Reality Bites provides the best coverage of current affairs and political issues related to Halifax and City Council anywhere in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Oh, and we bring the snark, too. Contact jacob@thecoast.ca to send a tip.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall fashion: Ebola

Province responds to public panic, as expected.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 at 3:12 PM

click image (via Twitter) - NICK MARTIN
  • (via Twitter)
  • Nick Martin

Just in time for Halloween, Capital Health is ordering new safety gear and outfits for health-care workers who conceivably could be exposed to Ebola. The province is buying about $100,000 of impermeable gowns, pants, and accessories for front-line workers.

“We didn’t have those already?” You, certainly I, wondered.

Apparently not! Capital Health says the equipment’s ordered, but not yet delivered and all in place. We've had all the plans and training for an Ebola outbreak since September, but, says one registered nurse, that training leaves much to be desired.

“We've been directed to the one-hour video on the Internet site, as well as self-directed reading,” Trish MacDonald tells CTV.

Bad enough they’ve had all this union rigamarole, now nurses have to worry about deadly West African diseases. The back-ordered hazmat suits should help alleviate some of those staff concerns, at least. Though the nurses I’ve spoken with still have some worries about the current infectious disease face masks, which can’t be worn with any sort of facial hair. Amusingly, one nurse says that’s potentially a problem as a lot of coworkers are already prepping their Movember beards and ‘staches.

Ebola has even infected the legislature, but not in the way you'd like. Earlier this week Health Minister Leo Glavine took time to explain that the province, like most of the world, is in an extremely low-risk category for contamination.

The World Health Organization says West Africa could face up to 10,000 new Ebola cases a week within the next two months. The death rate in that area has risen to 70 percent. Nearly 4,500 people in West Africa have died from the outbreak. Then one person in the United States did, which caused all this panic. Constant media articles (hey, like this one!) stoking this sexy, dangerous disease haven’t helped.

It’s almost impossible Ebola will strike Nova Scotia. The disease can only be transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, meaning a pandemic is unlikely in a society so obsessed with cleanliness it sells both masculine and feminine asshole wipes. As far as tangible impact on our province, Ebola will likely fall somewhere between SARS, bird flu and killer bees.

In any case, an Ebola outbreak would need someone infected to actually want to visit Nova Scotia. Our poor economy and negative thinking are already helping to curb that risk, am I right?

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Everything now renamed Scotiabank

Last remnants of Empire Theatres to be replaced.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 10:54 AM

Not this anymore
  • Not this anymore

Cineplex Entertainment and Scotiabank, one of the top eight or 12 banks in Canada, today announced that Cineplex’s Bayers Lake location will be christened the new Scotiabank Theatre Halifax.

"We are proud that our long-standing partnership with Scotiabank now extends to Halifax," said Cineplex president and CEO Ellis Jacob in a release.

"We look forward to adding the Scotiabank name to our flagship theatre in Halifax, a decision made all the more appropriate by the bank's historic origins in the city."

As those who can still afford to attend the cinema will tell you, Cineplex’s takeover of former Empire theatres several months ago resulted in a surprisingly small amount of signage switching over. Now that a corporate partner is in place, “guests” can expect those cosmetic changes to begin shortly.

Scotiabank, where you’re richer than you think, also recently bought the naming rights for the Halifax Metro Centre, now known as Earn Travel Rewards Faster Arena.

“This city is home to some dedicated movie-lovers,” offers Scotiabank chief marketing officer John Doig, who invites all of us to take part in Scotiabank’s SCENE program (Canada’s first-ever entertainment loyalty program).

Scotiabank, a highly diversified and well-balanced business operating within a clearly defined global footprint, is also renaming Cineplex locations in Saskatoon and St. John’s. There are already Scotiabank Theatres in world-class cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto.

Scotiabank still retains provincial naming rights, which it purchased in 1987.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Not ALL police officers

A couple violent cops ruin the bunch.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 4:53 PM

click image PHOTO BY DAVE CONNER
  • PHOTO BY DAVE CONNER

Quite the couple of weeks for Halifax Police, eh? First, they took the “unprecedented step” of releasing to the public HRP’s full response to Hilary Beaumont’s Coast cover story (a move we had some issues with).

Now, another lengthy essay has been penned by the police after the shocking story of a violent home invasion hit the news. If you haven’t read the details yet, please do. Back in 2008, two officers entered the home of brother and sister Tyson and Cirbie Bishop after receiving noise complaints. Const. Jordan Gilbert then began to beat the shit out of the nonviolent homeowners, to put it mildly. The Nova Scotia Police Review Board found Gilbert abused his authority and used excessive force. In response, he was given a two-week unpaid suspension and will be assessed for anger management.

I compare the two, not just for the quick response HRP issued in both cases hitting the press, but to contrast the atoning nature of media appearances post-"The always-on stalker" with the non-explanation that defends Gilbert and company’s actions.

In his extensive response to the beating story, Halifax Regional Police chief Jean-Michel Blais writes a lot without saying all that much. He does claim to be taking the cause of “police professionalism” very seriously, and feels “compelled” to remind citizens there’s a “formal and robust” complaint process if an officer ever sends you to the hospital.

Mayor Mike Savage has also stuck his neck out to support the cops, letting the CBC know he thinks the police generally do a good job.


“Every city of any size has some circumstances,” Savage tells CBC. Any city, like Ferguson, Missouri. They’ve had some “circumstances” as of late.

