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Monday, April 24, 2017

Halifax scoping out economic partnership with Zhuhai, China

“Chinese Riviera” already has close ties to HRM.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 6:29 PM

Zhuhai city's Fisher Girl statue. - VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The municipality is hoping a partnership with the Chinese city of Zhuhai will be a great opportunity to increase Halifax’s economic development.

Last Thursday, the standing committee for Community Planning and Economic Development passed a motion to move forward with an economic partnership agreement with Zhuhai.

According to a staff report, the Chinese city is considered a good economic partner because of its existing relationship with Halifax. Zhuhai currently has an exchange program with Saint Mary’s University.

Zhuhai is part of the Guandong province, which has similar economic sectors as Nova Scotia. It’s also close to the Port of Shenzhen, which is a major partner with the Port of Halifax.

China is currently the third-largest seafood export market for Nova Scotia, with investments in seafood processing facilities in Eastern Passage, Shelburne and Clarke’s Harbour.

This type of business development and networking is what deputy mayor Steve Craig sees as a gateway to strengthening Nova Scotia’s ties to China.

“We need to work beyond our shores,” says Craig. “The ability to have someone to phone in municipalities in China and inform us on the economic climate is important if we want to grow Halifax’s trade with international markets.”

It’s hoped that strengthening economic ties with Zhuhai will help HRM meet its goal to increase GDP to $30 billion by 2021.

To formalize the partnership, Regional Council will first outline and endorse the agreement and then mayor Mike Savage will present the document to Zhuhai officials on a trip to China that’s expected to take place in June.

Despite both cities expressing an interest, the process will not be immediate. Once an official letter of intent is presented to Zhuhai, Chinese officials must initiate a domestic application process that takes six months.

Currently, Halifax has economic partnership arrangements with Norfolk, Virginia and Aberdeen, Scotland.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Halifax's food insecurity is creating unhealthy communities

New report says food bank use across the region has increased 49 percent in the last two years.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 11:25 AM

The Alderney Farmers' Market in Dartmouth is one option for local produce, but many communities are still cut-off from healthy food choices. - SAMUEL KEAN
  • The Alderney Farmers' Market in Dartmouth is one option for local produce, but many communities are still cut-off from healthy food choices.
  • Samuel Kean

The city has a long way to go to create a healthy, just and sustainable food system.

A new report, called Food Counts: Halifax Food Assessment, outlines some problems with food accessibility throughout the city. It was created by the Halifax Food Policy Alliance, which collected data showing that many people in HRM still don’t have readily available access to food and can’t afford to maintain a healthy diet.

The report, presented on Thursday to the Community Planning and Economic Development standing committee, includes alarming facts that reflect Halifax’s low-wage incomes.

There’s been a “49 percent increase in food bank use across the region” since 2015, reads the report, which also found one in five children in Nova Scotia lives in food-insecure households.

Councillor Lindell Smith of Halifax Peninsula North has seen that food insecurity is a problem and says it needs to be addressed.

“We have two areas that are considered low income [in District 8]—Mulgrave Park and Uniacke Square,” says Smith. “They’re mostly people who are living in low-income or social assistance, and even if they go to a grocery store they can’t really afford the nutrition that is needed.”

Sadly, health versus wealth is a real debate in grocery store aisles. Healthy, nutritious food tends to cost a lot more than junk food. Unfortunately, these “choices” or financial circumstances are affecting Haligonians.

In the report, the Food Policy Alliance found data that shows Halifax has more nutrition-related chronic diseases than the national rate. This includes obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. The report goes on to state that “just over one-third of Halifax residents (12 and older) meet their daily requirement of fruit and vegetables.”

Smith believes the city needs to work with health professionals for insight and offer more easily accessible food infrastructures.

“Think of a place like Gottingen Street,” he says. “There are corner stores, but your closest grocery store is on Windsor Street...And if you don’t have a car, but you have a family and you need to get groceries home, you’re either taking a taxi which costs money or you’re on the bus. Which, who wants to carry a family load of groceries on the bus?”

While a lot of the city’s food system relies on the provincial government’s jurisdiction, the municipality has been popping up different initiatives to try and increase food security. The Mobile Food Market—a bus that brings fresh, affordable produce to communities with limited access to grocery stores—was recently expanded to offer winter service and city council has looked into several anti-poverty initiatives.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bayers Lake medical centre site called inaccessible

Putting outpatient clinic in the sprawling business park “undermines years of work,” say planning advocates.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 8:42 PM

There will be a medical centre conveniently located back beyond that Home Outfitters come 2021. - VIA GOOGLE EARTH
  • There will be a medical centre conveniently located back beyond that Home Outfitters come 2021.

The retail wilderness of the Bayers Lake Industrial Park “severely lacks” the transit and accessible infrastructure needed for the province’s new outpatient centre, say planning advocates.

On Thursday the provincial Liberal government announced it had purchased 15 acres of land in the BLIP as part of the redevelopment of the ageing QEII Health Science Centre. A new “community outpatient centre” will be built over the next four years on a patch of land behind Home Outfitters and Marshalls.

