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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pain and no gain: HRM looks to write-off nearly $300,000 in gym fees

City hall feeling the burn for Sackville Sports Stadium’s uncollectible accounts.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 10:32 AM

VIA FACEBOOK
  • VIA FACEBOOK

Changing banks was easier than cancelling a Sackville Sports Stadium gym membership, and that could end up costing HRM over a quarter of a million dollars.

A report headed to Wednesday’s Audit and Finance committee is asking city council to write-off slightly over $295,000 in outstanding accounts from the Lower Sackville fitness centre.

The lost money is a result of changes the stadium made to its membership contract a decade ago, as per the advice of an “independent private fitness facility consultant.”

Under new policies, customers were no longer able to cancel their fitness centre memberships early. Automatic payments continued to be taken from their bank accounts for the entire annual contract.

In response, many of those customers simply changed banks.

“The continued billing process that resulted from this policy (either through credit card or authorized withdrawal from the clients’ financial institution) forced many former members to cancel and/or change their financial service providers to stop SSS from continuing to process their payments,” reads the staff report. “Despite this reality, SSS continued to invoice the monthly membership fees and subsequent [non-sufficient fund] fees as accounts receivable until the end of the original membership contracts.”

The municipality absorbed operations of the Sackville Sports Stadium in 2014, but the policies remained in place for another two years. City hall’s legal department has since reviewed the paperwork and found many of the contracts lacked enforceable language and sufficient signatures, making them invalid.

“The rigid membership policy, in addition to lack of documentation, provided a real challenge with respect to collections,” says staff.

“As the majority of the accounts are very old and have not been acted on in a while from a collections perspective, it is staff’s recommendation that they be written-off.”

The Sackville Sports Stadium generates roughly $1.8 million in annual revenue, though it's faced declining membership in recent years due to competition from private facilities like Goodlife. The stadium shut down its women's gym in 2015 citing declining usage.

This is the stadium's first formal write-off . Regional council approved $73,000 in writes-offs across all of HRM at the end of last fiscal year.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Dal moves quickly to meet with residents at homecoming ground zero

“What happened in your neighbourhood is not acceptable to us.”

Posted By on Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 4:33 PM

Just another Saturday afternoon on Jennings Street. - SUBMITTED
  • Just another Saturday afternoon on Jennings Street.
  • SUBMITTED

The adults at Dalhousie University are busy trying to clean up the mess after Saturday afternoon’s homecoming party/riot/debacle.

Houses around the Jennings Street scene of pro-Dal chanting, public intoxication and mass arrest received a letter from university president Richard Florizone today, inviting them to a meeting Tuesday night.

”Dear neighbour: I want to apologize for the actions of some of our students over the weekend,” Florizone opens, before promising that Dal is “working on a plan to discourage similar behaviour in the future.” Then comes the invitation: “We would like to hear directly from you to help inform our plan for moving forward.”

The meeting is Tuesday night, 7-9pm, at the University Club.

While 
Dalhousie president Richard Florizone's letter to residents.
  • Dalhousie president Richard Florizone's letter to residents.
there are no specifics offered about the meeting’s discussion topics, the letter is clear on the apology front. “Again,” Florizone writes, “I am very sorry for the noise and disruption you experienced over the weekend and for any actions of Dalhousie students that made you feel unsafe in your neighbourhood.”

Along with residents and other “Dalhousie community” members, the guest list includes police reps and area councillor Waye Mason. If you want to talk before the meeting, Florizone encourages you to contact Dal’s community relations person, Karen Cairney, who can be reached by phone at 902-494-2786 or by email.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Watch this: Dalhousie students riot during homecoming

Nearly two dozen arrested by police on Saturday at off-campus parties.

Posted By on Sat, Oct 14, 2017 at 6:40 PM

VIA INSTAGRAM

Close to two dozen people were arrested Saturday afternoon as police responded to several off-campus parties being held by Dalhousie students.