Citizens in Halifax are mad, and trying to take some action against this apparent miscarriage of justice. A Change.org petition popped up today, imploring Minister of Justice and Attorney General Lena Metlege Diab to prosecute Const. Jordan Gilbert for unlawful entry and assault. There’s about 150 signatures so far, though it’s unlikely the petition will do anything even if its goal of 800 signatures is reached. It shouldn’t, since politicians deciding who gets charged with crimes based on popular opinion might not be the best precedent.

Neither Blais or Savage are completely wrong. There are many officers with the HRP or RCMP who presumably don’t beat innocent people, arrest nonviolent protesters or commit sexual assault. But time and again we’re shown that those kinds of officers do exist amongst their ranks. Disciplinary action like that received by Gilbert makes one wonder whether the police want to protect their citizens or themselves. The cops already have authority. They are the authority. And it’s going to be hard for the public to trust them knowing that police violence is met with a slap on the wrist rather than the click of handcuffs.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Big savings on postage

Of course Canada Post sponsors the FCM.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 12:30 PM

DVORTYGIRL
  • Dvortygirl

Last week The Coast published an investigative cover story on community mailbox placement in Halifax. It was met with strong public outcry, including such comments as “clickbait trash” and “who cares?”

Something that didn’t make it into the article, because I only found out about it late last week, is the list of “corporate partners” belonging to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

You may recall the FCM as the Justice League-like assemblage of more than 2,000 Canadian towns and cities which looks to influence federal policy and programs. They’re the originators of the mailbox agreement passed by Halifax’s council back in July. It outlines what responsibilities Canada Post has in installing/maintaining these new community mailboxes; responsibilities the crown corporation can easily choose to ignore. The face-saving agreement offers direct municipal support in implementing Canada Post’s drastic cutbacks, while allowing cities to claim they have no say on the matter.

It also means Halifax is out of luck if any problems with Canada Post's community mail arise in the future. Luckily, HRM and Canada Post maintain a close working relationship, which benefits from the crown corporation being a major corporate partner of the FCM.

“Keeping constituents informed of municipal services and programs is crucial, but so is being able to control your communication costs,” reads FCM’s relationship status. Municipality members receive an “exclusive discount” from Canada Post of up to 29 percent.

There’s no back-room conspiracy here (at least there doesn’t appear to be). But a 29 percent discount and corporate sponsorship aren’t the worst reasons for the FCM to back Canada Post’s unnecessary budget cuts with their template agreement.

Other corporate partners with the FCM include the Commissionaires, the Cement Association of Canada, IBM and RBC.

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Local food movement under attack

Draconian turkey laws cause for protest at legislature.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 9:15 AM

BUTTERBALL
  • Butterball

Thanksgiving is over, but turkey is still on the menu at Province House. Tomorrow a group of “concerned Nova Scotians dedicated to ensuring Food Sovereignty” will present a petition of over 3,000 signatures to the legislature.

The move comes from what some are calling “questionable actions” by Minister of Agriculture Keith Colwell and the actual-thing-that-exists Nova Scotia Turkey Producers Marketing Board. In the last couple months, the NSTPMB has been cracking down on small-scale abattoirs that aren’t registered with the board. Colwell has claimed it’s a health and safety issue.

That’s probably true. Certainly, bigger, federally-inspected facilities like Maple Leaf don’t have health problems. But at least one of these turkey processors was operating for 36 years, seemingly without too many deaths.

The Food Sovereignty for All Nova Scotians (FSANS) group also takes issue with the Natural Products Act, which they say needs to be amended or discarded completely.


“It is draconian in nature and allows for excessive bureaucratic control,” the group’s press release reads. “There is no tolerance for this kind of archaic document in a free and democratic country such as Canada.”

Concerned citizens can join in with the presentation of the petition tomorrow at 2 pm, or check out @FSNovaScotia for more details.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The turkey rebels of Nova Scotia

Chapter 10: Colwell's legacy

Posted By on Fri, Oct 10, 2014 at 1:14 PM

thanksgiving.jpg

Bria awoke. Her eyes, still fuzzy from the battle, adjusted to the small fires lighting the hall. Where was she? Underground? Dead? She remembered being on the Capital steps, the people cheering for her. She had won the Turkey Games, but it had cost so much.

“Hello?” she cried out, afraid. The only replies were soft gobbles in the dark.

She noticed a calendar adorning the wall, assembled from feathers and cranberries. Could it be Thanksgiving this weekend? Could it really be five years since the war?

Every child in the Maple Leaf schools is taught about Minister Colwell—his bravery all those years ago, outlawing small producers from processing their own turkeys. It was the kind of bold thinking that helped birth New Ivany.

Then the rebels came; clashing with the large turkey distributors and the agriculture department they dared to claim were in cahoots. Blood was spilled in those days; the blood of fathers and sons (but not turkeys). They were the years that began ham for Thanksgiving, and thus the end of everything that we knew.

Someone was approaching. Bria reached for her pumpkin knife as the figure came into view. It was Kerom!

“How’d you sleep?”

She ran to the boy she had thought dead and threw her arms around him. The familiar scent of fresh gravy clung to his clothes.

“Kerom, what is this place?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”

“What we’ve always done, Bria. What our mothers and fathers have done. What they don’t want us to do—slaughter turkeys.”

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Halifax Shipyard a glass half full

Weekly layoffs are still commonplace for Irving workers.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 5:16 PM

Irving.jpg

Last week 23 people were laid off at the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard. Seven were re-hired immediately after. This week several more were left without work—though again the company opened its doors shortly afterward.

"Ship repair and ship construction is always like this," says Cliff Pickrem. He's president of Unifor Local 1, the union that represents workers at the Irving Shipyard. "We're very accepting of it."

