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.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Dalhousie's sexual assault helpline in turmoil

Student union says the university chose to underfund the service.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 29, 2016 at 1:16 PM

VIA DALHOUSIE

Survivors of sexual assault at Dalhousie may only have until November 3 to call the university’s helpline.

The Dalhousie Student Union says right now it can only offer the sexual assault and harassment phone line service for the first eight weeks of classes after being offered inadequate funding from the university’s administration.

Students at Dalhousie started the phone line for survivors of sexual assault last September—a 24-hour service offering support and information for students affected by sexualized or gender-based violence. It began as a pilot project funded primarily through the DSU and community groups. Dalhousie eventually offered $22,500 in funding to see the project through until April.

The service was put on hold this summer as the DSU requested a full $60,000 operational costs in funding for the upcoming school year. Rhiannon Makohoniuk, DSU vice president internal, says the group also presented Dal with a bare minimum request of $30,000 to allow the service to continue. Makohoniuk claims the university returned with an offer of $15,000 in new funding. The DSU turned that money down.

“If we took the money, it would mean we wouldn’t be able to hold them to account,” she says.

“This is something that we really wanted to partner with the university on. This is something that the students and administration should be working together on, and it’s really unfortunate that they decided to underfund and not support this project.”

Janet Bryson, senior communications manager at Dalhousie, writes via email that “after reviewing the actuals of the operating costs of the hotline and considering the results of a report of usage and successes/challenges, the university agreed to renew funding at the same level as the previous year (one half of the $45,000 expense to operate), for one more year.”

That $22,500 includes $7,500 in funds from the original request last year, and $15,000 offered in new funding.

Makohoniuk couldn’t provide figures on how many calls the helpline took last year, but says its importance to Dalhousie isn’t solely measured by those numbers.

“It’s measured by training over 100 people on campus in things like active listening and responding to sexualized violence,” she says. “It’s in promoting a culture of consent on campus, and raising consciousness and capacity on campus, for things like combating rape culture and combating sexualized violence.”

This news comes at a time where students and faculty are voicing outrage at the university’s choice to foot the $300,000 (US) bill for nine Nova Scotian business figures to participate in a Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in October.

The union has chosen to run the phone line on its own for the first eight weeks of the school year, with the help of student levy funds. It will be a “condensed”service, operating from noon until midnight, seven days a week and lasting from September 3 until November 3.

This covers what Makohoniuk says is the “the critical eight-week period at the beginning of the school year with the highest incidences of sexual assault on campus.”

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rebecca Thomas isn't asking nicely anymore

Poet laureate writes "RedFace" in response to cultural appropriation.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 4:00 AM

ALEX LANDINE
  • Alex Landine

Rebecca Thomas, Halifax’s poet laureate, went to A Tribe Called Red’s concert on Friday. She is a huge fan of their music, which blends electronic beats with aboriginal drumming and singing.

While waiting at the bar to get a drink, she sees three folks with war paint on their faces. After giving them a double take, Thomas approaches these people with a few Indigenous friends by her side. “We try to be nice, and said ‘Hey, you might not be aware, but what you have on your face is really disrespectful. This isn’t war, this is a concert. You should probably go wash your face,'” she recalls saying. The people got angry, and defensive, demanding to see Thomas’ status card. “I just had to walk away, because they weren’t going to do it.”

Thomas initially wrote a Facebook status expressing her frustration, eventually leading her to write a poem about the experience. She titled it "RedFace."

“We’re constantly coming up against a world of colonialism; a world of oppression,” Thomas said over the phone. “It’s frustrating, and it’s heartbreaking at the same time.”

Members of A Tribe Called Red have been quoted numerous times speaking out against cultural appropriation. The group posted Thomas’ CBC interview and poem reading on their Facebook page yesterday: “It is NOT okay to make "fun" of us. Shout out to Rebecca Thomas,” they wrote.

Thomas hopes people will learn a lesson from her poem.

“Don’t question, don’t ask us to prove to you why we find it offensive; you don’t have that right,” she said. “One day it would be nice if people could respect us, and believe us when we speak about our truth."

-----------------------------------

"RedFace" by Rebecca Thomas

I've got a good one.
Johnny Depp, Rooney Mara, and a Cleveland Indians fan walk into a bar...

*smiles at audience*

Just kidding! It's not funny.

