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City News

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Solidarity Halifax is exposing Canada 150

The anti-capitalist group is gathering at the Macdonald Bridge Wednesday morning.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 12:38 PM

JT is just SO NICE, right? ...guys, RIGHT?! - RILEY SMITH
  • JT is just SO NICE, right? ...guys, RIGHT?!

The idea that Canada began 150 years ago is just one side of the narrative. Solidarity Halifax is standing with the Indigenous community in challenging that narrative through its Expose 150 event.

“I think it’s really important for people to recognize the full historical context of the celebration,” says Chelsea Fougere, convener of Solidarity Halifax’s eco-justice committee.

The anti-capitalist organization is joining the many people—especially Indigenous folks—who’ve been critical of the upcoming celebration, both locally and nationally. The group, along with whoever turns up at the event, is aiming to educate.

“We wanna encourage people to reflect on what it is to find pride in genocide and for them to reflect on the ways that Canadian culture continues to harm Indigenous communities.”

Participants are to gather at the foot of the Macdonald Bridge on the corner of North and Gottingen at 7am tomorrow, when there will be plenty of motorists coming off the bridge. They’ll be handing out flyers to stopped cars.

“In schools, in our dominant narrative, we’re just taught the colonial narrative,” says Fougere. “There’s the stereotype of Canada being nice, but that is absolutely not the case for a lot of people.”

The Canada Day celebrations are effectively celebrating the destruction of Indigenous culture, she points out—and that destruction is ongoing. Fougere hopes, at least, people will “think about it” in a way they hadn’t before.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Looks like no one showed up to the Halifax M103 protest

Opposing group, Special Olympics fundraiser hold events on the same day, same time.

Posted By on Sat, Mar 4, 2017 at 4:10 PM

This is awkward. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • This is awkward.
  • via Facebook

A national organization opposing Motion 103 and calling for a “Canadian government for Canadians” held rallies across the country today, including in Halifax.

Police separated M103 protesters and counter-protesters at larger rallies in Toronto and Calgary, but if the event's Facebook page is to be believed, not many people showed up locally.

Only four people on the Facebook page were confirmed to attend the event, which was held outside City Hall at noon. One commented that she “didn't see anyone” there at 11:45am. Another said he arrived at 1pm but “it was all over and done.”

An opposing protest, in comparison, had 180 confirmed on its Facebook. Organizers called out the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens' “marches for freedom” as “thinly-veiled anti-Muslim rallies.”

At the very least, the protest was overshadowed by a Special Olympics fundraiser happening in the same place at the same time, where the chief of police and local politicians jumped into an ice-cold dunk tank.

The Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, based out of Montreal, is self-described as “an advocacy group comprised of men and women from all walks of life,” but the very motion its members are protesting is one against “systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

The group states its reservations about the motion stem from a desire to protect freedom of speech. Issac Saney, Transition Year Program director and senior instructor in Black Studies at Dalhousie University, doesn't believe that.

“Words do actually have a concrete impact in the world,” he says.

“Given the events that have unfolded in the United States—also events with people like Kellie Leitch and so forth—that some groups feel they’ve been given license, right? To engage in this so-called reactionary, extremely backward politics.”

M-103 was tabled by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid last fall. In part, the motion asks the government to “develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.”

In a statement issued earlier today, Solidarity Halifax says: “The backlash against M-103 that emphasizes 'all religions' is eerily similar to the slogan 'All Lives Matter.' These alternatives attempt to erase the issues of violence at hand.”

The motion was last debated in mid-February, which prompted a protest in Toronto, where politicians such as Leitch spoke along with members of Rebel Media. Vice reported attendees throwing up Nazi salutes. Two days later, a separate rally involved a group of people blocking the entrance to a Toronto mosque, preventing some of those who arrived for Friday morning prayers from getting inside.

“When people try to rehabilitate the Nazi salute or calls of 'sieg heil,' these aren't harmless things,” says Saney. “It's preparation for putting into place those practices that were carried on before. It's a frightening phenomenon.”

Whether it's a protest, such as the ones taking place today, or a violent attack like what happened in Quebec, Saney says it's heartening to see people pushing back.

“Those things are positive,” he says.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Protests planned over Judge Lenehan's sexual assault decision

“Screaming into the void on the computer isn’t gonna cut it.”

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 7:36 PM


In light of Wednesday’s court decision acquitting Bassam Al-Rawi—a taxicab driver who was found not-guilty of sexual assault—at least two protests, a group letter-writing session and a petition have surfaced online.

Individual voices reeling from a judge's controversial decision.

