Before I ask my first question, Fred Connors is telling me who he is. “I’m that guy who has lots of ideas,” he says.
Connors is focused, his gaze locked on me as he speaks, and he doesn’t let me interrupt him. He really wants me to listen to what he has to say.
So who is Fred Connors, other than the guy who has “lots of ideas”?
He is an entrepreneur, a hair stylist, an activist, a media personality, a lover of backyard poultry, and he’s self-assured in everything he does. Many also know him as the self-esteem expert on television’s X-Weighted.
He rarely minces words when speaking to the show’s participants, but he delivers his messages with genuine concern. “One of the things that I know is my message is much stronger when I am completely uncensored,” he says.
If that is true, Halifax’s political scene is about to get much more interesting.
On Jan 19 Connors announced his candidacy for mayor at a fundraiser for Family SOS, a local family outreach organization. He was the guest speaker.
“I just kinda slipped it in there,” he says. “I knew that the environment in the room was right. I was there to talk about messages of hope, overcoming adversity and turning adversity into action, sharing some of the lessons that I have learned and some of the strategies that I have developed in my life to get where I am.”
By the time he got home, he says, the news was trending on Twitter, and the next morning it was a top local story.
Connors finds it surprising when the topic of his sexuality comes up. “In my work, I feel that I live in a sexuality-neutral type of world,” he says, referring to his job as the proprietor of a beauty salon. “So when I talk about sexuality, I think my sexuality is as important as someone else’s colour or someone else’s gender.”
He says he was somewhat shocked and amused by the amount of attention he got after throwing his hat in the ring. “There were people in Vancouver excited that a gay guy was running for mayor in a Canadian city,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, there is going to be a gay candidate discussion,’ and I hadn’t even thought of that.”
Connors is the first openly gay man to run for mayor of a city in Nova Scotia.
If he is known nationally for being unbridled in his opinions on X-Weighted, he’s known locally for his opinions on civic affairs.
In 2010, Connors, who keeps chickens in his backyard, was served a notice to rid his property of the fowl – keeping them is prohibited in Halifax. Two years later, the chickens are still there and he’s still fighting the city to be allowed to keep them there.
Connors reluctantly admits the situation with his chickens was the catalyst for his mayoral inspiration. “I was contemplating this issue with the city, and I thought to myself, ‘If I were mayor, this is what I would do,’” he recalls. “And I had this visceral reaction. I kinda got hot: pins and needles and a little bit of tingling.”
Connors has a history of following his gut. In 2004, when he told friends and family he planned to open a hair salon/café/gallery in Halifax’s north end, they told him it was the worst idea they had ever heard.
The area, a working-class neighbourhood with a rich and diverse history and population, was not a place one would have looked for a cappuccino or an expensive haircut. The location Connors found was next door to a crack house.
But when Connors opened Fred, people came. And they came back, again and again.
Connors was soon known as a Halifax mover and shaker. He worked with non-profit organizations, and he hosted fundraisers for organizations working with at-risk urban youth, sex workers and more.
However, some residents who viewed his business as a form of gentrification also maligned him. Many were worried the neighbourhood would soon be too expensive to live in.
“The thing is people don’t understand what gentrification is,” says Connors. “I don’t want a community that forces the people that live here to have to go elsewhere. I want to be in a community that celebrates diversity, creates opportunities for people within their neighbourhood, allowing them to stay.”
Our time up, Connors is rushing off for his first appointment of the day. Joking, he says his clients may soon get to say the mayor cuts their hair.
He pauses when I ask seriously about the future of his business, and then says no matter what he’ll make it work.
“The thing about any business if you want success is that you have to tell people what you’re gonna do, you’ve got to do it, and then you have to show them that you did it. I think it’s the same with politics; if you’re gonna tell someone that you’re gonna do something, that you can deliver, and then show them that you did.”