Halifax council yesterday debated fire chief Doug Trussler’s proposed plan to reorganize fire services. As I’ve reported, the fire department has been on autopilot since amalgamation in 1996. There’s been no overall assessment of fire resources. Despite council direction to previous fire chiefs to conduct an annual audit of service standards, none was completed besides an initial assessment in 2006. And the fire department is woefully behind on the technology front, to the point that fire trucks are not even equipped with GPS, standard equipment on taxicabs and commercial fleet vehicles.
Trussler’s plan is reasonable. It includes small increases in the operational budget and large capital expenditures. It does not reduce the number of firefighters. It upgrades equipment. If implemented, for the first time the aerial trucks on the peninsula and in Dartmouth will be fully staffed, providing needed protection for the growing number of residential high-rises. It better meets the service standards that council has set out for the department. Crucially, it makes sure that four firefighters are on the scene of every structure fire, the minimum required before firefighters can enter a burning building.
To achieve these positives, Trussler’s plan requires the closure of some fire stations, and moving around others. As there’s never been a high-level assessment of the best location of fire stations, this too is reasonable. But it means the King Street station in downtown Dartmouth will close. Never mind that the closure means an aerial truck servicing the new high-rises in downtown Dartmouth will now be fully staffed and that firefighters from other stations will still be able to reach downtown in the required five minutes, the proposal set off councillor Gloria McCluskey.
In all my years covering local governments, I have never seen a councillor attack a civil servant to the degree to which McCluskey attacked Trussler yesterday. McCluskey, who has had a career in property assessment and as a politician, lectured Trussler at length about the best ways to fight fires and the proper use of equipment. “I guess we have to look at what’s a life worth, chief,” McCluskey said, essentially accusing Trussler of wanting people to die. Remarkably, Mayor Mike Savage, who chaired the meeting, did not intervene or rebuke McCluskey for her remark.
Other councillors were almost as shrill. Barry Dalrymple brought up the horrible deaths of three people in Meagher’s Grant on New Years Day. A family member has been charged in the deaths; he is alleged to have murdered the three, and then burned down their house in an attempt to cover up the crime. The three would be just as dead whether the house had been burned down or not, but Dalrymple seemed to suggest that somehow the closure of the Meagher’s Grant fire station would make other people want to dispose of still more murder victims in burning buildings.
As the meeting progressed, there were some voices of sanity, notably from councillor Reg Rankin, who put Trussler’s plan in historic and political context. In this instance, the more time that goes by before any action is taken, the better, as there is a large element of public education at work. As councillor Tim Outhit noted, “this has been labeled a ‘plan to close fire stations’, when it should be a ‘plan to move around firefighters.'”
The debate has been continued to council’s April 7 meeting.
2. Andrew Younger
Dartmouth East MLA and former Energy Minister Andrew Younger officially resigned from cabinet yesterday, reports the CBC:
“I just really need time to be with my family,” he said, fighting back tears. “I need to step back for the moment. My family needs me to step back. I need to be there for my son and my wife.”
Younger said he will be at today’s opening of the legislature, and he intends to run in the next election.
3. Linda Mosher
The wheels of justice turn slowly, but turn they do.
On May 7, 2013, bicyclist Nicholas Wilkinson was struck by a white SUV at the corner of North and Agricola Streets. Karen MacLean saw the whole thing happen. MacLean, who is married to Don MacLean, a superintendent at the Halifax Regional Police Department, happened to be driving behind the white SUV on North Street heading east, towards the Macdonald Bridge. Both were stopped at a red light at Agricola. MacLean said the bicyclist had passed her on the right, but then waited for the light along with the cars. The light turned green, and all the cars in front of the white SUV travelled through the intersection, but the white SUV didn’t move. “I was just about to blow the horn,” she told a court last December, when the white SUV “revved its engine” and took off. Very close to the intersection, the driver of the white SUV turned on the turn indicator, and swung slightly to the left before turning right. At that point, the first bicyclist was just entering the intersection and the SUV clipped the bike, sending the rider tumbling to the ground. The driver of the white SUV did not stop.
MacLean jumped out to check on Nicholson, who said he’d be all right, so she then followed the white SUV to a nearby garage. MacLean got out of her car, tapped on the window of the white SUV and said, “you know you hit a bicyclist?” MacLean testified that since she grew up in Spryfield, she recognized the driver as councillor Linda Mosher. The very first thing Mosher said, testified MacLean, was “I wasn’t texting!”
Mosher as councillor also sits on the Board of Police Commissioners, and was recently appointed chair of the commission. She is presumably well known in the department. According to a police report read to me by police spokesperson Pierre Bourdages, after she was confronted by MacLean, Mosher drove to police headquarters on Gottingen Street, where she was issued a ticket for an improper lane change, which carries a $222.41 fine. Mosher fought the ticket. I’m told, however, that while she contested the ticket, Mosher did pay for the physiotherapy Nicholson required after the crash.