Red face.
Let's just call it misplaced cultural appreciation,
Instead of blatantly obvious racism.
Criticisms of sensitivity are severe so I've decided to turn it on its ear! This year for Halloween,
Wait for it...it will score some serious points in the party scene,
I'm going to honour my ancestry and go as my great great grandmother,
A genuine full blooded Caucasian princess.
But not to excess.
Just a tasteful amount of Starbucks pumpkin spice, a messy top knot,
And a Navajo printed Urban Outfitters dress!
I've accessorized it with Coachella tickets!
But no headdress.
I know that’s racist.
I read Huffington Post in excess.
Are you offended yet?
Let's make it all better with a Twitter apology, clasped hands emoji, and the hashtag #blessed.

By now,
I bet you’re miffed.
You should be.
What I did wasn't cool.
So let me school you in your misplaced anger at the frustrated Native instead of the war paint wearer.
See, we lived through centuries of genocidal terror.
Catastrophic errors from simply being born brown in the legacy of the crown.
You? You doubled down on your privilege when you demanded to see our cards,
Inflicted and reopened generations of scars because you were called out for your racist garb of colours on your face.
Even poorer taste given the main act on stage.
Do you think that Tribe Called Red are just a couple of Indians in a phase?
On some sort of display?
The few who broke free of the colonial cage?
Can you see why I'm enraged?
It's a shame that you chose the poet laureate to engage.
Because I don't pull punches when I play this game.
Our women go missing,
Our men shot and killed because they sought help for a tire's derimming.
GoFundMe pages paint the shooter as the victim.
His story prioritized when accounts are conflicting.
Did you know we've never had an L'nu hold the INAC minister's position?
So on the inside,
My war paint is dripping.
Pooling into my spirit,
I'm sipping the fire.
I am the physical embodiment to contrast the “Native Inspired.”
I will not tread lightly.
I came armed to fight, you see.
Two degrees and enough community backing,
I will line up with my brothers and sisters to send you packing.
Because we are done with your attacking.
This is Turtle Island.
After centuries of being repressed.
You owe us a debt.
You can go wash your face now.
And pay us your respects.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

HRM finally releases its sunshine list

Here’s every municipal employee in Halifax making more than $100,000.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 4:00 AM

I'm walking on sunshine, woooah...
  • I'm walking on sunshine, woooah...

[Ed: Spokesperson Brendan Elliott lets us know there are 453 people working for the fire department as of June 30, and 788 in various capacities in the police department. That puts 47 percent of Fire and Emergency on the sunshine list, and 37 percent of HRP, instead of the 44 and 57 percent numbers quoted below. The number of HRM staff fluctuates throughout the year, Elliott writes in an email, but as of June 30 there were 3,578 active employees (not counting library staff, volunteer firefighters, council, anyone on a leave of absence, part-time and recreation programming staff). With 665 names on the sunshine list, that works out to 18.5 percent of HRM’s employees making $100,000 or more.]

In what's gotta be disappointing news for HRM's Satanists, only 665 municipal employees earned more than $100,000 last fiscal year.

That's according to Halifax's sunshine list, which was finally released yesterday by city hall. It includes anyone the municipality directly or indirectly paid $100,000 or more to over the last fiscal year—including councillors, contractors, consultants and employees.

Probably due to overtime pay, the list is mostly filled with cops and firefighters. Based on The Coast's rudimentary count (the file wasn't released in a spreadsheet), roughly 57 percent of Halifax Regional Police officers are making over $100,000. The same is true for about 44 percent of Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency personnel. 


That’s based on the 516 full- and part-time employees HRP has—293 of whom show up on city hall’s sunshine list. The fire department had 489 full-time equivalent positions last fiscal year, and 213 names on the list.



Halifax Public Libraries, for comparison, has 513 employees (including 38 managers and non-union positions), but only seven employees who make over $100,000 a year (when factoring in benefits).



The largest payment to an individual—to no great shock or surprise—was paid to outgoing chief administrative officer Richard Butts, who collected $346,336 last fiscal year.


Coming up behind Butts is Halifax Water general manager Carl Yates, whose salary and benefits equaled $237,567.

Former deputy CAO Mike Labrecque, who left HRM in March, earned $228,395. That’s slightly ahead of acting chief administrative officer John Traves, who pulled in $218,664 in total payments last fiscal year.

Fire chief Doug Trussler earned $206,000, and police chief Jean-Michel Blais took in $205,000 in the same period.

Wages paid to employees include any salary, overtime, retirement, severance, lump-sum and vacation payments. Benefits include vehicles and allowances, living accommodations and other non-cash payments.