According to the Health Authority, the medical centre will provide blood collection services, diagnostic imaging, medical and surgical clinics along with pre- and post-operative care.

“This is a significant step in the QEII redevelopment project," said premier Stephen McNeil in a press release. "Not every service needs to be offered in downtown Halifax. We often hear Nova Scotians say traffic and parking are major concerns when travelling to the VG site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

But the off-peninsula location was criticized in a joint statement released by the Ecology Action Centre, Halifax Cycling Coalition, Our HRM Alliance and It’s More Than Buses. The transit and planning advocates say the site currently has limited bus service, sidewalks, crosswalks and bike routes—making the new medical centre inaccessible to any patients or workers who don’t have a car.

“We’re talking about a medical facility that is going to provide services for many people who live in the region, and we’re putting it in a location that is not accessible by walking, cycling or transit,” says Houssam Elokda, spokesperson for It’s More Than Buses.

The group says the province's decision to put essential medical services in an industrial park undermines HRM’s own work over the last several years—including the Regional Plan, Centre Plan and Integrated Mobility Plan—to try and create accessible, healthy communities.

“It’s kind of confusing how a medical facility that is supposed to promote health is put in a location that is going to negatively affect the health of the people that go there,” says Elokda. “This is just the type of thing that encourages people to drive, encourages more carbon emissions and ultimately has an effect on our economy.”

Thursday’s press release from the province says 14 sites were considered for the new centre. McNeil told reporters that the Bayers Lake location’s close proximity to Highways 102 and 103 was a key factor in the final decision.

David Bell, a urologist at the QEII, was quoted in today’s press release as saying some patients can feel overwhelmed trying to navigate downtown Halifax traffic when visiting the Victoria General for outpatient services.

“The selection of this site is an exciting step toward providing more convenient, closer-to-home care, for Nova Scotians,” the doctor states.

McNeil also tells Kieran Leavitt with the Canadian Press that the province will work with HRM to improve bus service to the new site. But Elokda says even with a “further subsidy” of additional transit lines, Bayers Lake as an area is “as car-dependent as it gets.”

To illustrate its point, It’s More Than Buses put together two maps (shown at right) displaying travel times for residents without a car who have an appointment at the QEII (which will still provide some outpatient services), versus an 
appointment at the new Bayers Lake centre. The maps factor in “excess journey time,” or the time wasted waiting at a bus stop.

“Putting a major facility that’s going to be funded by taxpayer money, that’s only accessible for a portion of the taxpayers, I think that becomes an equity issue,” says Elokda.

The province bought the 15 acres of undeveloped land from Banc Commercial Holdings for a price tag of $7.5 million.

The same property was only purchased by Banc from HRM four years ago. The company paid just over $9.3 million for the total 183-acre parcel at the time.

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Halifax CAO apologizes for harassment text

“I should have known better,” Jacques Dubé writes in email sent to all HRM employees.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 4:38 PM

Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé - RILEY SMITH
  • Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé

The city’s chief administrative officer has apologized to HRM employees for an inappropriate text message he sent to a subordinate.

“As CAO, I should have known better and not assumed that I had permission to communicate about a matter unrelated to work,” writes Jacques Dubé, in an email sent out Thursday afternoon to all city hall employees.

The CAO’s text, sent back in February to chief financial officer Amanda Whitewood, included an “amended and personalized” version of a satirical Beaverton article made to read as if Whitewood was commenting about murdering her boss.

Dubé writes in his email (pasted in full below) that he sent the text “absent of any context or regard for how it could be received.” Whitewood subsequently filed a harassment complaint about the message, which contained several violent passages.

The CFO did not respond to a request for comment on today's emailed message, but Dubé defended Whitewood’s response to city staff.

“It’s not a complainant’s fault that they feel harassed and they should not be blamed in any manner for coming forward and looking to our harassment policy for a solution,” Dubé writes. “Just the opposite, HRM must support complainants and treat all complaints seriously.”

As previously reported by The Coast, Dubé took a two-week leave from city hall in March while council discussed how to respond to the complaint. According to Dubé, an independent investigator who was brought in determined that while the text was in breach of employee policy, the “incident was isolated and no harm was intended.”

Mayor Mike Savage and individual councillors have all so far refused to comment on the personnel matter, with Dartmouth South–Eastern Passage representative Bill Karsten yelling at reporters last week that “You embarrass yourself for even talking about it.”

Breton Murphy, manager of public affairs for HRM, says the CAO is not taking media interviews and city hall won’t be providing any other comment, “as this is a personnel matter.”

The Coast has previously been told by a source with knowledge of the matter that as many as three senior managers at HRM have taken issue with Dubé’s management of female staff since he was hired last September.

The same source suggested last week that if Dubé wasn’t fired, the municipality could be facing a discrimination lawsuit. It remains to be seen if today's statements from the CAO will do anything to quell those tensions.

“I should have thought about what I was doing before I pressed ‘send,’” Dubé writes.

“I didn’t think about the feelings of my colleague and I will always regret it. For that I am sincerely sorry.”

