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 to send a tip.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Will the Scotiabank Centre's score clock make it through the Memorial Cup final?

Tick tock on the clock but the party won't stop (hopefully).

Posted By on Fri, May 24, 2019 at 4:47 PM

From catching snoozy texters to best-dressed dancers on camera, the score clock is a big part of the energy in the arena during the Memorial Cup. - CAORA MCKENNA
  • From catching snoozy texters to best-dressed dancers on camera, the score clock is a big part of the energy in the arena during the Memorial Cup.
  • Caora McKenna

Hockey fans won’t be the only people in the Scotiabank Centre holding their breath this weekend. While the Guelph Storm face off against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies tonight, and the winner moves on to take on the Halifax Moosehead on Sunday, Events East staff will be holding their breath too, in hopes that the 17-year-old end-of-its-life score clock holds out till the cup is hoisted above a champion’s head. 

The clock, purchased in 2002 for $2.2 million, is dangerously close to the end of its life. Its replacement is due before the fall and will be put in place by Prisimview LLC. The LED clock contract was awarded in April for $1.1 million. The video production and control room replacement contract was awarded to Matrix Video Communications Corp. for $1.2 million at regional council on May 14. 

At the May 14 council meeting, CAO Jacques Dubé said Events East, in charge of operations at the Scotiabank Centre, has purchased every last part available around the world to keep the clock running. The expectation is “that we should be able to get through the memorial cup without failure. Beyond that, we’re not confident,” said Dubé.   

Spokesperson for Events East, Erin Esiyok-Prime says that changes in technology mean the parts for the clock aren't made any more, and they’ve run through all the spares. She says they’ve been talking about replacing the clock for the past two years and having issues for the past five. 

The Events East team, says Esiyok-Prime, is doing “everything they can in terms of due diligence to keep it running.” 

The clock’s first big tournament was the 2003 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, where team Canada with goaltender Marc-André Fleury lost to an unknown Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin and his team in the gold medal game. This year is the third time in Mooseheads’ 25-year history have made it to Memorial Cup final tournament, its first year hosting. The top team from the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and QMJHL plus the host team get to play in the CHL’s top tournament.

The Mooseheads got a bye to the final—sport lingo for skipping a step—by finishing first in the round-robin play after three games, and second- and third- place finishers the Guelph Storm and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies play each other for the second spot in the final in the semi-final tonight. Fourth place finishers and WHL champions Prince Albert were out of the tournament after finishing last in the round robin. 

Here's hoping the clock (and the Mooseheads) make it through the weekend. If not, the greatest tragedy will be all the flossing fans who don't get their five seconds of fame on the big screen. 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Eight plus-a-penthouse storey building plans approved for Robie, Cunard and Compton Street block

One more development squeaks in before the centre plan

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 6:41 PM

The five storey street wall on Robie Street will have commercial space on the ground floor and residential units above. The three stories and penthouse above will be slightly set back from the road. - WM FARES ARCHITECTS
  • The five storey street wall on Robie Street will have commercial space on the ground floor and residential units above. The three stories and penthouse above will be slightly set back from the road.
  • WM Fares Architects

The latest development to get approval while the Centre Plan nears crunch time will sit eight and a bit storeys high on Robie Street between Cunard and Compton Streets facing the Halifax Common. Neighbours from the area came forward at the public hearing to voice their concerns, but at this stage in the process they held little weight. 

The development proposal from WM Fares Architects was originally proposed as a 13 storey building, and has been whittled down to eight (plus a penthouse, so nine) with staggered increases in street wall height on the sides of the building facing Compton and Cunard Streets. It will house approximately 90 mixed-sized residential units and 75 underground parking spots.

Katie Campbell lives in the area and spoke to council about the negligible impact of the hearing at this stage in the process, noting she didn’t think she could say anything that could stall the process. But wanted to point out that WM Fares proved themselves capable of making many concessions with the specs of the building, so why couldn’t they go further to ensure affordable housing is included in the plans. 

A Compton Street resident, Shannon Cam raised concerns around increased traffic on the street which already sees a significantly higher number of cars than the next street over, Williams Street. 

VP of planning and design for WM Fares Cesar Saleh says that street calming and traffic concerns are beyond the scope of their project, but that they’ve done lots of work to give back to the community by creating jobs and places people can live. 

Councillor Waye Mason responded to affordable housing concerns with his stance that forcing developers to give discounted rates is not a sufficient solution for the problem.

Because of the drawn-out process of by-law amendments, the design team was working towards parameters of what the centre plan looked like in June 2017, but staff say as of right now it still fits well into today’s centre plan, too. 

Councillor Smith raised concerns about the five storey street wall height on Robie and part of Cunard Streets, moving an amendment to have them decreased which failed after a tie vote. The original motion for the plan passed granting a green light for the project.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

After a nine-month search, Dal's new president starts in eight months

Dr. Deep Saini will be coming from the University of Canberra to take command at Dalhousie.

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 5:26 PM

Let this be the first of many "Dal goes Deep" puns. - SUBMITTED
  • Let this be the first of many "Dal goes Deep" puns.

