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 news@thecoast.ca to send a tip.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Less than half of metro housing's pest control budget spent on hiring pest control companies

The rest goes to on-site staff, labour and supplies, says spokesperson.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 5:31 PM

VIA ISTOCK
  • via iStock


Metro Regional Housing Authority’s pest control budget for its HRM properties is $1.4 million, but for the past two years, less than half of that amount was spent on hiring pest control companies.

The 2018 federal budget gave the provincial government an additional $12.4 million for improving housing properties, but pest control budgets aren’t specifically mentioned.

Shannon Kerr, communications advisor for the provincial government, says the pest control budget for this year is the same last year as it was last year—$1.4 million.

The budget covers extermination of all pests from cockroaches, fleas and bedbugs, to rats and raccoons infesting the 4,000 public housing units MRHA manages in HRM.

Nova Scotia’s tenders, however, show MRHA used less than half of the budget for annual service contract with pest control companies.

Orkin received the bulk of the contract, ($371,925) while Ace and Rentokil split the remainder last year. This year, Orkin and Rentokil split a contract of the same amount.

“Service contract amounts, such as the $602,638 outlined in our 2017/18 and 2018/19 tenders for pest control, are estimated and can vary considerably depending on the number of affected units,” said Kerr in an email.

The rest of the budget goes to on-site staff, labour and supplies for pest control. The detailed costs aren’t published by MRHA, but Kerr says the on-site team provides installation of preventative measures, heat treatment for bed bugs, and one-on-one support to residents preparing for an extermination.

Occasionally, a third party company also does heat treatments, which is known as the most effective way of killing bed bugs and their eggs.

Despite the improvements, poverty and housing activist Jodi Brown, says she still receives messages from tenants on a housing Facebook group, saying they’re struggling with pests.

“Every place has mice,” says Brown, but when tenants in MRHA units call for pest control, she says they often don’t hear back.

“They’ll call Housing and they’ll leave a message but they never return their calls, so the resident always gives up,” she says. “People are still contacting me and saying nothing is being done.”

Tenant Tim Blades says he’s seen an improvement in pest control in his MRHA-operated building, but at its worst, he caught three mice within eight hours. All in all, he says he’s found 60 mice over the past three years.

Blades says he’s found cockroaches, bed bugs and ants in his apartment in the past, but over the past three years all have disappeared except mice. “I used to hear mice running in the ceiling all the time, but not often now. Still, I caught one mouse about two weeks ago.”

Over time, he’s seen MRHA take a more active role in preventing pests, like sealing holes in the walls, and responding to complaints more quickly.

“They are usually pretty quick now,” he says. But he still wishes more was done when the problem started three years ago.

“I feel most in housing would agree that when a problem first arises, they don't take it seriously.” 
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Students call for Dalhousie interim president to resign

Peter MacKinnon’s views on race, diversity and student politics condemned as offensive during the interim prez’s welcome reception.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 12:03 AM

MacKinnon (left) speaking next to student protesters. - ASHLEY CORBETT
  • MacKinnon (left) speaking next to student protesters.
  • ASHLEY CORBETT

A group of about 20 Dalhousie students protested Monday afternoon at the welcome reception for the university’s new interim president and vice-chancellor, Peter MacKinnon.

In a press release, the group of students say they don’t believe MacKinnon’s appointment was made with the university’s best interests in mind.

“We feel the interests of faculty and students, especially those who are BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and/or part of other marginalized communities, have not been taken into consideration,” reads the release. “Due to this, the safety of students on campus and the integrity of the university’s claims to promoting equity and diversity have been compromised.”

As MacKinnon began his speech at the reception, students silently emerged from the crowd holding protest signs calling for the new president to resign. Most stood directly to the right of MacKinnon’s podium, while some held signs amongst the crowd. Others pressed a sign against the window from outside.

ASHLEY CORBETT
  • ASHLEY CORBETT

MacKinnon’s interim hire was announced last year by Dal, as the school looks for a permanent replacement for outgoing president Richard Florizone. An academic and lawyer who served as the president of the University of Saskatchewan from 1999 to 2012, MacKinnon has also written several books, with his most recent publication being at the centre of Monday’s action.

University Commons Divided: Exploring Debate and Dissent on Campus, published last year, discusses a variety of controversies surrounding student protests within Canadian universities. In the book, MacKinnon is critical of students and student organizations that “extend [their] activities into the political realm.”

That includes speaking out against the use of blackface, apparently. Describing several incidents at Canadian universities where white students put on blackface for Halloween costumes, MacKinnon describes the practice as having “a long history and one frequently, though not always, viewed as racist.

“These were Halloween parties, not cultural misappropriations, Nazi mimicry or manifestations of disapproval of other peoples,” MacKinnon writes. “So describing them risks diminishing real problems of intolerance, discrimination and racism.”