Jacques Dubé's email to Halifax staff:

“Dear Fellow HRM employees:

“I want to take this opportunity to address a harassment complaint made against me by another HRM employee. I owe you an honest assessment of this situation and not only how I have learned, but how we can all learn from what happened.
“I want you to know that at the outset, like all complaints under the HRM Workplace Rights Harassment Prevention Policy, this complaint was taken very seriously. Properly, the Mayor and Council ensured that the complaint was independently investigated and that fair conclusions were drawn. Currently, the recommendations from the process are being implemented.

“In my case, I amended and personalized a satirical article from an online publication about snow and snow removal on the eve of a major storm. I then sent a text to a colleague absent of any context or regard for how it could be received.

“A complaint was filed and a thorough process undertaken. In this case, the independent investigator found that while I breached the Policy, the incident was isolated and no harm was intended.

“I have apologized to the complainant and take this opportunity to tell all of you as well that I am sorry.  As CAO, I should have known better and not assumed that I had permission to communicate about a matter unrelated to work. I have learned a lot from this experience.

“First, the HRM Workplace Harassment policy does work and it will be applied in every circumstance including those affecting the most senior members of the organization.

“Second, people do not react to situations in the same way. It’s not a complainant’s fault that they feel harassed and they should not be blamed in any manner for coming forward and looking to our harassment policy for a solution. Just the opposite, HRM must support complainants and treat all complaints seriously.

“Third, our workplace harassment policy is designed to ensure the confidentiality of the harassment complaint process and the privacy of the individuals involved. Clearly, it is disappointing that some of that confidentiality was compromised in this case but we must persevere toward building a workplace free from harassment in all its forms.

“Finally, I would urge each employee to reflect on their personal conduct in the workplace and whether another employee could, in any way, interpret that conduct as harassing. If so, change your conduct. Be kind, generous and considerate of your colleagues.

“If you are being subjected to inappropriate behaviour in our workplace, please contact your Manager or Human Resources. For ease of reference our Workplace Rights Harassment Prevention Policy is available here: \Documents\WorkplaceRightsHarassmentPreventionPolicy004.pdf  You have my promise that I will be an advocate for a workplace free of harassment for all of our employees.

“I recognize that this has impacted my colleague, Mayor and Council, and our organization. I should have thought about what I was doing before I pressed “send”. I didn’t think about the feelings of my colleague and I will always regret it. For that I am sincerely sorry.

“I urge you all to learn from my experience as I did.

“Sincerely, Jacques Dubé”

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Chronicle Herald buys all TC newspapers in Atlantic Canada

Stunning media deal for the newly created SaltWire Network comes in month 15 of newsroom strike.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 10:52 AM


In one of the biggest Atlantic Canadian media stories in recent memory, the Chronicle Herald has purchased all of Transcontinental’s 28 newspapers, websites and four of its printing plants.

All of Transcontinental’s media outlets in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador have been sold and will operate—along with the Herald’s seven publications—as a newly created media company dubbed SaltWire Network Inc.

The deal includes larger papers like The Telegram in Newfoundland and The Guardian in PEI, along with the Herald’s longtime competitor the Cape Breton Post and more than two dozen regional weekly papers. Transcontinental also owns a 33 percent share in Metro Halifax, but the free daily hasn't been impacted by the sale.

In a story on the Herald’s website announcing the deal, co-owner Mark Lever says he intends for SaltWire to go “head-to-head” with Facebook, Google and CBC.

According to the company, 650 Transcontinental employees in Atlantic Canada are part of the deal. Most found out about the news this morning during staff meetings. Writes TC Atlantic content director Thane Burnett:

“For years, across Nova Scotia, the nation’s oldest, independently owned newspaper has been locked in a prolonged print and online war with the Quebec corporation’s properties, especially The Cape Breton Post, Truro Daily News, The News in New Glasgow and strong weeklies dotting the province.

“Some journalists in the now former TC Media publications have spent lengthy careers viewing The Herald as arch rivals to be battled every minute of the day.

“Now, suddenly, the two former foes are under one banner”

According to Lever, again in the Herald, all employees will be offered jobs with the same salary and same benefits they have now.

The Herald—whose newsroom has been on strike for over a year—apparently financed the deal through its Toronto banker Integrated Private Debt Corp.

In a news release, the striking Halifax Typographical Union called the purchase “simply mind-boggling.”

“We were told that the Herald’s demise was imminent if it didn’t immediately cut wages and other benefits to newsroom staff,” writes HTU president Ingrid Bulmer. “Apparently, that was a total fabrication. The company is not struggling but is instead planning to expand.”

Bulmer says the announcement proves the Herald never intended to bargain fairly with the union, an accusation the HTU has previously brought to the Utility and Review Board.

The HTU president also claims Lever is “biting off more than he can chew” with the new investment given his business track record of corporate bankruptcies.

“He has proven to be incapable of running one newspaper,” writes Bulmer “Now, he wants to expand his sphere of incompetence. It is simply mind-boggling.”