Halifax Regional Police estimate up to 1,500 people were a part of the unsanctioned homecoming events, which took place off-campus in the area of Jennings and Larch streets.

Videos of the disturbance uploaded by those in attendance show a crowd of young men and women in black-and-gold Dalhousie clothing chanting “fuck these cops” at the assembled police presence.


“Just an average riot,” reads one caption. The videos were publicly viewable on Snapchat’s location-based map.

“You got actual lives to save but you’d rather watch a university party?” one woman can be heard yelling at the assembled emergency personnel.

At one point the crowd repeatedly chants “Let her go; let her go” at officers arresting a young blonde woman.

A statement from Halifax police says 22 people were arrested during the parties for a variety of offences under the Liquor Control Act, Criminal Code and HRM bylaw violations.

A post shared by Ross (@rosserikandersen) on


University president Richard Florizone condemned the students’ actions later in the day, writing on Twitter that he was “disappointed to hear that some students are drinking excessively and disturbing our community.”


“Not only is this dumb behaviour and subject to the law, these few students may also be subject to university discipline,” continues Florizone. “Be safe!”

Earlier this school year, Dalhousie banned alcohol in residences during orientation week as part of a harm-reduction policy around student drinking.

The school was sued last fall after international student Xiaomeng (Melody) Shang died from alcohol poisoning following a night of dorm-room drinking.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Dealer’s choice: Nova Scotia launches public cannabis consultation

Online survey seeks input on age limits, selling pot at NSLCs.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 11:14 AM

The survey is completely anonymous (we hope). - VIA TWEED CANADIAN CANNABIS
  • The survey is completely anonymous (we hope).
  • VIA TWEED CANADIAN CANNABIS

Nova Scotia’s government wants the blunt truth.

The province has unveiled an online survey seeking public input on proposed rules and regulations for recreational cannabis.

“As the federal government moves toward legalizing cannabis, our top priority is to protect the health and safety of Nova Scotians,” claims Justice minister Mark Furey in a press release. “We want to hear from Nova Scotians as we develop a well-regulated legal market that encourages responsible use and minimizes organized crime.”

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is set to legalize cannabis use and production come July, 2018. But it’ll be up to individual provinces to regulate distribution methods, as well as decide if they want to strengthen federally-approved minimums for possession, cultivation and age limit.

According to the 13-question survey, Nova Scotia’s government is considering using an existing Crown corporation (such as the NSLC) to sell recreational cannabis, and bumping the minimum legal age limit from 18 to 19.

If you have any thoughts on those plans, the survey is open and accepting comments until October 27. Print copies will be available at Access Nova Scotia Centres beginning October 12.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

In memoriam: Energy East (2013-2017)

The pipeline project’s sudden death was announced Thursday morning.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 6:24 PM

News of the pipeline's passing was celebrated in the streets. - VIA TWITTER
  • News of the pipeline's passing was celebrated in the streets.
  • VIA TWITTER

Energy East, the gargantuan, $16-billion pipeline project that would have transported over one million barrels of oil a day from Alberta to New Brunswick, has died.

It was four-years-old.

Parent company TransCanada announced the death of its 4,500-kilometre pipeline baby on Thursday morning. Chief executive officer Russ Girling offered his thanks to the businesses, Irvings and “various governments” who have supported Energy East over the years.

“Most of all, we thank Canadians across the country who contributed towards the development of these initiatives,” Girling states.

Energy East's sibling, the Eastern Mainline natural gas project, was killed in the same news release.

Condolences flowed in from across the country, including New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant, Alberta premier Rachel Notley and federal Conservative House leader Lisa Raitt, who called the decision “disastrous.”

Cause of death is not yet known. Girling cites “changed circumstances” in his news release, while federal energy minister Jim Carr told reporters it was a business decision based on oil prices, having little to do with government regulation.

In recent months Energy East had been battling a regulatory application by the National Energy Board. Its health took a turn for the worse when the NEB ruled that review would include climate change impacts and oil tanker traffic.

