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.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mark Butler announces resignation from Ecology Action Centre

After 23 years, the last of which might have been his most challenging, Mark Butler will resign in October.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 4:05 PM

onradar-2.jpg

After 23 years with the Ecology Action Centre, policy director Mark Butler is resigning. In an email to members Butler says he’ll be finishing up in October 2019. 

“This is an incredible place to work there’s amazing people here…There's lots of energy in the organization. This is a good time for me to leave,” says Butler.

Last year, the organization was in the spotlight for turning down a $6.25-million grant for marine conservation. The Coast reported that the rejection was made by the EAC’s board following recommendation from operational directors Mark Butler, Marla McLeod and Carla Vandenberg—Vandenberg announced her retirement early this year. 

The organization was also undergoing a salary review and Susana Fuller, marine action coordinator—who led the funding application—was fired. 

But Butler says the tumultuous events of the year didn’t have anything to do with his decision to resign as he’d been planning to leave for a couple of years. “If anything I would have left sooner.” 

“Whenever there is a conflict in the family that’s never fun,” says Butler. “I’m sad for what happened. 

“We made a difficult decision to not take some funding, and you know what, despite what The Coast said it’s OK sometimes to say no to money.” Butler was approached for an interview for that story but declined to comment.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Council says no to spending surplus money on parking lot expenses

It's "risky business" spending reserves on recurring expenses says CAO Jacques Dubé.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 4:27 PM

City council votes against spending surplus money to keep tax bill down. - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • City council votes against spending surplus money to keep tax bill down.
  • DANIELLE CAMERON
After much debate, Halifax Regional Council voted against using the $20 million surplus reserve to keep residential and commercial tax rates down. The rate will go to a final vote at council at 2.3 percent, meaning a $43.83 increase
on the average home tax bill of $1,979.

Mayor Mike Savage recommended taking $900,000 from last year’s budget surplus to lower the proposed average tax bill rate from 2.3 percent to 2.1 percent but his amendment was defeated.

“It’s not something you would do very often,” Savage says. “It’s not something you would rely on doing. But I think it’s a statement that we recognize that, for a lot of people, taxes are difficult.” The decrease would shave about two dollars off the average tax bill.

The amendment supported by Councillor Tim Outhit, who compared the 2.1 percent increase to council paying a dividend to the residents who helped achieve the surplus by buying and selling homes last year.

“This is a proposal to put less than 10 percent of the money that came from our residents back to our residents.”

Not everyone agreed.

“We are not a business,” Councillor Sam Austin says, referring to Outhit’s dividend comment. “Our concerns are fundamentally different.”

Austin recently likened the issue to buying groceries with savings–eventually savings run out, but groceries are a constant.

By using part or all of the surplus to lessen taxes, Austin says council might struggle to pay for long-term items in the parking lot list of upcoming expenditures including a $600,000 improvement to transit and Fall River’s $363,000 fire service expansion.

“To me folks, we’re setting ourselves up potentially for more misery next year,” says Austin.

CAO Jacques Dubé agreed with Austin, arguing that using reserve funds to pay for a reoccurring expenditure like yearly taxes is risky business.

Dubé says when you start taking money out of reserves to pay for day to day it's like "taking money from your visa card or your American express card to fund ongoing operations, at some point you’re going to be short.”

After back and forth from councillors Richard Zurawski, Bill Karsten and Matt Whitman, Council reached a stalemate. Eight voted for and eight voted against the amendment, meaning it didn’t pass.

Council then voted on the original motion of a 2.3 percent increase based on their hashing out of the parking lot list which passed and will go to a final vote for council approval next month.
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Thursday, March 14, 2019

NSCAD faculty strike ends, classes resume

Students are happy but teachers and admin are still “so far apart.”

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2019 at 4:00 AM

nscad.png

N SCAD's 95 faculty and librarians ended their strike on Tuesday after just over a week on the picket line. This came as a great relief of the university's MFA students who staged a sit-in demanding the administration agree to negotiating an to end the strike.

The strike meant that faculty supervisors of three MFA projects were unable to see their students' graduation shows. Something Merryn Tresidder, MFA rep on the student union and first year abstract landscape painting master's student says is "absurd."

"It's just not acceptable that we spent two years working with faculty and for them to not be able to come to our show."

