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.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Police board to discuss new services for First Nations communities

Three Indigenous bands currently own lands within HRM slated for redevelopment, including the former Turtle Grove at Shannon Park.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 5:14 PM

VIA ISTOCK
  • via iStock

Halifax’s police oversight board wants to help serve and protect the municipality’s First Nations-owned lands.

Councillor Waye Mason will put forward a motion at the next Board of Police Commissioners meeting looking to establish a more formal relationship between Halifax Regional Police and the city’s First Nations.

Three Indigenous bands currently own addition-to-reserve lands that fall within the Halifax Regional Municipality’s borders, all of which are slated for economic redevelopment.

The Sipekne’katik nation owns 130 acres in Upper Hammonds Plains, off Pockwock Road. A similarly sized parcel of land is owned by the Acadia nation. Closer to the downtown, Millbrook First Nation owns roughly 12 acres of property at Turtle Grove, in the former Shannon Park.

In Shannon Park,” says Mason. “So we’re going to have a First Nations reserve that you can walk to from the Ferry Terminal. You just need to talk about that and figure that out, because they’re our neighbours and they’re going to be a part of our community.”

Halifax Regional Police would have no jurisdiction on First Nation lands unless a service agreement was drawn up with the municipality. Mason says that’s one option. The bands instead might want support for their own Indigenous police operations or a new service agreement with the RCMP.

What’s imperative, the councillor stresses, is to have that dialogue about options now, before the buildings go up and anyone moves in.

“Do they want partnership in policing? What about bylaws?” asks Mason. “We’ll also have to do a similar motion at council to talk about fire and that kind of stuff.”

Mason’s motion also asks the board to consult with Halifax’s off-reserve urban Indigenous population to make sure their specific policing needs are being met. That could result in a requirement for Mi’kmaq representation on the police board, inviting public observers to meetings or other possible forms of participation.

“I think the most important thing about this is to make sure those First Nations know that our door is open,” Mason says. “If they feel they have issues, they should be coming to us to talk about them.”

Also to be debated at the next police commissioners gathering is an information item on establishing a protocol for public participation, with the aim of allowing residents to directly address the board during future meetings.

Mason says he’s supportive of the idea, but it would need some form of structure to ensure the two-hour meetings of volunteer commissioners aren’t derailed.

“Otherwise, when there’s a hot issue in the community the board couldn’t function to do its oversight role because we’d have two hours of the public talking and then we wouldn’t have any other time.”

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Nova Scotia announces big changes in access to abortions

Doctor's referrals will no longer be needed for surgical appointments, and the Mifegymiso pill will be free with prescription.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 11:13 AM

Starting November 1 the abortion pill Mifegymiso will be available to Nova Scotian pharmacies with a valid health card and prescription. - VIA PANS
  • Starting November 1 the abortion pill Mifegymiso will be available to Nova Scotian pharmacies with a valid health card and prescription.
  • VIA PANS

Doctor referrals will no longer be needed for surgical abortions and pharmacies across Nova Scotia will begin offering free access to the abortion pill, Mifegymiso.

The announcement was made Friday by Kelly Regan, minister for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

“We're supporting more choice for women when it comes to their reproductive health,” Regan writes in a press release. “This will ensure all Nova Scotia women have access to this option.”

Starting in November, women with a valid health card and prescription will receive Mifegymiso—taken to terminate a pregnancy of up to 49 days—from pharmacies at no cost.

Commonly known as the “abortion pill,” Mifegymiso is already funded by health departments in other provinces, but was previously only available in Nova Scotia under some private drug plans.

The pill costs roughly $350 per patient. The province estimates it will spend between $175,000 to $200,000 a year to pay for the coverage.

In addition to the improved access to Mifegymiso, the government has also removed the requirement of a physician’s referral for surgical abortions. A new phone line will instead be set up for patients to book their own appointments.

As reported by Brett Bundale in the Canadian Press this summer, Nova Scotia was the only province in Canada where women needed a doctor’s referral before booking an abortion.

Combined with the lack of coverage for Migegymiso and impractically long wait times for surgery, it made Nova Scotia one of the worst places in the country to get an abortion.

“The situation for abortion access is extremely grim," Darrah Teitel, spokesperson for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights told the Canadian Press.

Friday’s announcement, at least, offers some hope the province is listening to the concerns of health care advocates.

“I'm pleased to see that government is acting to offer women in Nova Scotia more choice,” Michelle Kelly, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women writes in the department’s press release.

“Providing universal coverage for Mifegymiso and improving access to abortion services are positive steps forward for Nova Scotia women.”

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Local Xpress spins-off into HalifaxToday

Ontario's Village Media is launching its own community news outlet in Halifax after partnering with former Chronicle Herald strike site.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 1:23 AM

Dartmouth, as ever, is going to be pissed. - VIA TWITTER
  • Dartmouth, as ever, is going to be pissed.
  • VIA TWITTER

The Chronicle Herald’s newsroom strike may have laid the groundwork for the paper’s newest competitor.

