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City News

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Chronicle Herald heads back to the bargaining table

Unfair labour complaint adjourned as labour strike marches towards its one-year anniversary.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 11:57 PM

The beginning of the end? - DYLAN CHEW
  • The beginning of the end?

The Halifax Typographical Union and managers at the Chronicle Herald are heading back to the bargaining table, just in time for the one-year anniversary of the newspaper’s strike.

In light of the upcoming talks, a five-day hearing for an unfair labour complaint put forth by the union has now been adjourned until February 6.

“Off-the-record talks between the two sides have hopefully laid the groundwork for meaningful negotiation,” writes Ingrid Bulmer, the Halifax Typographical Union’s president, in a news release.

The last time the two sides negotiated was back in November, when offers were submitted—and ultimately rejected—through a conciliator.

The HTU launched its unfair labour practice complaint shortly after, arguing the Herald had been tabling bargaining positions designed to be rejected in a move to break the union.

“The company remains hopeful for a sustainable resolution to this disruption. A solution that sees our employees treated fairly and provides the basis for the Chronicle Herald to continue serving Nova Scotia,” chief operating officer Ian Scott writes in a press release about the upcoming talks.

It will be one year exactly since the Herald strike began on Monday, January 23. At the time, there were 62 unionized newsroom employees. Only 55 remain on the picket line and working for the competing Local Xpress website.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Gloria McCluskey is back, baby

Retired councillor chairing new Dartmouth preservation association.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 4:00 AM

McCluskey, pictured here inside Halifax City Hall.
  • McCluskey, pictured here inside Halifax City Hall.

Gloria McCluskey isn’t letting retirement slow her down.

The former Dartmouth Centre councillor is now association chair for the newly created Destination Dartmouth association, which a press release says was formed “to promote Dartmouth’s identity, preserve its heritage and encourage the development of a healthy and inclusive community.”

“We’re also advocating for the establishment of a Shubenacadie Canal conservation district as part of the Centre Plan to enhance heritage interpretation, tourism and better awareness about Dartmouth’s history,” writes DDA spokesperson and former City of Dartmouth councillor Bruce Hetherington in the release.

McCluskey spent more than two decades in municipal politics as both councillor and former mayor of Dartmouth, and was a tireless—some might say, overzealous—advocate for the former city across the harbour. Her last year in office included leading the charge on the HRM branding debate, and needling her Halifax colleagues about projects on the peninsula that she felt were of little use to her constituents.

The 85-year-old councillor chose not to re-offer in last year’s municipal election, being replaced at City Hall by new Dartmouth Centre representative Sam Austin.

McCluskey writes in Wednesday’s press release that Destination Dartmouth will work with residents and members of Dartmouth’s business communities to promote the area and protect its identity.

“Our mandate is to work with local and regional groups on our initiatives, and from a tourism perspective we look forward to working with Destination Eastern Shore and Destination Halifax,” writes McCluskey.

The first order of business for the new organization? Requesting that the name of HRM’s Centre Plan be officially changed to the “Halifax-Dartmouth Centre Plan.”

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Street checks by Halifax police are unacceptable says privacy lawyer

David Fraser believes HRP should hit pause on controversial practice.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 10:28 PM

McInnes Cooper lawyer David Fraser says street checks are "inherently coercive.” - VIA FACEBOOK
  • McInnes Cooper lawyer David Fraser says street checks are "inherently coercive.”
  • via Facebook

David Fraser doesn’t remember the last time he was stopped by police. But he knows it happens disproportionately to other people, and that’s a problem.

“I’m a middle-aged white guy,” says Fraser, a privacy lawyer with McInnes Cooper. “If I get stopped by the cops at night, I have way more confidence that I’m driving away from that—or walking away from that—than a large number of people.”

On Monday, Halifax Regional Police (HRP) released the preliminary analysis of data on “street checks” by patrol officers from 2005-2016. This came as a direct result of an investigative article by CBC, which found black people are three times more likely to be stopped by police in HRM than white individuals.

Fraser says he was impressed to see HRP’s research coordinator, Chris Giacomantonio, taking a closer look at street checks. Still, he sees the practice as “inherently coercive” if police aren’t advising people that they don’t have to go along with it.

“That gets compounded by—particularly in racialized communities—fear of the police,” explains Fraser. “Whether or not the Halifax police themselves are inclined to do such vile things, people’s perceptions are informed by a much broader media.”

He compares the issue to the act of “carding” in Toronto, as well as the more invasive “stop-and-frisk” practices in New York. Although HRP chief Jean-Michel Blais insisted during and after Monday’s board of police commissioners’ meeting that the cases in Halifax and Toronto aren’t the same, Fraser doesn’t see much of a difference.

“We don’t live in a small town. This is a city,” he says. “Are they just saying, ‘We’re nicer cops?’”

Those things aside, Fraser doesn’t believe street checks are effective. Visible police presence is one thing, but stopping people at random is another. He also sees problems from a privacy standpoint: wondering what information is getting collected and where it’s going.

“Every one of these interactions is a collection of personal information against somebody’s will and without their true, willing consent,” he says.