Police sergeant Randy Stoddard only earned a salary/wages of $88,476 last year, for example. But the sergeant also took in an extra $52,915 in other benefits, for a total calculated payment of $141,391. 


Paula Saulnier, director of planning and development with the library board, received $59,873 in benefits—equal to about 90 percent of her $68,096 salary/wages. Police constable Gordon Waterfield was another benefits outlier, earning an extra $44,621 on top of his $72,963 in salary/wages. 


Mayor Mike Savage is the only elected official on the list, with $177,000 in salary and wages.

The first ever HRM sunshine list was approved by council last November, and will be released annually from here on out. You can read the full document below.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three sports in the Halifax hipster olympics

You won't catch them in Rio, but a few urban athletes are bringing home the gold in these innovative sports.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Jeff Mitchell, Leila Kadivar, Curtis Cando and a man known only as Danger play some bike polo - JONATHAN BRIGGINS
  • Jeff Mitchell, Leila Kadivar, Curtis Cando and a man known only as Danger play some bike polo
  • Jonathan Briggins

1. Hardcourt bike polo

It’s been 108 years since bicycle polo made its one and only appearance as a demonstration sport at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, England. A modern variation of the game, hardcourt bike polo, is played in Halifax every Thursday at 7pm on the outdoor arena behind South Street’s Gorsebrook Junior High School. The object of the game is to put a hockey ball into a hockey net using a custom-made mallet while riding a bicycle. The catch? If your feet touch the ground, you’re not allowed to play until you’ve tapped said mallet against a cymbal located on the sidelines. The mallet is made of PVC pipe attached to a ski pole, and sturdy enough to support body weight since feet aren’t allowed for balance.

“The cool thing about bike polo is everyone’s really inclusive. Everyone wants you to have fun,” says Leila Kadivar, who got hooked on the game while living in Ottawa and found the Halifax group on Facebook. The group is self-organized with no designated organizer or coach. Anyone who wants to play just has to show up.

2. Disc golf

“Frolf” was on George Constanza’s summer bucket list, and those looking to play the sport—essentially throwing a flying disc at a target instead of using a golf ball and clubs—can do so at the Hammonds Plains Disc Golf Club (2092 Hammonds Plains Road). The course opened last summer on donated land. It’s designed by Benjamin Smith, president of the Maritime Disc Golf Association.

“You’re looking for something that intrigues a player, but isn’t easily mastered. You want the ability to get an ace [hole-in-one], but ability to punish you if you get it wrong,” he says. The frolf scene is boosted by disc-loving ultimate frisbee players in the city. There’s a core group that organizes weekly league nights, but anybody can join in.

3. Spikeball

If you see four people in HRM hitting a palm-sized ball into a small, circular net in the ground, chances are Dan Freeman is involved. He found out about Spikeball from a friend at the Sasquatch music festival in Washington in 2014. It was love at first sight.

“I have to describe this all the time because nobody knows what it is. It’s the game of volleyball, but as opposed to hitting the ball over the net, you’re hitting the ball into a net,” says Freeman.

Running into Freeman or ordering the game online are currently the best ways to play in Halifax, as there are no leagues or dedicated groups in the area. It can be played on any surface, although grass or sand is ideal to avoid face-planting into asphalt while attempting an acrobatic dive.

“It’s easy to pick up,” says Freeman, “you can teach anybody to play.”

Spikeball, anyone? - SEAN MCMULLEN
  • Spikeball, anyone?
  • Sean McMullen

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

5,500 Video Difference movies purchased by Dalhousie and Halifax Libraries

The ‘hard-to-find’ titles will soon be available for anyone in Nova Scotia to borrow.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 10:21 AM

DYLAN CHEW
  • DYLAN CHEW

In a post-credits stinger worthy of any superhero blockbuster, Halifax Public Libraries and Dalhousie University have swooped in to purchase 5,500 hard-to-find films from Video Difference’s collection.

The news comes just a day after the Quinpool Road and Bedford Highway landmark stopped renting movies after 34 years of business.

“We’ve seen great enthusiasm across Dal in pulling this innovative initiative together,” said university librarian Donna Bourne-Tyson in a press release. “It’s clear this collection holds great meaning not just to our students and faculty, but to film lovers in Halifax and beyond.”

The libraries’ collection experts selected Video Difference’s American Film Institute and British Film Institute collections for purchase, along with numerous documentaries and a substantial amount of British and international television box sets.

“We really looked for what were those really interesting, unique items that we wanted to allow the community to have access to,” says Halifax Public Libraries CEO Åsa Kachan, herself a regular Video Difference customer.