NSCAD students were supportive of the faculty's demands, even if the strike put them in a tight spot. Tesidder chose NSCAD because of its faculty, specifically FUNSCAD union president Mathew Reichertz and professor Alex Livingston. He says the administration speak about the four pillars of NSCAD—Nurture, curiosity, connect and steward—and don't mention the students and faculty at all, but "we are the university in reality," says Tesidder.

The striking faculty are demanding improved job security for part-time teachers, wage increases and changes in workload. After a series of 18 meetings and 5 days of sessions had led to a stall in negotiation for these demands, they walked out. Reichertz says when they met with administration on Sunday "it became apparent that we are still so far apart."

Because of this they opted for a mediated arbitration process led by Toronto arbitrator William Kaplan in order to get students back to class and have a chance at seeing their demands met.

The return to class means no more graduation shows will be missed by faculty, but the students whose work was on display during the strike packed up last Saturday—the strike ending three days too late to be seen by their instructors.

The NSCAD MFA students said in a press release that the effects on students of the March 1 strike start were "immediate and detrimental." The strike had already compromised "two years of intense study, hard work, and expensive tuition." a

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Introducing The Coast Cannabis Sessions

Get your questions answered at this day of pot-focused education, April 6 in downtown Halifax.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 7, 2019 at 1:00 AM

The first Cannabis Sessions won't have pot samples, but there will be a great swag bag.
  • The first Cannabis Sessions won't have pot samples, but there will be a great swag bag.

The Coast always likes raising awareness around things people consume for fun, whether that’s in print—the annual Beer Guide comes out this week—or IRL with events like Burger Week, Halifax Oyster Festival and the Drink Atlantic cocktail festival. And now that recreational weed is officially on the menu, we are continuing our tradition of enjoyable education by starting an event called The Coast Cannabis Sessions.

Saturday, April 6 will be a full day of discussions for curious, beginner and dedicated consumers alike. The event, downtown in the former Attica Furnishings space, will feature conversations on education, application and the demystification of weed.

Ever wonder about growing pot at home? Want to learn more about the science behind the plant? And what’s craft cannabis all about, anyway? The Cannabis Sessions can answer your questions.

With the legalization of cannabis has come a lot of confusion. For many Canadians, this new wave of weed brings a huge learning curve, yet public information still seems bureaucratic and inadequate. Cannabis Sessions is aiming to address that lacking. For the first time in the region, this will be a safe place for attendees to interact with the recreational pot brands, industry professionals and, of course, other consumers.

“There is a lot of cannabis talk right now and The Coast wanted to create a space where the questions and answers can be spoken in a fresh way,” says Christine Oreskovich, publisher and events producer at The Coast. “This is an event for both avid and new consumers in Halifax, where they can talk to brands and hear from experts.”

Speaking of questions, the first one everybody asks is if there will be cannabis samples at the Cannabis Sessions. There won’t, at least not this year, but there will be a great swag bag included in the $40 admission.

Ready to get informed? Tickets are available here.


Details on the Cannabis Sessions:
Saturday, April 6
10:00am until 6:30pm
1566 Barrington Street
$40 (includes all fees), ages 19+

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Friday, March 1, 2019

NSCAD faculty and librarians on strike

Students and labour union supporters rallied outside of NSCAD’s Granville campus today

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2019 at 3:13 PM

NSCAD faculty and librarians are on strike. - CAORA MCKENNA
  • NSCAD faculty and librarians are on strike.
  • Caora McKenna

After 18 meetings and five days of sessions with the university’s administration, NSCAD faculty and librarians are on strike.  Almost 100 students, faculty and community supporters attended a rally in support of the strike on Friday at the university’s Granville campus. 

The striking workers are asking for improved job security for the 56 part-time teachers at the university. Right now part-time teachers only get six weeks' notice of employment for a given semester.

They are also asking for workload changes and wage increases, which faculty union president Mathew Reichertz says are overdue since they haven’t bargained for the last seven years.

While the university was working on staying open amid severe financial trouble, faculty rolled over on contracts to keep their jobs and school afloat. Now that the university has started to recover, Reichertz says “we have a lot to make up for.”

 According to Reichertz, the faculty union hopes to make the strike as short as possible in order to get students back into their classrooms. “It’s a very stressful thing for students,” he says. “But very heartening to see their support.”