The case was delayed once because Mosher was on medical leave, then a second time because she hired high-powered attorney Gavin Giles, who needed to get up to speed. In December, Giles told Justice of the Peace Kelly Shannon that Mosher was charged with the wrong offence — it was impossible to make an improper lane change as there is only one lane on North Street. Crown prosecutor Rick Woodburn countered that it was an improper lane change because Mosher had left the single lane; had she stayed in it, she would’ve gone straight, towards the bridge.
Last night, having spent three months pondering the case law on improper lane changes, JP Kelly issued his ruling, siding with Giles. Sure enough, whatever she did, Mosher did not improperly change lanes. Kelly acquitted Mosher of the charge, and she is now a free woman.
We’ve seen too often how regular people are persecuted by overreaching police and court systems. It’s good to know that a hapless city councillor and police commissioner can stand up to The Man and achieve real justice.
(Some of this account is cribbed from an earlier account I wrote, here.)
A provincial press release:
Government is transforming the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency into a private-sector-led Crown corporation.
Finance and Treasury Board Minister Diana Whalen made the announcement at a Chamber of Commerce event in Halifax, today, March 25.
“We can’t keep doing what we have always done. Government needs to get out of the way and let the private sector lead,” said Ms. Whalen. “Effective April 1, the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency will transform into Tourism Nova Scotia. The creation of a Crown corporation will position us well to double our tourism revenues from $2 billion to $4 billion annually.”
Yep, simply creating a crown corporation will double tourism revenues. It’s a fact!
The chair of the board of directors of the new crown corporation will be Ben Cowan-Dewar, the owner of Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs in Inverness. Back in 2013, the province provided $8.25 million in financing to Cabot Links; “Province Supports Inverness, World-Class Golf Destination,” read the announcement. If it’s “world-class,” you know it’s good.
Neither here nor there, but Globe and Mail reporter Jane Taber recently examined the golfing scene in PEI:
Nearly 25 years ago, the PEI government tied itself to the explosion of golf across North America and adopted the game as one of its tourism pillars – green fairways complementing Anne of Green Gables. It created a Crown Corporation to operate the courses, with the tourism minister of the day, Wes MacAleer, saying: “The vision is to have golf development pay its way.”
It hasn’t. The projections of revenue and growth were based on a “foundation of bunker sand,” according to Ian Munro, an economist and author of a report released last week by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS).
Mr. Munro, a former islander and self-described former terrible golfer, documents how a combination of bad timing, poor forecasting and lack of rigour led to PEI’s golf woes. He concludes that governments should stick to what they know – such as infrastructure and taxation – and leave golf courses to entrepreneurs.
In 2014-15, the government will spend $858,900 running the four courses, compared with $801,457 in 2012-13. In 2008, it wrote off more than $10-million in bad debt. At one point, the province owned five courses, but closed one in 2012 after it couldn’t find a buyer. That course is now a hay field, the report says.
This could never happen in Nova Scotia. We’re different.
5. Dartmouth Coast Guard Base
A provincial press release from yesterday:
The former Canadian Coast Guard land on the Dartmouth waterfront will be home to an ocean innovation centre.
The Waterfront Development Corporation has received approval from the provincial government to purchase the land from the federal government.
The corporation will now work with the provincial government, industry and post-secondary schools to develop the centre, where ocean technology research and private sector marine businesses can work together to drive more investment, commercialization, exports and growth.
The 9.5 acre site will be purchased for $6.5 million. There’s no word on what exactly an “ocean innovation centre” is, what that’s going to cost, or who’s going to pay for it. Whatever it is, Waterfront Development should make sure that the waterfront itself is open to the public.
Also, now Waterfront Development will be able to complete the Dartmouth Waterfront Trail. The trail ends abruptly on one side of the coast guard base, then starts up again on the other. Trail users are told to use city streets to get from one segment to the other, but in reality everyone cuts through the parking lot of an apartment building.
Coast Guard ships now operate out of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.
Ben’s Bakery, which will soon close, has a storied history. Writes Claire McIlveen:
Ben’s is the last remnant of the food empire created by Scottish immigrant Alexander Moir, who arrived in Halifax in 1790. He opened a small bakery on Brunswick Street, below Citadel Hill, to supply the British Army’s insatiable appetite for bread.
By 1896, says the company website, William Church Moir’s factory had 260 workers producing 11,000 loaves of bread daily, along with 500 types of sweets and candies. Ben Moir set up Ben’s Bakery in 1907.
The confectionary business developed into Moirs chocolates, a fixture in the Halifax area. U.S. parent company Hershey put 560 people out of work in 2007 when it closed the former Moirs plant in Dartmouth, building a new plant in Mexico.
The bakery side of the business was long ago — the company’s website doesn’t say when — bought by Canada Bread. In turn, last year Canada Bread was bought by the Mexican multinational Grupo Bimbo, which is aggressively expanding, buying up properties and consolidating operations.
2. Cranky letter of the day
Now that the streets of Halifax are nearly clear, residents driving on our roads must remember that the sidewalk users are not so lucky. Like many others, I have to edge past snowbanks much taller than me to cross the street. I’ve resorted to holding up a brightly coloured scarf as a flag, hoping drivers will see it and stop in time for me to cross. Sometimes I must do this while standing in a driveway or intersection that is still filled with solid ice. At street lights, walk-signal buttons can’t be reached.