But both Pickrem and the company are optimistic the tradition of unpredictable work will soon be at an end. Irving is set to recall at least 120 workers over the next few weeks since recently receiving HMCS Ville de Quebec for refitting. Not only that, but with construction of the first naval vessels set to start in 2015 thanks to the famed $25 billion shipbuilding contract awarded to Irving in 2011, they hope to see the demand for workers stabilize.

"We adjust our workforce every week. We've done that for decades," says Irving spokesperson Deborah Page. Current practice in the industry is to re-evaluate on a weekly basis how many workers are needed to complete the projects in the company's roster. That means unpredictable layoffs and rehiring is the norm for workers, who can find themselves without a paycheque from one day to the next.

Irving was so aggressive in obtaining the naval shipbuilding contract precisely in order to create regular work, says Page, rather than relying on unpredictable smaller and shorter projects. The goal is "to try to get away from that boom-and-bust cycle," she says.

The union agrees. "The amount of work should be a constant number and something you can plan for," says Pickrem. "Here we have been awarded the potential to build the Canadian defence vessels. Hopefully this will level off our employment. This is the goal that we're all after, to stop that ebb and flow."

Matthew McPherson is a private management consultant who served for 10 years as director of labour relations for construction in Nova Scotia. This type of firing and re-hiring is common in all construction and manufacturing, he says. "The layoff-recall issue has to do, in my experience, with the private sector." According to him, it does not negatively effect relations between companies and their respective unions.

"When the work isn't there, people get laid off," he says. "Unions understand how businesses work."

When a worker is laid off Irving says it does provide resources to help find other employment, either with their suppliers or other organizations that require the same types of tradespeople. However, nothing is guaranteed. When Irving does need to fill jobs, they place priority on recalling workers with the most seniority.

"We look to get those people back as soon as possible," says Page. "These are the folks who are going to build our navy's ships."

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Council Review: A tide in the affairs of men

Or tales of amusement told with haste, if told at all.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 2:24 PM

click image PHOTO BY FERAL78
  • PHOTO BY FERAL78

“Right now, the scenario isn't good if you're a lighthouse.” —Councillor Stephen Adams

“I was very disappointed this sumer, having family from Toronto, not being able to have an ice cream at the canteen.” —Councillor Bill Karsten, on Point Pleasant Park.

“Thank you councillor cranky birthday boy.” —Deputy Mayor Darren Fisher, on councillor Matt Whitman.

ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE

Not counting public meetings, in camera minutes and breaks, yesterday's breezy city council meeting was only slightly longer than the screening of Gone Girl I shouldn't have bothered with later that night. Still, some things were accomplished, even with the clipped pace.

First on the list, and subject to most of the day's discussion, was the salvation of Park Place Theatre. Rising from the ashes, it will once again house Shakespeare by the Sea after council voted to repair the fire-damaged structure. The theatre had been ravaged by arson back in June, and staff recommended demolishing the current property and building a fancy new $2.4 million facility. Councillor Waye Mason called that a “generous offer,” but one which didn't address the troupe’s immediate need for storage and rehearsal space. The superintendent's cottage staff said SbtS could use while waiting on the new facility would be too small for a rehearsal space.

“We are at risk of losing this theatre in the park,” Mason warned.

So council rejected staff's recommendation, and voted instead to spend $125,000 “or less” on bringing Park Place back to usable conditions as quickly as they can. The door will remain open for future partnerships to renovate and expand the theatre down the road.

BUS BLUNDER

It was surprising news last month when Halifax Transit told the transportation standing committee they were seemingly abandoning the high-frequency, transfer-based system overhaul council wanted. So HT's Eddie Robar was put into the hot seat yesterday to give some real answers. Or, that was the idea anyway.

Robar said Halifax Transit was still committed to the objectives put on them by council and the public. It was just taking some time to figure out how to meet those goals.

“We have ideas on what that looks like,” Robar said. “We need to draft that, cost it out and make sure that's a fiscally responsible way of achieving the objectives.”

The project just turned out to be bigger than they were thinking. Also Halifax's streets haven't been helping at all and plus Transit's grandma is really sick. It's just been a difficult semester and they could use an extension. They promise though, highly frequent transfers are almost probably definitely going to be in some places.

Council seemed pleased by Robar's apologies, and took the time to admonish the public and media for getting the wrong idea that Transit announcing it wasn't going to meet council's directives in any way meant Transit wasn't going to meet council's directives.

“There are people in the public who are confused,” Bill Karsten mansplained. “I don't know if this has to continue to happen,” added councillor Tim Outhit, “if we just did a little better communicating.”

“We could have been more clear,” Robar admitted.

A 10-week public consultation period will be held, involving online and in-person feedback starting in mid-January. Halifax Transit will release its new system ideas one day.

CONCENTRATED COMPOST

Brad Johns has been frothing mad in the press lately over the proposed motion to treat composting wastewater (leachate) at the old Sackville landfill. Two weeks ago he fought to have the matter discussed then and there at council, but had to wait until yesterday to continue his crusade.

Which is why it was surprising any and all discussion happened behind closed doors.

Council went in camera for around 20 minutes, seemingly about a land sale matter, and when the public and reporters were allowed back in Johns had changed his mind.

Metro says “discussions of the contract negotiations around the existing treatment facility" were to blame for the altered motion. Johns tells the Herald that council was presented with “a number of options” that made his motion “somewhat moot.”

Staff will now compile a report looking at alternative methods of treating the leachate.

From most everything published, the additional four percent of wastewater treatment the Landfill was looking at seemed a safe, reasonable choice. But there were a lot of angry people in Sackville who felt otherwise. Taking the matter in camera to discuss options cuts those people out of the picture. That stinks.