Dalhousie’s new interim president also has some thoughts about the university’s infamous dentistry scandal from 2014, stating that some faculty, student leaders and others on social media attempted to undermine Richard Florizone’s handling of the situation. As university president, MacKinnon writes that Florizone had the most to lose from the entire ordeal.

“The neck of the university president was most assuredly on the line,” states MacKinnon. “A higher number of presidents of the 96 degree-granting institutions in Canada have been fired in the past 15 years than have been the number of tenured faculty fired over the same period from among more than 60,000 in our degree-granting universities and colleges.”

ASHLEY CORBETT
  • ASHLEY CORBETT

The students on Monday circulated a pamphlet outlining these and other views in MacKinnon’s book—such as criticism of trigger warnings, condemning fossil fuel divestment and questioning the full implementation of Truth and Reconciliation recommendations—calling the interim president’s views “offensive, problematic and not reflective of the expectations [they] have for university leadership.”

An accompanying list of demands includes the immediate removal of MacKinnon as interim president; a public apology from the university and student union for the harm done in hiring MacKinnon; a statement of recognition from those responsible for hiring the interim president; and mandatory anti-oppression training for administration.

The press release and list of demands were read by one student (who wished to remain anonymous) after MacKinnon’s speech, and after the crowd was dismissed for refreshments. Those who stayed to listen all appeared to be students. Administrators and staff ate snacks nearby and socialized. The divide was stark.

MacKinnon did not acknowledge the protesters at any point. He also declined to comment.
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Friday, January 18, 2019

More people are suing Halifax

Legal action against city hall has shot up 25 percent over the past two years.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2019 at 11:45 AM

The Law Courts on Lower Water Street. - VIA ISTOCK
  • The Law Courts on Lower Water Street.
  • VIA ISTOCK

Luckily, the city's lawyers aren't paid by the hour.

Halifax's legal director John Traves told council this week that his department has seen a 25 percent increase in litigation against the municipality since 2016/17.

“It’s not just more numbers,” said Traves. “It’s more challenging in terms of the claims that are being brought.”

The docket ranges from handling labour issues to defending HRM in contentious human rights cases and battling prominent developers claiming land expropriation. And all that law and order comes with a cost.

City hall's team of in-house counsel has shot up from 12 to 22 over the past decade. The municipality has also spent $60,000 over the past fiscal year on external legal help.

Traves offered these details at a committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday where he was presenting his department's budget for the upcoming year for council's approval.

Like other staff units, the legal, municipal clerk and external affairs budget presupposes several options for holding the line on increases to the average tax bill, given HRM’s tight pocketbooks.

The department's $4.3-million budget for legal services could be shrunk from a 2.9 percent option to a 2.1 percent bump if council chooses to axe $100,000 worth of funding over the next two years for the Halifax Partnership and the Navigator street outreach program. Alternatively, $230,000 could be saved over the same period (for a 1.9 percent increase) if HRM disbarred its articled clerk training program, where recent law school grads get real-world lawyering experience.

Neither option was appetizing to the mayor.

“John, you know I love you man, but I gotta tell you, I feel more like we’re being blackmailed under this system. I really do,” said Mike Savage about the options presented by staff. The mayor compared the decision to being presented with the choice to kill three cats or two kittens.

“I have nothing but kittens to offer up,” replied Traves.

Savage said he would prefer to see options for reducing legal staff numbers, which accounts for 95 percent of the department's budget. The mayor likes to hire out on contract, it seems.

“I love contracting out for services,” said Savage. “I think they’re the best value because you don’t end up bringing employees in, giving them full benefits and everything else. And after the work is gone, they’re still there. You pay for the expertise you need.”

Council eventually went forward with the 1.9 percent option, while keeping several of the planned cuts and additional budget expenses available in a fiscal "parking lot" to be debated in April before the city's final budget is approved.

This year's budget process has been a battleground of debates and delays as council looks to hold the line on tax increases while funding the civic plans and priorities approved over the past several years.

Councillors deferred a discussion on the proposed capital budget back in December, and then again earlier this week, in hopes staff can find another $21.8 million for projects like implementing the Integrated Mobility Plan and transit improvements—items that CAO Jacques Dubé and staff originally left unfunded.

Budget debates for HRM's other business units continue over the next several weeks.
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Monday, January 7, 2019

Thank you, next: The Coast's Sex & Dating Survey

Don't ghost on this questionnaire.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 11:56 AM

website-header.png


It's time once again for The Coast’s annual Sex & Dating survey.

Over 1,200 of our readers dished on their secret crushes, relationship habits and sexual fantasies in last year's S&D issue, and we want to hear from you again!

The full survey is available here. Feel free to skip over any questions that don’t apply or you don’t feel like answering.

The results are completely anonymous. Any identifiable information submitted in the survey's open-ended questions—whether accidentally or on purpose—will be edited out to preserve privacy. Comments or feedback can be included at the end to help us improve next year's survey.

