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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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tentative agreement reached for Purcell’s Cove Backlands

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

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

The Shaw Group presents: Wilderness - VIA HALIFAXTRAILS.CA

Don’t celebrate just yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hendsbee blames media for ruining his pension proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 1, 2017

David Hendsbee wants HRM to cover his pension regrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ray Ivany finally gets his name on something of value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chief planning director Bob Bjerke exits city hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Police commission to look for new legal rules on street checks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter Mansbridge announces coast to coast storytelling tour

See Canada's grandpa in Halifax October 23.

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

  • Submitted

Update: This event has since been cancelled.

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

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

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

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Throwing shade: Where Halifax can experience the total solar eclipse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Macdonald Bridge bikeway connectors get green light from city hall

Councillors say the $7.3-million infrastructure project is well worth the cost.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 12:59 AM

Cheaper alternatives, like installing a traffic light on the current Halifax exit ramp, were considered but decided against by HRM. - VIA HRM
  • Cheaper alternatives, like installing a traffic light on the current Halifax exit ramp, were considered but decided against by HRM.

The city is going to drastically overhaul how cyclists travel to-and-from the Macdonald Bridge.

Regional council voted Tuesday to approve the Macdonald Bridge Bikeway Connectors project—rebuilding access and exit ramps for cyclists in Halifax and Dartmouth.

At $7.3 million, the new project isn’t cheap. But it is vital, said councillor Sam Austin, as the bridge is the main artery connecting cyclists in both halves of the urban core.

“If you think about where we’re going to spend money on infrastructure, the Macdonald Bridge is it,” Austin told his colleagues. “This is the situation where it makes sense to spend the cash if we’re going to do something significant.”

The Macdonald’s current access and exit ramps were designed 18 years ago with the bridge’s separated bike lane. Both feature planning flaws that have long been the bane of HRM’s cyclists. On the Halifax side, a steep incline towards North Street is near-impossible to climb. In Dartmouth, cyclists have to contend with high volumes of vehicular traffic.

The new exits will utilize side streets and new bike lanes along Wyse Road in Dartmouth, while the Halifax side will see a flyover ramp built for cyclists continuing on to North and Gottingen Streets.

Most of the project’s price tag is eaten up by that flyover ramp’s construction, but Austin brushed off expense concerns. The municipality already spends an inordinate amount of money on automobile owners, he says.

“When you consider the hundreds of hundreds of millions of dollars that we’ve spent on car road infrastructure over the last number of decades, spending a few million here and a few million there to get cycling infrastructure is a drop in the bucket.”

Mike Savage agreed with the Dartmouth Centre councillor.

“We spend tens of millions of dollars a year on roads,” the mayor said. “This is the bridge we have to cross, folks...If we’re going to do that, it’s going to cost us some money.”

That cost, according to Savage, is well worth the benefits.

“It’s not about who is on a cycle now. It’s about who is going to be on one in five years or 10 years.”

Detailed design work for the ramps will still need to be submitted. The project isn't slated for completion until 2021.

Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor Matt Whitman was the sole vote against the proposal.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

City council gives province 120 days to figure out a future for Bloomfield

Municipality offers Nova Scotia a tight deadline to decide whether it wants to build a school on vacant north end albatross.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 15, 2017 at 11:50 PM

Pure coincidence the motion was approved on National Acadian Day. - THE COAST
  • Pure coincidence the motion was approved on National Acadian Day.

Halifax is giving the provincial government one more shot to get it right at Bloomfield.

On Tuesday HRM council voted to sell the former north end school to the province, with the implicit hope of using the site for a new Francophone school.

Although councillor Lindell Smith’s motion doesn’t specifically name any organizations, the Conseil Scolaire Acadian Provincial (CSAP) has expressed interest in the vacant site and recently met with HRM officials about its plans.

Smith told council it wasn’t the city’s place to decide which school board can use the lands, but HRM can make its preference for a new school known to the department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

“The biggest part of this is the [provincial] government needs to step up and say this is important,” said Smith. “If there’re any government colleagues watching…we need to at least have a conversation with you around this.”

The Bloomfield complex was a school, then a community centre, from 1982 until 2014. The municipality agreed to sell the property to Housing Nova Scotia in 2012. After several years and with nothing to show for it, the province pulled out of the deal last year.

Unsurprisingly, some councillors were weary of handing the project back to their provincial colleagues.

“This is a great day, or it could be a great day, but we’ve been here before so I have reservations,” said Waye Mason.

“I absolutely hate one order of government putting their fingers in another order of government’s water glass,” said Steve Craig, although the deputy mayor nevertheless admitted the Bloomfield file needs to come to a close.

“We go into this with our eyes wide open. Hopefully, it turns out as we wish, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope that the cards are in our favour.”

The province will now have 120 days to decide whether it wants to purchase the site at fair market value. If it doesn't, HRM will once again sell it on the open market.