WRITE-OFFS

A provincial commitment of funds in the range of $700,000 for rapid transit was written-off by council, who had left it uncollected for ten years. Since there was never a formal agreement negotiated, only a letter of commitment, HRM is out of luck. Councillor Brad Johns was annoyed the province wasn't going to give Halifax the money it once promised. He wondered if mayor Mike Savage had tried asking them for it.

“We kind of missed the bus on this,” Gloria McCluskey said, winning council for the day.

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Schooner General Contracting won an increase in their renovations to the Bicentennial Theatre in Musquodoboit. The project increased by $75,000, up now to $300,239. David Hendsbee wondered why there were only two bids on the tender, and why one was $200,000 and the other $2 million. No one knew.

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What are we going to do with all our surplus lighthouses? We'll discuss that next time instead, council decided. While you wait, have your vote here.

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Yesterday was councillor Matt Whitman's birthday. It was also David Hendsbee's eight-year wedding anniversary. Gloria McCluskey was honoured last night by the Maritime Heart Centre as one of 2014's "Heart Heroes." McCluskey took the opportunity to launch another zinger.

“When I had to have open heart surgery, everyone was surprised to learn I had a heart.”

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Grade: D+

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Developments would be towering over the Common

Plans for Robie and Quinpool corner dwarf their neighbours.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 11:14 AM

The proposed locations, at the southwest corner of the Halifax Common.
  • The proposed locations, at the southwest corner of the Halifax Common.

Two closely-linked developments at the intersection of Robie Street and Quinpool Road are currently working their way through the municipal planning process labyrinth. It’s early days, but what’s being proposed could dramatically alter one of Halifax’s most visible corners.

The Armco-owned APL Properties Ltd. is trying to build two towers, 12 and 28 storeys, at Quinpool and Parker Street. Right now, that spot houses a four-storey parking garage and a 10-storey office building. The current allowable height for the area is five stories on the western side and 14 on the east. What’s being proposed by APL is double the legal limit and three times the size of what’s in place now.

Next door, Westwood Development wants to build a 24-storey condo tower (six times the current allowable height of four storeys) at the former Cruikshank’s funeral home.

Obviously, it’s a bit of an increase.

“You look at what’s existing and what’s coming in the near future,” says Daniel Chedrawe with Westwood. “We felt this site really is conducive to higher density, higher heights. If a tall building here is not suitable, where is a tall building suitable in HRM? There is no other place.”

As a comparison, the Atlantica Hotel across the street on Quinpool is only 16 storeys high. As a better comparison, the house right smack dab behind the Armco property is two. It’s a ridiculous lack of transition between what’s in the community and what’s being planned. The proposed developments are going to dominate everything around them.

Or they will for right now. The way Chedrawe talks about it, Westwood (and likely APL) are banking on the upcoming sale of the former St. Patrick’s High School property next door. Whoever buys that site will want a large development of their own, and they’ll probably get it. Considering the money the city is spending on fixing up the space, it’ll want a return on its investment.

The St. Pat’s site, and the APL/Westwood developments, would by their very existence ratchet up the size of any future proposals. Suddenly, it’ll be the residential homes and smaller commercial structures that no longer meet those transition guidelines—that no longer belong in the neighbourhood.

A 2013 Stantec study prepared for HRM concluded there was already sufficient development capacity in the region to meet the city’s density targets. Meaning the current height allowances are still applicable to the ever-important idea of peninsula densification. The corner of Quinpool and Robie can be a thriving centre of life without having to blow up and redo the entire neighbourhood.

Chedrawe is right about one thing, though—that’s an ugly corner right now. No one’s going to argue one of most prominent, visible intersections in the city is best served by a soggy grey eyesore and an abandoned funeral home. But having a nice building doesn’t necessarily mean having the most building.

It’s likely why HRM staff highlighted so many concerns with the proposals in their report. Some, like shadows on the Common, seem silly but are important considerations. Westwood did take steps to alter their plans and create a narrower, taller tower in response. Chedrawe told me at the first of many public meetings on the project that taller and narrower buildings surprisingly produce less of a shadow than shorter, wider structures.

You’ll recall that Armco’s APL took a different tactic with staff’s recommendations, politely telling HRM to both sit on it and rotate.

Westwood and Armco seem to think they’re doing a service, dragging the city up by its zoning bootstraps. But Chedrawe doesn’t see it that way.

“We have one chance to do it right, and we don’t want to do it wrong,” he says. “It’ll be there for generations to come, and when I’m gone from here I don’t want to be looked back at as a terrible developer.”

You have until the end of the week to let HRM know your thoughts on the proposed developments via an online survey (available here). After that, the city will review the public’s input, hold more meetings, and eventually either approve or reject the development agreements (individually or in tandem).

Screen_Shot_2014-10-07_at_6.24.56_PM.png


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Council Review: Waste not, want not

In which opaqueness is defined, and other such rubbish.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 at 1:24 PM

An excited onlooker takes in the madcap antics of city council.
  • An excited onlooker takes in the madcap antics of city council.

“Waste management systems are a complex beast. It's like a cake, once you bake it...” —CAO Richard Butts.

”It's a nice accent to the area, provides warmth and ambiance.” —Councillor David Hendsbee, on patio heaters.

“I don’t like the process, but I love the vision,” —Councillor Tim Outhit, on Dalhousie’s new bike lanes.

BAG TAG

What was supposed to be a first reading for new garbage regulations jack-knifed into lengthy discussions on bag limits, bag colours and what constitutes “loose” trash. As the regulations were proposed, the city would have changed household garbage limits to four clear bags, with an opaque bag “nesting” inside one for privacy’s sake.

