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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Democracy now

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 10:48 AM

Remember 1758? Good year. The Seven Years' War was all over the news, Clement XIII became the 248th Pope...lots going on.

And here in Nova Scotia, we elected our first legislative assembly, the first elected legislature in Canada—pretty awesome, frankly. People moving forward, working together...it really put that whole Seven Years' War into perspective. (Oh, Prussia and Saxony, can't we all just get along?)

Now, 249 years later, as Nova Scotia prepares for a historic democratic milestone, Darce Fardy prepares for a different celebration of democracy: the Right to Know Week public forum, happening this week at the University of King's College. Last year marked the first public forum, and Fardy is excited for round two.

"We'd like to make a little less formal than it appeared last year," he says. "We want people to have a bit of fun with it."

Fardy founded the Right to Know Coalition last year, a group devoted to educating the public on how to overcome bureaucratic hurdles that obscure information, especially in relation to how public money is spent.

Among the events: Deputy Halifax regional police chief Chris McNeil will speak about the boundaries of public access when it comes to police activities; in other words, what you as Joe Q. Notacop have a right to see. If you've ever been frustrated or intimidated trying to communicate with the five-oh, this is well worth your time.

"As a police officer, the challenge is to be both independent and accountable," explains McNeil. "We're in the information business. But how do we be transparent, and also protect the basic tenets of policing?

"I believe in Nova Scotia, we're in the middle of an evolution. In 10 years, info that we might have thought needed to be kept secret, may seem silly."

The public forum gets underway on Thursday, October 4, in Alumni Hall at King's. Check nsrighttoknow.ca for more info.

Where are we?

On the same Tuesday this week that the Daily News cover screamed "Mayor vulnerable in next election," city council debated Metro's official name. Harvey told council this isn't a big deal. "It won't change anybody's postal address," he said. "It won't impact in any significant way on our budget." As Harvey sees it, for the price of a 52-cent stamp on the letter, the city could officially catch up with the name the rest of the world already uses.

Harvey's right. From the airport (Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International) to city hall (which lives online at halifax.ca) the best way to describe this town is almost never "HRM."

Yet Harvey's simple motion about clear communication started Orange Alert pandemonium. For well over an hour, debate swirled about names, branding and council's ability to do anything without a report from staff.

It was the staff thing that really caused problems. The city's solicitor got involved, but her attempts to clarify lead to lots of head-scratching about procedure among councillors. Mayor Kelly's biggest contribution was to lean over at one point and turn on the solicitor's microphone. Ultimately the matter was—drumroll please—sent to staff for a report. At that point council took a 10-minute break, then returned to do three minutes of business and adjourn the meeting. Just another day in regional municipal paradise.

Things that make you go “HRM.” Email mikef@thecoast.ca.

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