Whoever buys the property will need to incorporate the goals of the Bloomfield Master Plan in its redevelopment. Smith’s motion calls for the new owners to include space for community and cultural use, open public access and affordable housing.

Halifax spends close to $90,000 annually heating and securing the empty site.

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White supremacy doesn’t stop at the border

Organizer of Tuesday’s rally in solidarity with Charlottesville says racism amongst Halifax police, city council is very much alive and well.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 15, 2017 at 12:40 PM

Protesters at Charlottesville's "Unite the Right" rally this past weekend. - VIA YOUTUBE
  • Protesters at Charlottesville's "Unite the Right" rally this past weekend.

One of the voices behind Tuesday evening’s demonstration in solidarity with Charlottesville says fascism and white supremacy isn’t isolated to the deep south.

“It’s important to recognize the way the forces that animate the far right and white supremacists in the United States don’t stop at the border,” says Brad Vaughan, who's with the local activist organization Autonomy East. “They are very much alive and well in Canada and in Halifax.”

Hundreds of neo-nazis, KKK and alt-right extremists rioted this past weekend during a “Unite the Right” rally in the Virginia town. The violence claimed the life of social justice advocate Heather Heyer, who was killed when white supremacist James Alex Fields drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters. Dozens more were injured, including Deandre Harris, who was beaten over the head with metal pipes.

Like anyone else with an “ounce of empathy,” Vaughan says he's "rattled and horrified" by the brutality seen in Virginia. Unfortunately, he’s not surprised.

“I think that white supremacists and the far-right have been given significant leeway to organize and utilized narratives of free-speech to prevent communities from confronting and challenging them,” he says. “I think this violence is a natural consequence of that process.”

Similar alt-right rallies are being planned for this weekend in several American cities, but Vaughan says the hatred isn’t confined to Donald Trump’s America. Residents of HRM are spray-painting nazi imagery on North Preston election signs, “doxxing” anti-fascist activists and proudly disrupting Indigenous events in Cornwallis Park.

That’s why Vaughan and other organizers are putting together this evening’s “Against white supremacy! Against the far-right! Solidarity with Charlottesville!” demonstration, scheduled for 6:30pm in Cornwallis Park.

Vaughan says staging the rally in front of the statue named for Halifax’s founder—who infamously ordered a proclamation for Mi’kmaq scalps—is meant to echo Charlottesville. The Virginia rally was organized in response to plans to tear down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

“Part of why we’re having the rally at the Cornwallis statue is recognizing that parallel, the way that these sort of pieces of acceptable public celebrations of historical racism are still used by white supremacists.”

Public outcry to tear down Halifax's problematic memorial has sharply increased this year, leading to a recent demonstration where Cornwallis was ceremonially covered with a tarp (for a couple of hours). City council, meanwhile, has begun the methodical process to assemble an expert panel and study whether HRM should change the way it honours its founder.

With more and more American cities toppling their Confederate statues, many in Halifax have stepped up calls to mayor Mike Savage and council to do the same. Vaughan says the city’s slow dance with Cornwallis—along with the police department’s refusal to put a moratorium on its street check practice—exists on the same political spectrum that emboldens racist thoughts like those seen in Charlottesville.

“That sort of liberal, mainstream acceptable racist practice is really what provides fertile ground for the far right and neo-nazis,” he says.

A list of resources to help in Charlottesville, including GoFundMe pages for Heyer and Harris, can be found here.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Someone ran over the Sullivan’s Pond geese and people are livid

Two of the iconic Dartmouth birds have died, and another is injured after being struck by a vehicle on Wednesday evening.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 12:30 AM

Photographer Rick Gautreau captured the geese crossing the road safely in this photograph from a few years ago. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Photographer Rick Gautreau captured the geese crossing the road safely in this photograph from a few years ago.

Police say a driver who ran over the beloved Sullivan’s Pond geese Wednesday evening—killing two of the animals and injuring a third—won't be facing any charges.

The incident occurred just before 6pm at the Prince Albert Road crosswalk near Elliot Street.

According to a press release from Halifax Regional Police, one goose died at the scene. Another was taken to the vet, where it passed away.

The third goose continued swimming to the Sullivan’s Pond island. Its condition is currently being monitored by volunteers.

While a flurry of social media posts by alleged witnesses have claimed the hit-and-run was intentional, police say the male driver didn’t see the geese before striking them.

“Witnesses confirm that speed was not a factor in this incident,” HRP’s press release states. “No charges have been laid.”

The pond’s domestic white geese are iconic mascots of Dartmouth. They’ve been a visible presence in and around Sullivan’s Pond for decades.

So the news that two of the nine remaining geese were killed by a careless driver has naturally been met with extreme emotion.

People are livid.

By coincidence, earlier in the same day Halifax Regional Police and district RCMP released the department's most-recent monthly vehicle/pedestrian collision stats.

There were 20 pedestrians struck by cars in June. That’s double the number of collisions in May and an increase of seven from the same time last year.