“I’m feeling a bit outraged,” says Amanda Dodsworth, who is organizing the March 7 protest. “I think that screaming into the void on the computer isn’t gonna cut it.”

A second protest is scheduled for March 8. Both are taking place at Grand Parade Square.

Al-Rawi was charged in May 2015 when police found a female passenger, unconscious from intoxication and naked from the waist down, in his backseat. The woman’s DNA was found on Al-Rawi’s mouth.

During the trial (which was covered by Metro Halifax on an ongoing basis), the woman said she couldn’t remember much of what happened after leaving a downtown bar.

In judge Gregory Lenehan’s decision this week, he said “A lack of memory does not equate to a lack of consent” and “Clearly a drunk can consent.” The words spread across the internet and were quick to gain the attention of educators and advocates against sexual violence in other parts of the country.

When Dodsworth read about the verdict, she “couldn’t make sense of it.”

The complainant “had everything you would think would be required,” she says. “She had an eye witness who was reliable, in the form of a police officer. She had DNA evidence. She was clearly unconscious.”

Dodsworth also questions Lenehan’s assessment that the woman could have consented before falling unconscious.

“If you’re drunk enough to wet yourself and pass out, you likely weren’t able to give consent in any time 20 minutes before that.”

Elise MacIntyre is hosting an event geared towards writing letters, also in protest of the verdict.

“Absolute best case is that he’s not a judge anymore,” MacIntyre says of Lenehan. Judges “need to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us.”

She also points to two of Lenehan’s other cases, one in which he told a woman not to breastfeed in the courtroom. The judge also handled the child pornography trial in relation to the Rehtaeh Parsons case, in which the man pictured pressing up against the intoxicated teenager while giving a thumbs-up was sentenced to one-year probation.

“I don’t really think he’s fit for the position he’s in.”

Dodsworth hopes “with enough voices and enough noise,” the judge will “at least” be barred from overseeing cases that involve sexual violence.

It’s already difficult for sexual assault survivors report, and Dodsworth feels this case “sets a really dangerous precedent for other cases that will go forward in the future.”

“This is just another nail in that coffin to stop women from stepping forward.”

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Halifax police opt out of Pride parade

Cops say the move is an effort to build a stronger, sustainable relationship with LGBTQ+ community.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 10:18 PM

The Halifax Pride parade two years ago on Spring Garden Road. - DYLAN WHITE
  • The Halifax Pride parade two years ago on Spring Garden Road.

Halifax Regional Police will be increasing their presence at this year’s Pride festival, but the department won’t be partaking in the annual parade.

The voluntary withdrawal was announced today by HRP after ongoing discussions with Halifax Pride and coming amidst national debate about the appropriateness of a uniformed police presence in pride parades.

“We feel that stepping away temporarily from the parade will best support the LGBT2Q+ community by helping to allow for meaningful discussion of this divisive issue,” said chief Jean-Michel Blais in a press release. 

“After several months of discussion with Halifax Pride, we recognized that our participation in the parade may contribute to divisions in the LGBT2Q+ community which is contrary to our intent of building a strong and sustainable relationship.”

Áine Morse, board co-chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) says the voluntary withdrawal is an important recognition by the department of the division and historical infliction of violence by police against queer, trans, and two-spirit people—in particular Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).

“Today's announcement is an acknowledgement and response to the pink-washing of police services,” says Morse in an emailed statement. “It’s an important starting place for building a safer, more inclusive Pride festival.”

Toronto’s Pride recently voted in favour of a demand from Black Lives Matter to ban police involvement at future parades in that city. The voluntary withdrawal of HRP is, by contrast, the first of its kind in Canada according to Pride’s new executive director Adam Reid.

The announcement comes just days after Reid released a public apology in response to the organization’s annual general meeting last year, during which a sudden influx of new members voted down a motion put forward by Queer Arabs of Halifax to prevent the presence of corporate “pink-washing” elements at future festivals. In his apology, Reid said the AGM was “full of racism, misogyny, and hate.”

Morse says that while Pride’s apology was necessary, action and accountability need to follow in order to be truly representative and welcoming. They say the community is frustrated that it took four months for this statement to be released.

“I think there’s this disconnect in being willing to admit that the AGM meeting that had ‘racism, misogyny and hate’ present…to say that happened but the AGM is still valid and we’re still going to go with it and all the decisions that were made there.”

This year’s Pride festival will take place from July 13 to the 23.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Halifax vigils held following Quebec mosque attack

“The only way that we can really address this issue is by uniting our community as one.”

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 3:27 PM

Masuma Khan, president of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association. - SUBMITTED
  • Masuma Khan, president of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association.