Disclaimer: The Coast has a printing contract with Transcontinental’s Halifax plant, which was not part of the SaltWire deal.
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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cornwallis naming debate will return to council

Poet laureate inspires a fresh look at how Halifax honours its violent founder.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 2:13 PM

This statue of Edward Cornwallis stands in front of the Westin hotel in Halifax's south end. - VIA EDWARDCORNWALLIS_WANTED ON INSTAGRAM
  • This statue of Edward Cornwallis stands in front of the Westin hotel in Halifax's south end.
  • via edwardcornwallis_wanted on Instagram

Rebecca Thomas’ words have not fallen on deaf ears.

The city’s poet laureate delivered a powerful message this week, and it’s inspired city council to reopen a heated debate about how Halifax commemorates its controversial founder.

Thomas appeared at City Hall to perform her poem, “Not Perfect,” at the start of Tuesday’s council meeting.

The piece talks directly about Edward Cornwallis, the British military officer who founded Halifax, and in the same year issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps.

“...We were seen as animals, only valued for our pelts,” said Thomas, about the proclamation.

The poem was written last year in response to a narrowly-defeated motion at council. Waye Mason proposed back in May that HRM should begin a public engagement process on whether the city should keep honouring Cornwallis on civic infrastructure. His name adorns Cornwallis Street in the north end, and Cornwallis Park in the south (where a statue of the former governor stands). The idea was shot down 8-7.

“That was really frustrating,” says Thomas. “They had a discussion about a historical Indigenous injustice without any actual Indigenous perspective or voice in the room.”

Numerous groups, including the Mi’kmaw Friendship Centre and the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church (soon to change its own name) have asked council to reexamine the use of the former governor’s moniker on public property. But that wasn’t enough to sway a majority of councillors last year.

“I personally believe Cornwallis, he might not have been a perfect figure in history—the only one that was, we crucified him,” said Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore councillor David Hendsbee at the time. “I probably offended someone just saying that.”

Sure, nobody’s perfect, says councillor Shawn Cleary, but Cornwallis was a violent military commander.

“Even for his time he was not a pleasant guy,” says Cleary. “He didn’t come here to found Halifax out of some sense of moving to the new world. He was an army officer who was told he had to go do that. Then we went back to England and basically raped and pillaged the Highlands in what was called ‘pacification.’”

Inspired by Thomas’ words, Cleary told council yesterday that in two weeks he’d be bringing forward a new motion for a public engagement on how HRM celebrates Cornwallis.

“I think we’re mature enough now as a municipality to actually have a discussion about our history,” Cleary told reporters. “Let’s have a discussion about where we were, where we are and where we want to go as a society.”

Thomas was thrilled to hear the news, even if she remains cautious about what a public engagement in the very-white HRM might reveal.

“The vast majority of Haligonians are white people who can trace their lineage from settler colonization,” says Thomas. “Again, the populace who doesn’t really have a perspective on an Indigenous story might say ‘They’re trying to erase history.’”

That’s not what this is about, she says. It’s about looking back at the city’s past and having a conversation about which parts we choose to put on a pedestal.

“I don’t want to erase history,” she says. “I just don’t want to honour him anymore. There’s a difference between remembering and honouring.”

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Halifax CAO's Beaverton parody prompts harassment complaint

An article published by the comedy site was spoofed by Jacques Dubé in a text message sent to an employee.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 4:39 PM

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

Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé's attempt at humour is no laughing matter at city hall.

Sources with knowledge of the situation confirm a harassment complaint has been made against the CAO over a text message he sent two months ago to one of his employees.

The message includes a rewritten version of an article first published by parody news site The Beaverton in 2014, entitled “Nation wonders if guy who ‘loves winter’ also likes getting fucking choked to death.”

It describes the homicidal rage felt by snow-plagued parts of the country towards a winter-loving Canadian named “Jake Bryans.”

“I’m glad that he likes how quiet it gets when there’s new snow on the ground,” reads one quote, that's attributed to a personification of the city of Calgary.

“Do you know what else would make me glad? Killing him. Literally killing this son of a bitch with my hands.”

Dubé apparently replaced the names in the article with those of himself and an HRM manager. The revised story reads like the violent threats are being made by the employee towards the CAO.

The new draft was then sent to the employee via text message on the night before a massive blizzard shut down most of the city.

It's unclear what the context of the conversation was, or if the text included any reference to where the words originated. The Coast hasn't seen a copy of the message, but has had its contents confirmed by two people who viewed what was sent.

A cached version of the article is available here. - VIA THE BEAVERTON
  • A cached version of the article is available here.
  • via The Beaverton

The recipient didn't find it very funny, that much is clear. The matter was serious enough for the employee to seek outside legal advice and file the complaint against the CAO.

It also caused Dubé to take a voluntary two-week absence from City Hall in early March, which city officials at the time would only say was due to a “personal issue.”

Regional council first heard about the problem as part of a closed-door meeting on March 9 to discuss an unspecified “personnel matter.” Councillors were provided copies of the text, with the recipient's name redacted. During the three-hour discussion that followed it was determined the fake news story didn't count as grounds for the CAO's dismissal.

Dubé was back at City Hall the following week. A requirement for his return apparently involved being interviewed by a doctor to ensure he had no propensity for violence.