Ontario’s Village Media is looking to hire an online community editor for its new HalifaxToday website.

“HalifaxToday.com is coming soon and Village Media is looking for a full-time community editor to help launch our latest online-only news site,” reads an ad on Jeff Gaulin's Job Board.

The advertisement lists a dot com, but it’s HalifaxToday.ca that’s registered to Village Media CEO Jeff Elgie.

Based in Sault Ste. Marie—where the company operates its flagship SooToday site—Village Media also owns community news outlets in four other Ontario communities, and is looking to expand.

“What we're just doing is what a community newspaper did 20 years ago,” Elgie recently told the Canadian Press. “It's not that brilliant, really, we're just focusing on local.”

The company also licenses its software to “partner” with outlets in Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Manitoulin Island and with the former Local Xpress in Halifax.

Started by striking members of the Halifax Typographical Union as an outlet for their work, Local Xpress picked up several Atlantic Journalism Awards nominations—and two wins for photojournalism—during its brief, but commendable lifespan. The site was shuttered back in August with the end of the Herald strike.

But the market for a Halifax news website seems to have been viable enough to whet Village Media’s appetite for an eastern expansion.

No word on when HalifaxToday will launch. Both Elgie and Village Media director of finance Jake Cormier declined to comment at press time.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

10 things that happened at city council

No movement on accessible transit, Halifax chases rainbow and Cornwallis terms of reference announced. Plus where in the world is Matt Whitman?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2017 at 2:49 PM

A full action summary of Tuesday's meeting available here - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • A full action summary of Tuesday's meeting available here
  • DANIELLE CAMERON

ACCESSIBILITY INACCESSIBLE

Steve Craig is fed up with the lack of accessible transportation options in HRM. It’s been three years since the Lower Sackville councillor tried to expand the city’s door-to-door paratransit service, and now he’ll have to wait at least a few more months for an outside consultant’s strategic review of Access-a-Bus service.

“I’m disappointed in myself because I wasn’t able to get an action here to come to council to help people who absolutely need some help,” Craig said.

Aside from that review, council approved a staff report Tuesday intending to expand Access-a-Bus to full-day service and explore providing transit for those individuals travelling in support of registered users. The city also requested a staff report on options for some kind of service delivery contract with the city’s taxi operators to ensure accessible services are available 24-hours a day.

Currently, that's far from the case. Deputy mayor Craig told a story of recently coming across a resident in a wheelchair waiting for an accessible taxi outside of Wal-Mart. Their cab had broken down, and there were no other accessible taxis available in the city. Craig said he stayed with the young woman until the original car was fixed and arrived to pick her up.

“She should not have been in that position.”

Deputy mayor Steve Craig at council. - RILEY SMITH
  • Deputy mayor Steve Craig at council.
  • RILEY SMITH

Wheelchair accessible cabs tend to break down faster and are more expensive to fuel. But councillor Stephen Adams said there are other reasons they're often not available. According to the councillor, the majority of HRM’s 25 accessible taxi drivers are purposefully ignoring fares in wheelchairs.

“I would say, most definitely, that 15 of them have never had a wheelchair in their vehicle,” Adams said, suggesting those drivers only applied for the license in order to skip the long waitlist for a conventional taxi license. Craig later told The Coast that the licenses of those delinquent drivers should be revoked.

“If that was the premise under which you got your license, you damn well should be able to do that job,” he said. “And if you’re not doing that job, out you go.”

RAINBOW CONNECTION
Rainbow crosswalks are here to stay in HRM. The municipality started painting the rainbow crosswalks two years ago for Halifax Pride, and now the colourful paint projects have been approved as a permanent part of the city’s public works budget at four predetermined intersections: Gottingen at Cornwallis; Spring Garden at South Park; Alderney at Ochterloney; and Spring Garden at Queen.

Councillors weren’t happy with the design of the road art, however. Several other cities paint their rainbows in a variety of patterns to fill the entire crosswalk, as opposed to the short blocks of six colours—no love for indigo—that HRM currently smears mid-way through the intersection.

ASHLEY CORBETT
  • ASHLEY CORBETT

Staff weren’t opposed to going over new rainbow designs but noted the current format was chosen to reduce slippage and save money. The motion was ultimately amended to ask for a staff report exploring other options for safe paint applications and design guidelines.

The annual maintenance cost for the rainbows will be $20,000. Any additional rainbows on HRM streets will need to be funded by external sources before they’re approved by city hall.