A moratorium on street checks has already been nixed by Blais (“at this point”), but until the police can pinpoint the positive outcomes of the practice, Fraser only sees harm. Not only is it intrusive, but it puts a wrench in the relationship between police and the rest of the community.

“If you have grounds to stop somebody and can really articulate why, then perhaps,” says Fraser. “But on a random basis...I don’t think that that’s acceptable.”

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Friday, December 30, 2016

A toast to the Halifax Media Co-op

The other sad local media story in 2016 was the HMC's “indefinite hiatus.”

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 4:00 AM

“News from Nova Scotia's grassroots” was the Halifax Media Co-op motto. - VIA BEN SICHEL

The death of the Halifax Media Co-op was everything the Chronicle Herald strike wasn’t. The labour situation at Nova Scotia’s daily paper of record dominated headlines this year and drew national attention, while the quiet passing of the local media co-operative earned barely a eulogy.

The website remains online, for the time being, and the occasional volunteer blog post continues to crop up. But the money’s gone, and with it goes another news outlet in Halifax.

Back in June, the Halifax Media Co-op (HMC) announced in a short blog post that it would be taking an indefinite hiatus. A joint statement by the co-op’s interim editorial collective said the site had tried its best to “help amplify underrepresented voices,” but the “capacity to keep the co-op running functionally has dried up.”

One of the HMC’s core volunteers was Miles Howe, who had been writing for the site since 2010 and was practically running the shop until this spring when he moved to Ontario (Disclaimer: Howe also occasionally wrote for The Coast). His departure brought previous and founding editors like Ben Sichel and Hillary Lindsay together to try and figure out the co-operative’s future. For a number of reasons, continuing to run the site proved too daunting of a task.

“There wasn’t a functioning editorial board,” says Lindsay. “None of us who were called together had time in our lives at that point to put time into outreach and getting things moving again.”

“All of us were busy with other commitments. None of us wanted to re-start the Media Co-op,” says Sichel. “We decided we were going to let it lay dormant, for now.”

It didn’t help matters that funding this year from the Canadian Nova Scotia Federation of Labour (NSFL) dried up in the wake of the site’s dormancy. The NSFL was the site’s largest single source of money, contributing approximately $20,000 a year. Howe says the co-op become “overly reliant” on that money. At the same time, he says, it was spending too much money propping up the national Media Co-op organization that had spawned a series of spinoff sites in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

“It was becoming very top-heavy, very national-oriented,” says Howe, who estimates half the money coming into Halifax from subscribers was redirected to help the national co-operative.

The Halifax Media Co-Op went online in 2009, launching a year after the closure of the Daily News and the same winter that the Herald announced $1.5 million in cutbacks. It was created by editors of the Dominion, a monthly alternative newspaper published out of Halifax that had started six years prior. It was the first in what quickly became a coast-to-coast network of democratically-run news co-operatives—membership-funded media outlets writing for the unrepresented.

“People got their voices heard, in an unmodified way, without going through the more traditional journalism,” says Robert Devet, who wrote for the HMC for several years and now runs the alternative news blog the Nova Scotia Advocate. “People got to make their own case, in their own voice.”

The stories told by the Media Co-Op strongly focused around areas that were—and often still are—ignored by larger, corporate-funded media: the struggles faced by low-income Nova Scotians; First Nations groups; environmental changes; labour rights; corporate and political collusion.

Its critics would call the HMC home to partisan, left-wing writers and activists. “We tried to be always fair, which I think is different than claiming you’re unbiased,” counters Sichel.

As easy as it was for some to write-off the co-op's politics, its journalistic efforts are worth remembering. It helped launch a Mi’kmaq-language podcast and published a blog written from inside the notorious Burnside jail. It tackled resistance movements in Elsipogtog (for which Howe was arrested three times), and examined Emera’s control of electricity in the Bahamas. It provided a launching ground for young reporters like Natascia Lypny (now with CBC in Regina), Stephanie Taylor (formerly Metro Halifax, now Metro Winnipeg), Hilary Beaumont and Justin Ling (both now with Vice Canada), amongst others.

“I think it shows what can be done when you take the Fifth Estate very seriously,” says Howe. “When you do your best to separate money from that, what can be done on a very limited budget—what you can dig up.”

“When people were coming together and mobilizing, and when the corporate media was not reporting on what was happening on the ground, that’s when the Media Co-op could really shine,” says Lindsay.

And it still could. The website, archives, all of it can be revived if someone wants to take up the cause.

“Hopefully that can get picked up again by someone else,” says Lindsay. “Learn from what we did and, yeah, take it from there.”

“We did sort of leave the opportunity if anyone wants to come together,” says Sichel, while cautioning that any revival would be a lot of work. Restarting the Halifax Media Co-op would be a labour of love, but then again, it always was.

“You’re welcome to get in touch.”

