2. Fire department
City council yesterday rejected fire chief Doug Trussler’s proposed redistribution of fire resources.
Trussler had proposed a set of changes that would have placed four firefighters on each truck — the minimum required at a scene in order to enter a burning building— and would’ve fully staffed both aerial trucks (the one on the Dartmouth side of the harbour is now sitting in storage). To get to that point, Trussler wanted to open up new stations, move around others, and close the King Street station in downtown Dartmouth and the Lady Hammond Road station on the peninsula. Trussler said the King Street and Lady Hammond stations were redundant because trucks from nearby stations could meet the city’s five-minute response time standard. Trussler also had proposed $10 million in technology upgrades, which council had approved last year. On top of the technology upgrades, Trussler’s proposals would cost an additional $1 million a year.
Trussler is a professional fire manager with decades of experience who successfully revamped the North Vancouver fire department before moving on to Halifax. The Halifax fire department managers before Trussler were incompetent and worse, and Trussler was sincerely trying to improve the delivery of fire services. But the forest of the totality of Trussler’s proposals was lost for the tree of closing the downtown Dartmouth station, and so he became in some circles Public Enemy #1. He’s been accused of wanting to kill people. He wants to see downtown Dartmouth go up in smoke. He’s stupid. An asshole. While Trussler was giving his presentation to council yesterday, a firefighter in the gallery yelled out “bullshit!”
Councillors backed down in the face of public pressure. Several came right and out and said that they thought Trussler had a coherent and worthwhile set of suggestions that would improve fire services, but they weren’t about to approve them in the face of public pressure. Councillor Jennifer Watts went through a long list of “misinformation” put out by those opposed to Trussler’s proposals, complained that the public had unfairly vilified Trussler, and then noted that “these are complex issues,” implying that the opposition was simple-minded, before saying she’d vote against Trussler’s recommendations. Councillor Gloria McCluskey said that “businessmen aren’t emotional,” and therefore their newfound fire expertise trumped Trussler’s decades of experience.
Council voted down the proposals 11-5. The recorded vote hasn’t been posted yet.
Then councillor Steve Craig made the following motion:
1) Maintain career staffing at Station 4 (Lady Hammond Road), Station 13 (King Street), and Station 11 (Patton Road) 24/7;
2) Supplement career staffing at Station 4 (Lady Hammond Road) and Station 13 (King Street) with a complement of volunteer firefighters so they become composite stations;
3) Add additional career firefighters at Station 8 (Bedford), Station 16 (Eastern Passage), Station 17 (Cole Harbour), and Station 58 (Lakeside) in order to staff each with crews of 4 career firefighters 24-7;
4) Add additional career firefighters at Station 2 (University Avenue) and Station 12 (Highland Park) to staff the two aerials with crews of 4 career firefighters 24-7; and
5) The cost of these staffing changes to be applied to the general tax rate.
It looks like council will approve that motion as part of its budgeting process, to be finalized in April.
The cost? $5.4 million a year.
I don’t have a problem with that — as with building a stadium, if people want to raise their taxes to pay for things, whatever, it’s a democracy.
But I feel like something much more profound has happened here.
Understand that had Trussler not come along, nothing would have changed — we still would have fire trucks running around without GPS, the basic dispatching and computer systems that other North American fire departments acquired decades ago would still not be purchased, the racial chasm in the department would still be unbridged, and we still wouldn’t have the basic complement of four firefighters on a truck — meaning two firefighters would respond to a burning building and sit outside watching as people inside burn to death.
So a public servant with the expertise required to bring the fire department into the 21st century arrived, and he got shat upon.
Trussler’s mistake was he didn’t fully understand the deep-seated parochial politics of HRM. The sensible proposal to close the King Street station in the context of a bunch of other recommendations that would improve fire service came just as a ridiculous debate (no matter what side you’re on, its ridiculous) about branding and what city signs say was playing out. Dartmouthians have been upset ever since amalgamation was forced upon them in 1996, and by god, this year they got a whipping boy to shower their anger upon. Never mind if he deserved it or not.
Here’s a thought experiment: suppose that instead of proposing the admittedly complex and nuanced plan he brought to council, Trussler had instead proposed that no fire stations be closed and all stations across HRM be staffed by career firefighters, with four firefighters per truck, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That would’ve required something like 80 additional firefighters at a cost of something like $100 million a year.
Undoubtedly, had Trussler proposed that, he would’ve been lambasted as a tax-and-spend bureaucrat, etc. Council would’ve demanded that he scale back his plan to… well, to something that looked a lot like what he actually did propose.
On some level this is all just theatre. Property tax bills now will go up a couple of hundred dollars to pay for a modest improvement in fire service, or council will end up rejecting a tax increase and nothing will change.