CHURCH AND STATE
St. Paul’s Church, down at the other end of Grand Parade, needs city hall’s help to repair its perimeter stone wall and cast-iron fencing. Several sections of the wall—which dates back to 1843—have crumbled and are in a poor state of repair. According to council’s staff report, there’s fear the support wall retaining Argyle Street’s sidewalk could soon fail. 
THE COAST
  • THE COAST

“Failure of the wall or the failure of an agreement to restore the wall would require HRM to support the sidewalk on Argyle Street with an elaborate and expensive concrete retaining wall in the right of way parallel to the existing stone wall.”

Council approved $500,000 for in-kind financial assistance towards the reconstruction work, on the condition that half the money comes from the federal government and the church enters into a heritage agreement with HRM. Under said agreement, St. Paul’s will expand public access to its gardens and not demolish or alter its property without council’s consent. The church will also offer HRM right of first refusal in the event the property is ever sold.

MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB
The municipality is gearing up for a Regional Mountain Bike Strategy. Councillor Tony Mancini requested a staff report Tuesday asking HRM to develop a strategy “similar to that of Western Australia and British Columbia.” That will include potentially establishing a mountain bike advisory committee, and identify strategic mountain bike trails and infrastructure. The goal, according to Mancini, will be to promote HRM as a “world-class destination” for mountain bike ecotourism. “People travel across North America to go mountain biking,” the Harbourview–Burnside–Dartmouth East councillor said.

SHAPE OF THE WATER
Council will look at creating a pollution control study for Lake Banook and Lake Micmac. Dartmouth Centre councillor Sam Austin called for the staff report after the Birch Cove Beach at Lake Banook closed this past summer for a record 33 days—half of the total swimming season. The number of closures has been trending up over the last several years, but it's unknown what’s causing all the bacteria growth. Though councillor Tim Outhit had one explanation.

“The phosphate levels in lakes go up because of fertilizer, because of septic field, because of development,” Outhit said. “A lot of pollution, it doesn’t just fall from the sky. It comes from development.”

NOT A DRILL
Missing all the talk about cycling and rainbows was Matt Whitman. The Hammonds Plains–St. Margaret’s councillor is once again away from City Hall visiting Yinchuan, China for the Smart City InFocus conference. Last year, Whitman missed out on council’s Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes wilderness park vote to attend the same three-day conference, which brings delegates in from all over the world to discuss topics such as “unleashing local data economies.”

The councillor's new profile pic (in case you're blocked) - VIA TWITTER
  • The councillor's new profile pic (in case you're blocked)
  • VIA TWITTER

SIDE-GUARD SIDE-EYE
A petition from eight organization was submitted to council Tuesday requesting the city reconsider its motion from June of last year to require side guards on all “contracted service provider vehicles over 4,500 kilograms on contracts awarded after April 1, 2017.” Cry me a river, tweets Ben Wedge.

LAKESIDE BECOMES BEECHVILLE
Richard Zurawski will get a staff report looking at renaming the Lakeside Industrial Park, and Lakeside Park Drive, to the Beechville Industrial Park, and Beechville Park Drive, respectively. The councillor said the industrial park already exists closer to the longstanding Black community than to Lakeside, and it “behoves us to recognize the historic place Beechville.”

NEW DATES FOR CENOTAPH
Lindell Smith, on behalf of Waye Mason, gave notice that at the next meeting of city council he’ll be requesting a staff report on the feasibility and options of placing the dates of the “Afghanistan conflict” on the Cenotaph in Grand Parade, “including the potential to allow space for additional dates should circumstances require it in the future.” Ominous! Canada’s combat role in the Afghanistan War officially lasted from 2001 to 2011, though forces remained in the country to continue training local personnel until 2014.

CORNWALLIS CONTINUES
At council’s next meeting on October 4, Shawn Cleary will introduce terms of reference for the special advisory committee tasked with reviewing HRM’s commemoration of Edward Cornwallis. A deadline for that committee to report back to council could be included in the terms of reference—which so far haven’t been released—but however quickly the group presents its recommendations likely won’t be fast enough for protestors and community members, who back in July demanded the statue of Edward Cornwallis in the city’s south end be removed in time for Mi’kmaq History Month.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Party’s over at the IWK

Nova Scotia’s auditor general steps in to investigate hospital’s deepening expense scandal.

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 10:10 PM

Time to operate. - VIA IWK HEALTH CENTRE FOUNDATION
  • Time to operate.
  • VIA IWK HEALTH CENTRE FOUNDATION

Nova Scotia's auditor general will conduct financial and performance audits on the IWK hospital's books and turn over all the information to police “for their consideration on any possible legal matters.”

The announcement from AG Michael Pickup was made Tuesday afternoon. It's the latest chapter in a growing expense scandal that's been plaguing the Halifax hospital for the last four months.

“I am gravely concerned with the ineffectiveness of financial controls and lack of rigour in financial management as publicly reported by the IWK in recent weeks,” Pickup states in a press release.