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Halifax Pride's new director, uncertain direction

Adam Reid takes the job as Halifax Pride's first executive director amidst unaddressed calls to boycott the festival, and a growing dissatisfaction post-AGM.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 4:00 AM

As Halifax Pride’s new executive director, Adam Reid will work full-time to oversee the logistics and operations of future Pride fests. - VIA HALIFAX PRIDE
  • As Halifax Pride’s new executive director, Adam Reid will work full-time to oversee the logistics and operations of future Pride fests.
  • via Halifax Pride

Adam Reid has his work cut out for him.

Reid, who previously sat on Halifax Pride’s board of directors and has been at the helm of Halifax’s Queer Acts Theatre Festival for just under a decade, was announced earlier this month as Pride’s first ever executive director. He’ll now work full-time to oversee the logistics and operations of Atlantic Canada’s largest Pride celebration.

Hiring Reid was one of the less controversial items proposed and voted on at Pride’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) back in October. Over 300 people showed up at that AGM to vote on a contentious anti-pinkwashing motion put forward by Queer Arabs of Halifax (QAH).

The motion’s defeat, and the events of the meeting, drew criticism from many in the LGBTQ+ community. Reid—and Halifax Pride—are now trying to win back the trust of many former supporters.

Since being hired, Reid says he’s been reaching out to community members and organizations to try and mend fences. “I definitely want to do more to include more marginalized voices in the festival,” he says.

But the backlash from the AGM has been severe. Pride boycotts have been called for by the Mount Pride society in October, and by the national and provincial Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) organizations last month. There has been no official response from Pride to these calls.

“It’s really hard to see myself being a part of (Halifax Pride) moving forward,” says Kehisha Wilmot, the Indigenous representative for the CFS’ Nova Scotia chapter.

Wilmot sees Pride’s AGM as “illegitimate” because the presence of straight people appeared to outnumber those of queer community members—which Pride is mandated to represent the interests of. The Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) has joined CFS in questioning Halifax Pride’s validity after the October meeting.

“We will be reaffirming our position that their AGM was invalid and a violation of the society's mission and the community it serves,” says Áine Morse, the co-chair of NSRAP’s board.

If Pride were to acknowledge their AGM as “illegitimate,” this would mean all voted decisions from that agenda would be defunct—including Reid’s new position.

Morse thinks Reid has a “genuine desire to understand the issues and make a positive change,” but he “runs the risk of moving forward without repairing.”

Raven Davis, a Two-Spirit person belonging to Halifax’s ”Black, Indigenous, People of Colour” (BIPOC) community, says there has never been confidence in “the integrity, ability and surety of Halifax Pride to be inclusive of all voices.”

“After numerous attempts of trying to get our voices heard with Halifax Pride, some of us are beyond tired,” says Davis, who believes Pride needs to address race inclusion, accessibility and prioritize funding, space and leadership for queer and trans BIPOC people.

They also think Pride needs to seriously consider the removal of any police and military presence at future festivals and any corporate sponsorship that supports pink washing or is anti-black, anti-Indigenous or transphobic.

Until then—until there’s “a dramatic shift in their leadership and organization,” Davis says they’re not interested in supporting Pride.

“It’s going to take years to begin to build trust with the QTBIPOC community.”

Reid, for his part, says Pride is hoping to organize an “accountability group,” which would oversee and consult the board on the organization’s future direction.

On December 16, Pride published a job ad for a vacant seat on their board, with preference to applicants from the queer and trans “Black Indigenous and People of Colour” (BIPOC) community. This comes after NSRAP and CFS called for board seats to be reserved for BIPOC members of the queer community to ensure their inclusion.

“There’s a lot of rebuilding that needs to take place...we don’t want to make the same mistakes,” says Reid. “We recognize that Pride has caused a lot of pain, and we can do better.”

In February Halifax will host the annual national conference of Pride organizations, meeting with Pride chairs across the country. Halifax Pride 30th anniversary celebrations will take place from July 13-23, 2017.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Silent nights (and days) at Shannon Park

Sports fields at unused military property will remain off-limits, even while redevelopment lags.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 28, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Shannon Park, as it once was. - VIA CLC
  • Shannon Park, as it once was.
  • via CLC

They’re not exactly fields of dreams. They are more like unused playing fields of tall grass and untidy turf.  

The outdoor sports area at Shannon Park in Dartmouth is owned by Canada Lands Company, the federal Crown corporation overseeing the redevelopment of the surplus military property. It’s not totally unusable, but future versions of the soccer matches, rugby practices and softball games of yesteryear won’t be happening, a Canada Lands spokesman says.

  “These lands have been included in the concept plan for the comprehensive redevelopment...of the (Shannon Park) property,” Chris Millier says in an email.

“While a small portion of the recreation area continues to be utilized by the Shannon Park (Elementary) School, these lands will generally remain undeveloped until such time as the area is prepared for redevelopment.”

  The neglected-looking land includes a football/soccer field, a long-gone softball diamond, an open area once used for children’s soccer games and practices and a fenced-in spot for tennis. There’s also a gravel jogging track that goes around the football field.

  Today, the unkempt fields are sometimes used by students walking to and from school, local pet owners and their dogs (on- or off-leash), and, in summer, weekend hobbyists operating model airplanes.