Answers will be collected and the highlights published in February, just in time for Valentine's Day.
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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Speeds remain steady on Gottingen

Controversial bus lane doesn’t appear to have impacted driver speeds, despite the fears of local business owners.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 3, 2019 at 3:48 AM

VIA YOUTUBE
  • VIA YOUTUBE

Average traffic speeds on Gottingen remain the same, and are even a tiny bit slower, now that HRM has installed the street's much-discussed bus lane.

According to the city's own internal numbers, north-bound traffic from Uniacke to North Street is moving on average at 52 kilometres per hour. It’s the exact same speed that HRM recorded on Gottingen back before construction on the transit priority measure began last June.

Southbound traffic from Uniacke to North, meanwhile, has slowed marginally from 50 to 49 km/hr, while speeds from Falkland to Cornwallis have slowed from 44 to 43km/hr in both directions. Those figures are to the 85th percentile and an aggregate of all vehicle types travelling the road.

“As you can see in the table below the operating speed has effectively stayed the same since implementation of TPM,” Erin Blay, service design and projects supervisor writes in an internal email. “What I don’t have (yet) is the disaggregated data by vehicle type. We hope to have this shortly.”

The bus lane has been criticized since its inception by local business owners and community members for potentially creating an unsafe, high-speed corridor along a street also home to storefronts and residential properties.

CTV Atlantic cited the bus lane as a potential factor in the death last month of Thomas "Willard" Comeau. It was later reported that Comeau was struck by a truck driver reportedly blinded by the sun.

“This has always been a pedestrian-oriented commercial district with a lot of residents out, and I know there have been other accidents lately, so this is very tragic and I want to know more about what happened,” Patricia Cuttell Busby, executive director of the North End Business Association, told CTV.

But city hall’s numbers suggest the new lane has had little impact on speeds, save potentially slowing drivers down.

City hall collected speed data along Gottingen Street before construction on the controversial bus lane began last June, and then again after the work was completed in December, to make sure the figured weren’t artificially affected by construction work.

As recently reported by the Chronicle Herald, 76 people died on Nova Scotia's roads last year—12 of those being pedestrians. It was the most pedestrian deaths on provincial roads since 13 people were killed in 2006.
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Friday, December 21, 2018

26 for 25: Holiday special

Looking back at 2018 with Allison Saunders and Stephanie Johns.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 9:45 AM

🎶 I’m on the rooftop, watch as I dive in; You’ll never hear a sound; Come down the chimney, no one will see me; We’re far from the north pole now 🎶 - THE COAST
  • 🎶 I’m on the rooftop, watch as I dive in; You’ll never hear a sound;
    Come down the chimney, no one will see me; We’re far from the north pole now
    🎶
  • THE COAST

Just in time for the holidays, we’re back for one last special episode of 26 for 25. Past audience favourites Stephanie Johns and Allison Saunders join Tara and Jacob for a boozy reflection on the year 2018 in the city of Halifax. Breach teen! Agaves! Smoking bans! Chelsea Peretti! Plus, a special Christmas-rewrite of Lady Gaga’s “Shallow.”

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Thanks for listening over this past half-a-year to our indulgent little podcast experiment, everyone. If you'd like to hear more of us in the future, feel free to let our bosses know by emailing letters@thecoast.ca

And catch up on all our past episodes right here (perfect for binge-listening over Christmas).
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Friday, December 14, 2018

Before the Parade to chronicle early LGBTQ+ activism in Halifax

Author Rebecca Rose's new book expands on research from past cover feature for The Coast.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2018 at 2:48 PM

Author Rebecca Rose wants to hear your stories. - ELDIE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Author Rebecca Rose wants to hear your stories.
  • ELDIE PHOTOGRAPHY

An often overlooked chapter of Halifax's history will be published next fall.

Journalist Rebecca Rose is documenting the “narrative history of the foundations of Halifax’s queer community” in Before the Parade: Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Halifax from Nimbus Publishing.

The book will focus on the city’s first generation of out lesbian, gay and bisexual elders, examining the activism between 1972 (when the Gay Alliance for Equality was formed) to the mid-1980s AIDS crisis.

“I believe so firmly in the importance of recording and sharing local queer history(ies),” Rose writes on Facebook. “Now—nearly 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalized (for some) in Canada and since the Stonewall rebellion, 40-plus years since the founding of Nova Scotia's first gay and lesbian advocacy group and now that our elders are in their 60s and 70s—seems like the right time for this project.”

This has long been a passion project for Rose. Two years ago, she planted the narrative seed for this historical research with her cover feature for The Coast's Pride Guide, “Before the Parade.” At the time, it was the longest feature this newspaper had ever published and, selfishly, one of my proudest editorial moments.

“Most LGBTQIA people are not born into queer or trans families and don’t grow up hearing stories about the Compton Cafeteria Riots (San Francisco’s precursor to Stonewall); Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major Griffin Gracey; or the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids around the dinner table,” Rose wrote in that story. “It’s often up to us to locate our community—our elders—and uncover our LGBTQIA history. And these conversions, these relationships—the first between young activists and those 30, 40 and even 50 years our seniors—are in themselves historic.”