Dalhousie University’s Board of Governors announced Thursday that Dr. Deep Saini has been elected as the university’s new president and vice-chancellor. He will be only the 12th president in the history of the 200-year-old school.

Saini is not the first Dalhousie president to be born outside of North America; he follows inaugural president Thomas McCulloch (Scotland) and Howard Clark (New Zealand). But having grown up in India, a generation removed from poverty, his path to Dalhousie is unique to past presidents.

Born in India, Saini earned a PhD in plant physiology from the University of Adelaide in Australia and is fluent in English, French and three South Asian languages. He is currently  president of the Australian University of Canberra—a young university of comparable size and international ranking to Dalhousie—where he led the development and implementation of a new strategic plan that positions the school as a national leader in professional education and experiential learning.

"I am honoured and humbled," Saini says in Dal's announcement. "The university’s students, faculty and staff are proudly devoted to the synergy between world-class education and a rich tradition of outstanding research and scholarship. I am thrilled at being given the chance to be part of writing the next chapter of this compelling story.”

Saini succeeds Dalhousie’s 11th president, Richard Florizone, who served from 2013 until 2018, and Peter MacKinnon, presently serving in an interim capacity.

The search to find the new president took nine months, and Saini doesn't begin his five-year term until January 1, 2020—nearly eight months from now—making for a potential leadership gap because MacKinnon’s term is set to conclude at the end of June. As the Board of Governors considers options for getting through the remainder of the year, plans are underway for Saini's first campus visit as president-elect in June.

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Florida man comes all the way to Nova Scotia to yell at Emera

And warn that what comes after coal could still be bad.

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 2:54 PM

Coal fuels 53 percent of Nova Scotia’s energy. - JANEK LOWE
  • Coal fuels 53 percent of Nova Scotia’s energy.
  • Janek Lowe

An environmental group from Tampa Bay, Florida came to Halifax this week to protest their local energy provider’s mother company: Emera Inc.

Emera Inc. is the billion-dollar multinational corporation that owns 10 affiliate companies including our homegrown NS Power and international power companies like TECO (Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas) in Florida.

If you haven’t already guessed, Emera deals with generating, transferring and distributing electricity through its various subsidies. And it sparks a pretty profit from keeping its corporate hands deep in the pockets of non-renewable energy.

In 2018, it reported more $6.5 billion in revenue. Florida accounts for 51 percent of that and Atlantic Canada 23 percent. Its net income for the first quarter of 2019 is $312 million, a 13 percent increase from last year.

The Sierra Club is an international environmental justice non-profit organization dedicated to addressing climate change in tandem with social justice. A handful of members from the Tampa Bay chapter flew to Nova Scotia, teaming up with local Haligonians to protest outside the Halifax Convention Centre as Emera shareholders entered to attend Emera’s annual general meeting.

They want to see Emera reverse the move to invest $853 million in changing TECO’s Big Bend coal plant to a natural gas facility.

“We know that not only is Emera NOT planning to turn off coal plants in Nova Scotia, it’s asking shareholders to invest in a very expensive natural gas plant in Florida,” says Gretchen Fitzgerald, director of the Atlantic Canada chapter of the Sierra Club Canada foundation.

TECO claims this natural gas is an “environmentally friendly” source of energy.

But the protesters showed up to call Emera out on its false claim and to demand a better and more meaningful plan for reducing its plants' carbon footprints. They say it could be investing that money into true renewable energy and that choosing a slightly less bad (but still bad) source of energy and continuing to use coal past the 2030 deadline set by the federal government isn’t enough.

The only renewable energy from Tampa Electric is solar-generated, but it doesn’t even account for seven percent of generated electricity.

This actually makes Nova Scotia look like our Green Saviour in return, despite the fact it still goes out at the slightest hint of humidity or wind. But watching folks from the south flock to the north to demand better action from the same corporation that owns NS Power may be the first warning sign that what comes after coal might not be what we need.

Coal still fuels 53 percent of Nova Scotia’s energy–the most coal-dependent electric grid in Canada–and it’s only expected to decrease to 38 percent by next year. Only 30 percent of power from NS Power is from renewable energy.

The reduced coal use will be replaced by importing hydroelectric power from Muskrat Falls says a NS power spokesperson. The same Muskrat Falls mega-dam that’s billions of dollars over budget, almost three years late and displacing Indigenous people from their lands. It’s been called Newfoundland’s biggest mistake. The Narwhal recently reported that hydroelectric dams aren’t actually as profitable as they’re touted to be. Muskrat Falls will flood the wetlands that are home to its namesake, the muskrat.

We are saying with a unified voice,” said Florida Sierra Club member Gonzalo Valdez at the protest, “‘come clean, Emera.’”

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Floorball's world championship rolls into Halifax this week

Teams from 16 countries are coming for a shot at the men's under-19 crown.

Posted By on Tue, May 7, 2019 at 4:39 PM


Halifax has played host of to a number of major sporting events, including the  World Junior Hockey Championships in 2003, the 2015 World Men's Curling Championship and the World Figure Skating Championships way back in 1990. Now this week it's hosting the world championship for something called floorball.

