yet comprehensive review of the costs, role, and governance of a Municipal Auditor General. “Citizens will be involved in the review, and Council will have an open discussion in a public meeting, and vote on the matter in due course.”


Energy costs for the City of St. John’s have risen by $3.7 million, or 46%, since 2010. Breen says projections indicate this cost will continue to rise significantly, so he wants to nip it in the bud. His plan is to have the new council continue work on several initiatives, such as extending the geo-thermal heating system at work in Bannerman Park, the Paul Reynolds Centre, and in the Metrobus depot to other new construction. He’s also considering LED street lighting in new developments, and retrofitting Mile One, as well as continuing to study the potential for converting waste to energy at the Robin Hood Bay Landfill, adding that “energy efficiency action also allows the City to do its part in combating environmental problems, such as climate change.”


Breen aims to explore the creation of a “St. John’s Economic Development Corporation.” He says St. John’s needs to have a robust private sector, with a diversified economic base, to make living in the city more affordable and support more jobs here, to retain more people and augment their quality of life. “Economic development initiatives at the city level will pay off for St. John’s in terms of tax revenues, job opportunities, and quality of life,” he says. “A dedicated Economic Development Corporation created with existing resources will bring together entrepreneurs to help achieve more in both growth and traditional sectors.”


In his years on council, Breen has observed that there are challenges with service coordination that can lead to citizens experiencing problems in their time of need. He feels that a “Community Coordination Committee,” led by the Mayor, will bring community leaders in the social sector together to better coordinate service delivery. He adds that “stronger community coordination means reduced costs of delivering services, while ensuring that no one falls between the cracks and doesn’t get the services they need. We have an excellent community and social sector strengthened by true champions in their respective area. Our goal should always be to make it stronger for residents of St. John’s. Stronger coordination means better services for people who need them.”


Breen says that focusing on student-specific issues in the city will give a greater voice to a large group of individuals who are ready to start their careers and their families in St. John’s. “Students are on the cusp of making major contributions to the economy and society,” he says, “and City Hall needs to better engage these individuals before they graduate.” In conjunction with the Youth Advisory Committee, Breen’s Mayoral Student Working Group would develop a Youth Engagement Strategy for the city, so St. John’s feels like a promising place to remain in, after post-secondary graduation. “Students have choices to make – stay and contribute to St. John’s, or move on and contribute to other cities,” he says. “Having students build careers, grow families, and contribute to the city improves the quality of life for everyone in St. John’s for generations.”


“As Mayor, I will take a leadership role in engaging with the arts community to ensure it continues to highlight the vibrancy of St. John’s. Aside from contributing to the quality of life in St. John’s, these sectors contribute to the economy.” He says stronger relationships between the City and these sectors can boost their prominence here, and in turn augment our citizen’s experience of our rich well of local culture. So he intends to forge a “direct line of communication with individuals and groups in these sectors, through a biennial day-long working session.”


Breen says a better, more coordinated regional transportation plan would not only benefit residents, but local businesses too, by ensuring that St. John’s can more easily bring more people to visit and work … while helping to address matters such as climate change, through more efficient transportation.” There’s been talk of it for years, and Breen agrees that municipalities in the northeast Avalon cooperating with one another, and forging a better integration of different modes of transportation, would mean “reduced headaches, congestion, and costs.”


St. John’s is in a unique position of having city services that also provide those same services on provincial and regional levels. So why must the city exclusively bear the costs of running services that benefit non-St. John’s folk? Breen will negotiate a new multi-year capital program with the provincial and federal governments. “St. John’s should have a distinct relationship, including funding, with the provincial and federal levels of government,” he says. “Our taxpayers should not be disadvantaged financially by being a regional hub and provincial capital.”A new multi-year capital program would certainly help improve basic city infrastructure as well, like our potholed streets, bank-busting snowclearing budgets, and ever-tended-to water mains. Breen says he’ll personally lead the development of a new, dedicated infrastructure program. “This includes negotiating federal funding for a secondary wastewater treatment plant. Federal regulations require a major infrastructure project needed in St. John’s – a wastewater treatment plant with a $200 million price tag,” Breen explains. “Another level of government mandating a project that St. John’s taxpayers have to pay for requires a mayor to negotiate a proper funding arrangement with that level of government. Wastewater improvements are necessary for our growing city. However, meeting the mandate imposed by the federal government means that they have to be our funding partner too. I will lead negotiations with the Government of Canada to protect St. John’s taxpayers.”


Breen says The City does not have the authority it should have to address common issues like littering, property issues, noise issues, and other day-to-day matters. This is because the provincial government has responsibility for the City of St. John’s Act. Breen wants St. John’s to have more authortiy within city limits. “Many of the everyday public services you count on happen at the city level. More authority and flexibility to address these issues at the city level means a quicker response from your municipal level of government. We need to evolve that partnership [with the province] so that the city can take on important matters that people want addressed.”


Breen says “The best governed cities are the best cities. We need to continue to build citizen engagement, and be very clear about what we are trying to accomplish together, how, by whom, and with what resources.” He feels that realigning council committees, and more clearly defining terms of reference and work plans for each committee, could ensure that everyone at City Hall understands the public’s priorities, while allowing the public to better monitor how council and committees are doing at managing public resources and delivering public services.