“Given the serious nature of the identified weaknesses at the IWK, my office intends to conduct financial and performance audits of the IWK's books and practices.”

A quick refresher on how we got here: The CBC's Michael Gorman first broke the news back in June that hospital CEO Tracy Kitch had billed tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses on her company credit card for everything from a Netflix subscription to limousine service and personal air travel.

Kitch would resign from her job just days before an independent audit by accounting firm Grant Thornton found she still owed more than $22,000 out of the $47,000 improperly charged over the last three years. The auditors also determined the IWK's board didn't follow proper protocol when vetting Kitch's expenses.

Last week it was revealed that IWK chief financial officer Stephen D'Arcy is on paid leave from his job; a decision apparently made voluntarily to allow for a full and independent review of corporate practices.

Then on Monday, the CBC released a bombshell investigative piece that showed D’Arcy knowingly withheld damning information about Kitch’s purchases from publicly posted expense reports and blocked the release of emails about the former CEO that were asked for in a Freedom of Information request.

Health and Wellness minister Randy Delorey and premier Stephen McNeil have so far defended the IWK’s board, though Delorey issued his own statement Tuesday claiming he fully supports the auditor general cracking open the hospital's books.

“This is the appropriate step to take, and I think the board for their diligence in addressing these serious concerns over the last several months,” Delorey writes.

Pickup also announced Tuesday he would become the annual financial statement auditor of the IWK beginning next year.

The results of all performance audits and any significant findings from financial statement audits will be reported publicly to the Legislature.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Halifax will try to “wow” Amazon

It is with a heavy heart that we must announce that the mayor is at it again.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 6:05 PM

The other girl is IBM.
  • The other girl is IBM.

Mike Savage will try and sell Halifax to Amazon and that’s just barely an embellishment.

The Seattle-based mega-company announced on Thursday that it’s looking for a location to build a second headquarters, dubbed HQ2. Amazon says it will invest $5 billion US on the project, which it claims will employ up to 50,000 workers over the next 10 years.

Elected officials in cities across North America couldn’t offer themselves up fast enough.

Toronto mayor John Tory jumped at the chance, tweeting The Six is the kind of “bold, innovative city” that can attract talent and companies from all over the world.

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson was also thirsty, telling CBC his city had the “world-class tech ecosystem” and top talent to move Amazon north.

Halifax, not to be outdone, declared that it was as bold, innovative and world-class as everyone else.

Mike Savage tells CBC the municipality will put together a “wow bid” to try and capture Jeff Bezos’ attention.

What exactly is contained in a “wow bid” is still too early to say, according to the mayor’s spokesperson, Shaune MacKinlay.

“I don't know that we know what a ‘wow bid’ is yet, but we know that obviously, it's a very, very competitive field. So you can't phone it in.”

City hall will work with the Halifax Partnership over the next few weeks to try and meet Amazon’s tight October 19 deadline.

Impressing the behemoth online retailer might not be that difficult, however. Amazon’s property hunt is broad: just an urban or suburban location, near a metropolitan area of at least one million people, with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent. Close proximity to an international airport and a pipeline of university students are also assets.

According to Savage’s office, HRM has a shot. Despite a population less than half the requirement, the municipality has a growing tech sector, several universities and lower costs.

But there’s one other thing Amazon wants. The company is also asking cities to think “big and creative when considering locations and real estate options.”

Creativity, in this case, could well mean donated land and substantial tax deals.

MacKinlay couldn’t say at this point what perks might be included in Halifax’s incentives. Those still need to be ironed out.

“That’s a conversation that has to happen around a table of very bright and engaged people who have ideas.”

The pot will have to be sweetened somehow, though, if HRM wants to remain competitive.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon has taken in $700 million in state and city subsidies since 2000. With that public money have come accusations of dodging taxes, aggressive business practices and the mistreatment of workers.

A New York Times investigation two years ago revealed employees working long hours in a hostile environment that caused some to openly cry in the office.

Other published accounts include Amazon putting ambulances outside distribution centres rather than installing decent air conditioning, and workers in Scotland being paid so little they slept in tents to save money.

“We haven’t examined all those things,” says MacKinlay about the US company’s ethical track record. “But saying that, if Amazon were to come here, we would, they would expect to be treating workers under our labour codes and meeting labour code practices that are held to the same account as anyone else who establishes business here.”

Amazon’s HQ1 has been based in Seattle since 2010. The company claims its presence has added billions of dollars to the local economy.

A location for its second home will be chosen next year.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Halifax’s overburdened FOIPOP office wants to go digital

Freedom of Information requests are currently processed by hand, in a system heavily reliant on whiteboards.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 2:10 AM

A worker inside HRM's Access and Privacy Office (not exactly as illustrated). - VIA WIKICOMMONS
  • A worker inside HRM's Access and Privacy Office (not exactly as illustrated).
  • VIA WIKICOMMONS

The province’s largest municipality is barely keeping up with the hundreds of Freedom of Information requests it receives each year. But that could soon change.

