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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cogswell energy plan gets cautious go-ahead

Using heat from Halifax Water's sewage plant to warm, cool buildings could save 262,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 10:25 AM

Demolition work should begin later this year to replace the failed overpass with a brand-new neighbourhood, built from scratch. - SAM KEAN
  • Demolition work should begin later this year to replace the failed overpass with a brand-new neighbourhood, built from scratch.
  • Sam Kean

An early endorsement has been given by Regional Council to creating a district energy system on the Cogswell Interchange lands slated for redevelopment.

Halifax Water plans to use heat from the nearby sewage treatment plant to create enough thermal energy to heat and cool the six acres of mixed-use developable lands HRM will sell off once the concrete overpass gets town down in the next few years.

The business case for the project, however, relies on mandatory connections for any new structures to be built. Council needs to seek amendments from the province to HRM’s Charter for that power, and staff will need to invent new planning mechanisms to ensure compliance from any developers who buy the new lots off of the city.

Those conditions didn’t sit well with Lower Sackville councillor Steve Craig.

“In concept, the design...I think is admirable,” said the deputy mayor. “Yet the business case that’s attached here says basically we’re going to need a monopoly to make it work.”

A mandatory hookup for district energy systems is “fairly consistent” in other cities, according to HRM’s chief planner Bob Bjerke.

“You need to know that base load is going to be there, to justify the infrastructure cost,” Bjerke told council on Tuesday.
A comparison of traditional heating types to an ambient temperature district energy system, and subsequent savings in greenhouse emissions. - VIA HRM
  • A comparison of traditional heating types to an ambient temperature district energy system, and subsequent savings in greenhouse emissions.
  • via HRM
Despite Craig's hesitations, council voted unanimously to move the district energy project along to its next stage. The go/no-go decision for the Cogswell redevelopment is expected this summer. Detailed design work and business plans for the district energy system could then be ready for council’s approval as early as the fall.

If the system isn’t installed, HRM staff estimate the new Cogswell developments will generate about 262,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years—equivalent to 55,000 cars driven for a year or 1,400 railcars of coal burned.

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Halifax council rights its stormwater right-of-way charge wrong

Confusing charge put back onto Halifax Water bills, and refunds will be issued to those taxed multiple times.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 9:36 AM

Like the fire department or police, we all have to pay for this somehow. - VIA ISTOCK
  • Like the fire department or police, we all have to pay for this somehow.
  • via iStock

This time, for the last time, city hall has finally sorted out all of this stormwater charge business—probably. Council voted this week to put the runoff charge back onto residents' Halifax Water bills.

The much-hated fee comes from a 2013 Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board decision that ordered HRM to annually pay Halifax Water $3.9 million for the infrastructure maintenance of stormwater runoff on public streets and sidewalks.

The municipality originally let Halifax Water collect that fee, for simplicity’s sake, but that caused confusion from customers already paying their own “ditch tax” for runoff from private property.

In response, and after much debate, council switched the right-of-way charge onto property tax bills within Halifax Water’s service area, which had the unintended effect of charging hundreds of individual condo and mobile home owners instead of taxing the building or park owner once. More annoying for some condo owners, they were also charged multiple times on parking spaces and storage units.

“If I’d known everything I knew when we did this, my vote would never be where we are today,” said Russell Walker on Tuesday.

In November, council voted against applying the charge to the municipality’s general tax rate, and instead asked staff to come back with a report on using an area rate within the Halifax Water service boundary.

Tuesday’s report recommended just that, but area rate idea was narrowly defeated by a split council in favour of the water bill option.

“To put that on the water bill is inappropriate,” said Halifax South Downtown councillor Waye Mason, who argued that many mobile home owners would end up paying more with a $39 water bill charge than the $1.25 per $100 of assessed value that would come from an area rate.

“We’re taking away the opportunity for them to pay less,” said Mason. “What’s fair is to put it on an area rate.”

At the same meeting, council gave the go-ahead to refund those residents who were charged the $42 stormwater right-of-way charge multiple times on storage units, parking spaces, mobile homes and undevelopable lots.

A one-time tax discount will be provided to those 3,700 property accounts to make up for the legal—though imprecise—billing.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Communications strategy needed for Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together plan

City hall asks for help promoting the redesign, and educating riders about route changes.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 1:07 PM

Next stop: Corner of confusion and who-the-hell knows. - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • Next stop: Corner of confusion and who-the-hell knows.
  • Danielle Cameron

Think of it as a municipality-wide bus announcement system.

A request for proposals sent out Friday morning by Halifax asks for a communication and marketing strategy to help Halifax Transit inform the public of upcoming service changes caused by Moving Forward Together.

According to the RFP, the goal of the communication plan is to educate the public about route changes—and the reasons for those changes—as well as “promote positive change taking place across the network.”