Elizabeth Simmons is an art history student at NSCAD. - CAORA MCKENNA
  • Elizabeth Simmons is an art history student at NSCAD.
  • Caora McKenna

NSCAD art history student Elizabeth Simmons was at the rally. The almost one-to-one relationship with faculty means a lot to her and she’s happy to support them but notes that for graduating students it’s much more difficult. 

“To be fair I am a little bit nervous about missing class,” says Simmons, “but what it boils down to is this is, right now, way more important.”


Reichertz says the union is willing to go back to the table “as soon as we hear they are at least willing to talk to us about some of our unresolved issues.” 

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Common Roots Urban Farm awaits approval of their new home

City council will vote on next steps for the community garden.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 6:56 PM

Jayme Melrose, Common Roots Urban Farm's business developer stands in the farm's soon-to-be former home. - RILEY SMITH
  • Jayme Melrose, Common Roots Urban Farm's business developer stands in the farm's soon-to-be former home.
  • RILEY SMITH
It's up to city council to decide on recommendations for Common Roots Urban Farm’s relocation plans passed by the community planning and economic development standing committee. If passed, the community garden, which has called the land outside the QEII Health Sciences Centre Emergency Department home since 2012 will be broken up, with 110 of the 200 plots moving to Bi-Hi Park between the exit ramp of the 102 and Bayers Road.

click image The new location at Bi-Hi Park is currently underused green space. Members would access the farm from Bayers Road.
  • The new location at Bi-Hi Park is currently underused green space. Members would access the farm from Bayers Road.
Business developer for Common Roots, Jayme Melrose says the location is ideal because it means the garden gets to stay on the peninsula while moving closer to a large portion of its users who are new Canadians living in Fairview area. The new location would also be adjacent to the ISANS community garden, and Common Roots’ new partner organization MetroWorks.

Halifax's community planning and economic development standing committee discussed the report on Thursday and passed the recommendations through to regional council. Councillor Lindell Smith says that for the committee to support Common Roots and “shows that we are willing to put our resources. I think shows that we do think about community development and engagement.”

Common Roots has also asked the city for help moving the remaining 90 plots that won’t fit at Bi-Hi Park. Angela Green, manager of recreational programming says the city is looking at integrating the plots with their 23 community gardens, nine of which are on the peninsula. It’s also recommended by the committee that council direct city staff help with the big move of the 90 plots to their future homes.

When it started in 2012 the original 42 plots were handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis, and in following years a waiting list was used to manage the plots. They were divided into community garden plots run by individuals, market garden plots which facilitated a cross-cultural learning centre and commons garden plots which were run by and for volunteers. Decisions haven’t been made yet on how the plots will be divided once the move happens but Melrose says they’ll be doing public consultations to help navigate the “complicated logistics” of this aspect of the move.

A crowd-funding campaign last fall successfully raised $10,000 which will go towards the move’s estimated cost of $60,000. The standing committee report says that any costs related to helping move the plots would be absorbed within the existing operating budget for parks and recreation and transportation and public works.

At the standing committee meeting Councillor Tim Outhit raised some concerns for safety considering the park was right beside the exit to a 100-series highway, but staff say they look to use the Bayers Road side of the park for access.

The deadline for the move is April, which Melrose says is “anxiety-inducing" but so far she’s been pleasantly surprised by the city’s support and is hopeful things move forward.

———
Editor's note: This story initially said the decision would be made at City Council on Tuesday February 26, however it will happen at a later date.
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Friday, February 22, 2019

Halifax activists get face-to-face apology from Trudeau

“The work starts now.”

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 3:04 PM

Trayvone Clayton says Trudeau's apology is just the beginning. - SUBMITTED
  • Trayvone Clayton says Trudeau's apology is just the beginning.
  • SUBMITTED

Halifax leaders who spoke up about a racist incident at Parliament this month got their apology in a big way yesterday. 

Prime minister Justin Trudeau met with Halifax activists Trayvone Clayton and Kate Macdonald in a closed-door meeting at the Black Cultural Centre in Dartmouth yesterday. 

