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Chebucto Road reconstruction 

On again/off again widening project is back on after Halifax city council reverses its reversal on the reversible lane.

Reversing direction from last week, Regional council voted Tuesday to approve the Chebucto Road widening project. Construction crews are expected to start work the week of July 1.

The contentious project will consume portions of residents' front yards in order to widen the road up from the Armdale Roundabout, allowing the installation of a third, reversible lane in the roadway. Proponents argue the project will relieve congestion through the roundabout. Critics say the project merely moves the point of congestion farther up Chebucto Road and that the money would be better spent on transit.

Last week, council unexpectedly sidetracked the Chebucto project by voting against a $2-million tender to Basin Contracting of Enfield for the work. That vote came as two councillors with reputations for missing council meetings---Harry McInroy and Steve Streatch---failed to appear forthe vote.

In order to reverse last week's action, the pro-widening side needed a two-thirds council vote (16 out of 24) to first approve a "motion of reconsideration" for last week's vote, then, once the reconsideration was approved, a simple majority to vote in favour of the tender. They were successful at both.

While McInroy and Streatch were expected to show up this week to vote for the motion of reconsideration, it came as something of a surprise when they were joined by five councillors who had voted against the Chebucto project last week: Krista Snow, Mary Wile, Brad Johns, Bob Harvey and Tim Outhit. That vote was recorded by council's computerized vote-tracking system.

The subsequent vote on the tender, however, was an unrecorded voice vote, which was judged by mayor Peter Kelly to be in the "yes" side's favour.

Two councillors---Tim Outhit and Bob Harvey---say they voted for the reconsideration motion but against the tender.

"It was felt I didn't have the background needed last week for the vote," said Outhit. "I then took a week to do my homework, so OK, I'll reconsider and allow the vote...I still voted against , because I think it's $2 million that I would have seen spent on transit."

"I felt on the procedural matter, I was prepared to test it a second time," said Harvey.

But since the reconsideration vote was approved by the minimum 16 votes needed, had Outhit or Harvey voted against the reconsideration motion, the $2 million expenditure vote would have never occurred.

"I wasn't aware of that," Outhit explained.

"Interesting, isn't it, how it works out sometimes," commented Harvey.

Councillor Sheila Fougere, who has spearheaded council opposition to the Chebucto project, maintains that the reconsideration vote was conducted improperly. Council's rules and procedures manual, she said, dictates that motions of reconsideration be asked for in writing, one week before they come before council. Last week, councillor David Hensbee had asked for the reconsideration motion verbally, but notin writing.

At Tuesday's meeting, council's legal counsel, Mary Ellen Donovan, agreed that the manual requires a written request for reconsideration, but said past practice allowed verbal requests, so allowed Hensbee's motion to move forward.

"This is the most frustrating exercise I've heard of in terms of process," said Fougere.

"I do not believe the rules were followed today. I think they were adjusted to suit the whims of particular members of council and that concerns me.... It was kind of, 'yes, you're right, but two-thirds of council can do whatever it wants'... if two-thirds of council can do whatever it wants, why do we even bother to have an administrative order?"

Asked to speculate why five councillors, who had voted against the project just last week, had voted for the reconsideration motion, Fougere said she has "no idea."

"What we've seen on this issue, if you go back to look at vote after vote after vote, is people have continued to change their minds, back and forth," said Fougere.

"I'm really disappointed in the fickle nature of the vote."

Listen to Tim Bousquet's interviews with Sheila Fougere, Tim Outhit and Bob Harvey at his blog, Reality Bites


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