Her new book will feature even more of those conversations with elders and information uncovered from Rose's research through public and private archives.

“The work Rebecca Rose is doing to help record and preserve our region's 2SLGBTQ+ history is invaluable,” Halifax Pride wrote yesterday on Facebook. “We are incredibly grateful she has undertaken this project. If you are an elder with a story to tell about the early days of queer activism in Halifax, please let her know.”

So far, Rose says she's interviewed a nearly 50/50 split of male and female sources, and several African Nova Scotian elders. She's also put in a request to Mi'kmaw Ethics Watch to interview any interested Two-Spirit, gay and lesbian Mi'kmaw elders. If that's you, or you know someone with stories to tell about that time period, feel free to contact Nimbus
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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Halifax’s bike network dream in jeopardy

More money and fervent council commitment needed to finish the city's ambitious active transportation project.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 12, 2018 at 3:49 PM

JOSHUA SAUNDERS
  • JOSHUA SAUNDERS


Despite the best-laid plans of council, Halifax's ambitious hope for a bike network throughout the urban core won't be possible by 2020.

In fact, based on city hall's current budget it might not meet the original deadline of 2022 at all.

“Obviously, we won’t be able to build this out to 2022 with the draft numbers that have been tabled so far,” David MacIsaac, HRM’s active transportation supervisor, told council on Tuesday.

Plans for an “all ages and abilities” (AAA) bike network were approved last year as part of the Integrated Mobility Plan, amongst great excitement and enthusiasm from city hall and the public.

Council was so over-the-moon about the whole idea that a motion was passed asking staff to bring the bike network together two years quicker—by 2020—to make up for Halifax’s typically glacial pace in establishing new cycling infrastructure.

So far, 20 percent of the bike network has been built and over half of its priority projects are in motion to be completed by 2022.

“From a planning and design perspective, for getting the work done to have a project shovel-ready, we’re reasonably confident,” said MacIsaac. “This is a reasonable picture of what we can implement by 2022.”

Reasonable only if a few million in extra funding can be conjured from city hall’s pockets.

The city’s proposed multi-year capital budget from CAO Jacques Dubé has a grand total of $11 million slotted over the next three years for all active transportation projects. The capital cost for the bike network alone is $25 million. So far, only $3 million of that money has been approved.

“Therefore, without having a clear understanding of Regional Council’s direction regarding future capital and operating budgets, it is difficult to commit to a 2020 or 2022 implementation timeframe,” warn staff.

Shawn Cleary, who brought forward the bikeway network for discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting, believes money to keep the IMP rolling can be reallocated from other sources. If not, he hopes a tax increase for more complete streets will be easier to swallow than putting funds towards non-essential fantasy projects.

“Clearly, we have a lot of things we want to do and a very limited amount of money to do it with,” Cleary says. “If we’re increasing taxes to pay for things like stadiums, well that’s different than raising taxes to pay for things like [the IMP].”

There’s also the cost of not building a bike network. The Integrated Mobility Plan says spending $190 million on active transportation infrastructure could save HRM $700 million in future road widening costs. Walking and cycling also destroy asphalt far slower than cars, lessening pressures for repaving and pothole repairs.

“It is the most efficient, most economical, most sound argument in terms of a sustainable way to create a system for the future and for now,” says Kelsey Lane, sustainable transportation coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre and former executive director of the Halifax Cycling Coalition. “We’re going to be paying for transportation either way, but if we can fix the system now we’re setting ourselves up and future generations for a system that works for them.”

Lane says she can live with an extra two years to get the bike network in place, provided city hall ensures its funding. Given what’s already been budgeted by the CAO, that initiative will clearly have to come from council.

“We need their leadership to make this a reality,” Lane says. “We can’t afford to wait.”

Cleary ended the discussion yesterday warning his fellow councillors that some tough choices will need to be made in the new year when the capital budget is up for debate.

“We’re not out of the woods,” he said. “If we’re committed to the Integrated Mobility Plan, we’ve got some discussions to make about how we’re going to do that.”
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Monday, December 10, 2018

Arts hub gets $10 million in public funding

Proposed Culture Link facility will bring an “unprecedented number of creative sector entrepreneurs” under one roof, says minister.

Posted By on Mon, Dec 10, 2018 at 3:03 PM

A culture link is like an arts hub, but more innovative. - VIA HRM
  • A culture link is like an arts hub, but more innovative.
  • VIA HRM

Looks like downtown will finally get some Culture.

The Link Performing Arts Centre will receive $4.5 million in funding from the federal government. Pablo Rodriguez, minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, made the announcement on Monday alongside Halifax MP Andy Fillmore.

“The Halifax region has benefited greatly from arts and culture for many years,” Fillmore said in a news release. “The Link Arts Centre will give our city and the whole region an additional asset. The artists, creators and the general public will now have access to modern and accessible spaces, right here in downtown Halifax.”