After hearing news of the mosque shooting in Quebec City, Masuma Khan felt it was important for members of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association to “take matters into our own hands” by organizing a vigil.

“The Muslim students here at Dal are sort of in a sense of panic and sorrow,” says Khan, the association’s president. “The only way that we can really address this issue is by uniting our community as one.”

On Sunday night, a shooter—or shooters, many details are still unknown—opened fire at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec during evening prayers. According to the Montreal Gazette, six people are dead while another five are in critical condition.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau and Sûreté du Québec have called the shooting a terrorist attack.

“I came to campus feeling scared—some other Muslim students came to campus feeling scared,” says Khan. “I think we really need to just address what’s going on and sort of heal together and stand together.”

At least three local vigils are scheduled in the wake of the shooting. Saint Mary’s University held a moment of silence at the campus art gallery at 12:30pm. Dal’s will take place at 4pm and a candlelight vigil organized by city hall will be held in Grand Parade Square at 6pm.

Khan says she and the rest of the association are hoping to see solidarity among students during Monday afternoon’s event, but that it’s important to support any of the vigils, regardless of who is putting it on. The event at Dalhousie is meant to focus on acknowledging on-campus Islamophobia and working to make the university a safe space for the Muslim students.

Going forward, says Khan, people outside the community should work to educate themselves and support “your Muslim brothers and sisters.” She also mentioned a Hijab day presentation and Q&A taking place at Dalhousie on Wednesday: a good opportunity for people to start that education.

“If you see someone who’s been attacked for being Muslim; stand up. Do something,” says Khan. “I think having these expectations or saying ‘This is the least you can do’ is reasonable.”

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Advocates say multifaceted approach needed for gendered violence

The Nova Scotia Gendered Violence Prevention Network wants government, researchers and service providers to work together

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 1:33 PM

Heather Byrne is the director of Alice Housing. - SUBMITTED
  • Heather Byrne is the director of Alice Housing.

A group of advocates against gendered violence is pushing for better communication between university researchers, government policymakers and community service providers.

“It’s really important and it’s surprisingly rare that this conversation across sectors happens,” says Marina Gonick, a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University. She’s also the Canada research chair for Gender. “We each have our own plans or perspectives.”

Gonick was one of the participants at a recent event hosted by the Nova Scotia Gendered Violence Prevention Network (NSGVPN). The gathering took place over two days this week at MSVU and looked at “sustainable approaches to gender violence prevention.” By working as a collective, Gonick explains, everyone can share their best practices as well as what needs to be improved.

Guest speaker Lana Wells, associate professor of social work at the University of Calgary, shared her experience with Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to stop violence before it starts,” says Wells. “In order to do that, what we know is we need everybody in the tent towards the same goals and agenda.”

Wells started Shift in 2010. Much of its research involves engaging men and boys specifically. The program is currently partnering with with 32 school jurisdictions in Alberta. The hope is that Wells’ work could serve as a framework for a similar model in Nova Scotia.

“I just believe there is so much social capital and amazing leadership and leadership skills in Nova Scotia—in all the different sectors,” says Wells. “I really think they can make a difference.”

Heather Byrne—the director of Alice Housing—was encouraged to see the concept already brought to life in another province.

“It’s inspiring to see that it’s possible.”

According to Byrne, it’s difficult for non-profits to get funding for evaluations.

“Typically, the people doing frontline service delivery are not researchers,” she says. A partnership with a university, which already has someone dedicated to researching gendered violence, solves that problem.

Evaluating a non-profit’s programming can help make cases to the government and other funding sources to continue or increase support. The researchers “in turn, get access to the frontline work and the first voices, information and data that fuel their own research,” says Byrne.

The government, non-profit and university sectors are already doing this work independently, but Byrne believes working together and exchanging assets means progress would be quicker.

The conversation didn’t end with the event on Wednesday. Byrne says an action plan identifies some key issues and will mobilize resources from all three sectors. The NSGVPN website is also being developed, which will include a blog and links to resources around gendered violence.

“We have to keep our pulse on what’s happening and the complexity of the issue and move forward together as a group, rather than individually,” says Byrne.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Parking overhaul pitched for downtown

Convenient new technology, plus $50 parking meter fines.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 7:48 PM

Swear we had some Halifax parking meter photos around here somewhere that we had the rights to. Oh well, you know what they look like. - VIA ISTOCK
  • Swear we had some Halifax parking meter photos around here somewhere that we had the rights to. Oh well, you know what they look like.
  • via iStock

Downtown drivers should brace for changes in how they park on city roads.

