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.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Looks like no one showed up to the Halifax M103 protest

Opposing group, Special Olympics fundraiser hold events on the same day, same time.

Posted By on Sat, Mar 4, 2017 at 4:10 PM

This is awkward. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • This is awkward.
  • via Facebook

A national organization opposing Motion 103 and calling for a “Canadian government for Canadians” held rallies across the country today, including in Halifax.

Police separated M103 protesters and counter-protesters at larger rallies in Toronto and Calgary, but if the event's Facebook page is to be believed, not many people showed up locally.

Only four people on the Facebook page were confirmed to attend the event, which was held outside City Hall at noon. One commented that she “didn't see anyone” there at 11:45am. Another said he arrived at 1pm but “it was all over and done.”

An opposing protest, in comparison, had 180 confirmed on its Facebook. Organizers called out the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens' “marches for freedom” as “thinly-veiled anti-Muslim rallies.”

At the very least, the protest was overshadowed by a Special Olympics fundraiser happening in the same place at the same time, where the chief of police and local politicians jumped into an ice-cold dunk tank.


The Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, based out of Montreal, is self-described as “an advocacy group comprised of men and women from all walks of life,” but the very motion its members are protesting is one against “systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

The group states its reservations about the motion stem from a desire to protect freedom of speech. Issac Saney, Transition Year Program director and senior instructor in Black Studies at Dalhousie University, doesn't believe that.

“Words do actually have a concrete impact in the world,” he says.

“Given the events that have unfolded in the United States—also events with people like Kellie Leitch and so forth—that some groups feel they’ve been given license, right? To engage in this so-called reactionary, extremely backward politics.”

M-103 was tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid last fall. In part, the motion asks the government to “develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.”

In a statement issued earlier today, Solidarity Halifax says: “The backlash against M-103 that emphasizes 'all religions' is eerily similar to the slogan 'All Lives Matter.' These alternatives attempt to erase the issues of violence at hand.”

The motion was last debated in mid-February, which prompted a protest in Toronto, where politicians such as Leitch spoke along with members of Rebel Media. Vice reported attendees throwing up Nazi salutes. Two days later, a separate rally involved a group of people blocking the entrance to a Toronto mosque, preventing some of those who arrived for Friday morning prayers from getting inside.

“When people try to rehabilitate the Nazi salute or calls of 'sieg heil,' these aren't harmless things,” says Saney. “It's preparation for putting into place those practices that were carried on before. It's a frightening phenomenon.”

Whether it's a protest, such as the ones taking place today, or a violent attack like what happened in Quebec, Saney says it's heartening to see people pushing back.

“Those things are positive,” he says.


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Friday, March 3, 2017

PC leader calls for formal inquiry into Judge Lenehan’s consent comments

“Rape culture is real and pervasive,” says Jamie Baillie. “The government has the power to act. They should do so without delay.”

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 3:13 PM

Jamie Baillie, leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative party. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Jamie Baillie, leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative party.
  • via Facebook

Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie wants Nova Scotia to conduct a formal inquiry into the inflammatory comments made by Judge Gregory Lenehan that “clearly, a drunk can consent.”

In a release sent out Friday, Baillie says he’s written to justice minister Diana Whalen asking the province to address the issue “swiftly and conclusively.”



“Victims must always be protected, and we need to make sure we’re operating in an environment where they know they will be treated with respect when they come forward,” writes Baillie. “Rape culture is real and pervasive. The government has the power to act. They should do so without delay.”

Lenehan's not-guilty decision in the sexual assault case against taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi largely blamed the Crown for not proving a lack of consent on the part of the alleged victim—even though her blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit and she was unconscious when found by police.

“A lack of memory does not equate to a lack of consent,” Lenehan told the court. “Where the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable (the complainant’s) lack of consent, I am left with no alternative but to find Mr. Al-Rawi not guilty.”

The judge’s comments have ignited outcry from Nova Scotians and made headlines across the country, with Lenehan’s conduct being compared to the Albertan judge who asked a rape victim “Why couldn't you keep your knees together?”

Several public protests of the judge’s decision are also being planned, and a petition calling for an inquiry into Lenehan’s conduct is at 20,000 signatures.

Lisa Roberts, NDP MLA for Halifax Needham, appeared on the Sheldon MacLeod radio show today where she stated that “Any person who is so intoxicated…is not able to give consent.”

The department of Justice and minister Diana Whalen did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the decision.

Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard told CBC’s Michael Gorman that Judge Lenehan's comments show there’s clearly “lots of work to be done” around informed consent.

Robyn Doolittle, reporting in the Globe and Mail, writes that the Canadian Judicial Council has received multiple complaints against Lenehan since his decision. As that council only handles conduct of federal judges, the complainants were referred to Nova Scotia’s Office of the Chief Judge.

In a small-town Nova Scotian twist, that judge (Pamela Williams) will apparently be recusing herself from hearing the complaints because (according to the Globe) Wiliams and Lenehan used to be married.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Protests planned over Judge Lenehan's sexual assault decision

“Screaming into the void on the computer isn’t gonna cut it.”

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 7:36 PM

nye_feature4.jpg

In light of Wednesday’s court decision acquitting Bassam Al-Rawi—a taxicab driver who was found not-guilty of sexual assault—at least two protests, a group letter-writing session and a change.org petition have surfaced online.

Individual voices reeling from a judge's controversial decision.

“I’m feeling a bit outraged,” says Amanda Dodsworth, who is organizing the March 7 protest. “I think that screaming into the void on the computer isn’t gonna cut it.”

A second protest is scheduled for March 8. Both are taking place at Grand Parade Square.

Al-Rawi was charged in May 2015 when police found a female passenger, unconscious from intoxication and naked from the waist down, in his backseat. The woman’s DNA was found on Al-Rawi’s mouth.

During the trial (which was covered by Metro Halifax on an ongoing basis), the woman said she couldn’t remember much of what happened after leaving a downtown bar.

In judge Gregory Lenehan’s decision this week, he said “A lack of memory does not equate to a lack of consent” and “Clearly a drunk can consent.” The words spread across the internet and were quick to gain the attention of educators and advocates against sexual violence in other parts of the country.

When Dodsworth read about the verdict, she “couldn’t make sense of it.”

The complainant “had everything you would think would be required,” she says. “She had an eye witness who was reliable, in the form of a police officer. She had DNA evidence. She was clearly unconscious.”

Dodsworth also questions Lenehan’s assessment that the woman could have consented before falling unconscious.

“If you’re drunk enough to wet yourself and pass out, you likely weren’t able to give consent in any time 20 minutes before that.”

Elise MacIntyre is hosting an event geared towards writing letters, also in protest of the verdict.

“Absolute best case is that he’s not a judge anymore,” MacIntyre says of Lenehan. Judges “need to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us.”

She also points to two of Lenehan’s other cases, one in which he told a woman not to breastfeed in the courtroom. The judge also handled the child pornography trial in relation to the Rehtaeh Parsons case, in which the man pictured pressing up against the intoxicated teenager while giving a thumbs-up was sentenced to one-year probation.

“I don’t really think he’s fit for the position he’s in.”

Dodsworth hopes “with enough voices and enough noise,” the judge will “at least” be barred from overseeing cases that involve sexual violence.

It’s already difficult for sexual assault survivors report, and Dodsworth feels this case “sets a really dangerous precedent for other cases that will go forward in the future.”

“This is just another nail in that coffin to stop women from stepping forward.”

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Appeals Standing Committee's authority on taxi licenses under review

Municipality confirms acquitted cab driver Bassam Al-Rawi's permit is “non-operational.”

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 5:56 PM

The acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi has drawn widespread condemnation over the last 24 hours for Judge Lenehan's comments that “clearly a drunk can consent.” - VIA ISTOCK
  • The acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi has drawn widespread condemnation over the last 24 hours for Judge Lenehan's comments that “clearly a drunk can consent.”
  • via iStock

The authority of HRM’s Appeals Standing Committee to make rulings on taxi licenses is currently under review.

According to municipal spokesperson Brendan Elliott, HRM is working with the province to determine if it makes sense for a standing committee of city councillors to make the kinds of decisions like the one that put Bassam Al-Rawi back driving a cab even while facing sexual assault charges.

Elliott isn’t sure if those talks were specifically prompted by the backlash against the committee’s August 2015 decision to conditionally reinstate Al-Rawi’s taxi license, but discussions have been ongoing for a while now.

The 40-year-old taxi driver was arrested in May 2015 after being found by police with his pants undone and an unconscious female passenger stripped naked in his backseat. His taxi license was suspended by HRM while the court case proceeded, but three months later the appeals committee went against staff’s recommendation and overturned that suspension.

Al-Rawi received his taxi license back, under the condition he only drive between 6am and 6pm and install a camera in his vehicle.