Deputy mayor Darren Fisher smartly added a motion to get rid of the confusing nesting option; altering the bylaw to three clear bags and one large dark one, and losing the “little mystery bag,” as Tim Outhit dubbed it.

The new garbage rules will also remove boxboard (i.e. cereal boxes) from green bin material (unless it’s holding wet compost) and ban yard waste from collection unless it’s inside a Kraft paper bag. Councillor Steve Craig wanted an amendment to include those changes in the upcoming public meeting on the subject, though he was out-voted.

All of these ideally will cut back on individual waste, so at their core aren’t bad ideas. The staff report notes processing boxboard at the recycling plant is a third of the cost as at compost facilities, and clear bags are apparently a “powerful diversion strategy.” But the confusion at council about what goes where doesn’t bode well for the general public’s use for these rules. Though, about 80 percent of residents already comply with the new four-bag limit, so this won’t be too hard of an adjustment for most. Maybe it'll be tough for that Dartmouth homeowner Gloria McCluskey brought up, who apparently fills several large bags of garbage with dog shit each week. Best of luck to him.

We’ll have a public meeting about these bag laws sometime in November, where you can voice your bewildered displeasure.

RESTAURANT TRASH

First reading was also given to new “sidewalk cafe” rules, which enhance the shaggy regulations currently overseeing restaurant patios. Staff has noted in its report that currently patios are governed by three different by-laws, none of which really address the construction, design or operation of those structures. As a result, the city deals with multiple incidents of people tripping, slipping and falling every year.

That’s probably why the city wanted greater insurance coverage if businesses were going to have their patios open for longer periods. The new law would’ve increased both annual fees as well as needed liability insurance (up to five million from two). Naturally, industry figures weren’t in favour of those extra costs. The Company House, for example, would see its fees for a small 12-person patio jump from $300 to $800 a year under the new plan. Most councillors agreed the fees structure needed to be looked at further, but it’s worth keeping in mind that no one is being forced to open their patios all year long.

“If a business wants to utilize our infrastructure, so be it,” said Steve Craig. “There’s a cost to doing that.”

An amendment to the insurance jump, put forth by councillor Reg Rankin, easily passed. So businesses will only need three million dollars in liability coverage. Though, as some pointed out, insurance companies offer two and five million ranges on their own, which means three million will default to five million. But it sounds nicer, in theory.

Less of a concern for council was the environmental impact of cold, wintery patios using obnoxious space heaters in the open air. Councillor David Hendsbee brought up the heaters, but only to pay passing mention the the pleasing ambiance they supposedly offer. Councillor Waye Mason took time to mention that these “yearlong” licenses are mainly so that restaurants don’t have to remove and then reconstruct their patios every year. That’s likely true, but once they’ve got the license there’ll be nothing to stop anyone from lighting up a few space heaters and keeping the sidewalk cafe party going all winter long.

By-law S-1000 passed its first reading. A public hearing will be held on October 21 and staff will be preparing a report on a new tiered-fee structure for restaurants.

MORE GARBAGE

As is the polite thing to do, Halifax will tell the province we support their 300 kg per person per year target for solid waste reduction. Now, yes, we’re well above meeting those targets (with a staff report noting HRM would need to divert 65 percent of the 60,000 tonnes currently delivered to landfills to meet the goal), but that’s no reason to admit the truth and be rude. The city is, after all, “contemplating” an additional three employees to try and achieve that cap within 10 years.

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Council also opted out of the Earth Hour challenge for next year. We'll still be turning out the lights, "where operationally possible," but the city won't be spending time and money on the competitive part of the challenge. That’s where cities across the globe create programs, share data and perform complicated dance routines for the chance at a recording contract. The program would just eat up too much of staff’s time, plus cost the city some $25,000. Oh, and also we haven’t updated our corporate greenhouse gas inventory since 2008. So, that plan’s out.

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A late entry for surprising-amount-of-debate was this Dalhousie pilot project for a protected bike lane on University Avenue. Gloria McCluskey worried about the loss of metred and accessible parking, though both aren’t being lost, just moved nearby. Councillor Outhit also pondered why council was debating an issue that had already been announced by the province. “It’s a good thing we do like it,” he offered. The two-year project will assess the impact/use of the bike lane on that busy section of Dal’s campus.

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September 22 through to the 28 is “Right to Know” week in the HRM, where the city recommits itself to being open and accountable with granting citizens access to information. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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Grade: C—

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Sobering times for Nova Scotia’s film industry

With government tax credits under review, the party could be over for province’s motion picture producers.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

photo.JPG

The morning after the Atlantic Film Festival’s closing gala is always one of strange beds, wicked headaches and feet sore from dancing. How to best cure that hangover? For film industry professionals, the province’s tax credit review could jolt them to their senses faster than even the strongest cup of coffee.

Back before the last election, Liberal leader Stephen McNeil promised to extend the province’s Digital Media and Film Tax Credit programs. But last winter the newly-elected government announced a broad review of the province’s tax system, with former Ontario cabinet minister Laurel Broten investigating regulations, fees and tax credits. That caused some concern for Nova Scotia’s motion picture professionals, who hold tax credits as crucial to their industry’s survival.

Marc Almon, award-winning local producer and chair of the Nova Scotia Motion Picture Industry Association, wants to stress he’s not at all opposed to the review.

“We're prepared,” he says, adding that his lobby group has already submitted a position paper to the Liberal panel detailing their arguments for keeping the program. “We're hoping that what we presented to Laurel Broten, that she takes that seriously. We feel confident the government will look favourably on extending the tax credit.”