All of that work will happen under a “single communications umbrella,” which HRM suggests could involve interactive elements and individualized marketing to try and help passengers understand how the bus system they travel is being modified.

So far the minor changes already implemented from MFT have been well received, says spokesperson Tiffany Chase, but communicating all the major upgrades planned for in the gargantuan transit document will be more challenging.

“When we have instances going forward when every route in the neighbourhood is changing, we want to increase our ability to help people understand how the changes affect them, and how their new trips would work,” writes Chase in an email.

Regional council approved the Moving Forward Together redesign in April, 2016. The expansive plan will alter or impact nearly every single bus route in the city over the next few years, though many of those changes will be minor adjustments to route maps and bus numbering.

While those tweaks aren't as drastic as original plans to blow up HRM's transit network and start over from scratch, Bedford–Wentworth councillor Tim Outhit says it’s still vital to communicate that info to the public.

“It is sort of nitty-gritty, down-in-the-weeds information that is very important to riders,” says Outhit. “I think it’s only fair to try and get the word out to people on something that impacts them.”

According to Chase, a “timely, effective” delivery of the communication strategy meant looking at external partners, instead of putting it all together in-house at city hall. The spokesperson says HRM's corporate communications team will still be “closely involved in developing and delivering” the final work, though.

The successful bidder’s marketing strategy will be used on expected route changes happening later this year—pending council approval. A six-month pilot project rerouting Porters Lake express 370 to Mic Mac Mall begins in May, but most of the MFT's adjustments will happen later in August and November of this year, and February, 2018.

Which route changes happen at which times is all still subject to change, says Chase, with some being tied to the completion of the Big Lift. The success of the outside communication strategy on route adjustments this year will be reviewed before HRM approves its use on the rest of MFT's four-year implementation.

A separate exterior consultant’s report due back at the end of the year will look at further refinements to Moving Forward Together’s corridor routes changes, and will incorporate the upcoming Integrated Mobility Plan, commuter rail and real-time ridership into the transit strategy.

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For the first time ever, Nova Scotia’s teachers just walked out on strike

The labour war between the provincial Liberals and the teachers union is all kinds of fucked up, yo.

Posted By and on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 6:30 AM

Protesters aren't messing around with these signs. - REBECCA DINGWELL
  • Protesters aren't messing around with these signs.
  • Rebecca Dingwell

After months of back-and-forth negotiations, three rejected tentative agreements and work-to-rule job action, the conflict between the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) and the provincial government has come to a head.

For the first time in its union's history, teachers across Nova Scotia are on strike for the day.

“In the entire 122-year history of the NSTU, our members have never faced a more anti-education premier than Stephen McNeil,” union president Liette Doucet said in a press release. “The legislation he introduced [this week] limits teachers’ right to strike, erodes their ability to negotiate a fair contract and prevents them from advocating for reforms to improve learning conditions for their students.”



The historic labour action is happening while the provincial Liberal government tries to rush its Teachers’ Professional Agreement Act through the legislature. The Act, which would impose a new contract on the province's 9,300 teachers, already went through first and second readings, and was pushed through overcrowded Law Amendments Committee meetings earlier this week.

Around 400 members of the public tried to air their grievances about Bill 75 during the Law Amendments Committee meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, but only some 100 were actually allowed to speak.


Karin Martin, a teacher and parent of school-aged children, was one of Thursday’s presenters.


“I am deeply troubled by the actions of this government,” she said, urging the province to “return to the bargaining table with actual justice in mind,” as she felt “that’s not what we have seen up to this point.”


Tara Arseneau, teacher and parent, presented to the committing by pointing out problems teachers are facing such as large classroom sizes. She said the government is trying to “put a Band-Aid on these issues.”


“It may be easy to read about the issues,” said Arseneau. “It is different when you are actually immersed in the issues.”


“Your committee is not going to work because the committees you have already put in place have not worked.”


Multiple motions to extend time for additional presentations during Thursday's meeting were shot down by the committee's Liberal members. Written submissions from presenters are available here.

Debate on Bill 75 has continued overnight and will likely last throughout all of Friday. Meanwhile, thousands of teachers and supporters have been protesting outside Province House overnight, and those demonstrations continue today.

The union’s members initially voted in favour of work stoppage back in October, after two previous tentative agreements with the province were rejected. In December, after last-ditch talks between both sides broke down, teachers began working to rule: only performing contractually-obligated work. In other words, they were no longer responsible for activities such as extracurriculars or field trips.


The province responded by locking students out of school on December 5, claiming work-to-rule made for an unsafe environment. That move came under fire—by students, parents and opposing political parties—and after hundreds protested outside Province House the government quickly back-pedalled.


Hundreds of Nova Scotian students have shown their support for teachers, including participating in walk-outs and rallies. Other students are calling for teachers to end work-to-rule as soon as possible.