The unanimous decision was made by councillors after a 20-minute in-camera meeting with Al-Rawi’s lawyer.

This week, Judge Gregory Lenehan found Al-Rawi not guilty, even after confirmation by arresting officers of the state of his passenger and the presence of the alleged victim’s DNA on his mouth.

Al-Rawi had no other criminal record, though a search warrant application obtained by CBC in 2015 contains one other reported claim of sexual assault by a different woman against the driver. No charges were laid in that case.
None of the circumstances of Al-Rawi’s case—which along with the judge's decision have caused outrage and anger over the last 24 hours—made it to the standing committee, says former councillor Gloria McCluskey.

“We didn’t hear any of this stuff,” says McCluskey. “I was cross when I read it in the paper after. We had none of that.”

A brief staff report noting the “serious nature” of the charges against Al-Rawi was presented to the committee at its August 5 meeting advising that he was “not sufficiently fit” to hold a taxi license.

McCluskey says a different decision might have been reached if police or the Crown had presented evidence along with Al-Rawi's defence counsel.

“We were like the judge in this case. We didn’t have much to go on.”

The appeals committee doesn’t have the legal authority to see everything a real court would process, says Elliott, which presents a challenge in ruling on matters that brush against the criminal.

“There are some handcuffs, so to speak, on what information can be provided at that stage of the process...This is the difficulty in a standing committee making essentially quasi-judicial decisions.”

Progressive Conservative candidate Matt Whitman, then chair of the Appeals committee, says the group made a call based on the best information available to them.

“A big factor in our decision was ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” the Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor says in an email to The Coast.

Al-Rawi is now a free man. But he hasn’t driven a taxi since virtually the moment his license was reinstated two years ago. In September 2015 the driver was unable to provide city hall with the required documentation of who he’d be working for, and consequently, his license was deemed “non-operational.”

He hasn’t been regulated or allowed to drive a taxi since.

Al-Rawi’s license will be reviewed again by city staff once they receive a copy of court transcripts, which will be used to determine whether he—in the words of HRM’s bylaw—is “a driver fit and proper to drive a taxi.”

The definition, explains Elliott, is intentionally ill-defined.

“It’s vague on purpose because we want to have the flexibility to determine for ourselves whether it’s safe for him to be back behind a wheel.”

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Cultural icebreaking

Why can’t music—not war and weather—pass borders and introduce countries to each other?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 3:14 AM

THE COAST
  • THE COAST


“So, you will move to the farthest place in the world, where it snows all year.”


This is what friends and family told me when they found out I was moving to Canada.



“You are from Syria? I guess this is your first experience with snow; the desert air in your country is tough.”


This is what many Canadians told me, when they learned I am new in the country.



It seems like weather plays a big role in our backgrounds in terms of describing different countries, which is okay and reasonable in many cases and it is part of any county’s identity; but it is only a part, not the whole identity.



It is true that winter in Canada is rough and snow is a long-stay visitor. It’s the opposite in Syria, where the summer is rough in many cities. For some reason, Canadians don’t go to work riding dog sleds, and Syrians don’t use camels as transportation. And there is summer in Canada, and the winter in Syria is not easy at all.



But my question is: why not highlight the beauty of new places, or the sweetness even in the rough weather. It’s rarely spoken of.


For example, why can’t music pass borders and introduce countries to each other? Some does from America and Europe, but not from my land to yours.


Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.
  • Raja Salim is a journalist from Syria who is a refugee living in Halifax.

How amazing it would be if I could have a conversation with my Canadian friends about Syrian, Arabic or Middle Eastern songs!


And how lovely as well, if the Syrian newcomers to Canada, could describe the new country with a song, instead of weather only.



Why do travellers from earlier eras only tell us about the weather? Maybe because human memory is more focused on our struggles.



The media keeps offering us the worst about everything—bad news and shameful stories about almost everything around us. It is putting us in pre-made, ugly frames.



Our best creations should frame us, such as music, books, movies and culture. They shouldn’t be hidden. Sharing them is a duty.



Hummus, falafel, weather, women wearing Hijab, and—recently—war are the well-known topics about Syria for foreigners.

Snow, cold, small houses made from wood—these are the images of Canada for outsiders.



Other than war, these are all great topics, but there is so much more to my culture that I’d like to share. Every city has its own culture and lifestyle, from the historic neighborhoods and cosmopolitan vibe of Damascus to the rustic wheat fields of the north.

I live in Halifax and have had the chance for a few short visits to three other Canadian cities. I can easily say this country is full of cultures—each Canadian but each unique.