Almon says an initial meeting between the review panel and film producers “didn't go well,” but since then the position paper has been taken into consideration.

Film incentives like tax credits have been coming and going over the last few years, with many governments and financial experts debating their merit. Saskatchewan ended its program two years ago after finding it had cost the province more than $100 million since 1998. New Brunswick also recently axed its credit, only to bring it back months later in a different form. Just yesterday, the state of California more than tripled their program, now offering over $330 million annually and extending those credits to productions with budgets greater than $75 million.

Nova Scotia’s Department of Finance isn’t too inclined to comment on the review before it’s completed. They’re bunkered down now, finishing things off before the report’s expected release in October. A rather terse statement by spokesperson Darcy MacRae bluntly reads in full: “The tax, regulations and fee review is looking at all aspects of our tax system including the film and digital tax credits. It will report this fall. Government has made a commitment to the creative industries.”

Positive or negative, any shifts in the program are likely to alter what films get made in Nova Scotia.

“We're trying to make sure they're aware of the ramifications of that,” Almon says. “If they were to make any change, it would have a damaging effect.”

I've spoken with more than a few film folks at screenings, parties and events over the last week and tried to ask everyone what their instinct is on whether the credit could get chopped. I'd say there is some concern, with rumours circulating about the project's economic worth, but the majority have said it's unassailable. Tax credits are too tied to the high-level economic shakers in town, they tell me. Michael Donovan will just get on the phone and start swinging his Oscar around. That kind of thing.

“Tax credits sustain an incredibly vibrant, sustainable economy here in Nova Scotia,” Almon says. “The producers here leverage those tax credits into a multi-million dollar industry that employs thousands of people and attracts attention from all over the world.”

Whatever the Liberals decide, just try to stay hydrated and avoid bright lights. Remember, the only real cure for a film industry hangover is time.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

It’s More Than Buses

Read the transportation advocacy group's full report.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 8:45 PM

IT'S MORE THAN BUSES
  • IT'S MORE THAN BUSES

A blueprint for redesigned transit in Halifax was released tonight, but in case you missed the event by It’s More Than Buses at the aptly-named Bus Stop Theatre, you can read the group’s full proposal here.

As we’ve covered, the citizen-created advocacy group has been working since 2011 to try and improve what Halifax Transit offers Haligonians. According to IMTB, currently the transit authority recovers less than a third of their expenses from fares, with the difference made from public funding. So aside from actually being usable, improved transit also equals potentially less costs since there’ll be more people riding every day.

The basic plan IMTB recommends is a high-frequency network with fifteen-minute service (or better) on major corridors. Under that setup, the group predicts a trip from Mic Mac Mall to Bayer's Lake (cross-city from the two busiest shopping centres) would go from 76 minutes to 35. Buses would also meet at the same time at transfer points, which alone would benefit anyone who's ever pulled into a terminal while watching their connecting transfer leave a minute early.

They also recommend transit lanes on corridors like Robie and Barrington Street, as well as "queue jump lanes" and special transit signals. Those infrastructure changes may end up the hardest sell for the city, but are likely key to making any meaningful changes. The alternative of putting more buses in traffic will only add to congestion. Transit then becomes less attractive, meaning more people choose their cars, meaning more vehicles on the roads, and so on, and so on...

Halifax Transit’s own system review will be brought before the public in January. You can share your own thoughts with It’s More Than Buses on their Facebook and Twitter.

click image It_s_More_Than_Buses_Report.png
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

City doesn't know best, says Quinpool developer

Bad boy APL Properties ignores staff-requested changes, plays by its own rules.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 at 4:00 AM

The proposed site of Armco's 28-storey, mixed use development.
  • The proposed site of Armco's 28-storey, mixed use development.

If the city tells you to change the dimensions of your multi-million dollar development, you would probably go ahead and make those changes. That’s why you’re lame. Not like those rebels with sort-of-a-cause APL Properties, who instead chose to ignore city council’s recommendations on their 22-storey Quinpool Road proposal and re-submit the exact same plans, only six storeys taller.

Back in June, two closely-linked developments came to council to be considered for municipal planning amendments. Both proposals are on the corner of Robie Street and Quinpool Road, with Westwood Construction Ltd. wanting to build an 18-storey mixed-use tower on the Robie side (where Cruikshank's funeral home used to sit), and APL Properties Ltd. looking for two joined towers (22-storey and 11-storey, respectively) on the Quinpool side.

As is their purview, staff noted some issues in the report presented to council. Particularly, the buildings’ height, mass, density, shadowing and spacing. Council voted to send the plans back to the developers to address these concerns. Westwood tweaked their plans to include a more slender tower and favourable setback, but APL (a division of Armco Capital) increased the total height and called it a day.

“It's unusual, to have concerns listed and say we'd like consideration of that and have a proposal come back that does not address those concerns,” says area councillor Jennifer Watts. “I've not seen that before.”

Staff found the APL towers were at a distance from each other and their shared property line that were about half the minimum requirements for downtown high-rises.

“In a less dense environment than the downtown, such as the subject site, it would be expected that tower spacing and setbacks to adjacent property lines would be increased as opposed to less than,” the report reads.

Reduced spacing with commercial units is one thing, but city staff has a fair point that the space between residential towers should always be maximized where possible for livability and privacy concerns. They recommended APL’s development only move forward if they could meet the 11.5 metre Downtown LUB minimum, but APL is sticking with their proposed 5.75 metres.