The CAO didn’t respond to questions about the harassment complaint sent to him yesterday and today. He previously told The Coast back in March that his absence from City Hall was spent visiting friends out of the country, and spending time with family.

Breton Murphy, manager of public affairs for the municipality, wouldn’t confirm whether any complaints had been made about the CAO. He declined to comment further on any questions, stating it was a personnel matter “and as with any personnel matter, the municipality is not in a position [to] share details publicly.”

Murphy also refused to confirm whether any harassment complaints have been filed against any senior HRM employees in the last three months. “Given the narrow time frame” and small sample size, “sharing information publicly could jeopardize the protection of privacy,” says the spokesperson.

Several city councillors contacted in the last two days strongly declined to comment about the issue, but sources speaking off-the-record have said the CAO still has the support of council.

Dubé only started working for HRM last September, after leaving his former job as Moncton’s city manager. He has a lengthy career in the political world—both regionally and federally—and at the time of his move was strongly praised by his former Hub City colleagues.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Waste of commercial space

Demand studies from developers could help council build more “complete communities,” says Lorelei Nicoll.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2017 at 2:37 PM


The city should have a better grasp on a neighbourhood’s commercial needs when approving new developments, says the councillor for Cole Harbour–Westphal.

Lorelei Nicoll asked for a staff report this week looking at options for including retail and commercial policy concerns in any significant development proposals and planning amendments brought to city hall. The councillor also requested staff investigate requiring developers to provide their own commercial space demand studies.

“We have traffic impact studies now when it comes to projects,” said Nicoll, during Tuesday’s council meeting. “A market research study could also strike a balance in what the Centre Plan envisions as complete communities.”

The idea sparked some apprehension from Nicoll’s fellow councillors.

“You’d be asking them almost to prove the business case for commercial,” said Bedford–Wentworth's Tim Outhit.

“If you ask me, that’s a risk a private developer should have to worry about themselves,” said David Hendsbee, about the costs of carrying empty office space. “It’s a free marketplace. If they want to build and come, so be it.”

A report last winter from Turner Drake & Partners Ltd. found vacant office rates in Halifax’s urban core were “staggering.”

The glut has been caused—in no small part—by HRM’s decades-long push for industrial park growth, which drained the downtown as companies migrated to cheaper office space in areas like Bayers Lake.

That point wasn’t lost on Dartmouth Centre’s Sam Austin, who noted that commercial demand studies in the ‘60s and ‘70s might have stopped some of the BLIP’s disastrous sprawl.

A national real estate market outlook report by Coldwell Banker found office vacancy rates in central Halifax rose to 17.5 percent last year—well above the country’s 13.3 percent average—and could potentially increase to 20 percent by the end of 2017.

Assessing some of those commercial space issues during the development process, according to Nicoll, could allow council to better predict the future of what HRM’s communities need.

“In the area I represent, just within a radius of maybe half a mile, there are five pizza shops,” said the councillor.

“Are we going to determine whether six are appropriate?” countered Stephen Adams.

Nicoll’s motion passed 14-3, with Hendsbee, Adams and Shawn Cleary voting against.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Train rides to ease Queen’s Marque construction pains

Pay-what-you-can service could run from Discovery Centre to Historic Properties starting this summer.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 8:10 PM

Downtown Halifax is going to off the rails with this one. - VIA HRM
  • Downtown Halifax is going to off the rails with this one.

A “community road train” could be jauntily chugga-chugging through downtown traffic come this summer.

On Tuesday HRM council asked for a staff report on funding Ambassatours’ answer to the city's Queen’s Marque construction woes.

The three-carriage road “train” will shuttle folks along Lower Water Street—from the Discovery Centre to Historic Properties—and then back on Hollis Street. Each carriage will hold 20 people, with the caboose being wheelchair-accessible.

It’s one way the waterfront businesses who depend on tourist dollars are hoping to mitigate the construction of the Armour Group's massive $200-million development.

The Waterfront Development Corporation is also installing a “floating bridge” between the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic’s docks and Cable Wharf to help pedestrians safely avoid Queen's Marque's footprint of destruction.

The road train, which was pitched to Halifax and West Community Council last week, will be a sort of spiritual successor to the “Free Rides Everywhere Downtown” (or FRED) bus that ran for several years along a similar route.

“I think that this, actually, is frankly even better than the FRED trolley on a lot of levels,” said councillor Waye Mason at Tuesday's meeting. “It’s being run by a private operator, it’s primarily connected to the tourist sites and it’s really focused on that kind of downtown corridor.”


The idea spins-off of a tiny train service in Tatamagouche, which proved successful enough in ferrying passengers around that town’s shops that Murphy’s Cable Wharf and NovaScotian Crystal borrowed the vehicle for a two-week pilot project last fall along Halifax’s waterfront.

While Ambassatours' CEO Dennis Campbell says advertising and business donations will cover most of the costs for the pay-what-you-can train rides, the company is also asking HRM for $120,000 in funding over the next three years.

But spending money on a private corporation's tourism booster set off alarms bells for some councillors.