Clayton, a Saint Mary’s University student in Halifax, spoke up on social media after seeing a security guard approach a group of Black youth at the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa who were there for meetings after a weekend at the National Black Canadians Summit in the capital. The guard started with “I’m not trying to be racist, but…” and then referred to a group near Clayton and Macdonald as “dark-skinned” in response to a complaint that had been sent to security.

After the incident, Clayton told The Coast a letter wouldn’t be enough: “I can throw that out.” He was asking for a face-to-face meeting with Trudeau, and it happened. 

Trudeau sat down with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled up, “ready to talk,” says Clayton. His words were “genuine” and he gave both Clayton and Macdonald space to say what they wanted to say. 

But “political and genuine are in and of themselves contradictory,” says Macdonald. “Truthfully, the work begins now.

“An apology is the very beginning of how you actually say sorry for something.”

Trudeau was in Dartmouth visiting the Black Cultural Centre for the first time. It surprised Clayton that this was the first time a prime minister had ever been in the building. “That building shows all the history of Blacks throughout Canada. That's where the first Black person came, is here to Nova Scotia in Canada.” 

Clayton listed off important leaders that came before him, from Portia White to William Hall to Viola Desmond. “These are the people that set the trend for us to keep pushing,” says Clayton. ”They passed on the torch to us to keep going for it.”

It’s names like that, says Macdonald, “that should be rolling off the prime minister’s tongue with ease.” 

After receiving national attention since speaking out, Macdonald, who has been an activist and educator in the community for years, says it felt good to “have a national spotlight brought back home on your terms. To have a spotlight during this month, during this decade, focused here.”

With the verbal support of the PM Macdonald and Clayton are going to make sure they keep advocating for Black youth coming up behind them in their community and across the country. 

“My next step is to keep moving forward and see if he’s really there or not,” says Clayton. “Just because I got my apology, it’s not over.” 

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Taxi changes aim to fix gender disparity and safety issues

Halifax regional council passes big changes for the taxi industry

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 4:53 PM

Will adding 600 roof lights to the Halifax taxi industry improve long waits and safety concerns? - VIA ISTOCK
  • Will adding 600 roof lights to the Halifax taxi industry improve long waits and safety concerns?
  • via iStock

Council moved Halifax’s taxi reform on to the next stage this week by passing all recommendations put forward by staff in the Vehicle for Hire Licensing Program Review.

Sweeping “housekeeping changes” from making GPS units mandatory, increasing language testing requirements, tightening the rules around talking on the phone while driving passengers and making credit and debit machines mandatory are among the changes intended to increase rider safety. 

The change facing the most opposition from the city’s taxi drivers is to add 600 new owner licenses or “roof lights” to the current cap of 1,000. The increase has been met with fierce criticism from taxi roof-light owners—and praise from the over 230 roof-light renters. The number is designed to increase supply and address gender disparity among drivers. 

Staff says that adding 600 owner licences is the only way to fairly introduce more women into the industry, as the current waitlist for new owners has over 500 people on it (some of whom have been waiting 13 years).

Anything less would mean “The women who are on that list are not going to see an owners licence for eight years” says Sally Christie, supervisor of regional licensing. 

There are 13 women on the waitlist who would benefit from this, one of whom is Chrissy McDow. 

McDow runs the female-only airport taxi and limousine company Lady Drive Her and says 600 is too many.

“If they’re trying to wiggle down to 500 names just to get a female, I don’t want them to do that,” says McDow. “I don’t want to see 600 [more] lights because my ladies are going to take forever to make a living.” 

The push for more women in the industry comes in response to safety concerns: 66 percent of respondents to the citizen survey said they would prefer an all-female taxi service because passengers would feel safer.

But as of right now, the change would only add 13 more females to the 25 who already have owner licenses. (There are 36 women with driver licenses, and it’s likely the 11 of them without owner licenses are on the waitlist). Over 1,400 men have driver licenses and own 975 of the 1,000 owner licenses. 

McDow says she’d be lucky if she saw even 50 women come forward if they open up the licensing. With that and the 600 increase, women would still make up only 5 percent of the industry.

McDow says “if it’s only 13 women, give the 13 women their permits, just take them off the list and give it to them.” When asked in council on Tuesday if this was a possibility, Christie says they wanted to make sure they dealt with the waitlist in a fair way. They didn’t want to put women who had been on the waitlist for five years ahead of men who had been on the waitlist for 13 years, and they need to get more people working and on the road.