The cost of an expired parking meter in HRM could double later this year—up from $25 to $50 per violation. Planning chief Bob Bjerke said during budget talks this week at City Hall that the revenue is needed to cover increasing service costs.

“The truth is, if we don’t increase the fines for parking violations than we’re not able to fulfill our mandate,” said Bjerke. “We know historically what our revenue stream is, and we think this is something that’s doable if you increase the fine, per se.”

The news came as a surprise to council, and prompted the representatives for HRM’s urban core (Sam Austin, Tony Mancini, Waye Mason, Lindell Smith and Shawn Cleary) to release a joint letter on Thursday downplaying the fee changes and assuring the public any increases won’t take place until at least late summer.

“We will ensure that there is public engagement with residents and businesses regarding the parking bylaw before a final decision is made,” reads the statement. “While there remains many issues to work out, a fee review will be a good step for business, our downtowns and mains streets, and for HRM.”

Halifax’s $25 parking tickets—$20 if paid within seven days—are low compared to most other cities in Canada. Tickets start at $30 in Winnipeg and Toronto, $45 in Moncton and $70 in Vancouver. All-day parking downtown at Scotia Square, by comparison, is only $20.

Given the low cost, the tickets don’t act as much of a deterrent. The urban councillors say they’ve heard from downtown businesses that people are parking too long or all day, which decreases turnover and makes life difficult for shoppers.

The trade-off for higher fines, HRM hopes, will be a more convenient parking system. The planning department wants to replace Halifax’s 1,700 coin-fed parking meters with electronic pay stations starting later this year.

Spokesperson Brendan Elliott says the new technology will sharply reduce repair costs and also increase revenue thanks to more flexible service. The pay stations will allow (pending a rewritten parking meter bylaw) time-of-day metering, better tracking of parking times, and crucially allow drivers to feed the meter from their smartphones.

“Even if you’re in a meeting and your time runs out, you can still be in your meeting and pay more,” says Elliott. “It’s really going from 1960s technology to 2020 technology.”

The $4.4-million technology upgrade—and fee increase—is still pending the approval of council. Any Motor Vehicle Act bylaw changes will also need provincial approval, which could take another year. Both could prove difficult if the public and downtown businesses show strong opposition to what some would call an indirect tax.

Ahead of those concerns, the Downtown Halifax Business Commission launched a “parking pitch” on Thursday afternoon containing several alternative ideas to make parking “if not convenient, then less frustrating.”

“The discussion at HRM council yesterday of increasing parking fines, in isolation of real tangible parking improvements, is being seen negatively by businesses,” writes executive director Paul MacKinnon in a release. “What we need is a series of changes to the way parking works downtown. Many of the pitch actions are actually fairly easy to implement.”

Among other ideas, the business commission is pitching a new city-run MetroPark-like parking garage, a “gentler and more-customer friendly approach” to enforcement and the removal of free parking on evenings and weekends.

“Removing this free parking would be very unpopular, but would definitely create greater availability,” says the DHBC. “This is not a recommendation, but should be considered.”

The meter upgrades are part of the Planning and Development department’s $5.3-million budget proposal for 2017/18, which is up slightly by $120,000 from last year. According to the department's presentation, HRM collects an average of $4 million in revenue every year issuing 171,000 parking tickets.

Correction: This story originally lacked some clarity regarding the bylaw changes needed to allow for smartphone meter feeding. It's been updated to include that info. The Coast regrets any confusion.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

City council tackles food deserts and feral cats

Five quick hits from Tuesday's meeting inside City Hall.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 4:00 AM

One special interest group not in favour of spaying and neutering cats, the cats to be spayed and neutered. - VIA ISTOCK
  • One special interest group not in favour of spaying and neutering cats, the cats to be spayed and neutered.

A five-year pilot project will kick off later this year to help reduce HRM’s feral cat overpopulation. “This has come a long way since we started [with] Tuxedo Stan and the Tuxedo Party in 2012,” said councillor Stephen Adams. The $50,000-a-year program was developed in consultation with Halifax’s ‘Domestic and Feral Cat Committee,’ and spins off of similar money spent in the last few years on a spay/neuter clinic for the NSSPCA and a trap-neuter-release program last year that took the knife to 1,000 cats. Manager Andrea MacDonald told council there are anywhere between 60,000-90,000 feral cats in HRM. No one’s really sure on an exact number, as “it’s not counted in the census.”