“I originally come from Sweden, and what I loved being able to do at Video Difference was hear about a new [TV] series that was acclaimed and being able to get it.”

Dalhousie, meanwhile, is buying 1,000 movies in subject areas supporting its classes. According to the university, that includes silent films, along with French and Spanish cinema, and films from Ireland, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand.

Halifax Public Libraries is spending $100,000 to purchase its 4,500 titles. Dalhousie has raised an additional $25,000 for the remainder, and is crowdfunding for more support.

While Video Difference already had a pretty intricate drop-off system through HRM, the collection’s new public owners means the 5,500 titles will be available to anyone in Nova Scotia.

“Basically what will happen is the collection is shared,” says Kasia Morrison, spokesperson for HPL. “So even people outside of Halifax can access the title to borrow.”

The packing and moving of the films is already underway. Plans for when and where the titles will be available to the public (presumably along with a list of titles being saved) are still in development.

The bulk purchase still only accounts for less than 14 percent of Video Difference’s 40,000 titles. Starting on Saturday, the remaining inventory inside the stores will be liquidated to the public.

DYLAN CHEW
  • DYLAN CHEW

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Unfiltered is suing the NSLC over unfair fees

North end brewery says the liquor corporation is taxing them unlawfully.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 at 4:39 PM

Photo via Unfiltered Brewing - INSTAGRAM

Unfiltered Brewing is launching a lawsuit against the Nova Scotia's Liquor Corporation over what the north end microbrewery calls an “unconstitutional tax” levied against it.

According to court documents filed today, Unfiltered is alleging that NSLC has been unfairly charging the brewery $0.50 a litre for its beer sales since the brewery/bar opened last year. That's resulted in monthly payments of roughly $2,000 (according to Unfiltered's legal documents) delivered to NSLC as part of the liquor corporation's “Retail Mark-Up Sales Allocation.”

But Unfiltered doesn't sell beer through any NSLC stores, or "use or receive any service" provided by NSLC. The brewery operates solely out of its location at 6041 North Street.

“They are making us give them money, but not providing us with a service,” says Andrew Murphy, co-owner of Unfiltered.

Murphy says NSLC also hasn't provided him with any written legal legislation proving its right to impose the tax.

Cox & Palmer lawyer Richard Norman approached Unfiltered about the mark-up, after following a similar case in Ontario. Murphy says Norman has searched all of the distributor's legislation and cannot find the mark-up policy outlined.

The brewery's notice of application calls the fee an "unconstitutional tax" and asks for a court order for NSLC to return any money it has collected from Unfiltered.

Below are the court documents, released by Unfiltered this afternoon.

None of these claims have been proven in court, and NSLC has yet to respond to the motion.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Stop calling 911 about that smoke smell

Halifax urges discretion in calling 911 about the stench of NS wildfires.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 10, 2016 at 12:57 PM

The 350-hectare wildfire currently burning near Seven Mile Lake in Annapolis County. - COMMUNICATIONS NS
  • The 350-hectare wildfire currently burning near Seven Mile Lake in Annapolis County.
  • COMMUNICATIONS NS

Aside from all the other terrible city smells unearthed by summer’s heat (here’s to you, green bin day), HRM has been bathed in a particular musk over these past few days.

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency says the culprit is smoke from the ongoing wildfires elsewhere in Nova Scotia. That smoke is wafting its way into the city and causing a hazy, smoky stank throughout the municipality.

“Several residents from across the region are using social media to ask if there’s a fire in their area,” HRM spokesperson Brendan Elliott writes in a press release. “There is a strong likelihood what they are in fact seeing and smelling is residue from the fires in southwestern Nova Scotia.”

The municipality is asking residents to use “discretion” and only call 911 if they see “clear evidence of a fire.”

Several wildfires are still burning throughout the province as of Wednesday morning, including the blaze near Seven Mile Lake in Annapolis County that’s grown to 350 hectares. Smaller fires in Shelburne, Pictou, Queens and Annapolis are largely contained, but travel and activities within the woods is still restricted.

According to the province, the wildfire have also affected air quality elsewhere in the province putting “young children, the elderly, people with allergies, heart or lung conditions at risk.”

