1. Stadium killed
Halifax council voted 9-7 Tuesday evening not to investigate the building of a 20,000-seat stadium at Shannon Park. Because of the holiday, the clerk’s office hasn’t yet published who voted for and against the proposal; I’ll update this post as soon as I get that information.
But, as I wrote Monday, it makes no sense to proceed with a stadium.
2. Remembrance Day
Yesterday’s Remembrance Day ceremony at the Grand Parade cenotaph included police snipers stationed on the roof of City Hall and cops carrying automatic rifles patrolling around the crowd.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who see heavily armed cops and say, “anything the cops do is good,” and those who say “do we really need to feed this culture of fear?” Count me in the latter category.
There are so many things wrong with the militarization of Remembrance Day it’s hard to know where to start. The irony of the situation seems to fly right over the heads of pro-militants, so maybe I’ll start with the observation that if you give cops equipment, they find reason to use it, including this outrageous display of force.
What’s at issue here is how we regulate police. We live in a democracy, where citizens collectively, not the police independently, decide what levels of policing are necessary. That’s why we have a police commission, which supposedly gives civilians oversight of the police department (the reality is that it’s packed with craven politicians who OK whatever the cops want). Having a public debate about excessive shows of military force by the police is absolutely appropriate. It’s the very basis of our democracy.
When we let cops get away with this kind of thing, they become a power unto themselves, disrespectful of the rest of us. The fresh-faced kids in the photo above look to me like new recruits, barely into their 20s, and probably on duty because cops with seniority had the day off. I’m told they are trained to use the weapons they carried, and I’ll just take that as true. But while they may be trained in weaponry, such young people don’t have the wisdom and presence of mind to understand their role in society. “They were cracking jokes and talking during the ceremony,” John Wesley Chisholm told me via Facebook. “They actually had to be shhh’d during the moment of silence.”
When I moved to Canada, I was honestly looking forward to taking part in Remembrance Day ceremonies. There’s nothing comparable in the states, and while I knew the history of Remembrance Day, I had never experienced it myself. But in the years since, I’ve seen my high hopes for the day dashed, by the singing of “Onward Christian Soldiers” at the Dartmouth cenotaph during the Afghanistan War, by the flybys of military aircraft on a day meant to acknowledge damnable war, and by the crazed display of military might by what should be civilian police forces.
Remembrance Day itself is now just another victim of war.
3. Terrorists will now destroy our fire hydrants
Speaking of terrorists… When repeat giant snowstorms buried the city last winter, people wanted to help out by digging out fire hydrants and storm water basins themselves, but the city refused to publish the location of hydrants and basins because, and I’m not kidding, terrorists might wreak havoc.
“We’re not going to give people ideas of how you can potentially sabotage the systems,” Halifax Water spokesperson James Campbell told the CBC, and the entire city scratched its collective head and pointed out that people could look at Google Street View and get the information themselves.
Somebody must have realized that Campbell sounded, well, like an idiot, and the order came down to make public the info before this coming winter’s snowfalls. And here it is.
4. Commercial taxes
Halifax council Tuesday considered a 150-page staff report reviewing commercial taxes. At issue is a complaint by many small businesses that, considered on a per-square foot basis, small shops in the urban area are being taxed at much higher rates than the big box stores in the business parks.
I’ve never met a business owner who thinks their taxes are too low — complaining about taxes is what business people do. I worry these kind of discussions feed an anti-tax, anti-government mentality that is destroying our public sphere. Taxes, as is said, are the price we pay for a civilized society.
That said, tax fairness — how we allocate the tax burden — is a real issue. I’ve got no problem charging the WalMarts of the world more in taxes. But I don’t see how we do that in a way that lowers the taxes on the Mom and Pop Perfect Small Business on Quinpool Road.
The simplest thing would be to simply charge a higher tax rate in the business parks and lower the tax rate elsewhere. But of course there are small businesses in the business parks too, and in any case provincial law precludes the city from doing that.
Any re-jigging of the tax code will necessarily mean defining “small business.” Recall that the old Sunday closing law exempted “small businesses” under a certain square footage, so Pete Luckett broke up Pete’s Frootique into a half-dozen small business. Luckett’s success was copied by Loblaws and Sobeys to likewise get around the law. So what’s to stop, say, Canadian Tire, from taking advantage of a small business tax discount by breaking up its stores into one automotive small business, one garden centre small business, one paint store small business, like that?
And no matter what changes are made, I don’t see that any savings will necessarily flow down to business owners. A couple of people have told me that their rent is split into two parts, one just a rental charge, and the second a pass-through for variable charges like taxes and utilities. But I don’t think that’s the norm — most retail businesses just pay a flat rental fee and that’s the end of it. So if somehow the city finds the way to cut the property taxes on Louie Reznick, who owns half of Barrington Street, how exactly does that reduction in taxes help people renting his buildings? Reznick already charges exorbitantly high rents — that’s why there are so many empty storefronts on Barrington — so I don’t see him lowering rents because his tax bill goes down. And that’s the situation all over town: landlords charge the highest rent the market will bear, and maybe even higher (I have no idea how it makes financial sense to keep buildings empty for years at a time, but plenty of landlords do).
