1. Nova Scotia Power and Emera are “rife with ongoing conflict of interest situations”
“It was Nova Scotia Power on the hot seat yesterday as Bruce Outhouse, the lawyer for the Utility and Review Board, quizzed Nova Scotia Power president Karen Hutt about the potential risks to ratepayers of self-dealing among the growing stable of Emera companies,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
UARB lawyer Bruce Outhouse suggested to NS Power president Karen Hutt that the current organizational structure of NS Power and Emera is “rife with ongoing conflict of interest situations” that offer little comfort to the public.
As an example, Outhouse pointed to the fact NS Power is opposing a request from Emera Brunswick Pipeline, an Emera affiliate, to offer Irving Oil a discount on natural gas shipped through Emera’s pipeline. The Emera Brunswick pipeline is a competitor with the Maritimes Northeast pipeline where Irving Oil is today a big customer.
NS Power has told the National Energy Board that if Irving Oil shifts its business to the pipeline owned by Emera, ratepayers in Nova Scotia could see their electricity costs go up by millions of dollars. Outhouse noted that the problem the UARB has with the co-mingling of Emera and NS Power activities is that in this particular example, if the Emera Brunswick Pipeline wins the Irving business the parent company (Emera) makes a profit while its subsidiary NS Power gets to recover the extra fuel costs by charging ratepayers in this province more for electricity. (Nice work if you can get it!)
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Halifax council yesterday determined the boundaries of Lucasville and Hammonds Plains, as shown by the map above. By way of background, this is from the staff report:
Prior to amalgamation, the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth, the Town of Bedford, and the villages of Uplands Park and Waverley had legally established names and boundaries. All other communities were unincorporated areas of Halifax County. In 1996 the Halifax Regional Municipality was created and all incorporated and un-incorporated boundaries were dissolved. The boundaries for the incorporated cities and towns were maintained as the new community boundaries. However, there was no formal process for determining the community boundaries of the areas that had not been legally established prior to amalgamation. No official public consultation was conducted to establish these community boundaries and it became apparent that several of the community boundaries were inaccurate and some communities had not been included.
In 2002, HRM began a program to ratify its community boundaries. This was deemed necessary to enable the efficient delivery of E911 and Canada Post services. It was also regarded as an opportunity for communities to demonstrate community pride while reflecting local history. To date, 181 of the 200 communities in the Municipality have been approved by Regional Council. Hammonds Plains, Lucasville, Stillwater Lake, and Upper Hammonds Plains are four of the 19 remaining communities that have not yet had their boundaries officially ratified by Council.
Lucasville was established by Black Loyalists and refugees:
“Lucasville was named after James Lucas (Locas), an early pioneer. Other grants during the 1760s went to Richard Wenman and John George Pyke. In the early 1800s, a few of the Chesapeake Black families settled along the road. They included those with the surnames William, Parsons, Kelsie, Oliver and Dishna.”
Long story short, some residents, especially in the Waterstone Subdivision, didn’t want to be associated with the historically Black community of Lucasville but instead with the largely white Hammonds Plains community. But staff and historic researchers pored over old maps and even property deeds that describe the Waterston parcels as being in Lucasville, and so determined that it would be in Lucasville today.
You know what’s coming… as councillor Lisa Blackburn told it, some Waterstone residents sent nasty emails full of racist attacks to her. Other councillors said they too had received the emails.
Unfortunately, none of the councillors named the people who sent the emails, nor provided them. It’s important to document these things.
Council also spent a couple of hours debating crosswalk flags. It was a remarkably charged debate, with councillor Richard Zurawski in particular accusing his colleagues of ignoring science and basically of being emotion-laden simpletons. Zurawaski said he had read 2,000 peer reviewed studies about crosswalk safety, and the amount of time people are in intersections and speed of cars are the biggest safety indicators. Flags, he said, are a “hazard.”
But Zurawski himself noted that people wearing dark coats in the winter don’t help the situation, and to improve their visibility to drivers pedestrians should wear bright colours and even lights. It’s hard to reconcile that view with the notion that carrying an orange flag doesn’t also improve visibility, and hence safety.