The province has also agreed to chip in $5.7 million, with roughly half coming from Invest Nova Scotia and the remainder from Communities, Culture and Heritage.

Culture minister Leo Glavine said on Monday that the proposed $13-million arts hub will bring an “unprecedented number of creative sector entrepreneurs” under one roof.

“The Link Arts Centre will be transformative for the arts and cultural industries in Nova Scotia and an economic driver for both Halifax and the province.”

The money will be used to renovate the former Halifax World Trade and Convention Centre, which George Armoyan's Armco bought from the province two years ago for $13.5 million. Armco will provide a 20-year, below-market lease, as well as $2 million towards the project's capital costs.

The renovated centre will serve as a cultural hub for theatre, dance, music and film. Its 84,000 square feet of space will include an 1,800-seat performance venue, along with room for production studios, offices, dance floors and a cinema.

Organizations who've so far expressed interest in long-term leases at the centre include DHX Media, Sonic Entertainment, Carbon Arc, AFCOOP, Youth Arts Connection, the Pop Explosion, the ECMAs, Devour and Halifax Pride, among others.

The Link's organizers say other potential clients interested in short-term rentals include Dapopo Theatre, Eastern Front, Halifax Circus, Dance Nova Scotia, Mocean Dance, Music Nova Scotia, the Halifax Urban Folk Festival and the Jazz Fest.

Music Nova Scotia's Scott Long, chair of the Link Performing Arts Society, said in Monday's release that the centre “will cement Halifax as the cultural capital of Atlantic Canada and help nurture the next generation of creative entrepreneurs in our region.”

The non-profit Link Performing Arts Society is organizing the venture with Culture Link, a community interest company from film producer Marc Almon and editing impresario Rob Power.

Unlike traditional non-profits, a CIC can turn a profit, but only if 60 percent of the proceeds are redistributed towards the organization's stated mission of community benefit.

The Link proposal will be one of potentially a handful of new arts hubs coming to the downtown over the next few years. Culture Link's proposal was submitted at the same time council approved the $1-sale of the old Khyber to the 1588 Barrington Building Preservation Society, along with a one-time grant of $250,000 to create a cultural arts incubator.

Though the two plans share some overlap, city staff say they’re fundamentally different in scope and service. The renovated Khyber will act as a community-run centre for emerging visual artists, while the Link will be a multi-disciplinary, creative industries hub.

“By supporting both venues, Halifax will be enabling the development of a distinct cultural district that will provide space and opportunity for artists and artist-led community-facing organizations as well as cultural industries and entrepreneurs,” says staff.

With today’s funding contributions from the province, federal government and Armco, that leaves just $800,000 needed to complete The Link.

A funding request of $1 million from city hall's coffers goes before council tomorrow, having already received an initial stamp of approval from HRM’s community planning and economic development committee.

Pending approval of all monies, The Link is set to open in 2020.
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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Slower response-time targets proposed for HRM firefighters

Halifax falls short of its self-imposed emergency response targets “by a wide margin,” says consultant's report.

Posted By on Sat, Dec 8, 2018 at 9:04 PM

Smaller budgets; faster service, current fire stations. Pick two. - VIA SHAUN LOWE
  • Smaller budgets; faster service, current fire stations. Pick two.
  • via Shaun Lowe

A staff report headed to Regional Council recommends lowering the targets for the city’s emergency response times, because the current time targets are rarely met.

Halifax firefighters in urban areas are expected to respond to structural fires within seven minutes, 90 percent of the time. For rural firefighters, that target is 12 minutes. Volunteer firefighters in rural areas have 17.

Now, city staff are proposing an extra 30 seconds be added for dispatch times. Rural and urban firefighters would also get an additional 30 seconds for turnout—the time it takes to get on the road.

The recommendation comes out of data collected by Pomax Consulting. Looking at the past two years of operations, Pomax found that Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency missed virtually every dispatch, turnout and response time target set by the municipality.

According to the consultant, the 60-second window for dispatch in HRM was met only half the time over the past two years. A substantial part of the blame, says Pomax, is the triple role HRM dispatchers have to play responding to police, fire and 911 calls.

“No matter how conscientious call takers and dispatchers are, it is very difficult to change roles ‘on the fly’ between being a 911 call taker, fire call taker and police call taker, plus remember to capture all the time markers,” reads the report.

In the urban core, the 60-second targets for both dispatch and turnout times more often take two and three minutes, respectively. The expected eight-minute response time for multiple units to a structural fire, meanwhile, comes in closer to 10.

Rural and suburban firefighters fare even worse. Those first responders only made their 60-second turnout window around 10 percent of the time. Volunteer firefighters were only able to meet their six-minute target for turnout times on 69 percent of calls.

Halifax Fire and Emergency is “unable to achieve an effective firefighting force” according to the city’s own standards, the report concludes.