“We were asked to consider them, and we did,” says Armco’s vice-president of community development Chris Millier. “Staff's position was that those principles and those standards that are in place for other areas of the peninsula were appropriate for this site, and our position was that; not necessarily.”

Millier believes Armco’s refusal to play ball is the city’s own fault for not offering more accommodating land use by-laws.

“I think it's absolutely reasonable to expect the proposals to bring those out-of-date, antiquated and irrelevant standards that have not been changed for whatever reason into question,” he says of Halifax’s current regulations. “To go through the process to identify, in our current context, in our current time, what might be reasonable.”

Jennifer Watts takes issue with Millier’s criticisms.

“I wouldn't call the planning regime we have irrelevant or antiquated,” she says. “There's an important balance that needs to be had between increasing density and protecting neighbourhoods...I think density solely for the sake of density is not good planning.”

At nearly 600 people per acre, the density of what APL is planning is four times that which is currently permitted in the area. Now, yes, densification has been the watchword for Halifax development these last few years, but that doesn’t mean cramming in as many vacant units as possible is the best approach.

An artist's rendering of APL's resubmitted design.
  • An artist's rendering of APL's resubmitted design.

“If density is increased to the point where public amenities are negatively impacted and buildings are less livable due to limited setbacks, privacy or access to light, it could result in a situation where the desirability of living in these urban areas is somewhat limited and population growth stagnates," the staff report notes.

“There will be lots of development happening in that community,” Watts says. “We’re not losing on the density ability there. It’s understanding beyond the partial site, what is good planning?”

One change APL did see fit to make was adding six more storeys onto their proposed tower.

“Knowing development the way we do, we just saw that it was a better fit,” Millier explains.

The Robie Street proposal by Westwood Developments had its own set of issues, including the looming shadow it will cast over the Halifax Common. Staff notes it “covers the entire softball infield at peak game hours" as well as blacks-out parts of the Oval throughout the winter months. That's inconvenient, sure, but also could turn the southwest corner into a swamp as that section of the Common has the lowest elevation, making it the most susceptible to water saturation and needing the longest time to dry out. Wesstwood’s resubmitted, slimmer building potentially will alleviate that problem.

The proposed look of the Robie Street development.
  • The proposed look of the Robie Street development.

An open house to gauge public feedback on both proposed developments will be held October 1 at the Halifax Forum.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Council Review: “The Peggy’s Cove of Barrington”

In which the arts community breathes easier and matters aqueous are discussed.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 10, 2014 at 1:27 PM

click image @NSLCPunk - FELIX SUPPORTS THE KHYBER.
  • @NSLCPunk
  • Felix supports the Khyber.

“There’s a reason that I love this town.” —Mayor Mike Savage, quoting Joel Plaskett to the assembled Khyber supporters.

“The Peggy’s Cove of Barrington.” —Councillor David Hendsbee's rather strange metaphor for the Khyber.

“Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.” —Councillor Waye Mason.

THE KHYBER STANDS

It wasn’t the best start before yesterday’s Halifax Regional Council meeting when staff asking the assembled Khyber supporters to remove or turn-around their white “Khyber Forever” t-shirts (which apparently count as protest signs). Luckily, that wasn’t a portent of the historic building’s fate, as council removed the Khyber building from the proposed list of disposable surplus properties presented.

Halifax’s arts, queer and cultural communities deserve a lot of credit for the way they’ve rallied together over the previous few weeks to fight for the Khyber. The supporters in attendance yesterday handed a petition with close to 2,400 signatures to Council. It’s hard to ignore that kind of passion.

The vote was unanimous on a motion put forward by Waye Mason, who also requested city staff compile a new report looking deeper into repairs needed on the 126-year-old building. In 2010, staff proclaimed the Khyber needed $600,000 in repairs. That number jumped up to $1.63 million in 2013, and further increased to $4.1 million this past summer. The city says the 2013 assessment was just on “bare bones” upgrades to get the building seaworthy again, and this year’s increase would be for accessibility upgrades like barrier-free access and an elevator.

Mason also asked for a report on how the city can support the Khyber as an arts incubator, a promise Halifax has failed to live up to since it declared the building as such in 2010. As the downtown councillor pointed out, the large cost to renovate the Khyber is precisely because the city has ignored the building for close to 15 years.

Despite the momentary good news, the Khyber’s future is still an unknown. Someone will have to pay to upgrade it someday, and that discussion will likely still be contentious. In the meantime, the Khyber still stands empty on Barrington.

WATER FIGHT

The Khyber might have been the headliner, but the real fight was on the undercard where council debated altering the governance of the Halifax Regional Water Commission.

Councillor Steve Craig tabled a staff report yesterday to clarify some government framework on the relationship between the Halifax Regional Water Commission and the city. It recommends making HRM the sole shareholder of the HRWC, and further to define its scope and authority. It also directs staff to develop administrative orders outlining competency requirements for board members, financial statement, performance metrics and how much board members are paid. Craig also wants Halifax Water board meetings open to the public.

It’s all in an effort to make Halifax Water more directly accountable to the public it serves. Director of finance Greg Keefe wisely pointed out that currently there’s no way the city can give direction to the public utility on how they operate. Councillor Stephen Adams disagreed, arguing folksily that we could just give Halifax Water a ring-ding on the old telephone if we want them to make certain decisions.

“Unless there’s disagreement,” Keefe replied.

Several councillors, many of whom either are or were on the HRWC’s board, argued with Keefe that things are going just fine under the current operational model. Waye Mason, siding with Craig, reasoned that’s exactly why these issues should be addressed now rather than later, when disaster strikes.

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” Mason said.