In the first six months of 2017 there have been 104 vehicle/pedestrian collisions in HRM, 68 percent of which occurred in crosswalks.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Another spokesperson vacates city hall for greener pastures

Lucas Wide is the latest PR flack to leave HRM, after just six months on the job.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 4, 2017 at 5:01 PM

Not pictured: revolving door - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • Not pictured: revolving door

For the fourth time in 15 months, Halifax has lost one of its public relations team.

Lucas Wide is leaving his position as a senior communications advisor with the Halifax Regional Municipality after just six months on the job.

Wide confirms in an email he’ll be starting a new position next week with the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.

He’s the second spokesperson out the door in the last four months, and the fourth in barely over a year.

Former Chronicle Herald reporter and Premier’s Office press secretary Jennifer Stairs exited city hall last April after two-and-a-half years. She now works as director of communications for the Nova Scotia Judiciary.

Stairs was replaced by Adam Richardson, who also voluntarily left the job after just four months. He was eventually replaced this past spring by Wide.

“I think there’s a domino effect,” says continual HRM communications officer Brendan Elliott. Meaning job openings elsewhere in the world of media relations tend to create new opportunities for advancement up the PR ladder.

Elliott’s former coworker Tiffany Chase, as an example, left her job in April after nearly 10 years with HRM to take a position with Nova Scotia Power. He’s also seen several other former coworkers move on in the four years he’s been with HRM.

The spokesperson says there are unique challenges in the high-pressure world of public relations for a municipal government.

“No doubt about it, it’s a demanding job,” Elliott says. “A lot of times we’re getting called about negative stories; things people are complaining about. If you take it personally, it’ll eat you up at times.”

The salary range for Wide’s non-union position with HRM ranges from $65,000 to a maximum of $95,500 per year.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Halifax Transit getting $14 million worth of “gee-whizzes and neatos”

Council approves two tenders for Trapeze Software to overhaul scheduling software and install new fare boxes, but electronic payment is still years away.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 1, 2017 at 7:40 PM

Please trust this bus with your credit card info. - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • Please trust this bus with your credit card info.

The municipality is spending a lot of money bringing Halifax Transit’s technology up to speed.

Council voted on Tuesday to pay Trapeze Software nearly $14 million to overhaul Halifax Transit’s tech by creating new back-end scheduling software and installing some fare boxes.

It’s more exciting than it sounds.

“This sounds like the least exciting part of transit...we’re replacing a fare box with a fare box,” said Halifax South Downtown councillor Waye Mason, during Tuesday’s meeting. “This new fare box will allow us to improve the performance of the system. It think it’s very exciting and wanted to jump on the mic and say how important and exciting this is.”

Trapeze will receive $7.1 million for phase one of the city’s fare management upgrade, along with a $1.5-million cherry on top for providing maintenance over the next five years. The new fare boxes will have cash validation and passenger counting features and will print transfers instead of having drivers manually ripping them off the dash. Fare collection at the ferry terminals and Transit’s back-office software will also see upgrades.

Halifax first tried upgrading this tech in 2015, but the project was cancelled and split in two once it became clear no single company could handle both halves of the planned improvements.

The second phase of the fare management upgrades will finally install a long-awaited electronic payment option for riders, which is expected to use some combination of smart cards, credit cards and cellphones.

Transit director Dave Reage told council it’ll be another two-to-five years before that day comes, but when it does it will “fundamentally change how people interact with transit.”

That could create room for private partnerships, Reage said. Already in other jurisdictions, some “non-transit companies are getting into this, because it is about processing money, at the end of the day.”

Despite all the tech-thirst at City Hall, Bedford–Wentworth councillor Tim Outhit cautioned against letting the digital bells and whistles distract from Halifax Transit’s street-level problems.

“I very seldom hear much about ‘I wish I had more ways to pay,’” said Outhit. “What I hear from people is it takes too long to get anywhere; I can’t get to where I want to get.”

The measure of success is in the usage, said the councillor, and not whether someone can pay for something with their phone—which, he admitted, is still pretty cool.

“I just hope we’re not spending all the money on the gee-whizzes and neatos.”

The Toronto-based Trapeze will also take home $2.2 million for providing a new route planning and scheduling system, along with an extra $2.9 million for support and maintenance over the next decade.

Halifax Transit’s current scheduling system is inefficient and inflexible, according to staff. The new software will upgrade everything from daily assignment notification, payroll and route definitions, and include the real-time tracking of accidents.

The software tender came in under staff’s original budgeted estimate, but Trapeze’s bid was still $1 million over the only other applicant, GIRO Inc. Trapeze won out by scoring higher in “solution requirements.” But given the large dollar values, some councillor were wary of approving the tender based largely on a single, vaguely summarized category.

“We’re being asked to go with the almost $1 million more expensive one because of this ‘solution requirement’ matrices, which we don’t have any information on,” said Halifax West Armdale councillor Shawn Cleary. “It’s a lot of money to say let’s go do this when we don’t know what we’re getting.”

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Vol 25, No 21
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