The department of Health and Wellness suggests keeping doors and windows closed to avoid letting in the polluted wind, as well as staying indoors in an air conditioned space (“such as a library, indoor sports facility, mall or other public space”) if you’re sensitive to air quality.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lisa Blackburn joins a growing list of HRM council candidates

52 names now battling for the 16 seats at city hall in October's election.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 2, 2016 at 4:52 PM

Radio broadcaster Lisa Blackburn pictured here with a non-robotic Christmas tree. - VIA LISABLACKBURN.CA
  • Radio broadcaster Lisa Blackburn pictured here with a non-robotic Christmas tree.
  • via lisablackburn.ca

Some crowded ballots are coming together for election day in HRM.


Longtime broadcaster Lisa Blackburn has announced her campaign for District 14, joining 51 other council candidates (plus three more contenders for mayor) hoping to win your vote on October 15.

The 25-plus-year radio veteran was a morning co-host and news anchor for Newcap Radio. She worked for a decade with her husband Jamie Paterson at Lite 92.9 before the duo were laid-off and started their own podcast (dubbed the Halifax Daily News).


Currently, Blackburn works as a web editor and writer for CBC, though Pat Healy with The Laker reports she’ll be taking a leave of absence as she runs against veteran incumbent Brad Johns and fellow council challenger Kevin Copley in the race for Middle/Upper Sackville—Beaver Bank—Lucasville.


“Volunteer work and public service has been a major part of my entire life and I see running for council as a natural continuation of this work,” writes Blackburn in a press release.

The current list of candidates and councillors running in October's election (as of 4pm on August 2). See the full document here. - THE COAST
  • The current list of candidates and councillors running in October's election (as of 4pm on August 2). See the full document here.
  • THE COAST

Elsewhere in HRM, judicial assistant Iona Stoddard has announced her candidacy in the crowded race to replace Reg Rankin in District 12.


Stoddard joins Scott Guthrie, John Bignell, Richard Zurawski and Bruces Holland and E. Smith in the battle for Timberlea—Beechville—Clayton Park—Wedgewood.



Four city councillors—Barry Dalrymple, Gloria McCluskey, Jennifer Watts and Rankin—aren’t re-offering this fall. Predictably, those four vacant districts are seeing the largest herd of candidates step forward to battle for city hall.

There are six candidates each in District 12, District 8 (Halifax Peninsula North) and District 1 (Waverley—Fall River—Musquodoboit Valley), and eight names on the ticket in District 5 (Dartmouth Centre).


Last go around, seven contenders were vying for Dartmouth Centre. There were also six candidates for District 2 (Preston—Porters Lake—Eastern Shore), six for mayor and five candidates running in District 7 (Halifax South Downtown) in 2012's election.

There were no uncontested contests four years ago either. As of Tuesday, both Lorelei Nicoll in District 4 (Cole Harbour—Westphal) and Tim Outhit in District 16 (Bedford—Wentworth) are without challengers.

Candidates have until September 13 to file their nomination papers and officially place their names on the ballot for the October 15 election.


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Council serves up new multimillion-dollar tennis centre

Tennis, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 2, 2016 at 4:05 PM

tennisanyone_.jpg


Tennis Canada will get $2.5 million from HRM to build a year-round tennis development centre at the Bedford Commons—though whether it's actually needed is a matter of some debate.

A staff recommendation approved by city council on Tuesday will serve up the $2.5 million over the next three years to fund the proposed Nova Scotia Regional Tennis Development Centre.


Halifax will cover a third of the $7.5 million in funding needed for the facility, joined by equal amounts from the province and funds raised by Tennis Canada through corporate sponsorship, private donations and the selling of naming rights.

But there was concern at city hall that tennis is too ‘elite’ of a sport for HRM to be spending millions of dollars funding—an accusation strongly rebuked by some councillors.



“You need a ball and two rackets and a hard surface,” said Stephen Adams. “A net is helpful.”

“Tennis might have been considered elite at one time,” said Gloria McCluskey. “So was golf.”

Councillor Bill Karsten, meanwhile, was more concerned about how HRM keeps repeatedly granting these one-off, large-scale funding requests.



“It’s not sustainable,” Karsten told his colleagues. “We have, what, two or three today? It’s not sustainable for us to have a wide, open-door policy.”

The recently-opened Daniel Nestor Tennis Centre in Bedford will be taken over by Tennis Canada and expanded under the new plan. Its six indoor clay courts will be joined by an additional four to six international-sized hard courts, two additional outdoor clay courts and anywhere between two to five outdoor children’s courts.


The municipality has been working with Tennis Nova Scotia and Tennis Canada on the idea since 2011. Staff write that the funding model will open the centre up to use for municipal programs, and the lack of membership fee will allow access for schools and community-not-for-profits.