A mass rally featuring NSTU members, supporters and any and all available union members is being planned for noon outside of the Legislature. It's expected to be one of the largest political demonstration in Nova Scotian history.


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Thursday, February 16, 2017

A lesson for Stephen McNeil

Work-to-rule didn’t create a crisis in our public school system—it made visible the crisis that was already there.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 4:03 AM

CHRIS PARSONS
  • CHRIS PARSONS

If we’ve learned anything during the protracted negotiations between the province and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union it’s that there is a massive gulf between how teachers, students and parents understand the current state of public education, and how premier Stephen McNeil sees it. This gap was never clearer than when McNeil claimed he needed to steamroll over the democratic rights of teachers so the education system could go back to normal. The reason we’re in this mess is because McNeil still doesn’t understand that the system has not been working.
Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic. - JALANI MORGAN
  • Chris Parsons (@cultureofdefeat) is a political organizer, health care activist and occasional writer from Halifax. His views veer hard to the left, and often stray into the territory of polemic.
  • JALANI MORGAN

The rank-and-file members of the NSTU have used their ability to collectively bargain to demand not just proper wages and benefits for themselves, but also improvements in their classrooms and better supports for their students. After seeing the hope they have placed in politicians go nowhere, teachers took it upon themselves to use the threat of job action to try to force the current government to make meaningful changes to education. For as long as I can remember, every party leader has promised to fix education, and none has delivered. Indeed, they’ve all made it worse. With no other means of forcing politicians to keep their word, teachers used the only real power that they have: the threat of withholding their labour. Work-to-rule didn’t create a crisis in our public school system—it simply made visible the crisis that was already there.

Unfortunately, Nova Scotia’s Liberal government appears to be so focused on using negotiations with teachers to set a wage pattern for the rest of the public sector that it’s developed tunnel vision. For McNeil and his cabinet this has never been about education, it’s been an obsession with bringing workers and their unions to heel. Because the province couldn’t negotiate successfully, almost the entire public service is in engaged in contract negotiations, in the same year the Liberals are anxious to call an election. No wonder teachers think they aren’t being listened to: They want to have a hard conversation about the state of education, while the premier is more worried about his next campaign and squeezing a few more concessions out of workers.

It seems likely that teachers will have a contract imposed upon them early next week. They won’t be allowed to vote on it. There won’t even be any neutral third-party arbitration, just the employer overriding the democratic rights of unionized workers. Sadly, the narrow focus of this government means that after years of negotiating, months of work-to-rule and a day-long lockout of students, the new contract will solve none of the underlying issues that plague public education. After this whole clusterfuck, Nova Scotians are being promised nothing but more of the same problems we had when this started.

For awhile things will indeed go back to normal, just like the premier wants, but if he had  been listening, he would have realized that a return to normal is not what people want. The cumulative damage of decades of neglect mean the normal situation in classrooms is simply unsustainable. Teachers rejected three contracts because a normal day is one in which a lack of resources and support means too many teachers struggle to teach and too many students struggle to learn.

Teachers wanted the premier to listen to them and try to improve a vital public service. In other words they wanted him to do something that is altogether abnormal for a politician in 2017. They wanted him to rise to the occasion and work with them to find real, long-term solutions to the problems in public education. Instead, McNeil is responding by unilaterally legislating a contract on them that leaves those problems untouched.


———


Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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Selfie stations planned for next provincial election

Social media is hot, says Elections Nova Scotia. Newspaper ads are not.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 12:18 AM

If you vote in an election and don't share it on Instagram, does it even really count? - VIA ISTOCK
  • If you vote in an election and don't share it on Instagram, does it even really count?
  • via iStock
Reversing low voter turnout in Nova Scotia could be as simple as a case of FOMO.

According to Elections Nova Scotia, selfie stations will likely be set up at polling locations in the next general election to try and encourage more young people to participate in the democratic process.

The structures were tested out as a pilot project during last summer’s Halifax Needham byelection. A report by Nova Scotia's chief electoral officer says each selfie station featured a life-size image of Rick Mercer, “widely recognized for his strong voice on democracy.” 

screen_shot_2017-02-16_at_12.16.12_am.png

Those leaving the polling station could snap a pic next to Mercer and under the phrase "I  voted..." while holding up one of several provided answers, including “because it is my right,” “because I wanted to be heard” and “Yay!”

The posters would have to be set up outside polling stations, as photography inside those locations is illegal for anyone except for party leaders, their opponents and ballot scrutineers who are allowed to send pics of the crossed-off voter lists to their parties.

Clause 99 of the Election Act, which makes it illegal for anyone to take a photo of a ballot with any electronic device at a polling stations, was the result of the Contrarian’s Parker Donham famously tweeting his provincial ballot in 2013 (and his federal ballot two years later).