The HRM issued a tender request Wednesday for new software to manage, track and redact FOIPOP requests as a potential solution to the bureaucratic strain.

“Right now, the team is manually completing these requests,” says municipal spokesperson Nick Ritcey in an email. “So this tool will automate a significant portion of the work and make the office much more efficient.”

According to the tender documents, Halifax’s Access and Privacy Office received 461 Freedom of Information requests last year. The volume and scope of those requests have been increasing in recent years, “resulting in large amounts of additional hours and effort required to meet the timelines.”

Like any other public body that operates under Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (or FOIPOP) Act, Halifax is mandated to respond to FOIPOP requests within 30 days. An extension is allowed if the record keepers need more time to gather documents. That seems to be the norm at City Hall. At City Hall, 17 of the 461 requests last year needed an extension; up slightly from the 15 extensions out of 445 files the previous year.

Nevertheless, the Access and Privacy Office appears to be overburdened by its current system of managing FOIPOP requests, which according to the tender documents relies heavily on whiteboards, spreadsheets and the “personal knowledge” of staff to manually tracks deadlines.

It all adds up to a “time-consuming” struggle that “puts the municipality at great risk of missing legislatively mandated timelines for responding accurately to these requests.”

The new software system will receive and track FOIPOP requests automatically, providing a single point of information for staff while streamlining the redaction process.

In design, it’s similar to the online portal the provincial government set up for FOIPOP requests at the start of the year. But while HRM’s Access and Privacy Office will no longer have to process those requests by hand, members of the public won’t be so lucky. Anyone submitting a FOIPOP request to the city will still need to hand over a hard copy and pay the five dollar processing fee in person or via cheque.

Ritcey says an online option for the submission of FOIPOP requests remains a goal for HRM, and the new software will be set up to support that potential future function.

If successful the management system will be expanded to include the Freedom of Information offices at Halifax Water and Halifax Regional Police.

“Everyone in that office is very excited to get the right tool for the job and is looking forward to implementing the new system soon,” says Ritcey.

The cost for the software is budgeted to come in under $80,000. Submissions for the tender close September 27.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tentative agreement reached for Purcell’s Cove Backlands

Halifax will pay $6.6 million for the wilderness property, but only if the Nature Conservancy of Canada kicks in $2.5 million.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 5:09 PM

The Shaw Group presents: Wilderness - VIA HALIFAXTRAILS.CA

Don’t celebrate just yet.

The municipality announced Wednesday that a tentative agreement has been reached to purchase the Purcell’s Cove Backlands, but Nature Conservancy of Canada program manager Craig Smith says the sale isn’t a done deal.

That's because Halifax and the NCC will share the $6.6-million cost to buy 380 acres of wilderness property from the Shaw Group. The municipality will pay $4.1 million, while the NCC will fundraise the remaining $2.5 million in return for a conservation easement protecting the land in perpetuity.

“We’re very happy with the outcome,” says Smith. “But all of it is dependent on NCC launching a successful fundraising campaign.”

As previously reported by Global’s Marieke Walsh, the land in question is currently assessed at $1.5 million. The Shaw Group purchased it in 2011 for $4.7 million.

Regional council met in-camera about the Backlands on Tuesday evening for over two hours before voting to rescind a previously approved motion from back in July, which had asked staff to negotiate with the Shaw Group in order to purchase the property. The reasons why are hidden in a confidential staff report, but it appears the price tag at least has been settled.

“Through the hard work of many partners we are closer than ever to realizing the desire to preserve these unique wilderness lands for the use of many generations to come,” mayor Mike Savage said in HRM’s news release. “As our city grows, it is more important than ever to preserve natural recreational spaces.”

The property represents the lion's share of the Purcell’s Cove Backlands, just beyond the Armdale Roundabout. It’s a “continentally relevant” ecosystem, says Smith, which is home to dozens of migratory birds and threatened species. All that, and only a short bus ride from the downtown.

Clayton Developments, a subsidiary of the Shaw Group, originally purchased the swath of wilderness in 2011. Four years later the company petitioned council to rezone the property to allow for residential development, rather than keep it “for no other purpose than park and open space.”

When that was denied, the Nature Conservancy approached Shaw about turning the land into a park. Allan Shaw himself appeared before council last spring pitching the unsolicited idea, offering to sell 170 acres directly to HRM and offload the remaining 209 to the NCC—who would lease it to the city on a renewable 99-year-term.

Under the just-announced tentative agreement, HRM will purchase the entirety of the lands with the financial assistance of the NCC. The Shaw Group will develop a parking lot and the main entrance for what is now being called the “Shaw Wilderness Park.”