  During a site visit on December 16, derelict soccer goals could be seen, as could the remnants of a softball backstop.

  Shannon Park is to be reinvented during a multi-year project that’ll likely include new residential structures, small commercial enterprises, green spaces, a waterfront trail and a site developed by the Millbrook First Nation. The Canadian military’s link to the land dates back to 1949; by 2003 the last of the military personnel housed in apartments there were living elsewhere.

  Canada Lands says municipal planning approvals are a necessary component of the refurbishment project, as are new roads and services that will be installed in phases.

  Millier says in his email that “work continues to progress at Shannon Park.” Buildings near the school have been demolished, and the resulting debris disposed of at “appropriately licensed facilities.”

  Asked about demolition of the eyesore complex containing more than 30 military-housing structures, which area media outlets have reported was expected to be finished by late January, Millier acknowledged that’s been delayed several months until later in 2017.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How to solve a murder

Investigators in Halifax's homicide unit describe their work.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 27, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Police officers securing the scene after the November shooting death of 22-year-old Tyler Keizer. - THE COAST
  • Police officers securing the scene after the November shooting death of 22-year-old Tyler Keizer.
  • The Coast

It begins with a call.

“It all starts with patrol,” says Jason Withrow. “They’re the ones who show up [in uniform] when 911 is called. After that, it goes up the chain until we’re alerted.”

His partner, detective Derrick Boyd, points to the cell phone holstered to his hip. The two investigators always have their phones on them. “This never leaves my side.”

Both men are detective-sergeants in the Halifax Regional Police force, working in tandem with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to cover Halifax’s urban and rural communities. Both of them work homicides.

All nine murders in Halifax in 2015 were solved, with charges laid in each case. This year has seen homicides jump to 12, but charges have only been laid in half.

The increase in violence on HRM’s streets this year has placed an added burden on what’s already a high-pressure job inside the police department. As 2016 fades away, there are still six homicides awaiting justice. Here’s how that work gets done.

It’s Thursday, December 8, and Boyd has already ‘touched’ two murder cases before 9am. That’s the term they use—touched—for working a case. Withrow estimates it’ll be five active homicide investigations “touched” before the day’s out.

Boyd is the taller of the two partners, with blue eyes and a firm handshake. Withrow is shorter, soft-spoken and prone to talking with his hands. Together, the two of them have a combined 13 years working homicides.

Detective-sergeants Withrow and Boyd. - CHRISTY SOMOS
  • Detective-sergeants Withrow and Boyd.

They call it a 24-seven, 365 type of job. Partially, that’s because it’s hard to shut their minds off of work when they’re on a case, but also it’s on account of the unpredictable nature of their livelihood. You never know when that next call will come in.

“You can plan your day,” says Boyd, “but it will never happen that way.”

The first few hours of a homicide are the most hectic. Boyd rattles off the list of questions that come first with every call: Where is it? Who’s the victim? Any suspects? Any witnesses? Anyone in custody?

From that phone call a triangular system of delegation begins to form between the lead investigator, their partner who coordinates paperwork and the police sergeant who will allocate resources.

“The sergeants are usually the team commander or team leader [on a case] and the other two parts of the triangle are the lead investigator and a file coordinator,” Boyd explains. “So you figure out who they’re going to be from your homicide unit and go from there.”

The triangle system ensures three sets of eyes know everything about the investigation, and makes it less likely something will go awry for the duration of the case.

Due to the integration of HRP and the RCMP, most murder inquiries in the municipality will have officers from other divisions—like criminal investigation or vice—assisting on the case. Excluded from that list are staff from the sexual assault unit. Following the Rehtaeh Parsons case and the Segal Report of 2015, homicide investigators can no longer pull support from that unit due to its heavy workload, and the complicated, sensitive nature of their cases.

Which brings us to the “taskers.”

“Taskers” are often the officers who do the ground level work in a homicide case—canvassing neighborhoods, chasing leads and corralling witnesses.

“What people don’t necessarily know is that in an initial murder investigation there can be upwards of 50 people involved working on the case,” says Boyd. “I have worked on some that have 70 individuals that all had parts to play.”

It’s not all police solving a homicide case, though. The best help can often come from the public.

“The community and people we serve play a major part as well,” says Withrow. “That’s why we will put out media releases to ask for help. It’s essential that witnesses feel comfortable and safe coming to talk to us. We will drop everything to hear someone out if they have information on a case.”

Sometimes, though, the cases don’t get solved—at least not yet. Boyd and Withrow still have open files from 2009 on their desks. Another two years and those murders will wind up in the cold case unit.

Life will go on, as will the investigators, onto the next call.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Prescriptions not required at Barrington Street dispensary

Auntie’s owner Shirley Martineau is selling cannabis oil to anyone who needs it, regardless of what the law says.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 9:13 AM

Shirley Martineau knows what she's doing is illegal, but says she could no longer turn away people in pain. - THE COAST
  • Shirley Martineau knows what she's doing is illegal, but says she could no longer turn away people in pain.
  • The Coast

“I'm gonna heal people, man, whether they like it or not,” says Shirley Martineau.