I think Erica Butler struck the right chord yesterday:
Let’s put this in some perspective. What do crosswalk flags actually do? They give pedestrians the option to pick up something brightly coloured to aid in being seen.
This November HRM paid a marketing firm to run yet another year of Heads Up Halifax, a campaign where the city hands out brightly coloured (and, mysteriously, also darkly coloured) toques and advises people to make themselves be seen before crossing the street.
And then, at the same time, HRM has stopped further installation of bright orange flags at crosswalks, meant specifically for people to use to make themselves be seen.
I mean, which is it? Do bright colours and pedestrian engagement help make us safer, or not? HRM seems to want to have it both ways, here, and I’m just not sure why.
Butler went on to say that the crosswalk flag issue is really a distraction from the larger issue, which is to better design streets for pedestrian safety. Moreover, she fears, as do I, that the flags shift even more of the onus of safety onto the pedestrian — it’s only a matter of time before a struck pedestrian is blamed for not carrying a flag.
That issue came up earlier this week when a pedestrian was struck on Mumford Road. From a police release:
At approximately 7 p.m. on December 10, Halifax Regional Police responded to a motor vehicle collision involving a pedestrian in a crosswalk. A male pedestrian was crossing at Mumford Road and Leppert Street at a marked crosswalk equipped with amber lighting. The pedestrian failed to activate the crossing lights prior to entering the roadway and was struck by a vehicle. Witnesses confirmed that the flashing lights were not activated. The lights were confirmed to be in working order at that time.
The pedestrian was taken to QEII to receive medical treatment for non-life-threatening injuries. A ticket was issued to the pedestrian under section 125(4) of the Motor Vehicle Act.
Here’s section 125(4) of the Motor Vehicle Act:
Where a pedestrian is crossing a roadway at a crosswalk that has a pedestrian-activated beacon, the pedestrian shall not leave a curb or other place of safety unless the pedestrian-activated beacon has been activated.
I wrote about this then-new addition to the Motor Vehicle Act back in 2009:
Seemingly small changes in city policy and provincial law have combined to make a very large difference in how people walk about town.
On the city side, when new crossing lights are installed at intersections, they are now programmed such that the pedestrian don’t-walk/walk signal only changes if first activated by the pedestrian pushing a button.
On the provincial side is 2007’s Bill 7, which amended the motor vehicle code. That bill is most famously known for its Clause 13, which criminalized Halifax’s squeegee kids, but its Clause 6 affects far more people — that piece of the legislation states simply that “pedestrian traffic facing [a don’t-walk] signal, either flashing or solid, shall not start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal.”
In effect, the changes have taken the right-of-way away from pedestrians and given it to vehicular traffic instead. Further, many additional minutes are added to a pedestrian’s commute.
The change became starkly real for me in 2014, when I watched a woman die at the corner of Victoria Road and Thistle Street in Dartmouth. Judy MacIsaac-Davis used a motorized scooter to travel, and motored north along the Victoria Road sidewalk to cross Thistle. There she was struck by a man driving a truck southbound on Victoria, turning left onto Thistle. Police somehow determined that she had not pressed the pedestrian light, and therefore the walking man symbol didn’t come on, and so therefore it was her fault for being struck and killed, and not the fault of the driver of the truck.
I know those push-button lights. In the wintertime, when it’s below about minus 10, you have to take your hand out of your glove and hold it on the button for about three seconds in order to activate the light. Very often, snow banks pile up around the buttons and you have to scamper over the snow to get to them. When it melts, there’s often a two-feet-deep puddle surrounding the button on the northeast corner.
I don’t know what kind of mobility issues MacIsaac-Davis had — was she even capable of moving her hand to the button? Was she carrying something, which made it impossible for someone in a chair to press the button? Did she press the button but only a moment too late to activate the light, but crossed anyway? I don’t know, but none of those particulars would matter under the terms of section 125(4) of the Motor Vehicle Act. Instead, it’s just her own damn fault she’s dead.