“If we want tennis to have a real chance to be broadly available to all citizens,” said mayor Mike Savage, “we do need to have this kind of facility.”


The motion to fund the new centre eventually passed 17-love. Tennis Canada predicts the expanded facility could be completed by December of 2018.

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Planning and development fees in HRM could finally see an increase

Consultant report says taxpayers increasingly footing the bill for processing applications.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 2, 2016 at 10:55 AM

City hall's best laid plans.... - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • City hall's best laid plans....
  • DANIELLE CAMERON

Planning and development fees in Halifax haven't increased in several years, and that's a problem.

A report headed to Regional Council on Tuesday afternoon recommends the municipality move forward with the second phase of a fee review and develop a standardized policy for its planning and development fees.


Those fees haven’t been updated in several years, and there’s currently no process in place to regularly review them to keep up with inflation. So while the operational cost of the city’s planning department has increased over the years, the fees paid by builders and developers have stayed stagnant.


That means HRM has had to increasingly rely on property taxes to foot the bill for processing development applications.

“Planning and Development fees are currently not recovering even the direct costs to provide the service,” reads a consultant report from BMA Management.


Development fees currently range from $330 per unit for intermediate and minor planning applications, up to $1,100 per unit for major applications (with a refundable $1,500 advertising deposit). That’s substantially lower than most comparable municipalities across Canada.


How various planning and development fees elsewhere in Canada compare to HRM's. - VIA HRM
  • How various planning and development fees elsewhere in Canada compare to HRM's.
  • via HRM

In 2015, only 47 percent of the cost of service—or $3.3 million in program costs—were recouped from the development fees. Other cities, such as Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa, operate on a full-cost recovery system to process the same applications.

BMA found at least 10 different HRM staffers and up to 220 hours can be spent on a single moderately-complex planning application, which works out to only $1.50 to $4.55 per hour (depending on the fee) recovered in operational costs.

A breakdown of what made up last year's P&D revenues (the majority of which came from building permits). - VIA HRM
  • A breakdown of what made up last year's P&D revenues (the majority of which came from building permits).
  • via HRM

Some of the current problems with HRM's system include: using four categories for subdivision applications instead of a base fee plus per unit cost like other municipalities; the same fee for different types of applications requiring substantially different amounts of work; only one Site Plan fee for all of downtown Halifax regardless of the size of the renovations; and needlessly complex fees for simple items like a homeowner who wants to build a deck.

Low fees can also drive speculation, writes BMA, in turn wasting staff time, contributing to higher property tax subsidization and slowing the local real estate market. 


Last year, HRM processed 641 major and 2,951 minor development applications. Those files were competed on time 69 percent of the time and 37 percent of the time, respectively.

If approved today, staff will return to council with a new fee policy offering a consistent framework for establishing revised fees.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Halifax Needham by-election called for August 30

The race to replace Maureen MacDonald’s seat in north end Halifax is officially on.

Posted By on Sat, Jul 30, 2016 at 8:56 PM

THE COAST
  • THE COAST

Well, at least it won’t be a long campaign.

On the Saturday morning of Natal Day weekend, premier Stephen McNeil has announced a by-election for Halifax Needham on Tuesday, August 30.

It’s expected all five registered parties will nominate candidates, though at the time of this morning’s release Elections Nova Scotia said there was only one was officially registered candidate: Rod Wilson, who’s running for the Liberals.

Wilson is a physician and executive director of the North End Community Health Centre. He last spoke with The Coast this past winter, when the NECHC was in dire need of an increase in provincial funding to fix a failing roof.

Former RCMP and police officer Andy Arsenault has already been announced as running for the Progressive Conservatives, campaigning on a reinvigorated film industry and promises of “Making Halifax Needham a safer place to live.”

“We have people afraid to be outside after dark, seniors who don’t want to leave their homes and young people who are looking for positive role models,” Arsenault writes in a press release.

The New Democrats, meanwhile, have put forward Lisa Roberts to try and regain Halifax Needham. Executive director of Veith House, Roberts is also a former journalist.

“The NDP has deep roots in our community, which is where I’m raising my kids and working to make a difference,” Roberts writes in her own press release. “I would be proud to represent Halifax Needham.”

Halifax Needham has been without an MLA since Maureen MacDonald retired back in April after 18 years in the Legislature.