The owner of Auntie’s Health and Wellness Centre on Barrington Street is candid about selling cannabis oil to her customers without a prescription—proudly flaunting federal drug laws that seem increasingly archaic as Canada inches itself towards legalizing marijuana.

Currently, only medical marijuana patients with a prescription can purchase cannabis oil, and even then, only from the government’s 36 licensed providers—none of which are in Nova Scotia.

The Auntie’s franchise at 1547 Barrington Street, which opened in July, offers cannabis oil to customers suffering from cancer and other ailments. Originally that was only with a prescription, but Martineau says she got tired of sending away people in pain.

“Last week done me in,” says the 66-year-old. “I had three patients in a row that couldn’t find a doctor...They’re leaving here crying. I just couldn’t handle it no more.

“I said ‘Open the doors!’”

Auntie’s is one of several dispensaries in Halifax—hundreds across the country—that have taken advantage of the legal grey zone that exists while Canada awaits legalized marijuana. Well, grey to some. It’s pretty black-and-white to the city.

Tiffany Chase, spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Municipality, says Auntie’s was denied a business occupancy permit as a wellness centre after an inspection during the application review process found the business was selling medical marijuana products. The store has now been issued an order to comply with municipal bylaws.

“We have not and would not issue an occupancy permit for a medical marijuana dispensary, as federal regulations currently prohibit the sale of medical marijuana through a retail store-front,” writes Chase in an email.

Auntie’s isn’t alone in fighting city hall. Other local medical marijuana dispensaries have also come up against HRM’s permitting policies. Tasty Budds, in Cole Harbour, lost an appeal to the Utility and Review Board this summer after HRM denied the business’ occupancy permit. Owner Mal McMeekin told Metro Halifax at the time he was appealing that decision, and carrying on with business as usual.

Martineau says she’s also appealing the city’s order, but is upfront about her operation, which was already in violation of federal law before she ditched the ‘scripts. 

“I'm going to jail,” she predicts, though she isn't fond of that potential outcome. “I don't want to go to jail, like anybody else, but I'm going to sacrifice it to make sure people get the access to their medication.” 

While Justin Trudeau remains committed to legalizing marijuana in Canada sometime in the near future, the prime minister has told police departments to enforce the law and criminally charge storefront dispensaries.

Despite that, Halifax Regional Police have left her alone, she says. There have been no dramatic raids, like HRP conducted on Farm Assists one year ago this month.

Possibly that’s because storefront retail shops aren’t top priority right now for Halifax police. Instead, the department is focusing on marijuana traffickers and those involved with firearms.

“They’re the ones targeted first and foremost,” HRP chief Jean-Michel Blais told Monday’s meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners.

Criminal or not, Martineau says she won't stop trying to give back some hope to her customers.

“People need help. That's why I was put on this Earth.”

Update: Chase emails to clarify Auntie's was never issued an occupancy permit, as her original statement could be misconstrued. We've adjusted the wording above for clarity's sake.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

HRM in 2016

Highs and lows from the year of suck.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 1:22 PM

Yo 2017, u up? WYD? - THE COAST
  • Yo 2017, u up? WYD?

King Street station’s closure stayed. Chronicle Herald strikes. 130-year-old Keith’s bottle found, sampled. Ralph’s Place launches courtesy shuttle. Squirrel knocks out electricity to 5,400 homes. Dark Side Café contests $47,000 in fines. Data security breaches at CFB Halifax.

Cindy Day vs. Frankie MacDonald. Matt Whitman apologizes for tweets. Viola Desmond wins ferry name. Gary Burrill wins NDP leadership. Tony Mancini wins council seat. Lyle Howe sexual assault charges dropped. Hafiia Mira walks Kanye West’s fashion show. “Cape Breton If Trump Wins.” NSCC students showcase Preston land title mess. Local XPress announced. Andre Denny sentenced for Raymond Taavel’s murder.

Demolition begins on Doyle Block. Ghostly howls at Nova Centre. Yoga instructor Kristin Johnston killed. Excavator on Spring Garden falls through roof. That alien-looking fish. Internet black widow released from prison. Peter Kelly hired as Charlottetown’s CAO. Good Robot’s condoms seized at border. Rebecca Thomas named HRM’s poet laureate.

Internet black widow arrested again. Herald alleges Muslim children terrorizing elementary school. Justin Trudeau swarmed at Seaport market. Tyler Richards found dead, the first of three homicides in a week. #HomesNotHondas. Moving Forward Together approved with 23 asterisks. Duffle bag of guns found outside Millwood High.

Cornwallis naming debate shut down. Joan Jessome retires. Acclaimed illustrator Darwyn Cooke dies. Steven Skinner arrested in Venezuela. #Halicop. Bear strolls through gas station parking lot. Trade Centre CEO Scott Ferguson resigns for better job. Linda Mosher grabs Shawn Cleary’s domains. Multicultural festival shuts down over $26,000 in debts.