As for Trussler, I can’t imagine he wants to stick around after all this. I haven’t talked to him about it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he now retires and gets the hell out of Halifax.
“Nova Scotia’s SPCA is starting the year off with a financial crunch after a man agreed to give up his 66 cats, all of whom needed medical attention,” reports the CBC:
They won’t identify the man, only to say he lives near Yarmouth, but they said he did the right thing by calling and asking for help. He reached the point where he could no longer afford to feed his animals.
This happens more often than people may realize. I know that many, maybe all, Halifax city councillors have had to deal with a resident hoarding cats. That was what was behind the proposed city cat bylaw: then-Dartmouth councillor Jim Smith had not one, but two such houses in his district. Neighbours complained, and who can blame them? Can you imagine living next to someone with 80 cats or whatever? The stink alone must have been unbearable. I quite enjoy it when a lone neighbourhood cat comes to visit. Two or three would be OK. But 50 of them?
I’ve always thought the ridicule heaped on city council for even debating the cat bylaw was unfair: it was a real issue brought forward by citizens who had had enough. This is what councillors are supposed to do — deal with issues affecting the lives of residents in their districts. And it proceeded sensibly. Staff brought forward what seemed like a workable proposal to limit the number of cats any resident could have and imposed a modest registration fee to pay for enforcement. The problem arose when staff costed out the price of establishing a cat shelter; when councillors saw the total bill, upwards of a million dollars, they changed their minds and rejected the bylaw and registration scheme. But again, this is what council is supposed to do: try to find solutions that benefit citizens, collect information, and make reasoned decisions, even if that means changing their minds because of new information.
But anyway, there are right now probably dozens of people hoarding cats across the city. Such behaviour is considered a mental illness; those people need help.
1. All about meeeeeeee!
Parker Donham talks about me.
2. District 6 byelection
Hello Dartmouth interviews the four candidates.
It’s great that Kate Watson has started Hello Dartmouth, and I wish her well. We need more of these hyper local web sites. But the site needs a re-design; I can’t navigate it.
3. Cranky letter of the day
There’s a remarkable ongoing conversation about port issues in Sydney. Today’s letter is to the Cape Breton Post:
Both Parker Donham (‘Port column off base,’ letter to the editor, Cape Breton Post, Jan. 8) and Father Greg MacLeod (Port ownership – another view,’ op-ed, Cape Breton Post, Jan. 9) seem to think that because I wrote about the long, tangled and, to my mind, questionable series of business deals surrounding Sydport (‘Whose port is it, anyway?’ op-ed, Cape Breton Post, Jan. 2), I am somehow anti-business.
That is not true. I have a deep appreciation of the importance of the business sector to the community and I am watching the development of the local tech sector, for example, with great interest.
There is, of course, more to the Sydport story than I was able to include in a single article and I am guilty as charged of not going into sufficient detail regarding the sale of the greenfield site to the CBRM in 2012. (Although I did state clearly that the sale involved a part, not the entirety, of the overall Sydport site, a detail Donham apparently missed.)
That said, my central point remains: there was good reason to question the sale of the park to Laurentian Energy Corporation in 1998, given the obvious conflicts of interest (which were widely reported in the press at the time) and there was good reason to question why, by 2012, Laurentian still owned the park. MacLeod himself suggests a review of the deals might be appropriate.
I also need to point out that the terms “crooks,” “knaves,” “swindlers” and “business mafia” appear nowhere in my article. They are in the responses of Donham and MacLeod.
I named the businessmen who were involved in the deals I was discussing. Their involvement is a matter of public record as is every other element of my article. What they have or have not done in the community or in their other ventures is not relevant. I wrote about the Sydport deal specifically because it gives context to the debate now going on about the future of our port.
MacLeod states: “Kehoe and his partners had no need to get involved in such a dinosaur messy business like Sydport” to which I can only reply: but they did get involved. They formed a company, they made a bid and they promised jobs – hundreds of jobs – and infrastructure spending and on the basis of that promise they were given an industrial park. (‘Improvements, jobs will wipe out $3.7M cost of Sydport,’ Cape Breton Post, Sept. 16, 1999)
MacLeod’s fears that my article will destroy Cape Breton’s reputation nationally and scare off businesspeople seem both overblown and oddly familiar. They sound a lot like the warnings from our current port developers that any questioning of plans for a container terminal pier in Sydney will scare off potential investors.
The public is allowed to ask questions. That’s how this dinosaur messy business called democracy works.
Mary Campbell, Sydney
All that aside, it’s completely bonkers to think that Sydney will ever have a successful international shipping terminal.