The 2019 World Floorball Championships for men under 19 take place at the Dartmouth Sportsplex and the Dalplex from Wednesday, May 8 through Sunday, May 12. There will be over 400 players representing 16 countries.

Floorball resembles indoor hockey. Players use specialized lightweight sticks, and instead of a puck there's a plastic ball with holes in, very much along the lines of a wiffle ball. Unlike hockey, goalies don't use a stick to help defend the net. Putting absolutely no spin on the binary paradigm dominant in the sporting world, the winner is the team that scores the most goals.

Floorball partisans say it's one of the fastest-growing sports internationally, complete with it own day (April 12), and it has spread far enough that there's a Floorball Nova Scotia association. The sport was originally created in Gothenburg, Sweden and started out as a popular school game. Then formal rules were created as floorball leagues became more popular. The first under-19 world championship was in 2001, and it re-occurs every two years.

Canada’s opening game of the 2019 championship will be against Germany at the Dartmouth Sportsplex, May 8 at 7pm. Tickets are available for $10 for half a day or $15 dollars for a full-day pass. As well, the International Floorball Federation will be streaming games on its YouTube channels, here and here. The finals will take place on the weekend, with the champion crowned on Sunday.

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Friday, May 3, 2019

Avalon Sexual Assault Centre workers form union

Move comes shortly after centre pauses it's counselling waitlist.

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 4:23 PM

Avalon's logo. The sexual assault centre is open Monday to Friday, from 8:30am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 4:30pm at 1526 Dresden Row, Suite 401.
  • Avalon's logo. The sexual assault centre is open Monday to Friday, from 8:30am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 4:30pm at 1526 Dresden Row, Suite 401.
Workers at the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre are unionizing. Avalon is the only sexual assault centre in the Halifax Regional Municipality–that’s an area of over 400,000 people–and is chronically under-resourced.

Avalon employees say the decision to unionize is about forming a stronger and united front to address the systemic issues that lead to a lack of resources and continuing to better advocate for policy changes.

“Ideally we’d like to have a board of directors that looked a little bit different,” says Adrienne Buckland, a therapist at Avalon and union member. “Currently we have a board that’s set up more like a model that doesn’t quite reflect our feminist mandate and our feminist values.”

The union is looking for a more community-based approach to a board that matches the overarching goal of the centre, like including staff or previous clients, “to have a board that looks more representative of the community.”

The centre offers services like therapeutic counselling, community education and forensic nursing. Last month, it had to stop accepting clients to its waitlist for therapeutic services because of an overwhelming increase in demand for services.

“Part of what we do is working to eradicate sexual violence and all that propels that,” says Buckland. “There’s the broader goal of, ideally, working ourselves out of our work.”

Through community engagement, Avalon is trying to change the current culture of how the public, police, health professionals and the government understands and responds to sexualized violence.

In 2017 Avalon signed an agreement with the Nova Scotia Health Authority for continued funding of its therapeutic counselling program to cover salaries and operational support for five sexual assault therapist positions, but it’s not enough. Avalon served 443 clients for counselling in 2018, its highest number ever and its SANE nurses service provided 402 responses, a 68 percent increase over last year.

The union is looking for more recognition and accountability from governments and better diversification of services offered in order to support the needs of all survivors. The current funding model for many community-based sexual health and mental health centres across Canada, including Avalon’s, isn’t working. Months-long waitlists and under-funding permeate: There’s a general lack of support compared to what other healthcare services receive.

“It’s time to address the discriminatory simplification of survivors’ needs, and the ongoing reliance on insufficient models and resources in the struggle to stop sexualized violence,” says Buckland.

 In 2017 the Nova Scotia government announced its sexual violence strategy, which poured extra funding into the centre for two years but has left the responsibility for continuation of care solely on the centre.

Avalon is often the go-to for organizations and individuals across the province looking for policies, procedures and how to create similar community-based and governed centres. The centre has one community educator and professional development trainer working across the entire province. “And she is also inundated with way more requests for service that is at all reasonable for one person to provide,” says Buckland.

Many of these centres in other cities operated well enough under the resources they had, but with more and more people feeling safe in reaching out to centres like Avalon, those same resources aren’t keeping up with the increased demand, which is happening nationwide.

In Nova Scotia, police-reported sexual assaults in 2017 increased by 15 percent from the previous year. In Halifax, there are on average, 36 reports in a four-month period. On average, one sexual assault is reported per day in the HRM. Statistics Canada says 2017 saw the most police-reported sexual assaults since 1998.

A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner can be reached at 902-425-0122, and 211 is able to provide confidential referrals to free legal help, SANE and counselling. A map of services offered in the province is available at

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Bonfire of the vanity plates

Alberta "freedom" organization grabs onto Grabher in personalized plate campaign.