Candlelight vigil for Orlando shooting victims. Police audit reveals missing evidence. Council gushes over Sidney Crosby. Nova Centre legal action launched. Man loses pants after drunken night out. Hells Angels are back. Blue Mountain report lambasted. Landon Webb victorious, Incompetent Persons Act declared invalid.

Minimum wage axed for athletes. Crosby visits with Cup. Taxi driver sexual assaults. New CAO Jacques Dubé. #SaveYoung Avenue. Canoeists rescued by Bill Casey. Via Rail pitches commuter rail. Low-income transit passes. Sable Island gets Google Street View.

Lisa Roberts wins by-election. Sobeys withdraws racial profiling appeal. Unfiltered tells NSLC to fuck off. HRM sunshine list finally published. Dalhousie spends $300,000 (US) on MIT trip. Feds announce $120 million for NS infrastructure. Everyone watches the Tragically Hip. Forest fires near Keji. Amherst’s George Baker uses n-word, runs for mayor.

Citadel Hill tax battle end in $20 million payout. Bomb threats. Settlement reached for St. Pat’s-Alexandra. Maritime Bhangra Group dance at Peggy’s Cove. Fliss Cramman shackled to hospital bed. Firearms for bus fares. Ellen Page endorses Lil MacPherson for mayor. Southwestern Nova Scotia droughts affect thousands.

Election! Premier brags about private texting. Pinkwashing motion voted down at Pride AGM. Guilty pleas from murderers of Catie Miller. Heritage advocate Philip Pacey passes away. Severe flooding washes away Sydney homes. Richmond audit finds money spent at Texas strip clubs. Bay Ferries down 15,000 passengers from Nova Star. Centre Plan released.

Fentanyl crisis oncoming. Security forum reckons with Trump. Fire chief retiring. Halifax tries to block Africville class action. Gun violence leaves three dead. Gord Downie visits. Alton Gas legal brief says Indigenous peoples are conquered. Nova Centre delayed, again. Ottawa and Nova Scotia work out carbon pricing. Auditor general details misspending on schools.

Teachers’ union announces work-to-rule. Province shuts down schools. Everyone protests. No one knows what’s happening. Diana Whalen hospitalized after heart attack. Police standoff in Fairview live-streamed to Facebook. Automated bus announcements start. Canadian Premier League pitched for Halifax. Viola Desmond on the new $10 bill. Snow day!

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Halifax living beyond its means, probably needs to increase taxes

Current and future service levels unsustainable without more money, says financial staff.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Halifax is doing so much cool stuff that we have to charge people more, just like Netflix. - THE COAST
  • Halifax is doing so much cool stuff that we have to charge people more, just like Netflix.

Regional Council has a sobering decision in front of it: find a way to cut services or live with raising taxes.

The warning was part of broad fiscal discussions held during Wednesday’s committee of the whole meeting, where manager of financial policy and planning Bruce Fisher told councillors that HRM's expenses (and inflation costs) are outpacing expected revenue.

According to Fisher, it’s not sustainable for HRM to continue funding current and planned municipal services and also keep taxes flat over the next four years. Something’s got to give, even if that’s not a popular decision for a newly-elected city council to make.

“Taxes are a big emotional issue, but it is just the price you pay for your services,” said Fisher.

To compensate for the expected financial shortfall, staff are hoping to raise taxes by 1.8 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively, over the next two fiscal years—resulting in an additional $34 on the average single family home. Based on staff's projections, that could work out to a 5.6 percent increase—or $103 more per home—over the next four years.

At the same time, staff is recommending HRM constrain any increase in service costs and try to reduce departmental expenses.

All in all, it wasn’t the best news for councillors who campaigned on lowering taxes or increasing municipal services.

“A lot of us said a lot of crazy stuff during the election,” said Halifax South Downtown councillor Waye Mason. “We wrote a lot of cheques that we might not be able to cash.”

All of those figures are predicated on multiple assumptions about the next four years, including the Conference Board of Canada’s prediction that wages across the municipality will somehow increase annually by an average of 2.3 percent. That’s not great news either for HRM, given that staff is also worried about Halifax's increasing payroll burden.

Compensation already takes up 50 percent of HRM’s budget, and salary growth over the next four years “is not to be taken lightly,” according to Fisher—particular as city hall is set to renegotiate six of its seven collective agreements next year.

“We’ve had good growth,” said mayor Mike Savage, “and there is a cost to that growth.”

Taxes have remained flat in HRM for three of the last four years. Property taxes actually decreased last year, but rising home assessments negated any savings. The proposed tax rates by staff for next fiscal year are actually down slightly—from $0.813 to $0.807 per $100 of assessed residential value. 

The actual finalized rates won’t be determined until next year after all departmental budgets are approved. Spokesperson Brendan Elliott says HRM is “hoping to rely on the assessed value of homes to go up enough” next year that the tax rate can remain the same. Fingers crossed.

Budget discussions will pick up again next month, continuing until April. Fisher's presentation to council is below.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Educational support workers standing with teachers

Members of CUPE 5047 have been working off an expired contract for the last two years.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 4:00 AM

The CUPE 5047 flag. - VIA FACEBOOK

Educational support workers in HRM are standing in solidarity with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), while at the same time bargaining with the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) for a new collective agreement of their own.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 5047 president Chris Melanson says school board employees in his union won’t be performing any additional duties to compensate for the NSTU’s ongoing work-to-rule.