Burchells lawyer Jason Cooke argued at the time that the photo didn’t breach any provisions of the act and Donham’s freedom of speech was protected by Canada's Charter. Nova Scotia’s chief electoral officer subsequently dropped the charges (and potential $5,000 fine) saying there wasn’t a “likelihood of conviction under the current provisions of the Elections Act.”

Halifax Needham's selfie pilot was executed last summer without any news release or social media notice, which likely didn’t help the overall poor voter turnout for the August 30 election that was won by NDP MLA Lisa Roberts. Only 32 percent of eligible voters in the riding cast a ballot. For voters under 24, the turnout was even worse—just 17 percent.

The report by Elections NS is also recommending the province eliminate current requirements to give notice of elections by purchasing newspaper ads. That bit of legislation is a “throwback” to the days when “there were few alternatives to newspapers as the primary means of informing the public.”

Sending out direct mail notices to Nova Scotia's 400,000 eligible households would reach a far greater percentage of voters at “significantly lower cost” than buying ads in the province's largest daily newspaper, which the report estimates only reaches 100,000 people (or about 14 percent of eligible voters).

The chief electoral officer is also recommending Nova Scotia ban all government advertising during an election, save for public notices about health, safety or environmental dangers.

Nova Scotia's next provincial election has to take place by October, 2018, but will probably happen later this year provided everybody cools it with the protests and strikes already.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Snow storm cleanup dicking over Valentine’s Day plans

Dig your heart out, there's still plenty of date night options.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 3:41 PM

Snowjobs suck. - VIA @HFXGOV ON TWITTER
  • Snowjobs suck.
  • VIA @HFXGOV ON TWITTER

Getting dumped on Valentine’s Day sucks, but getting dumped on by the blizzard that shut down Atlantic Canada this week is making it difficult for couples that do want to celebrate their love.

Brian George and his fiance had booked Halifax Transit’s Access-A-Bus for their dinner reservations tonight at enVie in the north end. But the buses aren’t running until 5pm and he says no one at Halifax Transit is answering his calls to say whether the reservation (booked a week ago) will arrive.

“We’ll see what happens,” says the Eastern Passage resident. “We may order in, depending on what’s able to even get here.”

Most restaurants appear to be open tonight, but given the state of the city it’s probably smart to call ahead well in advance (provided you can get a reservation in the first place). That’s if you can even get out of your house, or haven’t thrown your back out with all that shovelling.

Those that can leave home will still probably have to walk waist-deep in snow, which isn't ideal when you're dressed to the nines for a romantic night out. In which case, there’s always the sociopathic option of making some other poor, lonely soul bring food to you. Tip your delivery driver tonight, Halifax. Always tip, but especially tonight.

Speaking of delivery, the storm hasn’t slowed down business for florists like Flower Trends. Orders are still coming in even today, according to the Quinpool Road shop. But actually getting those bouquets out on time to the city’s assorted special someones is proving difficult with the state of the roads.

“The delivery is a bit of a challenge, so we have to move orders over to tomorrow that are today, some of them, because the roads aren’t plowed yet,” says floral designer Daniel Berube.

The municipality’s Winter Operations crews have been working around the clock to clear away the nearly 60cm of snow that fell Monday and Tuesday morning. A press release from city hall Monday evening says heavy winds and drifting snow is hampering efforts to clear main streets and emergency routes, which has, in turn, delayed the snow-clearing of sidewalks and bus stops.

Municipal offices were closed again today, and many businesses have remained shut-down rather than ask employees and customers to break their legs trudging through snowbanks. That keeps everyone safe, but also limits options for date night.

The Oval’s closed, so no romantic skating under the stars, but a night-time snowshoe expedition exploring the quiet streets is a suitable replacement. Into a different kind of stargazing? Cineplex Park Lane is closed—because Park Lane Mall is closed—but the Scotiabank theatre out in the BLIP remains a possible date destination.

If you can’t make those dinner reservations or your flowers don’t arrive and all your best-laid plans go awry thanks to nature’s cold shower, just remember that Valentine’s Day isn’t about spending money and buying fancy things.

“I’m sure this storm impacted the commercialized side of Valentine's Day big time, but most people got to spend more time with their family than usual yesterday,” writes Melissa Morse on Instagram, “and isn't that what it's really all about?”

That, and discount chocolates come midnight.




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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Home for Colored Children inquiry dealing with the legacy of racism

An interim report from the restorative “council of parties” released Wednesday morning.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 1:51 PM

Tony Smith, co-chair of the restorative inquiry council of parties. - LENNY MULLINS
  • Tony Smith, co-chair of the restorative inquiry council of parties.
  • LENNY MULLINS
Former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children are still dealing with ongoing systemic racism and the need to maintain infrastructure and resources, according to a public report from the NSHCC Restorative Inquiry’s governing council of parties.

The report includes feedback from sessions held throughout Nova Scotia, in which participants spoke about the ongoing effects of systemic racism in the province.