Woodside’s Roots
Councillor Sam Austin has asked for a staff report on bringing the Back to Our Roots urban farm to the Woodside Ferry Terminal this summer. It’s an initiative of Partners for Care, the Nova Scotia Hospital’s charity arm, which conducts gardening workshops and supplies locally-grown vegetables to hospital patients and staff. The organization is hoping to increase program funds by selling produce outside the ferry terminal, but Halifax Transit—which doesn’t allow vendors on its property—is currently against the idea. In a related item, Regional Council approved the Mobile Food Market’s winter pilot season.

Fall River’s future
Four five-storey buildings totalling 400 residential units are being proposed as an “enriched living care facility” for property adjacent to Fall River Village. It’s well beyond the low-density residential zoning of the area, but staff suggested cautiously moving forward with the idea to gauge community interest. Fall River has a strong need for more seniors housing, and HRM allows for special zoning considerations if it helps elderly residents “age-in-place.” The city can’t legally impose a requirement for the units to only be used for seniors housing, though the project is currently designed around that idea and has an agreement with Northwood for nursing services. Councillor Steve Streatch added an amendment to also conduct more general public consultation around seniors housing in the area.

Coburg kerfuffle
Nearby residents worried about raucous students leaving beer bottles outside didn’t sway council’s opinion to allow a five-storey, 28-unit development at Coburg Road and Larch Street. A half-dozen neighbouring homeowners spoke out at a public hearing against both the proposal, and the kinds of “transient” people who could end up living in it. Council was sympathetic, but unmoved. A five-storey proposal is against zoning now, but it's actually smaller than the six storey allowance that's expected on the corridor once the Centre Plan is finalized. The bylaw amendments for the development passed 15-1, with only Peninsula North councillor Lindell Smith opposed. “We're still basing our decisions on developments on the Centre Plan,” said Smith after the meeting. “If we're basing our decisions on a document and policy when we don't actually know the policies, then we shouldn't be putting things forward.”

Bell, let’s talk
Halifax has agreed to sign a new $2.3-million contract with Bell Aliant for the municipality’s 3,000 landline phones. The city previously capitalized on the province’s plan with Bell for municipal service rates, which expired in 2013. This new contract—more than five times cheaper than over-the-counter rates—likewise spins off of the new provincial agreement. But the news had several councillors questioning why HRM has any landlines at all, with Richard Zurawski comparing it to manufacturing “buggy whips” when we’re all using cars. That prompted Steve Streatch to warn his tech-loving colleagues to be careful what they wish for. “One solar flare, the cell service is all over.” The simpler answer back from staff is that cellphones are still much more expensive, and certain business units (311’s call centre, for instance) need landlines.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Will the Chronicle Herald ever be the same?

Veteran journalists and student interns are wary about the paper's future after a year on the picket line.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 10:47 PM

Rallying for local news and the Halifax Typographical Union outside the paper's headquarters on the one-year anniversary of the Herald strike. - THE COAST
  • Rallying for local news and the Halifax Typographical Union outside the paper's headquarters on the one-year anniversary of the Herald strike.

After a full year on the picket line, members of the Halifax Typographical Union are concerned the Chronicle Herald newsroom as they know it will not be able to recover—even if an agreement is met.

Union supporters rallied across the province Monday to show support for the 55 remaining members of the Herald’s unionized newsroom staff.

The union and Chronicle Herald management are meeting again this week, after months without any formal talks, in the hopes of coming to an agreement.

Roger Taylor, business columnist for the newspaper, celebrated his 35th year at the Herald by putting in a four-hour shift on the picket lines last November.

“I’m just looking to get my job back,” says Taylor. “I just want to be able to do my job the way I’ve done it for 35 years—it’s hard to give up.”

Vice president of the HTU Frank Campbell says the union is negotiating on behalf of the 26 employees who’ve been threatened with layoffs, calling the number “a moving target.” Even if all 55 HTU members—down from 62 when the strike started—head back to work with a new contract, Campbell says the reduced number of experienced journalists means the newspaper “obviously can’t be the same as it was.”

There also won’t be any student journalists working at the paper this spring, either. Tim Currie, director of the school of journalism at the University of King’s College, says by email that the department is not authorizing any of its 65 graduating students to intern for the Herald this year because of the “unstable work environment.”

Campbell says he’s enthusiastic about young people becoming journalists but warns any potential Herald interns about crossing the picket line.

“I would say to any young journalist to avoid being a scab because I think that label follows you wherever you go and whatever you do from that point on,” says Campbell.

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Conservative leadership debate coming to Halifax

Federal candidates will take part in event as part of provincial party's AGM.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 3:58 PM

Kevin O'Leary will be one of 13 entrepreneurs pitching themselves to investors. - VIA CANDIDATE'S TWITTER
  • Kevin O'Leary will be one of 13 entrepreneurs pitching themselves to investors.