“We are very excited to be part of this opportunity being undertaken for the residents of Halifax Regional Municipality,” writes Allan Shaw in today’s release. “As community builders, the Shaw Group is thrilled to be part of creating a legacy for the people of Halifax for many generations to come.”

Smith says the groundwork for NCC's fundraising campaign is already being set, but it won't launch until after HRM completes public consultation on the project.

The hope from all sides is to have the new park open within two years.

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Hendsbee blames media for ruining his pension proposal

Councillor's plan for HRM to help him buy back years of service gets roasted.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 12:40 PM

Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore councillor David Hendsbee, pictured inside City Hall. - RILEY SMITH
  • Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore councillor David Hendsbee, pictured inside City Hall.
  • RILEY SMITH

David Hendsbee won’t be getting any taxpayer money to top up his pension

Regional council voted against the Preston—Chezzetcook—Eastern Shore representative’s motion asking for a staff report on whether the municipality could split the cost and help him buy back years on his pension.

The request was met with public scorn over the weekend, to the point that the councillor claimed during Tuesday's meeting the media coverage in this outlet tainted his vacation plans.

“Jacob Boon kind of ruined my long weekend with that article in The Coast,” lamented Hendsbee.

But the idea wasn’t received any more favourably by Hendsbee’s colleagues.

“I do believe if we vote for this staff report, essentially what we’re saying is we’re OK with taxpayers paying for the poor financial planning of officials,” said Shawn Cleary.

“No way, no how, not on my watch,” said Lisa Blackburn.

“Most of our citizens don’t have pensions,” said deputy mayor Steve Craig. “We do have to take responsibility for our own affairs…The onus is on the individual, not the organization.”

The motion was eventually defeated, 13-3, with only Hendsbee wingmen Steve Streatch and Bill Karsten offering supporting votes.

“I want to stick up for my buddy here a wee bit,” said Bill Karsten. “This is being portrayed as so far out of left field that it’s ridiculous.”

Karsten, historically not a fan of this media outlet, said the outrage online was the result of “improper media attention.”

“It’s a sensational thing when the media starts to, I think, play games with things.”

Hendsbee told his colleagues he originally opted out of the plan two decades ago due to some combination of stupidity and naivety.

He claims it’s one of only two regrets in his political career. The second was asking for this staff report.

Perhaps sensing defeat, the councillor closed the debate by suggesting he’s been the “best bargain” at city hall because he hasn’t made HRM match contributions to his pension plan over the years.

“I’ve not been a drain on the public purse,” said Hendsbee. “Perhaps the public purse has been a beneficiary of me.”

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Friday, September 1, 2017

David Hendsbee wants HRM to cover his pension regrets

Councillor is hoping municipality will pay tens of thousands of dollars to help him buy-back decades of pension contributions.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 1, 2017 at 5:57 PM

Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore councillor David Hendsbee, pictured inside City Hall. - RILEY SMITH
  • Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore councillor David Hendsbee, pictured inside City Hall.
  • RILEY SMITH

After 20 years of public service, councillor David Hendsbee has just now decided he wants in on the municipality’s pension plan. But he needs some help to pay for it.

At the next meeting of Regional Council, Hendsbee will ask for a staff report on pension options for councillors past and present who “did not have sufficient information to opt in and now want to do so, with a matching municipal contribution to buy back time of service.”

Although he has a personal RRSP, the longtime Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore councillor only enrolled in HRM’s pension plan with his re-election last October.

As it stands, the 57-year-old won’t be collecting very much from the city for his two decades of municipal service. So he and “a couple of other councillors” who have been rethinking their previous decision want staff to investigate cheaper options for buying in so late in the game.

The municipality’s pension plan is mandatory for employees and voluntary for regional councillors. Participants are eligible for an annual pension equaling two percent of the average earnings over their three highest consecutive years of service, multiplied by the number of years they contributed to the plan.

Councillors and employees can also buy back years they weren’t part of the plan for a “commuted value” that represents what the past contribution would be worth now if it had been invested at the time.

Hendsbee was told that to buy back a single year of service it would cost him $31,000.

“I don’t have that kind of disposable income to be buying back my time at that kind of rate,” he says.

The cost is the full responsibility of the employee or councillor, but Hendsbee wants staff to look into changing regulations so that HRM will kick in some cash for a matching contribution.

“If I buy time, why do I have to pay for it all by myself?” he asks.

Pensions weren’t much of a priority for Hendsbee when he was young. The councillor says he was more focused on the bureaucracy of amalgamation than his own personal affairs when he first arrived at City Hall. He also says he felt pressured at the time by a “public reluctance” to take government money.

“You know how politicians with pensions are always being accused of self-serving and stuff,” says Hendsbee. “Now, thinking of it 20 years later, well, what do I have to show for it except for my own personal savings plan that I put away over the last 25, 30 years?”