“We support the NSTU job action,” he says. “We’re not looking for any of 5047’s members to do any struck work.”

Local 5047 represents more than 800 (HRSB) employees who work as early childhood educators, educational program assistants, library support specialists, community outreach workers and student support workers.

Those members have been working off an expired collective agreement since 2014. Melanson says the union and HRSB have only recently sat down at the bargaining table, but he contends two years is not an unheard of amount of time to draw up a new contract.

“We get engaged in the process and that’s the way that goes,” he says. “Some times things move along quicker than others.”

The last collective agreement for CUPE 5047 was approved in 2013, just months before it was set to expire. The contract for Nova Scotia’s 9,300 public school teachers, in comparison, expired in 2015 but the much-larger NSTU was still able to work out a (rejected) tentative agreement in less than a year.

Then again, holding up the NSTU bargaining process as an example of efficiency should probably be cautioned against given the clusterfuck of last week’s school closures.

Melanson says he was “wowed” by the Department of Education’s response last week to close schools on short notice and rush into law a bill imposing an agreement on teachers. The Liberal party backtracked on both ideas 48 hours later.

“It was good to see that the government responded to what seemed like a very big public outcry,” says Melanson.

In a statement released last Friday, CUPE Nova Scotia blasted the McNeil government for its handling of that labour crisis.

“Shame on the McNeil Government for not listening to parents, students, teachers and union members. Their thoughtless actions caused considerable upset and frustration to thousands of Nova Scotia families,” writes CUPE NS president Nan McFadgen.

Members of the Nova Scotia General Employees Union (NSGEU) are also standing by the teachers union. The NSGEU’s 7,300 members are voting this week on their own tentative agreement. Those results won’t be known until Wednesday, but union leaders have recommended voting members reject the offer in solidarity with the NSTU.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Richard Zurawski boycotts News 95.7 after contract termination

Halifax councillor and former radio host threatening legal action against Rogers Media.

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 9:48 PM

Zurawski and "Science Files" co-host Rick Howe, during happier times. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Zurawski and "Science Files" co-host Rick Howe, during happier times.
  • via Facebook

It’s not his duties at City Hall that have been keeping Richard Zurawski off the airwaves as of late.

The city councillor is refusing to appear on News 95.7 and is apparently filing for damages against parent company Rogers Media over the termination of his contract.

Zurawski was a longtime meteorologist for News 95.7 and other Rogers’ stations before being elected in October to represent Timberlea–Beechville–Clayton Park–Wedgewood. He also co-hosted the “Science Files” call-in show with Rick Howe.

Howe addressed the situation Monday morning on his own talk show (skip to 25:40 in the first hour).

“Richard’s having a, well, I’ll call it a disagreement, with Rogers management after his contract was not renewed and it’s basically gone legal,” Howe told listeners.

The host said his former colleague had been scheduled twice to appear on the program’s “hot seat” call-in hour for municipal councillors, but had cancelled both times. Howe says he told Zurawski that problems with management should be separate from his work as a public servant.

“But he chooses now basically to, I guess, boycott us and that’s his call,” said Howe. “I think it’s an unreasonable call. I think he’s wrong. But, well, so be it.”

Zurawski only offered a brusque “No comment,” when reached by phone, but in separate Facebook posts the councillor claims he was “fired” by Rogers a week ago and that he is filing for damages.

In an update made on December 6, Zurawski claims he’ll publish “what has happened at Rogers” over the next several days after having “kept silent” for the past few months.

“I feel that someone owes the listener and fans of the Science Files some sort of explanation and it appears that Rogers is not going to do it,” writes Zurawski.

Director of news and programming Mark Campbell didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Heather Robinson, Rogers' regional manager of public affairs, sent the following statement:

“While we can’t comment on the specifics of any contract negotiations with personnel, I can confirm that there are no disputes currently before the courts with any of our former contractors in Halifax. Richard left our station as an independent contractor in August to run for Halifax City Council.

“I can also confirm at this time that our series the Science Files will be ending at the end of this month. I [sic] was a difficult decision, but one that was right for our business. We sincerely thank all our listeners for their support over the years and look forward to announcing our new programming in the coming weeks.”

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Police overtime spikes in wake of homicides

Halifax Regional Police department has spent almost all of its overtime budget in the first two quarters of the fiscal year.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 4:00 AM

  • via iStock

The police department has blown through nearly its entire overtime budget in the first two quarters of the fiscal year.

Halifax Regional Police (HRP) confirm $2.25 million has been spent on overtime between April and October of this year. That leaves less than half a million in the department’s $2.7 million budget for the next six months.

A not-insignificant portion of that cost can be attributed to the nine homicides the city has seen since April 1.

“Complex criminal investigations (e.g. homicides) are a significant driver of our overtime budget,” writes spokesperson Theresa Rath Spicer in an emailed statement, “as is staffing in Patrol, Integrated Emergency Services and our Prisoner Care Facility.”