We’ve created a situation where drivers don’t have to be aware of anything beyond what the law prescribes, and what the law prescribes becomes narrower and narrower. Invisible walls evidently run along the curbs, such that it’s impossible for drivers to see pedestrians on the sidewalks and slow down because sometimes pedestrians (and drivers alike) do stupid things, and a little caution might be in order. Yes, that pedestrian on the corner should wait for the light to change, but being human and fallible, they might not; still, no need to slow down and watch out for such fallibility because the law is on your side, so screw concern for the pedestrian, zoom along!
I know how startled I am when a pedestrian walks out in front of me unexpectedly as I’m driving down the road — it’s happened to me a few times in Halifax. But rather than try to criminalize normal human fallibility with misguided measures like section 125(4) of the Motor Vehicle Act, I recognize that driving in an urban setting with lots of pedestrians is an inherently dangerous thing, so I drive slowly and defensively.
After the debate yesterday, council voted to continue to allow the flags be placed at crosswalks where there’s not already a light.
None of this feels right to me.
4. Lenore Zann
Before she become the NDP MLA for Truro-Bible Hill, Lenore Zann had a career as an Hollywood actor. She’s now telling her experience about being sexually harassed and assaulted, reports Chris Halef for Halifax Today:
Zann was 19 when she landed her first starring role as Marilyn Monroe in a rock opera.
It was meant to be a milestone moment for the aspiring actress, but it quickly took a troubling turn.
“The artistic director of the theatre was much, much older than I was, and in fact, his wife was pregnant and upstairs in the same building where I was staying,” said Zann. “He came on to me in the swimming pool downstairs before we began rehearsals for the play and I had to deal with that situation and get out with the best of my ability.”
According to Zann, she began to fear whether the director was going to allow her to keep her job.
Nearly 20 years later, when she was 38, she signed a contract with a Hollywood agent who took her out to dinner to celebrate.
“After dinner, he grabbed me from behind by the breasts and started biting on my ear and sticking his tongue in my ear,” she said.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry I have a boyfriend, he’s an actor.’ I told him who it was and he said ‘You’re dating an out-of-work actor, when will you learn that’s no way to get ahead in this business.’ I was shocked.”
After the latter incident, said Zann, she faced retaliation, and had to get a lawyer in order to find more film work.
5. Liane Tessier
“Female firefighters in Halifax have faced systemic historic gender discrimination at work, according to a settlement involving the city, the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Service and former firefighter Liane Tessier,” reports Stephanie vanKampen for the CBC:
CBC News has learned the city plans to publicly apologise to Tessier during a media conference at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission on Monday.
The resolution signals the end of a 12-year legal battle by 53-year old Tessier, whose case was initially dismissed by the commission in 2012. She took the commission to court for mishandling her claim.
I interviewed Tessier in 2009:
Liane Tessier is a volunteer firefighter attempting to join the ranks of paid Halifax firefighters. She is also a medalist in the physically challenging World Firefighter Combat Challenge, having placed third in that international competition in 2007, and has a number of advanced firefighting certifications that allowed her to teach classes for the Halifax department.
“You name it, I pretty much have done it,” she says of her firefighting accomplishments.The short version of Tessier’s complaint to the Human Rights Commission is that she was denied a job with the fire department only because of negative recommendations from two men she had already complained about.While working as a volunteer firefighter at the Herring Cove station, Tessier explains, she faced increasing harassment from a pair of male firefighters at the station. She went through the normal internal complaint system within the Halifax department, sought help from Halifax’s Employee Assistance Program and took a leave of absence.
As that grievance was slowly working its way through the process, she applied to become a full-time, paid firefighter with the department — the idea being she could work at any of the other HRM fire stations. She had far more than the required aptitudes and certifications, and easily passed the tests. She also had favourable letters of reference. But when it came time for a reference check from within the department, management turned to none other than one of the men she had filed a grievance against. The men, one of whom had in the meanwhile been promoted to captain at Herring Cove, recommended she not be hired.
6. Service Nova Scotia
This morning, the province issued a tender looking for 55,174 square feet of office space for the Service Nova Scotia headquarters.