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 2:15 PM

Jay Cameron believes in the constitutional powers of licence plate cases. - JUSTIN GOLLOP
  • Jay Cameron believes in the constitutional powers of licence plate cases.
  • Justin Gollop
An Alberta advocacy group seems driven to distraction by personalized plates. Last week’s hearing in Halifax Supreme Court about Lorne Grabher’s plate is the third case the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has backed in April alone.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a right-wing law organization, represented Lorne Grabher in court last week.

The Centre sees acts of controversial speech as “minority viewpoints” that may be representative of “unpopular ideas,” as addressed in a report filed in response to Wilfrid Laurier University in 2018.

Since 2011, the Centre has published an annual report, titled the Campus Freedom Index, that critiques a university based on its constitutional freedom policies and practices—universities will receive better grades if there are no policies within the university and student union that prohibit offensive or inappropriate speech.

Almost 60 campuses were evaluated in the 2018 Campus Freedom Index, including Dalhousie University, which saw F’s in the student union policies and university criteria—the Centre critiqued the Dalhousie Student Union’s mission to “actively represent the diverse interests of Dalhousie students,” while the university itself got penalized for the 2015 suspension of dentistry students who made comments related to bullying and harassment on a private Facebook page.

The Centre also hosts an essay contest on its website, where students and professors can submit papers based on legal rulings and new law-related bills. The topic for 2018 was around Bill C-16, which states that the refusal to use preferred pronouns for transgender individuals in court can be deemed as discrimination—the Centre asked if it should be required by law to use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to those who identify outside of the gender binary. The three winners all argued that, while non-binary transgender individuals are able to freely choose to use gender-neutral pronouns, others should freely choose whether they want to accept those pronouns.

“Canadians have the right to freedom of expression and any time the government censors people's expression, it's an important issue,” said Jay Cameron, the Centre’s litigation manager, last week in a scrum outside court.

In 2016, Grabher’s personalized licence plate displaying his last name, which had been in service for 27 years at the time, was revoked by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles after an anonymous complaint, saying that the plate promoted gendered violence against women. (As in Donald "grab 'em by the pussy" Trump's bragging about assaulting women leading to more assaults.)

In 2018, the province commissioned Carrie Rentschler, a professor of feminist media studies at McGill University, to write an expert report stating reasons why the plate endorses sexual violence against women. The Centre commissioned its own expert report, written by Debra Soh, a science journalist with 11 years of experience in researching the psychology of sexual offenders, which stated why the plate does not condone gendered violence and should be allowed on the road. In the hearing last week, Rentschler and Soh testified to their qualifications to write their respective reports.

The Centre started representing Grabher after his plate was revoked, and took up not one but two other cases around personalized plate recalls since then. Cameron said in a scrum that the censoring of licence plates has become more than just issues with personalized plates and could be used for freedom of expression defences across Canada: “There are several plate cases right now before the courts or that will shortly be before the courts, but whatever decision comes out first will be a landmark decision.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which sits on the left side of the political spectrum, agrees with the Centre and believes that, although the freedom of expression is not concrete, the government has not given enough reasoning for censoring the licence plates.

“There can be reasonable limits placed on [the freedom of expression], but we have a pretty high threshold for making the state make out that case for reasonableness and demonstrating that there's some genuine harm that could come from the expression in order to justify restricting it in some way,” said Cara Zwibel, director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program of the CCLA.

“I don't think that case has been made here.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has seemingly put a lot of money into Grabher’s legal battle, with the Centre filing several affidavits on Grabher’s behalf, Grabher’s 2018 award of $750 being paid to settle a previous issue with Rentschler’s report, the two days of court last week, paying the lawyers for their work on the case, the investment of renting out two billboards displaying the plate—one on Main Street in Dartmouth and one on Barrington Street in Halifax—that can be about $1,200 to $1,500 each, the production costs of bumper stickers the Centre sells in support of Grabher and paying for expert consultation in the fields of sexual assault.

“I was compensated for working on this case,” said Soh in a scrum, but was unsure if she was “allowed to publicly comment” on the compensation amount.

In response to the billboards, a gofundme page was circulated around Twitter to donate to Adsum, a charity to support vulnerable women and children, along with a proposed fake billboard saying “HELPHER.” The page was set to a $500 goal, but has already exceeded that, with the gofundme sitting at over $3,000.

The Coast reached out to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms to inquire about the financial side of Grabher’s case, but the Centre exercised its freedom to not comment.

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

UPDATE: Rugby gets kicked in the crotch by NS sports federation

In a surprise move, today the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation cancelled rugby in high schools across the province.

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2019 at 6:53 PM

Rugby players are used to hard knocks, but the NSSAF's sudden rugby cancellation was a surprise.
  • Rugby players are used to hard knocks, but the NSSAF's sudden rugby cancellation was a surprise.