Overtime costs for the six homicides investigations that took place during the first two quarters of 2016 came out to $636,500. The police department couldn’t provide overtime costs related to HRM’s most recent homicide cases—Shakur Jeffferies, Terrence Izzard and Tyler Keizer—as that paperwork is still being processed.

As a result, Halifax police are forecasting a $1.3-million increase in overtime spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. In 2015/16, HRP ended up spending $3.5 million on overtime—$900,000 more than what was budgeted for the year.

Overall the department is now facing a projected $869,000 net deficit going into 2017. More information can be found in the fiscal update being presented to HRM’s Audit and Finance Committee on Wednesday morning.

Rath Spicer stresses that all budget forecasts are still subject to change as the year progresses.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

All-you-can-build buffet in the urban core

With the Centre Plan on the horizon, 18 developments are being presented to the public all at once.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 10:35 PM

Possibly coming to the corner of Robie Street and College. - VIA HRM
  • Possibly coming to the corner of Robie Street and College.
  • via HRM

Think of it as a really, really, really expensive Christmas craft fair.

On Wednesday proposals for 18 developments in the urban centre will be presented en masse to the public at two planning information meetings (held from 12-2pm and 6-8pm) in the Atlantica hotel.

It’s a way for HRM’s planning department to tie off loose ends as Halifax races towards a finalized Centre Plan that will make it much more difficult (on paper) to build beyond the municipality's planning regulations.

“Part of the problem we have with the existing rules is they’re so outdated and often times arbitrary and contradictory,” says Sam Austin, councillor for Dartmouth Centre and former urban planner. “One of the reasons council has been free to kind of freelance a little bit is our rules are so out of date, it’s hard to put any meaning into them.”

Many of the proposed buildings fall on the Robie Street corridor, including 14 storeys at the corner of Pepperell Street, 16- and 30-storey towers at Spring Garden Road and two 20- and 26-storey towers replacing heritage properties at the corner of Robie and College.

Those projects, in particular, have planning advocates in The Willow Tree group concerned that developers are trying to crash the gate before the Centre Plan comes online and take advantage of a city hall currently more amenable to the sort of land-use bylaw amendments required for the 18 proposals.

“If HRM changes the laws to approve them, a small group of developers would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in discretionary development rights,” Janet Stevenson with Willow Tree writes in a release. “This development frenzy distorts HRM’s real needs. It also undermines the Centre Plan process, which is attempting to establish new regulations for development in the Regional Centre for the next 15 years.”

Austin doesn’t see that sort of mad rush to beat the Centre Plan, noting that one of the developments proposed for Dartmouth originates in 2012. As for developers trying to build beyond bylaws, he places most of the blame for that on HRM’s utterly outdated planning guidelines.

“There was always the expectation you could apply for more though this process,” says Austin. “It’ll be nice to get away from that because it’s very needlessly adversarial and cumbersome.”

Visuals and information on all the proposals, along with an electronic comment form, will be online at as of December 8. Feedback will be reviewed by staff before a report on each individual application is brought to council in the new year.

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Children locked out of school by province

McNeil government shuts down all public schools to avoid union action from teachers.

Posted By on Sat, Dec 3, 2016 at 12:28 PM

Premier Stephen McNeil reading to students. - VIA THE PREMIER'S FACEBOOK
  • Premier Stephen McNeil reading to students.
  • via the premier's Facebook

Instead of locking out unionized teachers, the Liberal government has decided to lock out Nova Scotia’s students.

All public schools in the province will be closed starting Monday, December 5. Education minister Karen Casey made the unprecedented announcement at a press conference held Saturday morning.

The province says the planned work-to-rule action by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) is a public safety issue. Work-to-rule would have limited teachers to only perform contractually-mandated work, and the NSTU had directed staff to show up 20 minutes before and leave 20 minutes after classes. But leaving kids unsupervised violates the Education Act, claims Casey, and that takes precedence over labour negotiations. Students on school grounds would be “left at risk,” said the minister.

"The safety of all of our students is paramount," said Casey. "If only one student is stranded by the action directed by the union, that would be one too many."

It’s an unusual admission from the province that the current school system is apparently unmanageable without teachers working above-and-beyond the terms of their contract.

The legislature has also been recalled for an emergency meeting to rush through a new bill designed to end any future strike action by the NSTU. The “Teachers’ Professional Agreement Act” will impose the tentative agreement reached with NSTU’s leadership in October. Teachers overwhelming voted down that agreement and moved to strike later in the month.

According to a tweet by PC MLA Chris d’Entremont, ramming through the new legislation will take at least a week, and possibly longer as the bill will likely face heavy opposition every step of the way by NDP and Progressive Conservative MLAs.

Parents now have fewer than 48 hours to figure out childcare arrangement for Monday morning, and likely the rest of the week.

The 9,300 members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union are still required to show up for work on Monday despite not having any students to watch over.

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In Print This Week

Vol 27, No 38
February 13, 2020

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