It is not possible to cross the street safely in these conditions — unless the drivers are on our side and are willing to look out for us. Perhaps the recent storm conditions have brought out the best in Haligonians. Your paper and other news media have shared stories of neighbours banding together to clear overburdened roofs and storm drains, and sometimes even to clear impassable roads. I hope that this community spirit will stay strong, at least until spring arrives for real.
Rebecca Faria, Halifax
Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee (10am, City Hall)—the committee wants drivers to lose “points” on their driver’s licences when they hit someone in a crosswalk.
Community Planning and Economic Development (10am, City Hall)—now that Clayton Developments has lost its bid to get the Purcells Cove backlands rezoned for development, councillor Stephen Adams is asking the city to buy it. That’s some real chutzpah on Adams’ part, but staff is recommending that the idea not be pursued.
Transportation Standing Committee (1pm, City Hall)—the committee will look at Halifax Transit’s quarterly reports. The takeaway: despite an expansion in service, transit ridership hasn’t budged in five years.
Public Information Meeting (7pm, Cole Harbour Place)—to have a look at a proposal for 424 Caldwell Road. This meeting was postponed from last week due to the big storm.
St. Margarets Bay Coastal Planning Advisory Committee (7:30pm, Hammonds Plains Consolidated Elementary School.)—a public meeting for proposed planning rules for the Tantallon Crossroads. See also: horse, long ago having left the barn.
Legislature opens (1pm, Province House)—Pomp! Circumstance!
Thesis defence, Oceanography (9:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building)—PhD candidate William Burt will defend his thesis, “The Use of Radium Isotopes to Investigate Boundary Exchanges in Coastal Ocean Systems.”
Thesis defence, Computer Science (10am, Room B-A3, Charles Tupper Medical Building)—PhD candidate Raghav Sampangi will defend his thesis, “Biomimetic Metamorphic Framework for Security in Resource-Constrained Wireless Networks.”
Development assistance (12:35pm, Room 4116 Dentistry Building)—Brian Tomlinson will present:
In September 2015, the UN General Assembly will adopt a set of universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are intended to achieve substantial progress for sustainable development over the next 15 years to 2015. Prior to this critical moment for the global community, the UN is organizing a third “financing for development” summit in Addis Ababa in July, just prior to the UN Special General Assembly. Brian Tomlinson, editor of the 2014 Reality of Aid Report on the theme of Rethinking Partnerships in a Post-2015 World will speak about the context and challenges facing development finance going forward from 2015. The UN Secretary General is calling for a commitment to end extreme poverty by 2030. But what role should aid play in this ambitious agenda to tackle poverty and support the SDGs? What will be the impact on poverty if aid is replaced by the allocation of domestic resources in developing countries, by loans and private sector investment, and other forms of philanthropic finance?
Quantum Physics in Your Light Bulb (2:30pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain building)—Kristin Poduska, from Memorial University, will speak.
Honours Student Seminars, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (4pm, Theatre D, CRC Building)—bring snacks.
Mixed Poisson Model (3:30pm, Colloquium room, Chase Building, Rm 319)—William Aeberhard, a post-doc, will talk about some mathematics that will make your head hurt. The abstract:
For fitting purposes and consistent inference, the correct specification of the relation between the variance of the response variable and its mean (known as the variance function) is crucial. For a response consisting of counts, typically involving overdisperion, many models already exist and offer a wide variety of variance functions.
This variety is appealing, yet the data analyst is still faced with the somewhat arbitrary choice of a specification over another, without many means to check the relevance of such a choice. Most of these variance function specifications are in fact the result of the specification of unobservable mixing distributions, whose realizations can be seen as random intercepts (one per observation) appearing in the mean of Poisson distributions, themselves giving rise to the observed counts. A well-known case consists of the mixing variables to be independent and identically distributed as gamma, yielding negative binomial outcomes and a quadratic variance function with constant overdispersion. We propose here a semi-parametric framework encompassing many models for count data where the underlying mixing variables need not be identically distributed and are estimated by empirical likelihood along with the regression coefficients. By doing so, the shape of the variance function is somehow estimated from the data and the data analyst need not worry about its specification. Algorithmic ideas and encouraging simulation results will be presented for this work in progress.
Bees, I think (3:30pm, 5th floor Biology Lounge, Life Sciences Centre)—Jeremy Kerr, from Ottawa University, will speak on “Climate and Land-Use change impacts on pollinator conservation: looking forward by looking back.”
Homelessness and Hunger (7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain building)—according to the event page:
Daniel Rainham (EMay Chair in Sustainability and Environmental Health and Professor, Environmental Science, Dalhousie University) chairs a discussion of case studies of research on the social determinants of healthy communities. Two Dalhousie professors will discuss their research — Jeff Karabanow, School of Social Work and author, Being Young and Homeless and Leaving the Streets; and Sarah Kirk, Canada Research Chair in Health Services Research at School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University.
In the harbour
No arrivals or departures today.