Thirteen of the candidates vying to lead the federal Conservative Party will debate each other next weekend in Halifax.

According to a press release from the PC party, Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Michael Chong, Kellie Leitch, Pierre Lemieux, Kevin O’Leary, Erin O’Toole, Rick Peterson, Lisa Raitt, Andrew Saxton, Andrew Scheer and Brad Trost are all confirmed for a debate that will take place February 4 as part of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party’s annual general meeting.

Calgary Forest Lawn MP Deepak Obhrai, also in the running, will not be attending.

Though the debate isn’t being organized by the federal party, it will be the first time so many Conservative candidates will take the stage since TV personality O’Leary entered the race last week, just after the French-language debate. It will also be the first time O’Leary and Leitch—both outspoken candidates who’ve drawn unfriendly comparisons to Donald Trump—will clash in front of party voters and the press.

Next weekend’s debate will be English-only, and moderated by Conservative shadow critic for ACOA, Rob Moore.

Nova Scotia PC media advisor Angie Zinck says Moore is still choosing questions in consultation with local party members, but topics will likely include “policy and vision...through the lens of Atlantic Canada and through the lens of Nova Scotia.”

Federally-organized debates that have taken place so far have focused around Canada’s economic policies, immigration and national security issues.

A new leader will be chosen by Conservative party members on May 27, who will take over from interim leader Rona Ambrose.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Mobile Food Market gets ready to roll out winter service

Success of the program over the summer leads to expanded delivery for neighbourhoods lacking healthy grocery options.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Shoppers peruse the produce during the Mobile Food Market's pilot season this past summer. - SYDNEY MACLENNAN
  • Shoppers peruse the produce during the Mobile Food Market's pilot season this past summer.

Halifax’s Mobile Food Market—the city bus bringing affordable produce to communities with limited access to healthy food—is one step closer to providing year-round service.

On Thursday, the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development committee approved a proposal from staff for a 16-week winter mobile food program, as well as supports for a transition year program (running from June, 2017 to April, 2018) all towards a permanent Mobile Food Market.

The market began as a 21-week pilot program this year with the partnership of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, HRM, Partners for Care and the Ecology Action Centre. Running over the course of the summer, it serviced five communities across the city (including Spryfield, North Preston and Fairview). The program was later expanded to include the delivery of food boxes to five senior’s manors in the Gottingen Street area.

There were 2,000 customer interactions over the summer pilot, for a total of just under $24,000 in sales. According to a survey conducted by Public Health, about 75 percent of market customers consumed more fruits and vegetables because of the market, with 95 percent reporting the the market was a “fun and welcoming place” they would attend year-round.

Mobile Food Market coordinator Julia Kemp says winter is the most crucial time to run the program, and—if the winter program gets final approval from Regional Council—there will be changes to the service in accordance with the weather and the needs of the communities.

Kemp says in order to accommodate more customers, she hopes to run the program on some weekdays. The winter pilot will also include more drop-and-go food box locations, and stay-and-sell indoor markets in North Preston, north end Halifax and Fairview to keep produce from freezing.

The proposal will go up for final review in an upcoming Halifax Regional Council meeting. If approved, the winter pilot would run 16 weeks, from February to mid-June, 2017.

According to a 2012 report by PROOF (which researches food insecurity in Canada), one in five households in Halifax have difficulty accessing enough healthy food on a regular basis. That’s the highest out of the 33 studied metropolitan areas across the country.

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Nova Scotia doesn’t have to phase out coal by 2030 (but maybe it should)

Experts weigh in at Dalhousie panel on the province's coal-fired future.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Bruce Lourie speaking at Dalhousie University on Thursday. - THE COAST
  • Bruce Lourie speaking at Dalhousie University on Thursday.

Bruce Lourie says Nova Scotia is doing an “exemplary job” when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases—but climate change isn’t the only thing we need to worry about.

Lourie is president of the Toronto-based Ivey Foundation and was a guest speaker and one of four panelists discussing Canada’s coal phase-out at a Dalhousie University event on Thursday evening.

In November, the federal government announced its plan to phase out coal power across the country by 2030. But Nova Scotia is getting wiggle room on that deadline, as long as the provincial government continues to reduce pollution here.

While Lourie says “coal is one of the main reasons,” behind greenhouse gas emissions in the Maritimes, conversations that focus solely on climate change gloss over the other problematic effects of coal. When the push to phase out coal in Ontario began—ahead of the curve, in the late ‘90s—climate change was hardly part of the pitch.