“We anticipate the only way to achieve the 2006 standards for multiple unit response is via new stations and new staff for those stations in order to reduce travel time,” Pomax writes. “Adding stations may cause excessive response area overlap with existing stations, meaning that some existing stations may have to be relocated because of redundancy.”
Response times, in seconds, for firefighters in the urban core. - POMAX
  • Response times, in seconds, for firefighters in the urban core.
  • POMAX
The same chart for the city's rural and suburban firefighters. - POMAX
  • The same chart for the city's rural and suburban firefighters.
  • POMAX

The municipality has undertaken a hiring process to try to better meet those targets, but as the consultant’s report notes, “the balance of hiring is for the purpose of offsetting overtime.”

The city awarded the $86,000 contract to Pomax—the only bidder—two years ago, amid heated debate about HRFE staffing levels and the reorganization of HRM’s fire stations.

Fire department brass previously delivered an operational review to council back in 2014 recommending several stations be decommissioned and others staffed by volunteers.

The proposal was not well received. Residents and even a couple of councillors denounced now-retired fire chief Doug Trussler and begged council to go against the advice of its experts. Trussler was hauled before council several times over the next two years, always repeating his belief that the reorganization wouldn’t impact service.

But council went another direction, instead choosing to keep the stations largely as they were and throw money at the problem by hiring a few million dollars worth of new firefighters.

Of course, that consolidation of fire staff and stations was largely designed so that HRFE could better meet HRM’s response times. Having rejected more efficient service, some councillors were worried staff would recommend the only other option—slowing down response time targets. And that’s exactly what happened.

Staff suggest the implementation of the new response times should happen, bit by bit, over the next three years. Year one would have a benchmark of 120 seconds for turnout; year two would be 105 seconds; and year three, 90 seconds.

The report, which also recommends new fire resources for the Halifax airport and switching Fall River’s fire station to 24-hour service, comes to council on Tuesday.
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Friday, December 7, 2018

Want to reduce clearcutting? Clear out Natural Resources

The department overseeing Nova Scotia's forests has lost the public's trust by kowtowing to industry demands, says advocate.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2018 at 2:53 PM

A woodlot without lots of wood. - ECOLOGY ACTION CENTRE
  • A woodlot without lots of wood.
  • ECOLOGY ACTION CENTRE

If the province wants to reduce clearcutting on Crown lands, first it needs to clean house over at the Department of Natural Resources.

So says Raymond Plourde, wilderness coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, who believes the current departmental leadership has lost the public's trust.

“It’s largely because of their single-minded focus on giving the big mills what they want and keeping the public’s expectations at bay,” says Plourde.

Earlier this week, the provincial government released its response to professor William Lahey’s independent review of forestry practices. Minister Iain Rankin accepted the report's recommendations for a drastic reduction of clearcutting on Crown lands and a new “ecological forestry” system.

“Forestry is a longstanding economic driver in Nova Scotia and it’s important we get it right,” said Rankin in a press release.

Nova Scotia will begin work immediately—four months after the report first came out—to shift to a new “triad model” of forest management, where some Crown lands are protected, some are lightly harvested and some are sacrificed to high-production industries for clearcutting.

Currently 80 percent of Nova Scotia’s harvested trees are felled by clearcutting. The practice makes up 90 percent of harvesting on private woodlots and 65 percent on Crown lands. Lahey’s report recommends the latter number be reduced to somewhere between 20 and 25 percent.

Changing the marching orders isn’t enough, though, says Plourde. The people inside the old bureaucracy also need to change. Otherwise, says the forest advocate, time passes, governments change and the Lahey report’s mandate could fade from priority.

“That’s the danger.”

The department's oversight of Nova Scotia's forests has been a continual point of criticism from conservationists who argue DNR relies on bogus science and obfuscation to produce industry-friendly decisions.

Lahey’s report notes there’s a “significant gap between what the DNR says it is doing to manage forestry on Crown land and how it is actually managing forestry on Crown land.”

Conservationists believe the department is beholden to industrial interests, writes Lahey, pointing to DNR's refusal to implement commitments from the Natural Resources Strategy, as well as the number of former forestry executives now holding senior positions with the department.

Allan Eddy, a former Bowater woodlot manager and NS Power executive who was in charge of forestry management, was hired four years ago as the new associate deputy minister for DNR. He's since moved on to work for Port Hawkesbury Paper, lobbying the province in a government relations role. Aside from Eddy, there's former Resolute Forests Products manager Jon Porter (now executive director of DNR’s renewable resources branch) and former Northern Pulp lawyer and lobbyist Bernie Miller (who's now the deputy minister for the Department of Business). Among others.

“Bottom line is if you’re going to have a major change in the department and the way it behaves,” says Plourde, “then you need to bring in new people who actually agree with that approach and don’t need to be dragged kicking and screaming.”
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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Zero tickets so far for smoking violations

Latest numbers show 11 complaints have been made over the last three weeks about smokers on public property.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2018 at 1:54 PM

Who are these 11 people calling 311 on smokers? I really need to know. - THE COAST
  • Who are these 11 people calling 311 on smokers? I really need to know.
  • THE COAST

Concerns about Halifax's draconian smoking ban may have been premature.