"We've heard very clearly that many African Nova Scotians still feel the impact of systemic racism on a regular basis," Tony Smith, council co-chair writes in a press release. "It may show up differently in Yarmouth than it does in Halifax or Sydney, but many of the concerns are similar, and they're not new."

The NSHCC opened in 1921. During its time of operation, many children who lived there faced physical and sexual abuse. Years later, some of those former residents came forward about their experiences and launched a class action lawsuit, which was settled in 2014.


The inquiry into the NSHCC has been ongoing since last year, on a mandate to investigate “how the history and legacy of the NSHCC has affected not only African Nova Scotian communities but all peoples in Nova Scotia and consider how to address this part of the harmful legacy.”


Former residents and abuse survivors are included as members of the council. The interim report says that group has been working on building relationships with those who wish to participate in the restorative process, as well as community organizations and service providers. Accounts from those participants point to a desire for a better rapport with the government and the need for strong community role models.


The inquiry’s next phase involves “sharing circles” for former residents, which will be closed, safe spaces. Researchers have also been examining records of the NSHCC in order to create a historical account of the orphanage and compile relevant data.


Going forward, a task group will “identify and make progress on action items that arise from the Restorative Inquiry as the work unfolds.”


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Overhaul in procurement policy for HRM

CAO's office gets $750,000 bump in signing authority, while Lindell Smith asks for report on buying local, living wage.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 10:59 AM


Halifax's CAO Jacques Dubé, pictured in City Hall. - RILEY SMITH
  • Halifax's CAO Jacques Dubé, pictured in City Hall.
  • RILEY SMITH

On Tuesday council voted to alter HRM’s procurement policy, streamlining how tenders are awarded by city hall while also greatly expanding the CAO office's authority to approve purchases.

Previously, the chief administrative officer could approve awarding any tender under $500,000 without city council’s approval. That limit has now increased to $1.25 million.

City hall directors will also see their signing authority jump from $50,000 to $100,000, while HRM business units will be able to individually buy $10,000 worth of services (up from $1,000).

Those changes and other procurement policy revisions were made to try and shorten the timeline for awarding municipal tenders and provide better clarity to bidding companies, who can face schedule delays while their offers slowly churn through city hall.

Jacques Dubé, HRM’s CAO, told council the new rules were needed to keep things moving at optimal efficiency and clear out a “substantial backlog” of capital projects.

“There are many things we need to do to cut red tape around here, and this is one of them,” said Dubé.

“Saving 32 days, in the construction industry, that’s the difference between having a family move into their new home in the fall or wait another six months,” said Middle/Upper Sackville–Beaver Bank–Lucasville councillor Lisa Blackburn in praise of the swifter tendering process.

Tuesday’s report was born out of staff consultations undertaken after former auditor general Larry Munroe’s damning report into the Washmill Underpass fiasco. Munroe concluded that project, which ballooned to $11-million over budget, was the result of a culture inside city hall that lacked peer review, proper documentation and had little accountability.

Wearing that albatross around its neck, council sought reassurances from the CAO that increasing his authority and reducing red tape was actually an improvement—and not paving a path towards another Washmill or concert scandal-esque catastrophe.

“While all these checks and balances were in place we still managed to have a concert scandal, where money was spent inappropriately without the knowledge of council,” said Bedford–Wentworth’s Tim Outhit. “So our system is not perfect, though it’s getting better.”

At the same meeting, Peninsula North councillor Lindell Smith requested a staff report looking at options for changing HRM’s procurement policy to better prioritize social economic benefit, a living wage for employees, environmental impact and buying local.

A “buy local” criteria for municipal tenders was floated—and subsequently rejected—by council in 2012, though Smith’s motion goes beyond looking at that single item and asks for several previously unstudied criteria to be weighed in HRM’s tender scoring system.

“We should make sure that anything we’re procuring or tendering out should reflect our priorities,” said Smith.

Also on Tuesday, the CAO announced a new corporate structure at city hall that names Jane Fraser as director of the newly created Corporate & Customer Services business unit, which replaces the former Operations Support unit. The new C&C department includes communications, 311, IT and other “customer service” services.

Fraser was previously the acting deputy chief administrative officer, but that position no longer exists. City hall’s other business units—transit, parks and recreation, planning and development, fire and emergency, transportation and public works—will now report directly to the CAO’s office. Here's a chart explaining it all.

Dubé writes in a press release the restructuring won’t change the number of full-time equivalent positions, but will “help achieve our strategic goal of delivering service excellence.”




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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

SCIENCE MATTERS: Understanding climate change means reading beyond headlines

Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2017 at 11:12 PM

Kent Kallberg via the David Suzuki Foundation
  • Kent Kallberg via the David Suzuki Foundation

Seeing terms like “post-truth” and “alternative facts” gain traction in the news convinces me that politicians, media workers and readers could benefit from a refresher course in how science helps us understand the world. Reporting on science is difficult at the best of times. Trying to communicate complex ideas and distill entire studies into eye-catching headlines and brief stories can open the door to misinformation and limited understanding.