No word yet on whether the Liberal government will call for a general election this fall to complement the municipal and school board elections happening across the province on October 15.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Halifax staff may get tips from the province on cutting red tape

Council to consider six-month fact-finding mission to Nova Scotia’s bureaucratic chop shop.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 4:32 PM

VIA ISTOCK
  • via iStock


The Halifax Regional Municipality may get some tips on reducing bureaucratic red tape by sending a city hall staffer off on a six-month fact-finding mission.



The grand expedition was discussed at Thursday’s meeting of HRM’s Community Planning and Economic Development committee, and will now be sent to regional council for final approval. It comes out of a February request by deputy mayor Matt Whitman looking for a red tape reduction strategy in HRM.


“It’s ironic a report on red tape took five months to get here,” said councillor Stephen Adams on Thursday.

The report recommends HRM commit a single staffer to head off on a six-month secondment to the inter-provincial Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness.

The joint ORASE office was created between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick last year, and later expanded to Prince Edward Island. 


The charter for the office—approved by all three provincial governments—states that government regulation “should be a public policy tool of last, not first, resort.” If it absolutely has to be enacted, regulation should be “in the lightest form possible.”

One lucky municipal staffer will get to drink that kool-aid for six months, with a possible extension of up to three years.

Staff are hoping to reduce the “red tape” around any rules, regulations and bureaucratic procedures that are “excessively complex” or “impose unnecessary delay, inaction and/or costs.”

“Unnecessary red tape frustrates businesses and citizens by stifling business growth and broader economic development, as well as day to day service delivery.”

Thursday’s meeting saw a surprise appearance by mayor Mike Savage, who sat in for the discussion and stressed it was “incumbent upon” HRM to reduce its red tape. Doing so, said the mayor, is “pro-customer.”

Councillor Jennifer Watts however argued that some businesses owners have a perception of unnecessary red tape without understanding the regulation’s purpose. She cautioned HRM to make sure that in cutting red tape the municipality didn’t inadvertently end up cutting loose regulatory measures that protect residents and help the disadvantaged.

“That’s the nature of who we are,” Watts said. “Everything we do in government is regulation.”

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X-rays could offer answers to the Bayers Lake mystery walls

$5,000 grant to archeology society may find some clues to unidentified structure's origins.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 12:00 PM

The mystery walls, pictured in 2011. - VIA EHALIFAXHISTORY.CA

A fancy bit of archeological tech could finally find some answers about where the Bayers Lake mystery walls came from.

On Thursday the Community Planning and Economic Development standing committee approved a motion recommending city council award a one-time $5,475 grant to the Nova Scotia Archeology Society to try and figure out some clues about the inexplicable structure’s origins.

The grant will be used to rent an “X-Ray Flourescence” (pXRF) system in order to analyze soil chemistry in and around the site, located behind the intersection of Highways 102 and 103.

“The mystery walls of Bayers Lake, are just that; a mystery. Educated guesses say they were likely built during the early settlement of Halifax, in the late 1700s or early 1800s,” reads HalifaxTrails.ca (as quoted in Thursday’s staff report). “The most likely theories are that they were either used as a defensive structure for the back end of Halifax, a military supply depot or as a training ground for the siege of Fortress Louisbourg.”

While the site was known to some locals of the area, the mystery walls only gained attention from the rest of Halifax when land surveys for the Bayers Lake Business Park in the '90s brought concerns for their preservation.

The mystery walls consist of a small five-sided structure, a three-foot high wall that winds along for around 200 metres and a stone staircase. No one knows who built them, how old they are or what they were originally used for—which has naturally caused a great amount of speculation since their modern discovery. NightTime podcast recently did a deep dive on the subject.


The municipality conducted an archeological assessment of the area in 2010, and the Province has helped HRM protect the site while it tries to figure out where the hell these things came from.


“There’s next to no information about this,” Parks and Recreation manager Denise Schofield told the committee Thursday. “To actually try and find some historical value and determine what if anything should go forward on this, it’s more an education process.”

The pXRF analysis is a largely exploratory and non-destructive process, writes the NS Archeology Society. It doesn’t require any site disturbance other than the temporary removal of some sod while the X-rays are beamed down into the soil. According to the NSAS, it would be the first time the technology has been used in Nova Scotia for archeological research.

Saint Mary’s University is also donating an additional $2,000 towards the project's gear rental. Pending council's rubber stamp of approval, the work will be carried out by NSAS volunteers and SMU archeology students this fall.