At best, a reduction in property taxes helps those small businesses that own their own building. That might be of some benefit in the north end, but not too many other places.
I think a better approach to help small businesses is to increase supply of rentable spaces, thereby decreasing rents. There’s evidently some false economy that leads to landlords keeping spaces empty, but that could be combatted with a vacancy tax — if a space is unrented for, say, six months, a monthly tax is charged to the building owner. This gives incentive for building owners to find tenants, even reducing rents to do so, making the entire market more affordable.
Regardless, council approved the report, which calls for another two years of study, and eventually, maybe in 2017 or 2018, council will ask the province for permission to change the tax code.
5. Sea monsters
The CBC alerts us to Andrew Hebda’s new e-book The Serpent Chronologies: Sea Serpents and other Marine Creatures from Nova Scotia’s History. Hebda is curator of zoology at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, and his book is free.
And in other weird stuff in the sea news, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle washed ashore at Hall’s Harbour, reports the CBC:
In fact, this is the only documented Kemp’s ridley sea turtle ever be found alive in Nova Scotia.
“There have only been 13 Kemp’s ridley turtles recorded in the history of Atlantic Canada,” said Kathleen Martin, executive director of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network.
The network is a non-profit group that strives to protect and preserve endangered sea turtles.
Martin says Kemp’s ridley turtles are one of the most endangered sea turtles in the world, with a nesting population of only a few thousand.
Born in more southern waters, Nova Scotia is the very northern edge of where the turtles travel when juvenile. Once fully grown the turtles tend to live in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
1. Spring Garden Road
Stephen Archibald pays his respects to the buildings on Spring Garden Road facing the library — the buildings are about to be demolished; a seven-storey hotel is proposed to be built in their stead (see Government, below).
Archibald particularly likes the Maritime Life Building at the corner of Spring Garden and Queen (pictured above):
The building steps back from the street and the entrance facade faces the intersection to present an imposing view as you head down town. In recent years a bump-out on the Spring Garden road side took advantage of the setback.
The building has an Art Deco feel that was a little old fashioned even when it was new. The quality materials and details show that the client wanted a home they could be proud of. The sandstone cladding is from the Wallace quarry in Cumberland County.
Be sure to check out Archibald’s photos of the buidling’s interior details.
2. Cranky letter of the day
I only knew one old veteran and he did not talk about the war. He talked about his childhood of poverty and locked cupboards.
At age 14, the steel plant beckoned, as men were scarce, gone off to fight Adolph Hitler during the Second World War. He earned $2, enough to restock the bare cupboard.
School and work. His mother had big dreams for her children. A doctor or lawyer, maybe a nurse or engineer.
At 17, he joined his fellow men to fight for God and his country. The navy called to him, the Atlantic Ocean was his battleground. An early photo shows an innocent, skinny, smiling, adventurous youth, proud of his uniform.
At 18, photos show him on the deck of the Terra Nova, ships in his convoy, ablaze near and in the distance.
Looking back at old black and white photos, he remembered fire, smoke and blackened bodies. Frightened, he dreamed of home, his metal bed, hearing the familiar sounds of the steel plant and his mother, puttering around in the kitchen.
What does the mind do with all this horror? He hid his war medals in a box, in the dark, at the back of the closet. The real world was not the war world.
I only knew one old veteran, and he never talked of the war.
A bottle of old port, his best friend.
A cigarette to light his way …
Memories dimmed and best forgotten …
Rose Sigut, Sydney
Appeals Standing Committee (10am, City Hall) — Ahror Mamadiev, the taxi driver convicted of sexual assault, wants his licence back.
Mamadiev fled his native Uzbekistan in 2005, and moved eventually to Charlottetown and then to Saint John, where he started Saint John Taxi. Explained the Telegraph Journal:
But everything changed on May 13, 2005, when Mamadiev attended a demonstration against his country’s government.
“Our country is not like Canada. There’s no freedom of speech or press, no freedom of business, torture…(there are) a lot of social problems,” Mamadiev said.
The demonstration garnered international media attention for the government’s treatment of the protesters.
Human Rights Watch, an international human rights watchdog organization, reported the Uzbekistan government surrounded the city’s main square where the protest was happening and opened fire, killing hundreds of unarmed people in a massacre.
Mamadiev was in the front row of the demonstration. He survived, but had to flee his country, fearing for his life.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees helped Mamadiev and other refugees flee. He tried to bring his family with him, but the Uzbekistan government wouldn’t co-operate, Mamadiev said.
Before settling in Canada, he had to wait at a refugee camp in Romania for 10 months, a place he could only leave with special protection.
I don’t know why or when Mamadiev moved to Halifax, or the particulars of the sexual assault charge.
Design Review Committee (4pm, City Hall) — the committee will look at the building proposed for the block bounded by Spring Garden Road, Queen, Brunswick, and Doyle Streets — that is where Tom’s, Rogues Roost, Fireside, Lily’s, etc. used to be.