Every time I talk with friends or family who live in "the farthest place in the world" from my perspective now, I avoid speaking about snow or how far I am. I like to tell them different stories, full of details about people, streets, music and communities.



When Leonard Cohen sings:


“I came so far for beauty
I left so much behind
My patience and my family
My masterpiece unsigned

I changed my style to silver
I changed my clothed to black
And where I would surrender
Now I would attack”



How can I believe that he doesn’t sing to me? 



And the way A Tribe Called Red celebrated Thanksgiving eve 2014 through the song “Burn Your Village to the Ground” opened my eyes to the long story behind it. 



Similarly, I have now at least four Canadian friends who can recognize Oum Koulthoum (an Egyptian singer)’s songs, and they enjoy them even more remixed by a Syrian DJ called Hello Psychaleppo. They have added the music to their playlists to brighten their day, and might even exclaim “Allah Akbar” (Arabs say this expression after hearing very good music) by the end of the track.

———

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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Anti-Muslim sentiments in Atlantic Canadians’ response to terrorism bill

“They make me feel like I'm not seen as a Canadian,” says president of Dalhousie's Muslim Students' Association.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 2:02 AM

A vigil in Grand Parade for victims of the Quebec Mosque shooting held back in January. - PHOTO BY REMO ZACCAGNA
  • A vigil in Grand Parade for victims of the Quebec Mosque shooting held back in January.
  • PHOTO BY REMO ZACCAGNA

“Confiscate and revoke the passports and citizenship of those involved in terrorist activities including their immediate family. Muslims protect Muslims.”

That’s the anonymous comment made by one self-identified Atlantic Canadian as part of the federal government’s online public consultation on national security. The feedback was collected last fall to gain insight into what reforms Canadians would like made to the government's Anti-Terrorism Act, commonly known as Bill-C51.

Recently released data from those consultations show that while Atlantic Canadians weren’t in favour of Stephen Harper’s public safety legislation, some are still concerned about the threat of “radicalized” Muslims in Canada.

“Seeing as the only groups out there who are being radicalized are Muslims I think you need to start there,” wrote one Atlantic Canadian to the federal government.

Masuma Khan, president of the Dalhousie Muslim Students’ Association, considers those comments outrageous.


“I think that those are absolute crap,” she says in response to some of the statements made in the consultations. “Oh my god someone actually said that?”

Shocking, but not surprising. Khan says a day doesn’t go by without her experiencing some kind of Islamophobic incident.

“I’ve had someone refuse my service. I’ve had someone threaten me because I was wearing a hijab. I’ve had someone tell me to go home,” she says. “They make me feel like I’m not seen as a Canadian.”

Only 516 of the 2,107 people who used the online consultation chose to identify themselves as being Canadian, and even fewer (31) identified as living in Atlantic Canada.

The local data is admittedly limited in scope, but arrives amidst growing Islamophobia in this country that’s already killed six and wounded 19 at the Quebec City mosque attack in January, and produced ongoing backlash from some conservatives against the government’s M-103—a private member’s motion, with no legal force or effect, that condemns Islamophobia and systemic racism.

That hate, the consultation shows, is here in Atlantic Canada as well.

“Bulk up our military efforts at home,” one person wrote. “Not to the extent of a police state but find a happy medium where terrorist know that if any terriost [sic] acts are carried out there will be a hunt and destroy mentality.”

Khan says those kind of statements scare her, and with Bill C-51 still in effect she knows anti-Muslim sentiments won’t go away anytime soon.


“I think it is incredibly sad to see political parties not stand up for justice,” she says. “It’s just sad and disgusting to see.”

A report on the public consultation reviewing Canada’s security and Bill C-51 is expected to be released this spring.


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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

City council gets 3.4 percent pay raise

Salaries for HRM councillors will see an extra $2,800 on their pay this year, retroactive to November 1. Mayor Mike Savage’s pay remains unaffected.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 12:49 AM

Congrats to everyone on their money. - VIA HRM
  • Congrats to everyone on their money.
  • via HRM

It’s a little bit more than a living wage.

Salary numbers for Halifax Regional Council have finally been calculated and most of the municipality’s elected officials received a modest 3.4 percent pay raise this year.

Councillors will see their pay increase from $82,653 to $85,443. The deputy mayor’s salary has likewise increased from $90,918 to $93,988.

Mayor Mike Savage’s salary stays the same, at $176,033.