First elected to the county in 1993, Hendsbee has served as a councillor for the amalgamated Halifax Regional Municipality since 1996—save for a brief four-year sojourn into provincial politics from 1999 to 2003. He’s ineligible for an MLA pension for his single term at Province House.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ray Ivany finally gets his name on something of value

NSCC’s waterfront campus named after the province’s growth guru.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 12:41 AM

That's so Ray Ivany. - VIA TWITTER
  • That's so Ray Ivany.
  • VIA TWITTER


Embracing the only real tangible result of the Ivany Report—using the word “Ivany”—the Nova Scotia Community College is honouring Ray Ivany.

To that end, NSCC’s waterfront campus will henceforth be known as the Raymond E. Ivany campus. The bold rebrand was announced during a ceremony Tuesday in Dartmouth.

“NSCC is a place where youth are inspired to innovate, to take chances and be creative,” Labour and Advanced Education minister Labi Kououlis said at the press conference. “These are all characteristics that Ray embodies. His determination and drive continue to inspire every student who attends the college.”

Ivany served as NSCC’s president and CEO from 1998 to 2005, where he helped secure a landmark $123-million investment from the provincial government. The money helped fund NSCC’s expansion, making room for an additional 2,500 students and paving the way for a shiny new Dartmouth campus to replace the college’s run-down former digs on Bell Road (razed and replaced by Citadel High).

“Ray Ivany, a two-time college graduate in engineering technology, positioned NSCC at the forefront of postsecondary education options in Nova Scotia,” said current college president Don Bureaux in a press release.

Ivany’s name is already attached to a less-impressive institution, having famously chaired the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy. In 2014, NS-COBONE released its game-changing Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotia report—commonly known throughout the land as the Ivany Report.

Though its lessons are still preached from the pulpit at Province House, over the last three years the Ivany Report has morphed from a dying province’s blueprint towards new life into buzzword fuel—a pamphlet of clichéd catechisms, spat out by every industrial grifter, political theorist and soulless PR drone hoping to rub two Bluenose-emblazoned government dimes together.

So the waterfront campus is a big step up for the Ivany brand.

Ivany was also president of Acadia University from 2009 until June of this year.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chief planning director Bob Bjerke exits city hall

Memo from CAO says Bjerke is “no longer a member of the Halifax Regional Municipality team.”

Posted By on Tue, Aug 22, 2017 at 10:39 PM

Bob Bjerke joined HRM in 2014 in the newly created position of director of planning and development. - VIA TWITTER
  • Bob Bjerke joined HRM in 2014 in the newly created position of director of planning and development.
  • VIA TWITTER

The municipality’s top planner is out of a job.

That’s according to a memo emailed to HRM staff on Tuesday afternoon by chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé.

“Please be advised that effective today Bob Bjerke, director of planning and development, is no longer a member of the Halifax Regional Municipality team,” writes Dubé. “We wish Bob the best of luck in his future endeavors.”

Bjerke was unavailable for comment at time of publication, but municipal spokesperson Brendan Elliott confirmed he's no longer working with HRM.

Elliott refused to disclose any other details, calling it a personnel matter. Kelly Denty, former managing planner, will now serve as acting-chief planning director.

“The appointment will remain in place until we fill the position permanently,” writes Elliot in an emailed statement. “Also, the municipality will be initiating recruitment efforts shortly in order to fill the position as soon as possible.”

The now ex-planning director only joined HRM in 2014, after a nationwide search to fill the newly created position.

Bjerke came to Halifax from Regina, where in 2011 he was fired as that city’s director of planning and sustainability.

At the time, Regina was developing its downtown plan and finally seeing improvements in density, transit and sustainable neighbourhood planning. According to journalist editor Stephen Whitworth of Prairie Dog Magazine, Bjerke was “a huge part” of that progress.

The planning director’s Halifax exit arrives at a watershed moment for the municipality—just as the department’s long-gestating Centre Plan comes to life.

Despite that accomplishment, he likely won't be missed by some in the private sector. Several sources inside and outside city hall say many of the city's developers weren't fond of Bjerke’s tenure.

City councillors have repeatedly over the last year—during public meetings and in media interviews—complained that developers are unhappy with HRM’s planning department, and the time it takes to get approval on building projects.

It’s unclear if or how those timelines will be impacted now that Bjerke is out of the picture.

According to Dubé’s memo, Halifax’s vision for planning and development will “continue to be embraced” by city hall.

“We have a brilliant planning and development team,” Dubé writes, “I have been fortunate enough to spend time with this team and can see their passion in regard to the planning and development in the Halifax region.”