There are precious few complaints coming into 311 about smokers, and those that have been logged with the city still haven't resulted in any penalties.

The latest figures from HRM show that 31 calls about the smoking bylaw have been made over the three-week period from November 12 to December 2. Twenty of those were general information requests. Only 11 calls were actually complaints about smoking on public property.

None of the complaints resulted in a ticket, nor has the city handed out any tickets so far for violations of its much-maligned ban.

The legislation came into effect just before the legalization of cannabis on October 15. Under the revised rules, smoking and vaping of any tobacco or cannabis product is banned on municipal property outside of specially designated smoking areas.

Possible fines for violating the law range from $25 up to $2,000 for flagrant abuse.

Upon the controversial bylaw’s implementation, HRM promised enforcement of the smoking ban would be “relatively light” for the first few weeks.

“I think tickets are a last resort,” CAO Jacques Dubé told media at the time. “If people continue to want to flaunt the law, after many warnings, then we may have to impose the fines.”

City hall says it will be monitoring the smoking ban weekly and reporting back to council on its successes and failures sometime in April.

Halifax is spending $1.5 million on its initial cannabis legalization measures. Ongoing costs to the city are estimated at $3.5 million per year.
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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Police continue arresting labour activists

Ottawa cops show solidarity with fellow officers in Halifax by jailing picketers outside mail facilities.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2018 at 3:37 PM

A screenshot from the video showing Ottawa police confronting activists picketing for Canada Post employees. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • A screenshot from the video showing Ottawa police confronting activists picketing for Canada Post employees.
  • VIA FACEBOOK

Labour activists protesting the back-to-work legislation forced onto unionized Canada Post employees keep running afoul of police.

A news release from the group Organizing 4 Justice says cops in Ottawa arrested four protesters early Wednesday morning as they were picketing outside a mail processing plant.

A video shared on Facebook shows a man identified as Peter Whitaker—a representative for the National Organization of Retired Postal Workers—being told by police to move to the sidewalk so as not to obstruct Canada Post business. Another video shows police escorting the man away in handcuffs as the assembled crowd chants “shame.”

It’s remarkably similar to the scene outside the Canada Post offices on Almon Street this past Sunday when Halifax Regional Police arrested six protesters for mischief and obstructing a peace officer.

Police say the protesters were impacting two-way traffic by blocking Canada’s Post’s access to Monaghan Drive, which “could have resulted in an injury to a member of the public as it posed a serious public safety threat.”

Responding officers tried to move the protesters and vehicles, but when that failed six picketers were led away in handcuffs.

Brad Fougere, Austin Hiltz, Justin Whitten, Darius Mirshahi, Art Bouman and Tony Tracy were subsequently released from custody the next day and are scheduled to appear in court to enter a plea on January 4.

In the interim, they’ve been barred from being within 300 feet of a Canada Post facility.

In a post to Facebook, Tracy says he and lawyer Joel Pink will be fighting the charges in court.

“The right to full and fair collective bargaining, and the fundamental Charter-protected right to strike, are always worth defending,” Tracy writes. “Bosses and governments have never given us rights that we haven’t fought for, and those ‘rights’ are meaningless if not defended.”

A release from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers this week says various blockades of Canada Post facilities continue to happen at locations across the country.

Canada Post calls the ongoing protests “illegal pickets” now that the Trudeau government has enforced back-to-work legislation.

“We’ll continue to take appropriate action to address illegal activity impacting the collection and delivery of mail and parcels,” the corporation has told media.
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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review committee finds flaws with Nova Scotia's minimum wage formula

New report proposes an annual increase of 55 cents for the next three years, bringing minimum wage to $12.65 per hour by 2021.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2018 at 3:54 PM

Protesters calling for a $15/hour minimum wage take to the streets back in October. - VIA GARY BURRILL ON TWITTER
  • Protesters calling for a $15/hour minimum wage take to the streets back in October.
  • VIA GARY BURRILL ON TWITTER

Minimum wage workers in Nova Scotia could see a big bump in pay next year, if the province follows through with new recommendations from its minimum wage review committee.

The panel is proposing Nova Scotia increase its minimum wage annually by 55 cents over the next three years, raising it to $12.65 an hour by 2021.

The recommended multi-year adjustment is meant to rectify an error in how wage increases are currently calculated. The formula used by the province since 2008 fixes the rate each year based on inflation, as set by the Consumer Price Index.

The goal is for a full-time employee making minimum wage in a community the size of Sydney to meet Canada's low-income cutoff (LICO). But the current formula uses a work week of 40 hours, and not the 37 hours for which full-time employees are actually paid and with which Statistics Canada sets the CPI.

“Once we looked at Stats Canada’s numbers, then we realized that both of the numbers they used are based on the 37-hour work week,” says Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and a member of the review committee.