UPDATE TWO, TUESDAY MAY 7: So. On Thursday the NSSAF canned rugby, then Friday the education minister made his statement demanding its return, and that seemed like the last word. But despite the minister’s convincingly stern tone, the NSSAF didn’t reverse its decision; at the start of the week rugby was still sidelined. Today, however, the game really is back on. Rugby Nova Scotia has agreed to manage the remainder of the high school rugby season, including regionals and provincials, with the support of the NSSAF. A joint statement, released after a meeting on Tuesday by the Nova Scotia education department and the NSSAF, says they decided to work together to find a plan for students to continue to play. The statement also mentions future plans for rugby: “Over the summer, NSSAF will work with the government, Rugby Nova Scotia, medical experts and others on safety in sport.”

UPDATE, FRIDAY MAY 3: The day after the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation kicked rugby to the curb and it seemed like the game was lost, education minister Zach Churchill gave rugby a rousing half-time pep talk and sent it back out on the field to keep playing. In a statement, Churchill says the cancellation was done without proper consultation—and hints that it was made using bad data on injuries—therefore "I have called on NSSAF to reinstate rugby for all high schools immediately for the duration of the season." By the way, that petition is now approaching 25,000 names, with more still coming.

"All Rugby play within the NSSAF shall cease effective 12:00pm May 2, 2019." That's the thrust of a memo released today by the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation, delivering a hard tackle to players in high schools across the province.

The memo spins rugby's cancellation as deliberate and carefully considered, a move that the NSSAF's board of governors chose to make "at their regularly scheduled spring meeting" after "a thorough review of incident report data" from an insurance provider.

However it's clearly a hasty decision, coming as a surprise not just to players and Rugby Nova Scotia, but to the NSSAF itself, where as of this writing the rugby provincial championships are still listed (along with table tennis, slo pitch and track and field provincials) on the federation's homepage under "Important Dates." According to CBC, a student in Cape Breton got injured during a rugby match yesterday.

Six hours (and counting) after the NSSAF board's announcement, the NSSAF website still says rugby is on.
  • Six hours (and counting) after the NSSAF board's announcement, the NSSAF website still says rugby is on.

Rugby Nova Scotia, the sport's provincial governing body, was completely blindsided by the school sport federation. Jack Hanratty with RNS says they "were not previously aware of the announcement before its release and were shocked to find out."

Hanratty empathizes that "sports are a large and important part of growing up 
The NSSAF memo cancelling rugby in Nova Scotia high schools.
  • The NSSAF memo cancelling rugby in Nova Scotia high schools.
and living an active lifestyle." To the extent that injuries motivated the NSSAF's decision, Hanratty points out "you can get injured in any sports," and he doesn't see why rugby should be singled out. RNS has requested a meeting with the NSSAF to find out the process behind the cancellation, and see what can be done to reinstate the sport.

A petition to "Bring Rugby back to NS schools" was created shortly after 2pm. Five hours later, there were over 5,000 signatures.
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Monday, April 29, 2019

HFX Wanderers looking to turn their luck around in pro soccer home opener

After a loss in BC, Halifax's team in the new Canadian Premier League goes for an east coast win Saturday.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2019 at 5:30 PM

Halifax midfielder Mohamed Kourouma wants the Wanderers' fortunes looking up at Saturday's first-ever home game. - VIA HFX WANDERERS SITE
  • Halifax midfielder Mohamed Kourouma wants the Wanderers' fortunes looking up at Saturday's first-ever home game.
A new era in Canadian soccer began last weekend with the start of play in the professional Canadian Premier League.

In front of a sold-out crowd Sunday night in Westhills Stadium in Langford, BC, the HFX Wanderers lost their first game 1-0 to Pacific FC. During a slow start for Halifax in the first half, Pacific's Hendrik Starostzik headed the ball into the net in the 23rd minute, scoring the first-ever goal for Pacific.

The Wanderers almost tied it up four minutes later and continued to fight for the entire game, but fell short. Watch the recap here:

After that tough opening game, the Wanderers are heading to Halifax for their debut home game in the seven-team league. They hope to have better luck with their fans cheering them on against Forge FC, the Hamilton club that played to a draw in its first game. 

The game happens Saturday, May 4 at the Wanderers Grounds stadium at 2pm. Tickets range from $15 to $35.
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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Ferry service betweem Sir Sandford Fleming park and Jubilee Road to launch

Operator hopes the six-minute, 4$ trip will get people off the roads and onto the sea.

Posted By on Sat, Apr 27, 2019 at 11:25 AM

Big ol' house on the Northwest Arm. You'll be able to see it from the ferry. - VIA SUPERCITY REALTY
  • Big ol' house on the Northwest Arm. You'll be able to see it from the ferry.
  • via Supercity Realty

During the summer, 24-year-old David Backman starts each day with a jump in the Northwest Arm, just like the late Jim Gowen, a noteworthy Halifax journalist known for swimming in the Northwest Arm 365 days of the year.

And this spring, the ‘Jimmy Gowen’, Backman’s 22-foot pontoon boat will ferry residents and commuters across the water between the docks in Sir Sandford Fleming Park and the bottom of Jubilee Road.

Backman hopes to launch the service in early May, but is awaiting approval for temporary use the docks at St. Mary’s Boat club while the city puts in newer dock at the bottom of Jubilee Road. The docks are returned to the water every year, and open to the public.