SNS is now located in the Maritime Centre, but I guess the expansion of Volta is pushing them out.
The new office space is to be located in the downtown core, defined by the yellow line above, because while citizens requiring services through Access Nova Scotia must tramp out to the far-flung suburbs, it’s important to have a high-profile central location for the execs. To be sure, there are lots of mid- and low-level SNS workers who use the bus or walk to work, and a centralized office location helps them, but why isn’t the same consideration given to people needing to get a new driver’s licence? For them, it’s out to Bayers Lake or Baker Road in Dartmouth.
Anyway, I know a landlord with 55,174 square feet of shiny new but vacant space within that area, complete with an underground parking garage and great views of the harbour, and close to lots of restaurants and bars; for a small finder’s fee I’d be happy to introduce the province to him.
Budget Committee – 18-19 Budget and Business Plan (Wednesday, 7:30pm, City Hall) — rubber-stamping stuff.
Halifax & West Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, City Hall) — someone on Edward Street wants to get some of that sweet student renter money, but city staff is saying no way.
Community Planning & Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — nothing urgent on the agenda.
Community Design Advisory Committee (Thursday, 11:30am, City Hall) — supposedly, the committee is reviewing plans to engage “stakeholders” and “the public” on the Centre Plan. Perhaps! But of course people with money and connections will do whatever they want to do, stakeholders and public be damned.
Special Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — Gordon Richards doesn’t just have peeling paint on his house at 21 Conrod Road in Grand Desert. He doesn’t just have junk in the yard, or isn’t cutting his grass. But, according to a staff report, the walls and roof are collapsing and, due to “the proximity of the building to the community centre and park makes it a high risk for curious citizens.” So much so that a special meeting of the Appeals Committee was called to deal with it.
Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — the committee is looking at plans for the National Film Building on Barrington Street.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — the committee will be discussing “Physician Recruitment and Retention.”
No public meetings.
Innovation in Breast Imaging: A.I. for Precise Health — Separating Rhetoric from Reality (Thursday, 8am, Weather Watch Room, 5th Fl. Dixon Building, VG Hospital) — Mohamed Abdolell, CEO of Denistas and Diagnostic Radiology Professor at Dalhousie, will speak.
Estimating Convolutional Neural Networks Parameters to Solve Practical Problems (Tuesday, 11:30am, CS Auditorium, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Martha Dais Ferreira, PhD candidate at the Institute of Mathematics and Computer Sciences, University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil, will speak. Her abstract:
Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) has been widely employed on Literature due to its capability of extracting relevant information fromlarge-scale input data. However, CNN architectures are empirically designed, in which different CNN settings are assessed until finding the most appropriate one to tackle a target problem. This approach entails several architecture evaluations, high consuming computational resources and requires a suitable predefined set of configurations. Based on this limitation, a novel methodology was developed to estimate CNN parameters, including the size of convolutional masks (convolutional kernels) and the number of convolutional units (CNN neurons) per layer. This methodology is based on the False Nearest Neighbors (a tool from the area of Dynamical Systems), and the primary goal is to estimate less complex and efficient CNN architectures.
Exceptionally Simple PDE (Thursday, 2:30pm, Room 319, Chase Building) — Dennis The, from the University of Tromso, Norway, will speak. His abstract:
Arguably one of the most beautiful results of 19th century mathematics was the classification of complex simple Lie algebras due to Cartan and Killing. Beyond the four classical families of matrix Lie algebras, five mysterious “exceptional simple” Lie algebras made their first appearance in this story. In 1893, the smallest of these, $G_2$, was first realized by Cartan and Engel as the infinitesimal symmetries of various geometric objects. In this talk, I will review this story and discuss how it was recently generalized in a remarkably uniform manner to obtain analogous explicit geometric realisations for (almost) any complex simple Lie algebra.
In the harbour
5:30am: Thermopylae, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
6am: ZIM Monaco, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Algeciras, Spain
6am: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
3pm: YM Modesty, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
4:30pm: ZIM Monaco, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
11:30pm: Primrose Ace, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.