“I want to be supportive, but I also want to make sure we’re within our legal rights according to the Charter,” said Bill Karsten.

Council ultimately approved the request for a staff report by 17-0.

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Matt Whitman apologizes for “Chinese fire drill” video

“I never meant to offend or hurt anyone. I have learned from this experience.”

Posted By on Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 6:49 PM

Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor Matt Whitman has learned from all this. - RILEY SMITH
  • Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor Matt Whitman has learned from all this.

Progressive Conservative candidate Matt Whitman has apologized for his “Chinese fire drill” stunt.

Whitman posted a YouTube video last week of himself yelling the racially-charged phrase before exiting and then running around his car.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon, the Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor said he wasn’t aware of the term's racist connotations.

“I apologize for my lapse of judgement and my unintentional use of what I now understand to be an insensitive term,” Whitman writes. “I never meant to offend or hurt anyone. I have learned from this experience.”

The video was removed this week after media questions, with Whitman telling Global and the Canadian Press that it had become a “distraction.” He quickly brushed past reporters on his way to council chambers Tuesday afternoon, refusing to comment on the matter.

The phrase “Chinese fire drill” is best-known these days for the roadside game normally played by teenagers, but using “Chinese” to refer to a scene of confusion and incomprehension dates back to World War I. According to NPR: “After the two world wars, ‘Chinese’ continued to be used as a descriptor to indicate things that were hasty, cheap or amateur.”

The RCMP are apparently now investigating whether the councillor’s videotaped actions were a traffic violation.

It’s not the first run-in Whitman's had with RCMP, nor the first time his sloppy social media use has gotten the councillor into hot water.

Last winter he was ordered by Regional Council to make a public apology after publishing “inappropriate tweets” about an RCMP officer. That was around the same time Whitman appeared to casually reveal confidential information while denigrating former CAO Richard Butts in a radio interview.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Pop-up soccer stadium could come together this summer

Sports and Entertainment Atlantic wants to build a 5,000-to-6,000 seat facility on the Wanderers Grounds.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 at 12:28 AM

An information session on Halifax FC plans takes place March 30. - VIA SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT ATLANTIC
  • An information session on Halifax FC plans takes place March 30.

Think of it as a free kick. Halifax can test out an open-air stadium in the shadow of Citadel Hill without spending anything more than the price of admission.

Sports and Entertainment Atlantic president Derek Martin pitched the idea to councillors on Thursday for a pop-up stadium at the Wanderers Grounds, between the Public Gardens and the Museum of Natural History.

Current plans call for an easy-to-assemble facility with two large bleachers seating 5,000 to 6,000 people. Martin says it may even have a beer garden for refreshments.

The stadium would be home turf for a still-tentative professional soccer team—unofficially being called supported by the Halifax Wanderers fan group—in the proposed Canadian Premier League. The company is targeting 3,000 season ticket holders, with single ticket prices ranging from $10 to $35.

While it’s too early for him to discuss financials, Martin told reporters the combined costs for a team and stadium would run between $3 to $4 million, and will be financed by private investors. The company isn’t asking for funding from HRM, and SAE will assume all installation and management costs.

The three-year lifespan of the temporary facility allows the city to try on a stadium and see how it fits, before committing to anything permanent.

“In any business, it’s great if you can test it,” said Martin. “We can try to see what works and what doesn’t work before there’s a huge investment needed of taxpayer money, which we think is a much smarter and safer way to go about it.”

Councillors on the community planning and economic development committee were optimistic about the smaller-sized stadium. Lower Sackville’s Steve Craig called it the “sweet spot” missing from previous stadium discussions.

Dartmouth Centre’s Sam Austin agreed, saying too often in talking about a stadium HRM foolishly compares itself to successful football teams in smaller markets like Green Bay, Wisconsin or Regina, Saskatchewan.

“We tend to pick the outlier; the small city that has the big facility,” said Austin. “So I’m really intrigued with what you guys are proposing.”

Martin says SAE is working with three companies on the design of the snap-together stadium, one of whom also helped create the 6,000-seat desert stadium that opens this week in Phoenix, Arizona.

When there’s no league match being played, other local high school and university teams would be able to rent the facility for use at a nominal cost.

“Our intention isn’t to try and make money off the backs of the community that wants to use the field,” said Martin. “We don’t want it sitting empty.”

Sports and Entertainment Atlantic previously helped organize last year’s Canada/Scotland rugby match, which was supposed to take place on the Wanderers Grounds before the poor condition of the site forced the event to move to Spryfield. A tender to improve the turf, irrigation and fencing at the Wanderers has already been issued by HRM and work to repair that damage will happen over the summer.

The timeline proposed by SAE says a team could be announced as early as May, with stadium installation beginning in July and test events held in September. The inaugural Halifax professional soccer season would take place next summer, just after the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The CPED committee will put forward a motion asking for a staff report on the idea at its next meeting in two weeks. Recommendations from that report will still need to be debated at the committee level and by Regional Council before the SEA gets its goal.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cleary's salary freeze plan gets cold shoulder

“Maybe you shouldn’t have run for council if you didn’t want the conditions that come with council?” asks a sassy Russell Walker.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 6:44 PM

Councillor Shawn Cleary getting frozen out by Richard Zurawski. - RILEY SMITH
  • Councillor Shawn Cleary getting frozen out by Richard Zurawski.
Shawn Cleary’s plans to freeze council salaries will have to wait a few more weeks.