Any findings will be the property of HRM, and made available to staff, the media and the public likely within six months of the research.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

No cooling-off period in new CAO’s contract

Jacques Dubé has a verbal agreement with the mayor to not go work for developers.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 at 1:03 PM

Chief administrative officer and sharply dressed man, Jacques Dubé - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Chief administrative officer and sharply dressed man, Jacques Dubé
  • via Facebook

Halifax is hoping that Jacques Dubé is a man of his word.

The municipality’s new chief administrative officer doesn’t have a cooling-off period written into his employment agreement. 
Instead, Dubé has a verbal agreement with HRM promising not to work in the development industry after he’s done at city hall.


“We’re told legally that’s a very difficult thing because of the broad range of services a city’s involved in,” says mayor Mike Savage, “but he’s committed to me he won’t go work in the development industry in Halifax when he leaves his job.”

The former Moncton city manager was announced as Halifax’s newest CAO on Wednesday. He’ll replace former CAO Richard Butts, who infamously left city hall at the end of last year to become president of Clayton Developments.

Butts’ career change from top municipal bureaucrat to head of one of HRM’s largest development firms was met with sharp criticism from city councillors and members of the public.



At the time, Savage told reporters that a ‘cooling-off’ or buffer period would be looked at as part of the next CAO’s employment agreement to prevent a similar exit in the future.

That option was considered, confirms Savage, but ultimately dropped.

“It would be very difficult to say ‘You can’t go to any place the city does business with,’” says the mayor. “There virtually is nothing in the city that the city doesn’t have business with. I’ve asked for more information from legal on it, but in the meantime I’ve raised it with him verbally and he’s assured me he won’t go to the development industry when he finishes.”

HRM’s legal department is still looking into writing the non-compete clause into Dubé’s contract, says Savage, but the municipality wanted to “get the offer out the door.”

Dubé’s employment agreement does come with updated confidentiality clauses, prohibiting him from using any confidential information acquired during his time with HRM even after he leaves the job.

“The CAO cannot use that information (regardless of whether it is the municipality’s information or information belonging to a third party) for personal benefit or to the benefit of any other party,” explains manager of public affairs Breton Murphy via email. “Likewise any information acquired during the CAO’s tenure cannot be used to the detriment of any party.”

Murphy says previous CAOs also had a confidentiality clause in their employment agreements, but it’s been strengthened in the wake of Butts’ departure.

“It’s been made more robust, to just ensure that confidentiality is clear.”

Dubé starts his new job on September 12. Municipal solicitor John Traves will continue filling in as acting CAO until that time.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

High praise for Halifax's new CAO from Moncton councillors

Ex-Hub City manager announced today as HRM's new top bureaucrat.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 5:11 PM

Dalhousie University graduate Dubé is also a cyclist and triathlon runner. - VIA FACEBOOK

“Halifax just landed one hell of a city manager,” says five-term Moncton councillor Pierre Boudreau. “It’s going to be impossible to find another Jacques Dubé...Halifax has landed a jewel.”

Dub City’s former city manager was announced today as HRM’s new chief administrative officer. Dubé replaces former CAO Richard Butts, who left city hall at the start of 2016 for a job with Clayton Developments.

“We had a strong list of candidates, both locally and nationally,“ mayor Mike Savage writes in a press release. “I think Jacques will help us strengthen our communities and drive economic growth for the Halifax region.”


Dubé served as Moncton’s city manager from 2009 until his resignation this past week. He's also a past president of Service New Brunswick, former deputy minister for economic development, trade policy and population growth for Bernard Lord’s provincial government, and also served as chief of staff in Ottawa to regional minister Greg Thompson during Stephen Harper’s reign. 


In contrast to the CAO he’s replacing, several of his former colleagues had only positive things to say about their ex-employee. Boudreau and other councillors reached by The Coast, praised Dubé’s instrumental role in getting Moncton’s $107-million Downtown Centre complex off the ground. He also helped organize Moncton's U2 and AC/DC concerts on Magnetic Hill, as well as last summer's FIFA Women’s World Cup games.

“This is an exciting time for the municipality and I’m honoured to assume a leadership role to help its continued progress,” writes Dubé in today’s HRM press release. “I’m confident Regional Council’s strategic priorities will be delivered by working with staff and community partners.”

Dubé’s starting salary with HRM will be $270,000 per year—$64,000 less than Richard Butts was making upon his exit. But it’s still a significant raise from the $200,000 a year Dubé was making back in Moncton.

Unlike his predecessor, it doesn’t appear Dubé will be commuting to Halifax. CBC reports a “For Sale” sign recently went up in front of his New Brunswick home.


Dubé starts his new job on September 12.

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