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Police commission to look for new legal rules on street checks

Councillor Waye Mason will ask HRM’s legal team to investigate legislative options for controversial practice.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 22, 2017 at 11:39 AM

Chief Jean-Michel Blais speaking to reporters at City Hall. - THE COAST
  • Chief Jean-Michel Blais speaking to reporters at City Hall.
  • THE COAST

Police commissioner Waye Mason is calling for HRM’s legal team to look into new rules around the department’s use of street checks.


On Monday, the city councillor told his colleagues at the Board of Police Commissioners that he’d be making a motion on the matter at its next meeting in September.

Mason wants the municipality’s legal experts to investigate potential new regulations on the controversial practice, including looking at how Ontario legislated the similarly discriminatory practice of carding and rolling out a clear process for citizen complaints.

It’s an effort to try and make some progress on an issue many feel has stagnated.

“What I’m hearing from the public is, ‘Great, you’re doing these things, but it’s taking a long time,’” said Mason.

It’s been several months since a CBC investigation daylighted reams of data on how Halifax cops are interacting with the public. More than a decade of stats showed Black residents of HRM were three times more likely to be “street checked” by police than white residents.

Calls for a moratorium on the investigative tactic were brushed aside back in January. Instead, the Board of Police Commissioners voted on a more thorough data analysis, which evolved into an independent review from the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

That review is still at the starting gates. A data expert has been hired to look at the numbers, but their identity hasn’t yet been released by the police board.

Speaking Monday to reporters, chief Jean-Michel Blais said it could be several months before the independent analysis is complete.

In the meantime, anger around the practice continues to build. Solidarity Halifax recently held three days of action where the public wrote to HRP, councillors and MLAs advocating to end the use of street checks

Blais says he’s heard those concerns during some of the “ongoing discussions” HRP has had with community members.

“This is going to be a work in progress,” says the chief. 

“I think it’s been good,” Blais says, about the tense dialogue so far between HRP and community members. “Just because people may not agree with certain approaches does not mean that there is no dialogue.”

One immediate change Blais is hoping the legal review will allow for is deleting some of HRP’s backlog of street check data. The chief says he’s “not comfortable, whatsoever” having two-year-old files of little investigative value sitting around on the department’s servers.

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Peter Mansbridge announces coast to coast storytelling tour

See Canada's grandpa in Halifax October 23.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 22, 2017 at 11:02 AM

SUBMITTED
  • Submitted

While retirement means slowing down for some, it doesn’t look like former CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge has been sleeping in or taking up gardening: Since stepping down from hosting The National this July—after holding the seat for a whopping 29 years—Canada’s grandpa has been gearing up for a coast to coast storytelling tour.

He says (via press release) it’ll be an evening of behind-the-scenes tales that shaped the news, the country and himself: “These are personal stories I’ve collected over the decades.”

Catch him in Halifax at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium October 23. Tickets go on sale August 28 and range from $41.00 - $101.50. You can grab yours at the Dalhousie Arts Centre Box Office, by phone at (902) 494-3820 or 1-800-874-1669 and online at artscentre.dal.ca, evenko.ca and livenation.com.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Throwing shade: Where Halifax can experience the total solar eclipse

Here are three spots to safely view this once-in-a-lifetime celestial event.

Posted By on Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 1:15 PM

Recess still has us convinced making a pinhole projector can't be THAT hard...Right?
  • Recess still has us convinced making a pinhole projector can't be THAT hard...Right?

Light some candles, check your horoscope and get ready! Today’s the day that most of North America (Halifax included) will see an astrological event so rare its last appearance was in 1979: The total solar eclipse.

Between two and five this afternoon, the moon and sun’s paths will overlap, with the moon passing between the sun and the earth. While Halifax isn't in the path of totality (meaning we won't see a total eclipse) aspiring astrologists won't wanna miss this show. Remember, it’s not safe to look directly at the spectacle (even sunglasses aren’t enough of a barrier!) so hitting one of these three spots is your best bet for getting in on the celestial celebration if you don’t feeling like DIY-ing your own pinhole projector.

-The Discovery Centre is throwing an eclipse party, with outdoor viewing and indoor programming making some all-ages magic from 1-5pm.

-Dalhousie University’s James Dunn Building will have a lawn full of eclipse explorers, with sunlight-filtering telescopes and an eclipse projection from 2:30-5pm.

-Saint Mary’s University Burke Building also offers safe viewing for sun-seekers, with 40 pairs of eclipse glasses and three telescopes on offer between 2:15-5:15pm.

-Working all day and can't see the eclipse itself? The Big Sing, a drop-in, secular choir that makes its home at The Company House, will be covering A Total Eclipse of the Heart tonight from 7-9pm.

Oh, and since all these sky shenanigans are going down in the midst of Mercury’s retrograde, we recommend rounding out your evening (and escaping retrograde’s famous brain-fog) with some binge-watching. Perhaps Recess’ solar eclipse episode (Season 2, Episode 26) fits the bill?

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Vol 25, No 17
September 21, 2017

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