Currently, an employee paid 37 hours a week, 50 weeks of the year, would have to earn $11.90 per hour to reach the low-income cut-off point—nearly a dollar more than what they make today.

By keeping pace with inflation, plus adding an additional 30 cents a year to make up for the 40-hour overcalculation, Nova Scotia's 27,000 minimum-wage employees will finally meet the definition of low-income by 2021.

“The committee believes LICO is still a rational approach to establishing a fair minimum wage for employees,” states the review committee in its report. “However, it believes the calculations for setting the rate at LICO should properly reflect accurate data regarding an average work week.”

Nova Scotia currently has the lowest minimum wage in Canada. Saskatchewan beats us by just six cents. The province last increased its minimum wage back in April by 15 cents, bringing it to $11 per hour.

The province also has an “inexperienced” minimum wage rate where workers can be paid $0.50 less than the minimum if the employee has fewer than three months total work experience.

Activists and labour advocates have long called for Nova Scotia to dramatically increase its regulated wages, with a protest held back in October outside labour and advanced education minister Labi Kousoulis’ office arguing for a $15 minimum.

Gary Burrill, leader of the Nova Scotia NDP and a speaker at that rally, said on Tuesday that the wage review committee's latest recommendation doesn't go far enough.

“It’s absurd that under this plan, people making minimum wage in Nova Scotia will make less in three years than workers in Ontario, Alberta, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are making today,” Burrill said in a press release. “Our economy cannot succeed without the improved purchasing power that a $15 minimum wage would provide.”

Cavanagh agrees with that assessment and says he still plans to fight for a $15 minimum wage. But he also points out that the five-percent raise being proposed by the review committee—about an extra $20 a week—would still mean a lot to many low-income Nova Scotians.

“We still don’t think that goes far enough, right, but it’s better than what they received last year,” he says.

The province says a decision on Nova Scotia's minimum wage will be made in early January.
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Monday, December 3, 2018

25 for 25: episode 2017

Looking back at 25 years of Halifax with special guest Steve Murphy.

Posted By on Mon, Dec 3, 2018 at 1:59 PM

image_from_ios_10_.jpg


The end is here! The 25th episode for 25 years of our little podcast experiment. For one last time, we look back at the bars, bands, businesses, big news stories and Barrington Streets that defined Halifax.

Who better to join us on that journey than the most trusted name in Atlantic Canadian journalism? Steve Murphy started hosting CTV's supper-hour newscast 25 years ago and he's with us in-studio to talk about the “recurrent themes” of the past quarter-century, why he doesn’t believe in “fake news” and whether or not he once took a helicopter to a family reunion.

Also on this episode, we go over the highs and lows of 2017. It's the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion and the debut of Cape Breton pizza on the mainland. The Proud Boys show up to defend Cornwallis, Lido Pimiento plays the Pop Explosion, the Convention Centre finally “opens” and Michelle Coffin tells her story. We've got street checks, Saltwires and Joel Plaskett trapped on Georges Island. What else could you want?

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Thank you to all of our guests over the past 25 episodes: Jay Ferguson, El Jones, Todd McCallum, Sharon Fraser, Mike Campbell, Chris Parsons, Jane Kansas, Glenn Walton, Mike Savage, Susan Dodd, Brian Titus, Emily Tipton, Stephen Kimber, Andrea Dorfman, Rick Conrad, John Simmons, Allison Saunders, Lia Rinaldo, Michael Karanicolas, Joyce Carter, Stephanie Domet, Delvina Bernard, Mary Vingoe, Phonse Jessome, Kirk Jonson, Condon MacLeod, Gloria McCluskey, Lezlie Lowe, Erica Butler, Jamie Bradley, Benita Ha, Brian Heighton, Jonathan Torrens, Lindell Smith, Kelsey Lane, Joel Plaskett, Matthieu Aikins, Tim Bousquet, Juanita Peters, Rich Aucoin, Stephanie Johns, Barry Boyce, Sean MacGillivray, Graham Steele, Selena Ross, Emily Davidson, Kate Leth, Cory Bowles, Tom Michael, Rebecca Thomas and the great Steve Murphy.

Also thanks to the bands whose music we’ve featured on these episodes: jale, Rebecca West, the Inbreds, the Superfriendz, Thrush Hermit, Classified, Plumtree, The Hylozoists, Hopeful Monster, Wintersleep, Jill Barber, Dog Day, Jenn Grant, Joel Plaskett, Amelia Curran, Tanya Davis, Rich Aucoin, Jennah Barry, Ria Mae, Thrillah, Quiet Parade, Erin Costelo and Dance Movie.

If you like the podcast, please feel free to give us a nice rating or leave a review. If you hate the podcast, want to correct something we got wrong or have comments about any events we forgot to mention you can email us at letters@thecoast.ca.

Catch up on past episodes here.
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Vol 26, No 47
April 18, 2019

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