“What drove the Ontario coal phase-out was public health,” says Lourie. “Part of the role that I played was getting the doctors, and specifically, the Ontario Medical Association involved.”

Those doctors concluded 1,600 people in Ontario were dying every year because of air quality problems.

At the time, smog was a huge issue in the province. Smog advisories were particular frequent in the summer, says Lourie, but there haven’t been any since the last coal plant shut down.

Michael Sampson, with Nova Scotia Power, says coal-fired generation in this province has decreased by 31 percent since 2005. But getting off coal quickly would mean switching to natural gas, he says, when it would be better to change over from coal to renewable energy sources.

“We may not have put locks on the doors, but it’s undeniable that coal’s being phased out,” says Sampson. “How do you get from where we are to that future and in what timeline should you try to achieve that? That’s what, I think, is really up for debate for us.”

But Lourie says if it’s possible to reduce coal by 31 percent, it’s possible to phase it out completely. His main concern is Nova Scotia not having a set deadline.

“I think it’s very important to set a clear date to put certainty in the market and try as hard as you can to meet a committed date.” 

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Brampton delays Halifax council's pay raise

Ontario city failed to send salary figures used to calculate compensation for HRM’s mayor and council.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Brampton's City Hall, and the secrets contained therein. - COURTESY OF SA 3.1 ON WIKIPEDIA
  • Brampton's City Hall, and the secrets contained therein.
  • courtesy of SA 3.1 on Wikipedia

Nearly three months after they were supposed to take effect, the new salaries of HRM’s city councillors and mayor have yet to be determined—and we have Brampton to blame.

Every year, city hall calculates the salaries of councillors and the mayor through a complicated formula that combines compensation figures from several other comparable cities and municipalities across Canada (Winnipeg, Vancouver, Hamilton, Surrey, Laval, London, Brampton and HRM itself). 
But this year, Halifax is still waiting on one of those cities to return our calls.

“It’s radio silence,” says HRM spokesperson Brendan Elliott. “We’re at a loss to explain it. In other years, it’s been no problem getting information from that jurisdiction. So it’s a real mystery to us.”

Elliott wouldn’t say which of the seven cities had ghosted on Halifax, but after contacting them The Coast can confirm Brampton was the holdup. Media coordinator Natalie Stogdill says HRM requested compensation info in November, 2016, but it wasn’t followed up on by the Ontario city.

“The request was sent through a different channel,” writes Stogdill in an email. “Staff is following up now.”

Around the same time HRM was requesting its info last year, Brampton was dealing with a severe restructuring of its city hall that saw 38 government employees (including 25 managers) let go over a two-month period.

Whether that restructuring played a role in the “radio silence” or not, matters became severe enough that Elliott says HRM chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé recently got involved in an effort to track down the compensation figures personally. 

Stogdill says that information is already public and online. While Brampton’s website only lists compensation up to September, 2016, she says the figures haven’t changed since.

Mayor Linda Jeffrey, for instance, earned a base salary of $81,545 from January 1 to September 30, 2016. That works out to a little under $109,000 a year, before benefits and other allowances. The salary for Brampton’s city councillors was $61,657 for the same nine-month period, or roughly $82,200 a year.

The salaries of HRM’s councillors are currently set at $82,652, while the mayor takes in $176,033 a year.

Last winter, an independent salary committee struck by council found the current method of determining pay for public officials was no longer valid, and recommended replacing it with a formula tied to the average salary of a full-time HRM resident plus 25 percent.

Council voted down that proposal by a narrow margin in March, 2016, but the idea was floated again back in November when deputy mayor Steve Craig asked for a new staff report on the matter.

Elliott says he’s confident the current struggle to figure out council's pay will be settled before February 1, even if Halifax has to move forward without Brampton’s help.

“It’s time to fish or cut bait, and we will, and it’s our intention to have this process finished by the end of the month.”

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Councillor not pleased municipal money spent on Trudeau's town hall

Matt Whitman doesn't think HRM taxpayers should pay for even part of the prime minister’s event, but mayor Savage says it’s a non-issue.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 1:24 PM

Prime minister Justin Trudeau addresses the Sportsplex crowd, Monday night in Dartmouth. - RILEY SMITH
  • Prime minister Justin Trudeau addresses the Sportsplex crowd, Monday night in Dartmouth.

Eight hundred bucks isn’t a lot of money, but one Halifax councillor says it’s still more than the municipality should have spent on Justin Trudeau’s town hall.