The Halifax West Armdale councillor proposed holding remuneration for the next eight months in a motion at Tuesday's meeting of Regional Council.

Cleary's motion would have restricted any further increases to council's pay until either November 1, or the arrival of a staff report on council’s pay formula—whichever came first—that was
requested last fall by deputy mayor Steve Craig.

But both Craig and Cleary's efforts weren't all that appreciated by some of their colleagues.

“I do not understand why council wants to punish themselves with this three times in a year,” said Russell Walker about the multiple salary motions that have come forward in the last several months.

Walker claimed his residents in Halifax–Bedford Basin West don’t care about his salary and suggested Cleary and Craig’s reasons for bringing the issue forward were personal.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have run for council if you didn’t want the conditions that come with council?”

Those comments earned Walker a gentle reminder from mayor Mike Savage not to question his fellow councillors’ motivations.

Other councillors were just tired of being pilloried in the press about the matter.

“I don’t see the point of doing this every three, four years and falling into the pitfalls we have, that are basically a media construct,” said Richard Zurawski.

“I’m done with this, OK?” said a weary Bill Karsten, who apparently had fought his last “battle on [this] hill.

“I say this respectfully to our CAO who is beloved in this community; it’s a flaw to have him give us that recommendation,” said Karsten, about the upcoming staff report. “I can’t say it any clearer than that because anywhere where you see good governance from coast-to-coast-to-coast, it’s somebody external that makes the decision.”

The motion from Cleary came a month after council received an automatic 3.4 percent raise retroactive to November 1—a financial cushion that awkwardly landed smack-dab in the middle of budget talks about fiscal restraint and several union negotiations with HRM’s employees.

Cleary's motion was ultimately deferred by a vote of 10-7, to be discussed again once Craig's staff report comes back at the end of April.

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Council prunes Willow Tree development

Quinpool and Robie tower gets trimmed down from 29 to 20 storeys.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 10:24 AM

This, but with those top nine storeys removed. - VIA HRM
  • This, but with those top nine storeys removed.
What a difference a new council makes. After approving a 29-storey limit for the Willow Tree development last year—against the recommendation of planning staff—this week Halifax Regional Council voted to shrink that height restriction down to 62 metres (or about 20 storeys).

George Armoyan’s Armco Captial, through its APL Properties, first proposed the development at the corner of Robie Street and Quinpool Road as two towers equalling 22 and 11 storeys in height. After two years working with planning staff, Armco revised those plans to a single 29-storey tower.

That’s well above the 10 storeys allowed under current land-use bylaws, and even stretches past the 20 storeys expected for buildings outside the urban core once the Centre Plan is finalized later this week.

Although council gave its approval to the taller height back in September and directed staff to draw up amendments allowing for the 29-storey building, the local community council recently voted to return to staff’s original 62-metre restriction and that brought the issue back to regional council for debate.

David Hendsbee wasn't happy with the proposed limits, telling his colleagues that the lower height will financially shackle the developers. The Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore representative also said concerns about the Willow Tree tower’s shadow are misplaced. A shorter building, Hendsbee suggested, would cruelly submit the Halifax Common to more sunlight.

“In the wintertime, you don’t want the sun on the Oval because it has a thermal effect of melting the ice,” said Hendsbee. “And in the summertime, you don’t mind the shadows because it helps block the sun from the eyes of the baseball players across the street.”

Halifax Peninsula North councillor Lindell Smith was having exactly none of it.

“I understand that maybe for the applicant 62 metres is not feasible, but as council we are not in a position in our jobs to talk about the financial feasibility of the developments,” said Smith. “We are looking at the land use, how that land is used...We are not here to decide how someone can make or not make money.”

Only councillors Hendsbee, Stephen Adams, Bill Karsten and Mat Whitman voted against the lower height. A public hearing will now be scheduled for the slightly less shady Willow Tree tower.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Impassioned debate on police street checks at north end meeting

“Street checks make Black folks feel as if we’re criminals,” says social worker Lana MacLean.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 11:07 PM

From left to right: HRP chief Jean-Michel Blais, Rickcola Brinton and Lana MacLean. - MAGGIE RAHR
  • From left to right: HRP chief Jean-Michel Blais, Rickcola Brinton and Lana MacLean.

“Do you deny institutional racism exists!?” shouts a man, rising to his feet, to cheers and rumblings in a crowd of more than 70 people. There’s a pause. Then Halifax Regional Police chief Jean-Michel Blais responds:

“What do you mean by institutional racism?”

This is just one of many charged exchanges that broke out during a panel discussion Thursday night at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library on racial profiling and street checks.

The event comes in light of data released by the police department which showed that Black people are at least three times more likely to be engaged in street checks than white people. Street checks are interactions with individuals, defined as observations and attempts to collect information by police. They’re not motor vehicle stops or arrests.