Recent headlines about a climate study, “Shifting patterns of mild weather in response to projected radiative forcing”, in the February 2017 issue of Climatic Change illustrate the predicament. Some news outlets implied the study showed countries such as Canada and the U.K. would benefit from increasingly frequent “mild weather days” brought on by climate change. Many failed to convey the true take-home message: Climate change will have devastating consequences for human civilisation.

Just ask the study’s author, Karin van der Wiel, research scientist at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. She studied the frequency of mild weather days as a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. She found a few countries, mostly in the mid-latitudes, will experience slightly more frequent mild weather—defined as days between 18 and 30 C with less than one millimetre of rain and dew point temperature not exceeding 20 C. But that’s not the whole story.

“The climate is changing in many places over the world and these changes are ongoing now,” Van der Wiel said in an email. “Globally, mild weather is decreasing and in many locations summers are going to be increasingly too hot and too humid to be considered mild. These are not desirable changes.”

Van der Wiel chose to examine climate change and mild weather rather than extreme events such as floods, wildfires and drought to make it easier for people to relate to the issue and inspire them to learn more.

“I am happy the research was picked up so widely; that way more people hopefully will learn that climate is changing the weather near them and in the coming decades,” she said, adding, “mild weather is not the only important thing in climate change, and therefore the other, more alarming, aspects of climate change should not be forgotten.”

Van der Wiel points out that mild weather isn’t necessarily good, as it can also create negative conditions.

“If there are projected changes in mild weather, that means there are changes in temperature, precipitation and/or humidity,” she said, noting that although mild weather could create more opportunities for things such as outdoor recreation, it could also have negative consequences like changing snowmelt patterns and threatening water resources.

Mild weather at the wrong time and place can be disastrous. The wildfire that devastated Fort McMurray last year reached city limits on a mild weather day, with an average temperature of 22.1 C and no precipitation, after several weeks of unseasonably warm and dry weather.

“Mild weather is not good for everything,” Van der Wiel wrote. “If you like skiing, increasing mild weather is bad. We haven’t investigated the coincidence of wild fires with mild weather, but such a link might exist and would indicate again that climate change is something the global community should try to mitigate as much as possible.”

This research is an important piece of emerging narrative about the impacts of climate change, but we must consider it in the context of all the work on climate. Prior to her work on mild weather, Van der Wiel studied extreme precipitation and flooding in the U.S. She has since moved to a project investigating climatic conditions that could negatively affect agriculture, to determine if it’s possible to warn farmers and communities in advance of bad crop years.

Science is the most useful tool we have to adapt to climate change and avoid its worst outcomes. But it requires critical thinking and a big-picture perspective to ensure we consider all available evidence. With so many people scrolling through social media feeds for news rather than reading entire articles, facts and clarity can become elusive. It’s up to us all—media and consumers alike—to dig deeper for the full story.


———

Science Matters is a weekly column on issues related to science and the environment from David Suzuki, written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation climate change and energy policy analyst Steve Kux. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.



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Monday, February 6, 2017

Halifax police opt out of Pride parade


Cops say the move is an effort to build a stronger, sustainable relationship with LGBTQ+ community.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 10:18 PM

The Halifax Pride parade two years ago on Spring Garden Road. - DYLAN WHITE
  • The Halifax Pride parade two years ago on Spring Garden Road.
  • DYLAN WHITE

Halifax Regional Police will be increasing their presence at this year’s Pride festival, but the department won’t be partaking in the annual parade.

The voluntary withdrawal was announced today by HRP after ongoing discussions with Halifax Pride and coming amidst national debate about the appropriateness of a uniformed police presence in pride parades.

“We feel that stepping away temporarily from the parade will best support the LGBT2Q+ community by helping to allow for meaningful discussion of this divisive issue,” said chief Jean-Michel Blais in a press release. 



“After several months of discussion with Halifax Pride, we recognized that our participation in the parade may contribute to divisions in the LGBT2Q+ community which is contrary to our intent of building a strong and sustainable relationship.”

Áine Morse, board co-chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) says the voluntary withdrawal is an important recognition by the department of the division and historical infliction of violence by police against queer, trans, and two-spirit people—in particular Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).


“Today's announcement is an acknowledgement and response to the pink-washing of police services,” says Morse in an emailed statement. “It’s an important starting place for building a safer, more inclusive Pride festival.”

Toronto’s Pride recently voted in favour of a demand from Black Lives Matter to ban police involvement at future parades in that city. The voluntary withdrawal of HRP is, by contrast, the first of its kind in Canada according to Pride’s new executive director Adam Reid.