A report by environmental think-tank the Pembina Institute found the pipeline project had the capacity to generate 32 million tonnes of new greenhouse gases each year.

Energy East—which potentially would have put the drinking water for over five million Canadians at risk—was also considered controversial by many of the towns, municipalities and First Nations running along its proposed route.

News of its death was met with celebration by some of those same critics.

“Today is a great day for the climate and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who stood up to Energy East and its risks to our land, water and communities,” Andrea Harden-Donahue with the Council of Canadians said in a press release.

“Both the Northern Gateway fight and this Energy East one show that when First Nations stand together, supported by non-Indigenous allies, we win,” writes Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, on behalf of the 150 First Nations and tribes who made up the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion.

“This is an enormous win,” said Stephen Thomas, energy campaign coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. “For the past five years a broad movement of people in frontline communities and across Canada have been working to stop this pipeline. These communities took on the largest pipeline ever proposed in North America, and they won.”

Funeral arrangements are expected to cost TransCanada $1 billion next quarter. In lieu of donations, maybe just idle your car for a couple hours.

Energy East is survived by its sibling, the Keystone XL pipeline, along with cousins Trans Mountain Expansion (Kinder Morgan) and Line 3 Replacement (Enbridge).

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Eight-person expert panel proposed to determine the fate of Cornwallis

Terms of reference for the citizen committee, made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents, will be debated by city council on Tuesday.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 5:36 PM

Red paint thrown on the base of the Edward Cornwallis statue in 2016. - VIA INSTAGRAM
  • Red paint thrown on the base of the Edward Cornwallis statue in 2016.
  • VIA INSTAGRAM

Eight people will help decide Edward Cornwallis’ place in history, but it’ll be up to the 16 members of Halifax Regional Council to follow through on the expert panel’s advice.

The municipality has released its tentative terms of reference for the special advisory committee it hopes to task with examining Halifax’s commemoration of its controversial founder.

The terms of reference, which will be debated by Regional Council at its Tuesday meeting next week, were developed by staff after discussions with representatives from Aboriginal Affairs, local historians, Parks Canada, Mi’kmaq scholar Daniel Paul and the Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society. A draft version of the document was also shared with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.

The committee, when it's formed, will be tasked with conducting historical research and public engagement on HRM’s commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and the area's Indigenous history, and report back to council with recommendations on its findings.

Staff are suggesting an eight-person panel be struck, composed of experts on military and Mi’kmaw history, and those with Indigenous and non-Indigenous community experience. Two co-chairs—one Indigenous, one non-Indigenous—will lead the committee.

Four of the experts proposed by staff are selected out of nominations put forward by the Assembly of Chiefs. But for now, none of those names are being released. The identities of the panel members are contained in a separate in-camera report and will only be disclosed to the public after confirmation from council on Tuesday.

No deadline is included in the proposed terms of reference. Staff only suggest the panel should first tackle and report back on Cornwallis’ legacy before reconvening on the broader issue of how to best celebrate the region’s Mi’kmaq heritage.

Cornwallis, who commanded British troops as they raped and murdered their way through the Scottish Highlands, founded Halifax in 1749, in direct violation of England’s treaties with the Mi’kmaq. The same year Cornwallis issued a proclamation for Mi’kmaw scalps in an effort to “destroy” the area’s Indigenous population.

In recent decades, thanks in no small part to the advocacy of scholars like Daniel Paul, Cornwallis’ legacy has increasingly found itself debated inside City Hall. Councillor Shawn Cleary proposed this, HRM’s latest effort to start a conversation on how the city honours its complicated founder, after being inspired by a performance from poet laureate Rebecca Thomas this past spring.

A statue of the infamous governor still stands in the south end park that’s also named in his honour. It was erected by CN Rail in 1931—partially to increase Halifax tourism. The name of Cornwallis Street in the city's north end, meanwhile, dates back at least as far 1817, according to staff.

The only other HRM-owned asset branded with Cornwallis’ name was a Dartmouth Ferry that was sunk beneath the waters off Georges Island in 1944 after its engine room caught fire mid-transit.