Standing alongside chief Blais was Rickcola Brinton. She works as managing lawyer for NS Legal Aid. Many of her clients have been stopped by police.

“You have a right to know why they are talking to you,” she said, speaking in a clear, firm tone directly to the crowd. “You can walk away.”

Brinton said her teenage clients often don’t know why they’re being stopped.

“[They’re] talking to a cousin, talking to a friend…teenagers, who feel like they’re being watched.”

Her young clients often ask her the same question: “Why can’t they just live?”

Brinton said these street checks often lead to charges of obstruction and/or resisting police, but with little else, criminally, to back it up.

Attendees at Thursday night's community meeting. - MAGGIE RAHR
  • Attendees at Thursday night's community meeting.

Lana MacLean, a social worker, specializing in race, trauma, culture and crime, told the room the over-representation of Black people among police street checks points to a systemic, endemic problem. MacLean says her own nephew was stopped by police, biking down North Street, on his way home from Oxford School.

“Early exposures (to police)…sets up a dynamic of mistrust.”

MacLean says there’s a pattern, and it’s a story she’s well familiar with: Police stops in childhood lead to stops at age 16, when Black youth can get a driver’s license. What was once a scared kid being pulled over while biking home from school, she said, is now a young (often male) Black person who already has reason to be suspicious.

“Street checks make Black folks feel as if we’re criminals.”

MacLean wasn’t just speaking on behalf of her clients and community. She’s been stopped by police, herself. She says when you see red and blue lights in your rearview, it’s like having a panic attack.

“As someone who has been pulled over…because of someone being curious about where I was going…those spiritual wounds, psychological wounds engender mistrust.”

Marcus James listened carefully from the back of the room, by the door. He’s worked at the north end branch for more than 20 years. He was also involved in community consultations during the Kirk Johnson inquiry, and helped develop recommendations for the police back in 2003.

“Why haven’t they been implemented?” James asked chief Blais once questions from the public were opened up. “On three occasions I’ve been arrested coming out, locking up after events such as this. I’ll do the same tonight, and there’s a good chance I’ll be arrested. For locking up the north branch library.

“Kids who I mentor in the library have witnessed me being detained, by officers who I have provided diversity training for,” said James. “What can we do to repair that? If the solution doesn’t look like me, it’s not gonna work.”

At the moment, Halifax Regional Police have made no commitments in policy or programming to address the data or the resultant unrest, though Blais stressed the department is committed to a continuing “conversation.” The chief recommended anyone with concerns about street checks could file a formal complaint with HRP.


Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Rickcola Brinton worked for Dalhousie Legal Aid, not Nova Scotia Legal Aid. The text has been updated and The Coast apologizes for the error.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Police accidentally release social media passwords to The Coast

HRP unaware the private information was given out until we noticed and told them about it.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 at 4:49 PM

The Coast wrote none of these tweets, but we could have.

It took several months of trying and a Freedom of Information request to get ahold of the police department’s Drug Exhibit Audit last year. Far easier than obtaining that public report was gaining access to the department’s private social media passwords, which Halifax Regional Police mistakenly and unknowingly released to The Coast.

Two weeks ago, communications advisor Cindy Bayers emailed us a copy of the police department’s Social Media Monitoring Manual as part of her response to questions about HRP's tweeting habits. The 15-page document contains basic rules on grammar and tone as well as guidelines for comment moderation.

It also includes step-by-step instructions for using HRP’s Facebook, Twitter, Photobucket and Hootsuite accounts, along with the corresponding usernames and passwords. The department was not aware of the mistake until The Coast contacted Halifax Police about it earlier this week.

“It was an error to not redact the passwords prior to the manual being sent to you,” emails Bayers. “In future, our documents will be vetted by our FOIPOP office prior to sending.”

The information was accurate at the time of the manual’s publication in February 2016, but Bayers says only two passwords hadn’t been changed since that time.

One of the still-active logins was for HRP’s Hootsuite account, which provides full access to all of the department’s Twitter accounts. The other was the email and password used to access the admin page where press releases are created and published.

It’s “potentially a serious screw-up,” says David Fraser, a privacy and technology lawyer with McInnes Cooper.

“[The Coast] is trustworthy, I presume, but credentials like that could be used for some pretty mischievous purposes,” he says. “There’s a lot of power in those passwords.”

The unsecured entry points have since had their passwords reset.

Fraser says he's glad to hear the police are using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols in their social media passwords, but he’s less impressed the login details weren’t being regularly changed and were so casually documented.

“Login credentials should never be stored in a manner where they’re even potentially widely accessible like that,” he says. “I think, kind of, just basic information security practices says that should be the case.”

According to Bayers, the department had already been having earnest discussions over the last few weeks about a new “password strategy” for its social media, which when implemented will begin changing the login info every month.

The Social Media Monitoring Manual is used by the public relations unit to help train HRP staff tasked with monitoring police social media accounts. You can read the full document below. To the best of Bayers’ knowledge, it hasn’t been shared with any other members of the public or media.

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