Backman says the service could help alleviate some of the congestion caused by the Quinpool Road bridge closure but also geeks out about it being a “resurrection of a traditional ferry route.” He says the tradition of ferries on the Arm has been around since the 1880s.

In January, Councillor Shawn Cleary pitched a similar ferry idea to council that didn’t get approved. But he’s says he's glad to see a private business taking over the project and enabling people to take more sustainable modes of transport.

Backman encourages regular commuters to purchase a weekly or monthly pass to reserve a spot during “peak hours,” says Backman, as the ferry can only transport about 10 people and four bikes at a time. For $4 you can take the six minute trip across the Arm on the Jimmy Gowen, which will leave every 15 to 20 minutes between 6am and 10am and 3:30pm and 6pm. Backman says the cost will be just enough to cover operational costs, as his main goal is to increase awareness about his summer water taxi service: North West Arm Boat Tours, which takes tourists and locals to McNabs Island and around the peninsula.

Backman has taken over $2,500 worth of courses and certifications while setting up his water taxi business, and all his drivers are certified with marine medical, marine first aid and commercial marine radio certifications.

Backman went to school for marine training and has spent time on ships but doesn’t consider himself much of a “roughneck person.” He preferred working for himself and hopes his ferry can bring some life back to the Northwest Arm.

He’ll be putting the boats in the water this weekend, and they’ll sleep at their private moorings in the Arm until the end of the summer season.  If he gets approval to use the St. Mary’s Boat Club—which turns 100 this year, Backman adds—docks North West Arm Ferry will be up and running in early May. Otherwise, they’ll be waiting until the new dock at Jubilee is completed by the city.

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

The not-ready Centre Plan strikes back while moving forward

Where we’re at and who’s stuck in the middle.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 4:29 PM

The Centre Plan should mean that new developments don't require case-by-case bylaw amendments. - AISHA GOYETTE
  • The Centre Plan should mean that new developments don't require case-by-case bylaw amendments.
  • Aisha Goyette

HRM's Centre Plan is marginally closer to actually existing. The community design advisory committee reviewed all the land use bylaws included in the Centre Plan on Wednesday, and gets two more meetings to pick it apart, a version of progress that's coming too late for councillor Sam Austin’s constituents, who blame "broken" bylaws for a 16-storey hotel going up on the shore of Lake Banook. 

The land use bylaws are only the first huge-ass chunk of the Centre Plan to move through the advisory committees so far. The caboose of the plan is supposed to focus on residential areas, industrial areas and parks. It hasn’t yet been scheduled for public engagement. 

Going through the land use bylaws is a particularly labourious point in the Centre Plan process, which has already stretched on for six years. In order to make a truly omnipotent plan that simplifies zoning laws for the Halifax-Dartmouth core, committee members are tasked with thinking up every conceivable question the plan will need to answer. That ranges from how tall new buildings can be, to whether public art needs to be regulated.

On the ever-contentious height issue, under the new plan development size will be determined by a formula looking at floor area ratio and height. Loosely, the amount of land the building has to topple over on determines how high it can be. The cap for downtown areas will increase from 20 to 27(ish) storeys. 

If you’ve been sitting on your mountains of cash waiting to develop, you might want to get on it. Anything that isn’t already in motion will be subject to the new plan, while existing development agreements will be grandfathered in to use the pre-Centre Plan rules. Same goes for proposed amendments to existing  agreements.

Which, to councillor Sam Austin’s dismay, means the recently announced lakeside mega-hotel will get to happen, too. Austin and residents have spent years fighting a condo proposed by Monaco Investments Partnership, and they had leverage because residential developments need city approval. By last fall, Monaco's proposed 15-storey condo had been whittled down to eight storeys that the community could live with.

But hiding behind the heated back and forth was the as-of-right opportunity to build a hotel on the land. Monaco decided to exercise that right, scrapping the condo to build a 16-storey hotel at the corner of Prince Albert Road and Glenwood Avenue.

At city council this week, Austin asked for a hail-Mary staff report to see if there is anything that could be done to stop the hotel development. The request is a longshot, but mayor Mike Savage gave the motion his blessing: “If there’s a week for miracles, this is the week for miracles, Easter weekend.”

Pressure to get the Centre Plan finished was “lurking in the background through all this” says Austin. Councillor Matt Whitman says it’s “another case of the not-ready Centre Plan striking back.” 

As for when it will be ready, once the design committee finishes with its amendments to the plan, the hot potato is tossed over to the community planning and economic development standing committee. The plan is also being reviewed by a number of other advisory committees. Then it gets picked over by standing committees that are supposed to send the plan onto the lap of regional council on June 18. 
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Council approves 2019-20 budget

The cumbersome process for dollar decisions is done.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Money money money, must be funny. - JESS REDLARSKI
  • Money money money, must be funny.
  • Jess Redlarski

City council approved $163 million in capital spending and $793.7 million municipal expenditures in the budget for 2019-2020 this week. The city's been shaking up the budget process for over five years, and this year’s parking lot of shopping expenses was the latest attempt to make the process more effective. Tuesday’s meeting was more ceremonial than conversational—apart from the last-minute attempt to strike funding for an Armoured Rescue Vehicle from the budget.