“We do not have enough supply to meet the demand. That’s really the bottom line,” says Christie.

Adding the 600 licenses would also free many drivers with driver licenses but not roof lights from expensive and difficult leasing arrangements. The full extent of these arrangements is unknown, but Casino Taxi alone has 230 drivers in leasing arrangements. Deputy mayor Tony Mancini says many of the people in these leasing arrangements are newcomers who are being taken advantage of. 

“It’s wrong, it’s truly wrong,” says Mancini. 

Council also passed recommendations for another report, which would look specifically at how to handle the “inevitable” arrival of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber or Lyft, and that the mayor writes a letter to the province asking permission to subsidize the accessible taxi industry.

Councillor Lindell Smith asked staff if there was a way to guarantee that increasing the number of owner licenses by 600 wouldn’t cause the city’s only 16 accessible drivers switch to regular roof light licences. The hope is that with the added subsidies this won’t be a problem. There’s no waitlist for an accessible license, yet drivers would rather wait up to 13 years for a regular roof light than drive an accessible taxi. “Right now, the taxi system does not make enough money for a taxi driver to drive. They are losing money when they are on the road,” says councillor Waye Mason.

After municipal staff draw up the by-law amendments, they’ll return to council for further debate. 

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Halifax activists speak out against racism in Ottawa

Halifax’s Black community rallies behind youth speaking up about a racial profiling incident in Ottawa

Posted By on Fri, Feb 8, 2019 at 11:16 PM

click image Kate Macdonald, Marcus James and Trayvone Clayton at the press conference at the George Dixon Community Centre. - THE OBJECTIVE NEWS AGENCY VIA TWITTER @THEOBJECTIVENS
  • Kate Macdonald, Marcus James and Trayvone Clayton at the press conference at the George Dixon Community Centre.
  • The Objective News Agency via Twitter @theobjectiveNS
A coalition of Black, human rights, labour and youth organizations held a press conference at the George Dixon Community Centre in Uniacke Square, Halifax today. Kate Macdonald, Marcus James and Trayvone Clayton spoke to their community and media about an incident of racial profiling that happened on Parliament Hill this past week.

Macdonald and Clayton were in Ottawa with Black leaders from across the country for the National Black Canadians Summit celebrating Black excellence and meeting with leaders “who had been through racism but got to where they are today,” says Clayton.

The incident took place after the summit and involved a security guard on Parliament Hill racially profiling the group Macdonald and Clayton were with. Macdonald, a local community educator and activist explains at the press conference that the guard referred to a group near them as “dark-skinned” in response to a complaint that had been sent to security.

Clayton had just started a media interview nearby when he heard the guard say “I’m not trying to be racist, but,” which stole his attention. The comments hurt Clayton and members of the group he was with. “It ruined my day,” he says. “The parliament building is a place for everyone in Canada. It’s not a place to create problems, it’s a place to solve problems.

“I expected to be treated equally and fair. I was excited because I get to step in the most powerful building in Canada.”

Clayton and Macdonald are speaking out because they want things to change for themselves and the kids in their own community.

“It is for all of us who are here now. But it’s also for the generations that are to come that aren’t here yet,” says Macdonald. “Kick down a few of those doors. Blaze a few of those trails. And hopefully, things are easier for them. That’s how we’re here now, you know? Because people did that for me, people did that for us.”

Over 15 organizations supported Macdonald and Clayton in denouncing the incident and over 25 people stood with Macdonald and Clayton as they spoke at the press conference. “I’m very proud of the African Nova Scotian people and folks and community that stood with me, and sat with me, and said their piece and sang with me,” says Macdonald.

Andy Fillmore and Liberal MP Greg Fergus spoke about the incident in the House of Commons on Wednesday. There is currently an investigation to what happened underway, but Clayton says a piece of paper or a letter isn’t enough for him. He wants to meet with Prime Minister Trudeau face-to-face.

“It’s time for us to be heard. We need change and we need it fast,” says Clayton. “Canada is supposed to be a safe place, but yet people are still walking about here in 2019 uncomfortable. Not knowing what to do with their head on a swivel.”
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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

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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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In Print This Week

Vol 27, No 13
August 22, 2019

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