Max Taylor may never have run for mayor of Halifax if it weren’t for basketball.
As another humid summer came to an end on the East Coast, Taylor found himself glued to his phone. He wasn’t interested in politics. He liked sports. Taylor is a huge fan of basketball, specifically the Toronto Raptors. Raised by a single mom, he found male role models in NBA stars like LeBron James and the late Kobe Bryant.
Watching the NBA is where he saw Chris Paul, National Basketball Players Association president and Oklahoma City Thunder guard, encourage his entire team to register to vote. By October, 90 per cent of NBA players had signed up to vote in the upcoming American election on Nov. 3.
“It was very important to him that his entire team votes,” Taylor said.
That’s when Taylor started looking at voting in Halifax. Taylor was startled to discover less than one in three eligible voters cast their ballot in the previous election.
Then, on the last possible day, Taylor submitted his nomination package to city hall and got his name on the ballot for mayor.
The results of the election did not fall in Taylor’s favour, but his objective of increasing voter turnout proved successful. About 30,000 more voters took part in this election compared to the 2016 Halifax municipal election.
How he found his platform
Despite being slapped with the label TikTok star, due to his 650,000 followers on the social media platform, he distanced himself from the app to focus on his campaign.
“Not once in an interview have I ever mentioned it myself,” Taylor said. He wasn’t the one to bring up TikTok during his conversation with the Dalhousie Gazette either.
Taylor’s social media presence may only be dwarfed by his work as an entrepreneur. Taylor attended Bishop’s University, studying business and sports management. He ran an ice cream bike, a sports website, and a media company dedicated to creating commercials for small businesses around the peninsula. He also spent two years working for the parks and recreation department with the municipality.
Though the novelty of his get out to vote campaign began to wear thin, Taylor had the attention of prospective voters who wondered what kind of platform a 22-year-old would bring to the table.
“If the federal government went away you’d notice in a couple of weeks,” Taylor said. “It’s the municipal government where change happens immediately.”
People will notice, he says, because the buses stop showing up and the garbage truck doesn’t come.
This became a central talking point for Taylor. His campaign highlighted the need for affordable housing legislation, improvements to transit routes and budgets, and creating opportunities for young people who want to stay in Halifax.
Putting together a run for mayor
Taylor’s campaign team was small but mighty. It was made up of his mother, a friend and his ex-girlfriend. A few additional friends helped manage Taylor’s social media.
Running for mayor in a global pandemic came with additional barriers to campaigning. Debates weren’t held in front of large audiences and door knocking was suspended.
To help him participate in candidate debates, his campaign brought in Brian Casey, a former debate coach at the Sacred Heart School of Halifax, where Taylor went to high school.
In the race, Taylor faced incumbent Mayor Mike Savage, who secured victory and a third term on election night. Taylor received nine per cent of the vote, coming within 1,500 votes of second-place finisher: outgoing councillor Matt Whitman, who announced his campaign in October 2019, almost a year before Taylor.
Despite having no experience in public office, Taylor’s run for the mayorship demonstrates that political newcomers with good ideas and a strong work ethic should not shy away from putting their name on the ballot.
Giving young leaders a voice
Lily Barraclough, a recent graduate from the University of King’s College with a major in environmental studies, believes the skepticism around Taylor’s campaign speaks to the pressure young people who step up to leadership roles regularly face.
“It also sends a message that the younger generations are not a bunch of apathetic, technology-obsessed kids, which is often the view that older generations have of us,” Barraclough said.
“I think the results are very hopeful and definitely representative of a push towards change in our local politics and really having more voices at the table and pushing towards a better future, a more sustainable one with more equity,” Barraclough said.
Tyler Shrum, a 28-year-old military voter from Cole Harbour, N.S., first caught Taylor on The Rick Howe Show. He followed Taylor on TikTok, but wasn’t initially sold on his candidacy. Shrum, who based his vote on issues surrounding the environment and affordable housing, thought Taylor offered an impressive platform that echoed his values.
“Maybe it was a bit of a Cinderella story,” Shrum said. “It really gave the message to the everyday person that you don’t have to be this political junkie to get out there, make a difference, make a change and generate conversation.” And most importantly: “You don’t always have to win either.”
Taylor doesn’t know if he will run for public office again anytime soon. He expects to continue some form of activism after his defeat. He may have been met with a wave of skepticism when he announced his candidacy, but Taylor rose to the occasion.
On the campaign trail, Taylor learned it’s impossible to satisfy each voter.
“It’s important to build your core values and stick to them. Obviously you can change your opinion. But you can’t try and please everyone or nothing will ever get done.”
Taylor, who’s a copywriter by trade, is overwhelmed by the positive response to his campaign.
Taylor thinks it’s embarrassing only three candidates ran for Mayor in a city the size of Halifax.
“Hopefully four years from now, we’re going to see a lot more people running, because if I can run, anybody can run,” he said.
“You can tell people to vote for you all you want,” Taylor said. “ But I think it’s important people do their own research and find out who best suits them. And a lot of people aren’t doing more than just picking the most charismatic guy.”