The $3,704,100 of parking-lot expenses range from library salaries to fire-hall jobs, and include snow clearing, trees and money for transit—and only make up a tiny part of the whole $955.7 million budget. ($162 million of that is mandatory provincial costs that the city gets no say over.) 

Only councillors Tim Outhit and Matt Whitman voted against the budget. Whitman objected to the number of big projects in the budget, saying “I thought we had talked about spending more money on more projects, spreading the money around rather than doing these huge projects like are proposed here.”

Outhit says that this, his 11th budget, just doesn’t do enough for small business, so he can’t allow it anymore. 

The biggest-ticket items include new transit technology for $10.6 million and $15.4 million for new buses. $36.1 million on road and bridge work, $7.6 million for active transportation projects as part of the Integrated Mobility Plan, $1.6 million on parking technology, $2.7 million on sidewalk renewal, $7 million on parkland acquisition, $3.2 million more for St Andrew’s Community Centre. Whitman also contested the expensive price tag on Scotiabank Centre’s new scoreboard (part of the over $5 million budgeted for renovations at the arena—to mostly happen after Halifax hosts the Memorial Cup). 

After provincial costs and fiscal services, Halifax Transit swallows up 12.7 percent of the budget, followed by transportation and public works at 10.6 percent and Halifax Regional Police at 10.4 percent. Of HRP’s $99,507,900 million budget, compensation and benefits accounts for $92,157,600, or 93 percent. Transit spends 67 percent. 

By trying to make the budget process more of a value judgement process, the connection between dollars and decisions gets blurry. Library snacks valued at $50,000 are argued for or against as passionately as a half-a-million dollar armoured police vehicle, and more so than a $3.2 million addition in funding for community centres. 

After voting not to spend surplus money to keep the rate down, residents will see a 2.3 percent increase in the average tax bill. The inflation rate was set at 2.6 percent so in theory councillors worked to save residents 0.3 percent. In theory. On the average HRM property, which is assessed at $241,400, the tax bill will increase $42.85 to $1,967. 

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Police Commission makes recommendation to suspend street check practice

Canada's most diverse police commission isn't fucking around.

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 11:12 AM

Carlos Beals says "when you target a specific group of people based on the colour of their skin and are allocating resources to monitoring and surveillance of said group of people, that is discriminatory and that’s illegal.” - CAORA MCKENNA
  • Carlos Beals says "when you target a specific group of people based on the colour of their skin and are allocating resources to monitoring and surveillance of said group of people, that is discriminatory and that’s illegal.”
  • Caora McKenna

UPDATE: On Wednesday, April 17, justice minister Mark Furey directed police across NS to suspend street checks of both pedestrians and passengers in vehicles until further notice.

The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners put its weight behind ending the practice of street checks at this week’s meeting following Scot Wortley and the NS Human Rights Commission’s report released in March. Aware of its inability to mandate any operational changes, the commission made a point of officially recommending to suspend the practice. 

Commissioner and District 8 Councillor Lindell Smith introduced the motion, saying if there are people who perceive that “our force, who swore to protect our residents,” is not there to keep them safe, says Smith “…we are not doing—as the commission—our citizens justice as the oversight body.”

The report looked at 12 years of Halifax Regional Police street check data and found that Black men were nine times more likely to be stopped by HRP for a street check, followed by Arab men and Black women.

The report echoed what leaders from Halifax’s African Nova Scotian communities have been saying for years.

Wortley’s report, as District 15 Councillor and commissioner Steve Craig says, gave more than one option for going forward. Craig described the options presented in the report, saying “A. Ban street checks,” which received applause from the audience, or “keep street checks and regulate it so that there isn’t a violation of human rights,” which was met with “impossible” from members of the community attending the meeting.

Whether street checks are always a violation of human rights, and therefore illegal, was also debated at the meeting. The commission’s legal counsel Martin Ward explained that street checks on their own are not illegal, but when “the basis of you stopping that person and asking them questions is because of prohibited grounds under the human rights act, then that’s illegal.” 

“When you target a specific group of people based on the colour of their skin and are allocating resources to monitoring and surveillance of said group of people,” says commissioner Carlos Beals, senior manager with Ceasefire Halifax, “that is discriminatory and that’s illegal.” 

For an official ban or end of the illegal-when-discriminatory practice, “the minister is the person who holds the hammer here,” says Ward, but the commission's recommendation sends a message to the TBD-chief of police and minister of justice Mark Furey. 

“The way members of our community have been harmed through this process is appalling, abhorrent, and I can’t understand why we would perpetuate this kind of process,” says commissioner and vice-chair Carole McDougal. 

“I think it’s a good place to start,” says Kate Macdonald, a community stakeholder on the Wortley Street Check committee and was at the meeting. “We’ve been having this conversation for decades and it feels like now things are starting to take a little bit of a turn for the better. So let’s keep this momentum going.”