The proposed seven-storey building has a three-storey underground parking garage. The ground floor is retail, the upper floors a hotel. The building is designed by Kassner Goodspeed, the architects of Regency Park, the Gladstone complex and Brickyard condos.
I’m not at all a fan of this proposal. It’s too monolithic, and the attempt to break it up by placing a separate cafe/bar on the corner of Queen and Doyle Streets fails. The Doyle Street side of the building (shown above), in particular is horrendous. Among other problems, who thought that putting a cafe right next to the entrance to the underground parking garage was a good idea?
And, as Stephen Archibald notes (see Views above), “another way to judge the new proposal is how well does it play with our library.” Indeed, and here’s the Spring Garden Road side of the building:
As usual in architectural renderings, this is an impossible view — you’d have to be hovering in the air about a block behind the library, and the library would have to be invisible, to get this view. In reality, looking out from the library, you’d be much closer, and the monolith would loom over you.
The proposed building is to the north of the library, so there won’t be much, if any, loss of sun from the library’s perspective. But, again as Archibald fears, the view of Citadel will be lost. (Archibald appears not to have seen the proposal.)
The real issue, however, is the sheer size of the proposed building. To their credit, the architects have tried to break up the wall of the building by including a second-storey recessed courtyard, adding a green roof, and interspersing aluminum panels along the concrete facade, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s one giant seven-storey wall right across the street from the library.
I don’t know what the solution to the site is — I think any single building, no matter how well designed, will pale in comparison to the old mishmash of interesting smaller buildings now on the site. But I would like to see the southwest corner of the block (Spring Garden and Queen) reflect back the public square in front of the library; maybe a cafe with outdoor seating, or a signature piece of art. And then the rest of the block could be broken up into two or three different facades, at different heights and with different building materials.
Harbour East–Marine Drive Community Council (6pm, HEMDCC Meeting Space, Alderney Gate) — Sarah Gordon, who runs Sag Physical Therapy Consulting out of her home at the corner of Cherry and Slayter Streets in Dartmouth, wants to build an addition to her house such that people in wheelchairs can be accommodated. Problem is, building codes for the area require a 15-foot setback from the public right-of-way, and Gordon wants to reduce that to just six inches.
Gordon’s advocate for her appeal is her husband, Kirk Yanofsky, the “Development Officer, Major Gifts for Athletics” at Dalhousie University, who was previously a “corporate analyst” for Nova Scotia Business Inc.
No public meetings.
Jean Laroche gives us a detailed preview of what to expect from this fall’s sitting of the legislature.
The Atlantic Lottery Corporation is outsourcing Innovation Outsource Services. I have no idea what that means, but if it says “innovation,” it must be good.
This date in history
On November 12, 1880, an explosion at the Foord Pit in Albion Mines at Stellarton killed 44 workers.
Here’s a newspaper report from the next day:
COAL MINE BLAST.
Halifax, N.S., November 12. — About 2:30 this morning an explosion of gas occurred on the south side of Foord pit to the Stellarton. All the miners were at work in different borders. The explosion was so terrible as to sweep across to the other side of the pit, killing the men and horses within reach. Almost all the men on the north side will be saved, while all at work on the south side have been lost. At least sixty are missing. Five men have been brought up, and are likely to recover. Probably forty are shut up within the falling coal within the south side. The accident was presumably caused by some miner firing a shot in a forbidden part of the workings. The disaster occurred in the Foord pit, of the Albion mines. All who have come up are likely to live. A working party is down. There is not much hope for the safety of the thirty of forty-five known to be in the mine. Stellarton reports only thirty or forty now in the part of the mine on fire. Another explosion is expected every moment.
MESSRS. HUDSON, GREENER, SIMPSON and POOLE, with other volunteers, have been down the pit in which the explosion occurred, and have come up again. They found it impossible to explore the south side for any distance, on account of after damp, there being no air through, as all the doors have been blown down by the blast. They found some bodies, but could not identify them. All the horses in the pit, twenty-nine, are dead. The number of men in the pit is said to be forty-four. It is feared another explosion will occur this afternoon, when the pit gathers gas again. Work is totally suspended at all the collieries in the country, and the miners have come to the scene of the accident in great numbers, but are altogether powerless to reder assistance, on account of the precariious condition of the pit. It is not known how the fire originated.
None from the side where the accident occurred are alive to tell the tale. Thirty-three of the missing men are married, and most have large families.
On November 12, 1911, the Dominion Atlantic Railway was leased to Canadian Pacific for 999 years. The Dominion line ran through the Annapolis Valley, and the company owned a lot of ancillary businesses, including the Digby Pines Resort and the Cornwallis Inn. You can read more about it at the Dominion Atlantic Railway Digital Preservation Initiative site, from which the above video was borrowed: “In this clip you will see the Dominion Atlantic Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Princess of Acadia I and the demolition of our Train Station. The footage dates between the 1950s and early 1970s in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada.”
In the harbour
Maersk Cutter, offshore supply ship, arrived at Pier 9 this morning
Singapore Express, container ship, arrived at Fairview Cove early this morning, sails to sea this afternoon
Dinkeldiep, ro-ro cargo, Saint John’s to Pier 41
Watch out for men with rifles.