Eventually council deferred two of the recommendations back for further discussion with the executive standing committee and Halifax Water managers.

ELSEWHERE

The new five-year active transportation plan was approved. The plan builds off the 2006 master plan and focuses on shifting the city away from cars, relying more on actually useful walking, cycling and transit services. As councillor Jennifer Watts pointed out, this is the first step in a physical and psychological step towards a better connected HRM.

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The city approved awarding a tender to replace our ICT backup system, which is tape-based, hilariously out-of-date and “fails regularly.” The system is used for the backup and recovery of about 30 TB of HRM and Halifax Regional Police information. Aside from logistic ease, there’s an environmental reason to switch the system as right now “tapes disposed of ultimately end up in land fill sites as they are not biodegradable.”

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After the first proved a success, Halifax will have a naming contest for the two new ferries scheduled to hit our harbour in 2015 and 2018, respectively. David Hendsbee had wanted to look at naming the ferries after the first two ships that travelled into Halifax Harbour, but was ignored. Mayor Savage suggested he could submit those entries in the contest. The ferry names will be decided by January, with the chosen submitters receiving a one-year transit pass.

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Halifax has new burning laws, which puts the city more in line with provincial rules on when you can and can’t light your chiminea. It’s fairly confusing, but even the fire department personnel at council basically said they only move on these infractions if there’s a complaint.

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Overall grade: B+

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Here’s how Halifax can legalize marijuana

Or at least stop wasting everyone’s time on drug raids

Posted By on Tue, Sep 9, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Global Marijuana March in Vancouver, 2013 - CANNABIS CULTURE
  • Global Marijuana March in Vancouver, 2013
  • CANNABIS CULTURE

Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you have to vote for Justin Trudeau. In fact, for all practical purposes, we can legalize marijuana possession and use without involving the federal government at all. Our city, we the people in it, can decide whether small business owners are actually worth arresting.

If you missed the news, Halifax Regional Police raided Farm Assists this past Friday, seizing marijuana, some cash and arresting owners Christopher Enns and Sherri Reeve. The two have been charged with drug trafficking, among other charges. Enns told the CBC he plans to fight, and expects to partially reopen his shop on Gottingen Street today.

Busting up a medical marijuana dispensary whose sole existence is helping those suffering from chronic illness is a particularly revolting use of police force. It needn’t have to happen, though. By taking the priority out of drug charges, HRM’s public can do what the federal government won’t and let everyone know we’d like our police spending their time on real crimes.

That’s what Seattle did. Back in 2003 the Emerald City passed Initiative 75, which made marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority, directing Seattle police and public prosecutors to make sure that had absolutely nothing better to do before they took to arresting and prosecuting adult personal use of pot.

Getting I-75 passed was largely thanks to a dedicated campaign team, including Dominic Holden. I spoke with the now-associate editor of The Stranger last month over the phone about the seemingly impossible task of de facto marijuana legalization.

“The largest hurdle wasn't raw numbers of support, but a sentiment among those working with us that it couldn't be done,” Holden said. “We needed to bridge the gap between thinking marijuana is fine and thinking legalization is impossible.”

It’ll take a steadfast coalition to produce similar results here in Halifax. Legalization activists will be only a part of that group. Campaign experts will be needed for polling and advertising, lawyers will be needed to draft the actual order and fundraisers will be needed because this will cost a fair chunk of change (the Sensible Seattle Coalition raised over $150,000 to get I-75 passed). Thankfully, we’ll benefit from the aftermath of cities like Seattle passing similar laws.

In the first six months from I-75’s passing, pot prosecutions dropped to 18, down from 70 during the same time in the previous year. The final report into the measure’s results, released in 2008 by city and police, found there was a reduction in marijuana incidents and charges as well as no evidence of adverse effects. The so-called “pot panel” found “no evident increase in marijuana use among youth and young adults,” “no evident increase in crime” and “no adverse impact on public health.”

Those results helped convince the entire state of Washington to pass a law in 2012 legalizing possession and taxing the sale of marijuana. Court filings for low-level pot possession dropped from nearly 8,000 in 2009 to just 120 last year.

Numbers like that, along with the overkill of raids like those on Farm Assists, will ultimately be the key in getting pot practically legalized. There are simply far better ways for police to be spending their time.

“People realize the futility of wasting our law enforcement resources,” says Holden. “We have more pressing financial needs.”

Halifax Police chief Jean-Michel Blais could be for it. Last year, he was more than happy to talk to the CBC about issuing tickets for marijuana use rather than wasting everyone’s time on arrests.

There are plenty of legal barriers to be taken into account in starting this campaign. Seattle’s I-75 alone wouldn’t stop drug trafficking raids on licensed medical marijuana facilities. But part of the beauty of designing a law from scratch is we can make it say what we want.

What the raid on Farm Assists highlights is just how close we already are to an acceptance of marijuana in society. It’s unlikely the arrest of cocaine traffickers would feature the same media stories questioning police and showcasing public support for the charged. When was the last time you talked to anyone who views marijuana use at the same criminal level that police do? It's not a crime; it’s naughty—played out for laughs on television and in public discussions with more openness than some sex acts.

Halifax needs its own I-75, not to piss off police or antagonize Stephen Harper, but to help our city run more efficiently; to get innocent people out of the criminal justice system and best use our police department. We need this directive so entrepreneurs, job creators like Christopher Enns and Sherri Reeve, aren’t treated like dangerous offenders.

The mandate will never come from the top down, at least not in any substantial way. It starts with you, reading this, reaching out to the right people, sharing coffees in a living room and deciding this bullshit's gone on long enough. We can be better, Halifax.

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