According to the mayor’s office, HRM covered $800 in room rental costs for Monday night’s evening with Trudeau, while the Prime Minister’s Office handled the remaining bill for renting the Sportsplex arena and other incidentals. Mayor Mike Savage says that's par for the course.

 “We would have done the same for any prime minister just as we have routinely shared costs for federal announcements within our municipality for past and current federal governments,” says Savage in an emailed statement.

Hammonds Plains–St. Margarets councillor Matt Whitman, though, calls the Dartmouth event a “Justin Trudeau love-in” that should have been paid for wholly by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“This tour was supposed to be non-political,” writes Whitman in a Twitter message. “If so, the PMO should pay...not municipal or federal tax payers.”

Thousands of people flocked to the Dartmouth Sportsplex on Monday evening to take part in the prime minister’s cross-Canada town hall tour. Trudeau took unscreened audience questions on issues ranging from the approval of pipelines over Indigenous lands, to Syrian refugees and Nova Scotia’s aging hospitals (not to mention a covert selfie-ambush from Divest Dal earlier in the day). But Whitman says he wasn’t impressed with the public’s questions.

“There was nothing about debt; nothing about the new investigation by the ethics commissioner...nothing that would have hurt,” says the councillor. “Although it was billed as non-political, maybe because the crowd he attracted, it was very pro-Trudeau and pro-his government.”

Former NDP candidate and Spacing Atlantic editor Abad Khan also criticized the municipality’s involvement and Savage’s role as host on Facebook.

 “I wonder how people would have felt if Stephen Harper joined a ‘municipal’ town hall Peter Kelly was hosting as mayor,” writes Khan. “If it is a PR town hall/rally then let the Liberal Party pay for it and the mayor and council can attend as citizens (some I'm sure as party members) versus using public funds to promote for partisan gain.”

The cross-Canada tour comes as the prime minister faces questions from the federal ethics commissioner on Trudeau’s private island vacation, and as the party faces criticism for its cash-for-access fundraisers.

Monday night’s event—promoted by HRM Liberal MPs Andy Fillmore and Darren Fisher and hosted by former Liberal MP Savage—appears to be part of the PMO’s effort to address those criticisms head-on through public access to the prime minister. 

 “When you are being chased by concerns about $1,500-a-plate fundraising dinners and vacations on private islands, it makes obvious political sense to be seen communing with the general public,” writes Aaron Wherry for the CBC.

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Halifax faces $119-million lawsuit over Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes

Annapolis Group says HRM "effectively expropriated" land by not granting development rights.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 10:09 AM

A nice, peaceful bit of nature being fought over by rich people. - IRWIN BARRETT
  • A nice, peaceful bit of nature being fought over by rich people.

Just when you thought the battle over Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes was over...

The Annapolis Group gave notice on Tuesday that it will soon begin legal proceedings against the Halifax Regional Municipality, claiming that HRM has “effectively expropriated” its property and in return is seeking $119 million in damages.

The lawsuit comes from city council’s vote last summer against development zoning for the area, and to instead move forward with purchasing the privately-owned properties next to the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area for use as parkland.

Because of that decision, Annapolis has “no other choice than to take legal action,” according to a press release from m5 Public Affairs.

Annapolis owns 965 acres directly east of the current provincial wilderness preserve, 764 acres of which are located within HRM’s conceptual park boundary. Most of that property is currently zoned as urban reserve, with a smaller portion defined as urban settlement. Neither designation allows for urban development until at least 2031 unless council determines the lands are needed to accommodate growth.

Rob Gillis, vice chair of the Annapolis Group, writes in Tuesday’s release that his company spent a decade negotiating with HRM for a fair agreement on what to do with the lands. A facilitator’s report last year recommended approving development, but that document was quickly and voraciously panned by area residents, urban planners, provincial officials and environmentalists. Municipal staff subsequently recommended preserving the lands, and council agreed.

“Since HRM is not going to allow us to develop our lands, we are simply asking to receive fair compensation from the municipality for the lands that have been effectively expropriated,” writes Gillis. “We don't want to be in this position, but HRM has given us no other choice.”

According to Annapolis, its rejected plans would have provided 300 acres of parkland, though Karen Beazley, a professor in resource and environmental studies at Dalhousie, argued last year that the Annapolis offer was a minuscule “buffer” and would cause unwanted impact on the neighbouring ecosystem.

Annapolis had previously offered to sell 210 acres of the land outright to HRM for $6 million, or roughly $28,600 per acre. The municipality’s assessors priced the same property as being worth $2.8 million, or $13,340 per acre. Annapolis says a professional valuator has priced the total property it owns at a worth of over $119 million, or $124,000 per acre.

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