The announcement comes just days after Reid released a public apology in response to the organization’s annual general meeting last year, during which a sudden influx of new members voted down a motion put forward by Queer Arabs of Halifax to prevent the presence of corporate “pink-washing” elements at future festivals. In his apology, Reid said the AGM was “full of racism, misogyny, and hate.”

Morse says that while Pride’s apology was necessary, action and accountability need to follow in order to be truly representative and welcoming. They say the community is frustrated that it took four months for this statement to be released.

“I think there’s this disconnect in being willing to admit that the AGM meeting that had ‘racism, misogyny and hate’ present…to say that happened but the AGM is still valid and we’re still going to go with it and all the decisions that were made there.”


This year’s Pride festival will take place from July 13 to the 23.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Halifax vigils held following Quebec mosque attack

“The only way that we can really address this issue is by uniting our community as one.”

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 3:27 PM

Masuma Khan, president of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association. - SUBMITTED
  • Masuma Khan, president of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association.
  • SUBMITTED

After hearing news of the mosque shooting in Quebec City, Masuma Khan felt it was important for members of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association to “take matters into our own hands” by organizing a vigil.

“The Muslim students here at Dal are sort of in a sense of panic and sorrow,” says Khan, the association’s president. “The only way that we can really address this issue is by uniting our community as one.”

On Sunday night, a shooter—or shooters, many details are still unknown—opened fire at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec during evening prayers. According to the Montreal Gazette, six people are dead while another five are in critical condition.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau and Sûreté du Québec have called the shooting a terrorist attack.

“I came to campus feeling scared—some other Muslim students came to campus feeling scared,” says Khan. “I think we really need to just address what’s going on and sort of heal together and stand together.”

At least three local vigils are scheduled in the wake of the shooting. Saint Mary’s University held a moment of silence at the campus art gallery at 12:30pm. Dal’s will take place at 4pm and a candlelight vigil organized by city hall will be held in Grand Parade Square at 6pm.

Khan says she and the rest of the association are hoping to see solidarity among students during Monday afternoon’s event, but that it’s important to support any of the vigils, regardless of who is putting it on. The event at Dalhousie is meant to focus on acknowledging on-campus Islamophobia and working to make the university a safe space for the Muslim students.

Going forward, says Khan, people outside the community should work to educate themselves and support “your Muslim brothers and sisters.” She also mentioned a Hijab day presentation and Q&A taking place at Dalhousie on Wednesday: a good opportunity for people to start that education.

“If you see someone who’s been attacked for being Muslim; stand up. Do something,” says Khan. “I think having these expectations or saying ‘This is the least you can do’ is reasonable.”

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Friday, January 27, 2017

The future is sexy at the Everything To Do With Sex Show

The annual event is showcasing the latest in technology designed to press your buttons.

Posted on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 4:21 PM

We-Vibe's Wish is available from Venus Envy this weekend. - SUBMITTED
  • We-Vibe's Wish is available from Venus Envy this weekend.
  • SUBMITTED

The Everything To Do With Sex Show
Friday, January 27, 5:30pm
To January 29
Cunard Centre (Pier 23)
halifax.everythingtodowithsex.com


The sex industry has long been a leader in technological advancement, including recent developments like streaming video on the iPad or RealDoll’s push to design AI sex robots.


Naturally, Halifax’s largest sex show will be featuring all the latest tech this weekend. Everything To Do With Sex Show manager Mikey Singer says when the event first came to Halifax nine years ago it was filled with novelty jelly toys. This year? Expect app-controlled vibrators, rope that conducts electrical currents and virtual reality.

“A lot of the porn industry is rapidly accepting VR,” says Singer. “Even the cam companies are getting at the forefront so people can get more interactive with the cam models.”


Convention attendees will get a full demonstration this weekend through a smartphone system at the the Era 2.0 booth. Also at the Sex Show, Venus Envy will be debuting its new 100 percent medical-grade silicone product, the Wish by We-Vibe. 



Christine Ollier, education coordinator at Venus Envy, says the toy is “a long-distance relationship game changer.” The Wish can be controlled over wifi by the We-Connect smartphone app from anywhere in the world to create custom vibrations.

Ollier predicts the future of sex toys is trending towards products with crowd-sourced input. She says crowdfunding campaigns are being used as a way for people to tell companies what they want toys to look like, feel like and what materials they should be made of.

“I think [technology lets you] explore your own pleasure and figure out what makes you feel good amidst this sea of options,” says Ollier. “It’s just putting that choice in your own hands.”

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Advocates say multifaceted approach needed for gendered violence

The Nova Scotia Gendered Violence Prevention Network wants government, researchers and service providers to work together

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 1:33 PM

Heather Byrne is the director of Alice Housing. - SUBMITTED
  • Heather Byrne is the director of Alice Housing.
  • SUBMITTED

A group of advocates against gendered violence is pushing for better communication between university researchers, government policymakers and community service providers.