Furey failed to take any official stance on the issue before the closure of the legislature on Friday but maintained that street checks are a useful tool for policing. 

Commissioner Natalie Borden says that the data on street checks being discriminatory is here, and data on the effective work of street checks as a policing tool, is not. Borden also warned that the problem is deeper than a moratorium or a ban on street checks. “We have an issue with how the police interacts with the Black community,” says Borden. “And [I] would just caution people from thinking that once we ban street checks that all goes away.”

This increased street-check contact with Black Haligonians means “we are seeing more have criminal records due to interactions with our police force.” says Smith. Between 2006 and 2017 one third of the Black male population was charged with a criminal offence. Only 6.8 percent of white males were. 

It's been almost three weeks since the report was released, and while the province and both the RCMP and HRP knew it was coming, they haven't rushed into any serious changes. RCMP inspector Robert Doyle and HRP Superintendent Don MacLean spoke to the board about what actions have been taken since the release of the report, Doyle noting that all staff had been encouraged to read up on policies, procedures and the report itself.

Superintendent MacLean says there was immediate direction "in terms of a reminder that any quota system was to cease—if it was in fact in place.” 

He insists that “there’s never been an incentives program for street checks.”

However, whether or not street checks were used as a quota tool is unclear. Smith says he's spoken "to many frontline officers, and every single one of them has said there have been quotas on street checks.” 

This “huge gap” between police leadership and front-line officers needs to be addressed, says Smith. It’s a disconnect similar to the gap between responses from police officers in Wortley’s report and the unending echoes of unfair and discriminatory treatment by police from Black Haligonians. 

The recommendations from the board will be delivered to Halifax Regional Police and the minister of justice.

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Hurricanes' Saturday playoff tiebreaker tests traffic woes to come

Hoop dreams compete with construction nightmare.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2019 at 6:15 PM

Halifax Hurricanes' Terry Thomas finds an open lane against the Cape Breton Highlanders' Theron Laudermill. Fans driving to Saturday's playoff climax might not be so lucky. - HALIFAX HURRICANES
  • Halifax Hurricanes' Terry Thomas finds an open lane against the Cape Breton Highlanders' Theron Laudermill. Fans driving to Saturday's playoff climax might not be so lucky.
  • Halifax Hurricanes

The Halifax Hurricanes lost a harrowing game 105-94 in overtime Wednesday night after a last-minute scoring push by the Cape Breton Highlanders. The National Basketball League playoff series now stands at two games apiece. The tie will be broken Saturday night, the winner advancing to the Atlantic division finals. Tickets at the Scotiabank Centre went on sale Thursday at noon.

Hurricanes fans living on the other side of the Armdale Roundabout may want to leave early to make the game on time, thanks to the Quinpool Road exit's ongoing closure. Plus the Highway 102/103 interchange project near Dunbrack Street will be active all weekend, causing detours as bridge girders get replaced.

Quinpool Road will look like this until October at least. - ANDREW BETHUNE
  • Quinpool Road will look like this until October at least.
  • Andrew Bethune

Construction season will make things even more annoying later in playoff season. If the Hurricanes win Saturday, they'll be playing another series, just like the Mooseheads of hockey, who are getting ready for their third round matchup. Game schedules aren't set yet, but they might overlap with MacKay Bridge maintenance, which is causing lane closures most weekends in May. 

Traffic snarls will certainly affect the Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League's championship, hosted in Halifax by the Mooseheads May 17-26.

Yet to be scheduled this year are the Cogswell Street interchange project and the Bedford Highway project.

For any events you plan to attend this spring and summer, you can expect very congested downtown traffic and little to no parking, whether you like sports or not.    

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Monday, April 8, 2019

Welcoming tourists with a snow storm

Cruise ship passengers get a cold reception in Halifax.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 8, 2019 at 5:44 PM

Cruise ship season in Halifax started a few weeks earlier than usual–hours ahead of a late spring #NSstorm.

Over 1,200 passengers, aboard the Oceania Cruises' vessel Marina, docked Monday morning for a crisp, maritime spring day.

Lane Farguson, manager of communications and media relations for the Halifax Port Authority, has worked six seasons in Halifax and says this is the earliest cruise ship call he can remember. Usually, the season starts closer to May, when the late spring flurries are sure to be gone.

But while Haligonians grumble about bringing the patio furniture they just put out back inside, cruise passengers signed up for the experience.

The cruise is technically a “global repositioning,” says Farguson, a one-off run that's happening because Oceania is reassigning its boat to a new job in Europe.

Cruise companies turn a profit when moving a vessel to a new region by turning the relocation into a cruise itself. The Marina departed in New York City and its final destination is London in the United Kingdom.

Oceania sold its voyageurs an Atlantic Encounter, complete with beer-based tours in both Halifax and Dublin, Ireland, and tours showcasing the rich Atlantic coastal history of Canada.

“These guests would have known about the weather ahead of time,” says Farguson. They’re probably more prepared than any Halifax resident wishing they’d waited another week to change their winter tires.

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Vol 26, No 52
May 23, 2019

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