City council (delayed until 1pm, City Hall) — budget deliberations continue.
Public Accounts (9am, Province House) — Peter Vaughan, deputy minister of the Department of Health and Wellness, and Janet Knox, president of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, will be questioned about mental health services.
Note: as of publication, the Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie campuses are closed until at least 11am.
Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper) — Jeffrey Waller, from Mount Allison University, will talk about the best Scrabble word ever played in a lecture titled “Discovery and characterization of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) biosynthesis enzymes in a Chlorophyte algae.”
The Giving Tree (5pm, King’s Chapel, King’s College) — some sort of woo-woo meets academics thing is going on:
Fifty years ago Shel Silverstein published the children’s book, The Giving Tree. So much has changed in fifty years. Or has it? There will be a series of nine speakers this semester at the King’s Chapel all speaking on the their personal experience and interpretation of The Giving Tree. The series begins on Wednesday, January 13th, 2016 at the 5pm Evensong with an address by Dr. Sarah Clift, faculty member, Contemporary Studies Programme, University of King’s College.
This date in history
On January 13, 1955, Halifax councillor Adam Vaughan brought forward a motion about development on the Bedford Basin:
Moved by Alderman Vaughan, seconded by Alderman Ahern that the City Council instruct the Mayor to issue an invitation to the National Harbours Board, Port of Halifax Commission, Canadian National Railways and such other persons who he may deem fit to meet to discuss the development of the Bedford Basin shore from Pier 9 to Fairview in line with the Seaway Development in the South end of Halifax.
Aldermen Vaughan: “I think the planning is extremely necessary for the proper development of the area. Everything necessary for the proper development is in the Bedford Basin site. Deep water is there and dredging is not necessary. Access roads lead to and from it. W e have had several examples of the lack of planning in the last few years. I cite for one example the Shannon Park Housing dlevelopment which was built on Tufts Cove land. A gypsum plant is going in just north of it and Shaws Ltd. are manufacturing some of their products there. Any person driving out the Bedford Road and seeing the Magazine works must be appalled at the pasture of waterfront property. It should have gone easterly. The Port of Halifax Commission is doing an excellent job in advertising this Port. They are bringing ships in here and this is resulting in a greater lift to the economic life of the City. On several occasions in the recent past, ships have had to wait in the stream for berths. The day is coming when the development in the South end will be completed. It seems that to provide the facilities, the logical direction in which to go, is the North end. I seek the support of the Council for this resolution.”
Alderman Ahern referred to the development of the Ocean Terminals in the South end of the City as a blunder. He felt the time was opportune for the Council to take the lead on behalf of the citizens and stated it was the duty of the Council to take the leadership. He felt that the development could be brought about by quiet negotiation.
Alderman Ktiz: “I am glad to speak in support of a motion of this kind. The railway fiasco when it was put through 35 years ago, cannot be compared to the present proposition that the Alderman is moving. The last 15 years the City has been growing. We have to remember we are a port City and this is our foundation. We must start at home and make available the carefully planned development of this kind.”
Alderman Hatfield stated that the Housing Committee had had discussions with the people at Africville and the Committee was slowly coming to the point when a proposition could be brought to Council. Africville comprised about 3.6 acres on the Basin Shore.
Alderman Vaughan: “The development of this area, if this conference is held and support to the project is given by the other public bodies, assurance must be given to Halifax that development will take place in the very near future.”
Alderman DeWolf: “Would Alderman Vaughan like to put in the resolution some money to make a proper survey of the area plus the physical position of the area?”
Alderman Vaughan: “I will introduce another matter later on in the meeting and I will include that in it.”
Alderman Moriarty: “One thought we have to keep in mind is that Halifax ends at a Bottleneck. The efforts would be from the Gough area to the Narrows along the Harbour front eliminating the Shipyard and Dockyard. The mistake that was made was the Terminals being South instead of North. “
The motion was then put and passed.
I’ve always been told that the building of the McKay Bridge was the reason given for the expropriation of Africville, but this bit shows that the bridge was only the proximate cause of the expropriation, not the real reason. A decade before Africville was razed, city councillors were discussing tearing it down in order to build the Fairview Cove terminal.
The discussion about the South End terminal and the “railroad fiasco” — the construction of the rail cut through the South End — is telling as well. Class issues ran deep in Halifax.
In the harbour
ZIM Alabama, container ship, Valencia, Spain to Pier 41
NYK Diana, container ship, Rotterdam to Fairview Cove
Rio Blackwater, container ship, Norfolk to Fairview Cove
Acadian, oil tanker, Saint John to anchor for bunkers
OOCL Kaohsiung, container ship, Cagliari, Italy to Fairview Cove
Carmen sails to sea
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 4pm.