“It’s really important and it’s surprisingly rare that this conversation across sectors happens,” says Marina Gonick, a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University. She’s also the Canada research chair for Gender. “We each have our own plans or perspectives.”

Gonick was one of the participants at a recent event hosted by the Nova Scotia Gendered Violence Prevention Network (NSGVPN). The gathering took place over two days this week at MSVU and looked at “sustainable approaches to gender violence prevention.” By working as a collective, Gonick explains, everyone can share their best practices as well as what needs to be improved.

Guest speaker Lana Wells, associate professor of social work at the University of Calgary, shared her experience with Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to stop violence before it starts,” says Wells. “In order to do that, what we know is we need everybody in the tent towards the same goals and agenda.”

Wells started Shift in 2010. Much of its research involves engaging men and boys specifically. The program is currently partnering with with 32 school jurisdictions in Alberta. The hope is that Wells’ work could serve as a framework for a similar model in Nova Scotia.

“I just believe there is so much social capital and amazing leadership and leadership skills in Nova Scotia—in all the different sectors,” says Wells. “I really think they can make a difference.”

Heather Byrne—the director of Alice Housing—was encouraged to see the concept already brought to life in another province.

“It’s inspiring to see that it’s possible.”

According to Byrne, it’s difficult for non-profits to get funding for evaluations.

“Typically, the people doing frontline service delivery are not researchers,” she says. A partnership with a university, which already has someone dedicated to researching gendered violence, solves that problem.

Evaluating a non-profit’s programming can help make cases to the government and other funding sources to continue or increase support. The researchers “in turn, get access to the frontline work and the first voices, information and data that fuel their own research,” says Byrne.

The government, non-profit and university sectors are already doing this work independently, but Byrne believes working together and exchanging assets means progress would be quicker.

The conversation didn’t end with the event on Wednesday. Byrne says an action plan identifies some key issues and will mobilize resources from all three sectors. The NSGVPN website is also being developed, which will include a blog and links to resources around gendered violence.

“We have to keep our pulse on what’s happening and the complexity of the issue and move forward together as a group, rather than individually,” says Byrne.

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The Halifax student behind @Trump_Regrets

Why Dan Harmon, Chris Sacca and more are finding solace in Erica Baguma’s social anthropology experiment.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 4:00 AM

An assortment of disappointed voters. - VIA TWITTER
  • An assortment of disappointed voters.
  • VIA TWITTER

“I heartily recommend taking a look at @Trump_Regrets,” writes billionaire tech investor Chris Sacca to his 1.7 million followers on Twitter. “It's cheaper than therapy.”

Countless hot takes have been ignited since November trying to understand how the hell Donald Trump became president of the United States of America. Halifax student Erica Baguma was curious about something else: How would Trump’s supporters feel after he became president and actually got to work?

“Sometimes it's depressing,” says Erica Baguma. “But, I don't know, I find it interesting.” - SUBMITTED
  • “Sometimes it's depressing,” says Erica Baguma. “But, I don't know, I find it interesting.”
  • SUBMITTED

That’s why the social anthropology major at the University of King’s College started her @Trump_Regrets account—personally searching the depths of Twitter and manually retweeting any remorseful voters who have changed their minds post-election.

“I was just curious to see how his supporters felt like he was doing,” says Baguma. “I found there was so many people that were already feeling totally disillusioned and betrayed by him. I just thought it was interesting to keep track of it.”

Here's a sample of that disillusionment: “@realDonaldTrump Everytime [sic] u speak I realize I made the BIGGEST mistake of my life voting for you! Get a brain! And a Thesaurus!!”

With only 1,100 tweets, the account has amassed over 72,000 followers. That’s double the amount it had two days ago, largely thanks to celebrity fans like Sacca and Community creator Dan Harmon, along with some media coverage down south.

The most common reason for former supporters feeling contrite? Baguma says up until about a month ago it was Hillary Clinton not being indicted. More recently it’s Trump's tweeting. 



“They thought he’d become more professional, more presidential,” she says.

No such luck.


Instead, the 70-year-old president has spent his first week in office battling with the media and spitting out tirades against protestors, celebrities, immigrants and foreign governments.

Which is why Baguma is really impressed by the people she sees who can admit their mistake—those who aren’t blindly loyal to one side and able to change their minds. It’s comforting, she says, especially given how easy it is to write off any Trump supporters as hate-filled dogmatists.

“A lot of people are just single-issue voters, didn't look at anything else, and then a lot of people really didn't trust the mainstream media,” she says. “I've learned that Trump voters, it's a more nuanced population and they're really diverse. It's not all bigots.”

That's one truth in a sea of alternative facts: It isn't all bigots.

“A lot of people were saying ‘It's just so depressing. I don't want to look.’” says Baguma. So I was surprised that there were a lot of people [changing their minds.] This kind of gives me hope for the first time since the election.”

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