The city’s former Cornwallis Junior High was renamed Halifax Central Junior High in 2011.

Current municipal policies don’t allow for the renaming of either Cornwallis Park or Cornwallis Street, however. A civic street name can only be changed for public safety reasons, or if initiated by—and with 100 percent agreement of—the road’s property owners. Park bylaws only offer renaming scenarios for a “living person who no longer meets the criteria for which they were commemorated.” Edward Cornwallis, being very dead, skates through that loophole.

Rules can change, though. Staff suggest council could amend both policies to allow for renaming, depending on the committee’s advice.

Total costs for the expert panel’s work is estimated to run between $50,000 to $75,000, with a large chunk of that expense taken up by public engagement. Even that process, when it comes to Cornwallis, won't be cut-and-dry.

Traditional methods of public consultation might need to be altered, staff note, given that Mi’kmaw territory—and thus the community most impacted by the continual celebration of Cornwallis—doesn’t readily align with the municipality’s borders.

And there's no guarantee any of this will result in any changes. Recommendations brought back by the expert panel will still need to be debated and voted on by city council.

Staff also caution that some residents will inevitably question the validity and credentials of a small table of fallible experts deciding what’s best for the city’s soul. Indeed, that’s already been a concern brought up numerous times during staff's consultations about the terms of reference.

“More than one individual suggested that while experts, narrowly defined, have an important role to play in the discussion, the key challenges being addressed—namely how we choose to remember the past, what do we do in terms of understanding our relationship with the past, and how that informs and influences us today—are questions for community, citizens and politicians rather than for experts.”

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Sidney Crosby praises Donald Trump’s invitation as a “great honour”

Cole Harbour’s hero voices his support for Penguins’ White House visit.

Posted By on Mon, Sep 25, 2017 at 11:50 AM

Crosby at the Penguins’ victory parade last year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. - DAVEYNIN, VIA WIKIMEDIA
  • Crosby at the Penguins’ victory parade last year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • DAVEYNIN, VIA WIKIMEDIA

Cole Harbour’s Sidney Crosby is backing his team in accepting president Donald Trump’s invitation to the White House.

The Pittsburgh Penguins defended their upcoming trip to Washington in a press release Sunday, stating the team respects the office of the president.

“Any agreement or disagreement with a president's politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways,” the Penguins write. “However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.”

“Great team!” Trump tweeted in response.

The news release came the same day that hundreds of National Football League players, coaches and supporters took a knee, sat or raised fists during the playing of the national anthem—an unprecedented mass protest by professional athletes against the American president.

Trump has recently taken to using his position as leader of the free world to attack Black athletes he feels have disrespected him.

The president called former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” who should have been fired for “disrespecting the flag.” Kaepernick regularly declined to stand for the national anthem during games to protest police brutality and racial intolerance.

Trump also took to Twitter to rescind an invitation for the Golden State Warriors to visit the White House—after star player Stephen Curry already had declined.

The president’s racially-charged tirades against private citizens have been condemned by many in the world of sports. Crosby’s fine with it, though. The Taylor Swift of hockey has no problem joining his Stanley Cup-winning teammates in Washington.

“I support it,” Crosby tells the Associated Press. “It’s a great honour for us to be invited there.”

Predictably, there’s been some blowback to the young, white celebrity trying to skate past Trump’s controversies. Noting that the hottest spots in Dante’s Inferno are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis, the Toronto Star’s Shree Paradkar writes in a blistering editorial that Crosby and the Penguins didn’t “set politics aside” in accepting Trump’s invitation.

“Neutrality in a battle for human rights is a statement of support for the status quo that props up the powerful at the cost of the powerless,” Paradkar writes.

“This isn’t about the Penguins’ freedom to make their choice. Rather it’s what that choice says about them.”

The Penguins previously visited the White House in 2009 and 2016, briefly meeting with president Barack Obama and former president George H. W. Bush.


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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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Vol 25, No 21
October 19, 2017

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