The numbers were released today by city hall and are retroactive to November 1. As previously reported, missing information from Brampton caused a nearly four-month delay in setting this year’s salaries.

Council’s pay is determined annually using a weighted average of comparable salaries in other Canadian cities, plus 50 percent of the difference between that average and the highest payment levels.


As the weighted average—plus that 50 percent adjustment—for the mayor’s salary came out several thousand dollars below what Savage is currently paid, it remains unaffected.

Two years ago, an independent salary committee advised council to change its salary formula and tie pay rates to the salaries of the average full-time income of HRM residents.

Although the idea was narrowly defeated, councillor Steve Craig made a motion last fall for HRM’s chief administrative officer to look into the issue again. A new report on the matter is expected back to council later this year.

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SCIENCE MATTERS: Greatness comes from moving forward, not backward

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2017 at 12:03 AM

VIA THE DAVID SUZUKI FOUNDATION
  • via the David Suzuki Foundation

The battle lines are drawn—in some cases literally. On one side are those reaping massive profits from fossil fuels, determined to extract and sell as much as possible before the market dries up. On the other are those who see the amazing potential of energy conservation, renewable energy and other innovations to reduce pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystem destruction and exploitation of valuable non-renewable resources.

Despite international initiatives like the 2015 Paris Agreement, based on decades of research and evidence from around the world about human-caused global warming, those who would risk human health and survival for short-term profits from a destructive sunset industry appear to have the upper hand—for now. The election of a U.S. president and vice-president who deny the very existence of anthropogenic climate change and who have appointed likeminded people and industry executives to key positions illustrates how entrenched those committed to outdated, albeit still profitable, energy sources and technologies are.

Literal battles are heating up, such as at Standing Rock in the U.S., where the Sioux and their allies have been fighting to protect water resources and sacred sites from the 1,886-kilometre Dakota Access pipeline, which would transport crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois, under lakes and rivers, barely skirting Sioux territory.

Ideological battles are also heating up. Fossil fuel interests have long spent buckets of money to spread false and misleading information to downplay or deny the seriousness of climate change, aided by politicians, armies of online trolls and shady organizations and “think tanks.” The new U.S. administration has emboldened them further.

Unfortunately, those who believe we should continue to burn polluting, climate-altering, non-renewable fuels are bolstered by an abundance of resources: lots of money, secretly funded climate science-denial organizations, complacent media outlets and unethical politicians. Those of us who care about a safer, healthier future have our work cut out.

We also have a lot going for us. Despite the U.S. president’s promises, no one is going back to mining and burning massive amounts of coal. Making America—or any place—great doesn’t mean embracing 18th-century technology in the 21st. That would be worse than if President Theodore Roosevelt had kicked the Ford Motor Company to the curb to keep the horse-and-buggy industry going!

Whatever greatness America can claim has largely been the result of government and society embracing science, technology and great ideas, from putting people on the moon to conserving some of the world’s most spectacular pristine places in its national parks system. Many of today’s political representatives and their fossil fuel cronies don’t seem to get that. But others do. Some, like Tesla’s Elon Musk, are developing clean power and storage technologies that are rendering fossil fuels obsolete.

Technological advances have made wind and solar cost-competitive, and the sector is growing rapidly. The U.S. Energy Department says the solar power industry alone employed almost twice as many people in electric power generation in 2016 as coal, oil and gas combined—43 per ent compared to 22 percent for fossil fuels. Meanwhile, coal-fired plants have dropped from supplying half the U.S.’s energy in 2008 to 30 percent in 2016. Consumer electricity costs have also dropped significantly over the past year. Other countries and jurisdictions, including some U.S. states, are rapidly shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy, creating good jobs and economic opportunities.

Meanwhile, tensions around dwindling fossil fuel reserves—from Standing Rock to the Middle East—are increasing. People demanding change are coming together in massive marches and protests worldwide. Any administration that continues to support destructive energy-generating methods developed hundreds of years ago when consequences weren’t well understood, populations were smaller and conditions were different, will get left behind as the rest of the world prospers from new ideas and technologies.

It’s hard to fathom that so many people, especially in positions of power, can’t see the many benefits of science and technological progress. It wouldn’t be a battle if everyone accepted that clean air, fresh water, healthy agricultural soils and diverse ecosystems are critical to human health and survival.

There’s still time to get humanity on track, but in the face of powerful opponents who reject science and changes that improve people’s lives, there’s no time for complacency.

———

Science Matters is a weekly column on issues related to science and the environment from David Suzuki, written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.


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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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