Reg Rankin. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Former Halifax councillor Reg Rankin will keep his publicly-funded salary for at least six more months.

Regional council voted on Tuesday to defer a decision to cut Rankin’s salary as the part-time executive director of the Otter Lake Community Monitoring Committee (CMC), the independent body that oversees operations at the city dump.

Last month, council voted to give the committee notice that it would cut its funding from $90,000 annually down to $42,500, eliminating Rankin’s salary of $37,500 and the committee’s budget for legal services, $10,000. The vote was a response to a review by a municipal lawyer that found issues with the committee’s governance. As the Halifax Examiner reported last month:

The committee is a creature of the 1999 agreement between HRM and the Halifax Waste/Resource Society (HWRS), and it’s tasked with overseeing the operation of the Otter Lake Landfill. There are 15 members — nine appointed by the society and six by HRM, including the mayor and three councillors.

After being elected councillor for District 13 — Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets in 2020, Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace became a member of the committee.

“Within just a couple of months of attending meetings, I became increasingly concerned about the governance of this committee,” Lovelace told council on Tuesday.

Lovelace said she felt her duty as a member of the committee was to ask questions and demand answers to ensure proper governance, but her questions were “met with indifference and at times animosity.”

That’s why, in August 2021, Lovelace moved for a staff report reviewing the committee’s governance. The executive director, Rankin, and the chair, Scott Guthrie, declined to participate in the governance review, with Guthrie writing in a February 2022 letter to Mayor Mike Savage that the committee wants an independent review by the auditor general or another third party.

The report came to council on Tuesday, written by HRM lawyer Colin Taylor. Taylor found “several areas of concern, including:

  • Non-compliance with agreed upon quorum for meetings (resulting in the exclusion of HRM representation in decision-making)
  • Lack of clarity with respect to the role and authority of the Executive Committee and Executive Director
  • Inconsistent communications protocols
  • Deviation from agreed upon expenditure processes
  • Composition of CMC not as inclusive as it could be”

Taylor also found that while the committee isn’t a legal entity, it’s contracting for services as if it is, including legal services in the amount of about $10,000 annually.

“If legal services are required for the CMC, such services should in theory be provided for the benefit of the entire CMC. However, some legal advice procured by the CMC has ostensibly been for the benefit of the HWRS or the HWRS members only,” Taylor wrote.

During council’s meeting on Tuesday, Guthrie, the committee chair, gave a presentation to council (read his full remarks here).

“From our point of view, the plan to cut CMC’s funding is part and parcel of a deliberate strategy to enfeeble not only the committee, but the underlying 1999 agreement,” Guthrie told councillors.

Guthrie said council wants to weaken the committee because of its opposition to the deactivation of the front-end processing facilities at the landfill, for which the municipality received conditional provincial approval in March.

A worker operates conveyer belts in the front end processor at Otter Lake in a photo in a slide deck included in a staff report to council last year. — Photo: HRM

“As the voice of the communities it represents, the CMC was duty-bound to oppose the application and it has done so vigorously,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie said the committee wants to work with council to “restore the harmony in our partnership,” and be able to respectfully disagree on the issues.

The speech may have been effective. While most councillors seemed to agree the committee needs to clean up its act, only a minority of them was willing to go through with the budget cut.

Coun. Tim Outhit moved to defer the budget cut for six months while HRM works with the HWRS and the CMC to sort out its governance issues and modernize their agreement. Outhit argued it would look “punitive” to cut the budget now, and HRM would be in a better position to negotiate with the committee if council deferred.

“I think we’re all on the same page. We all want it fixed,” he said of the committee’s governance issues.

“The debate is when we want to use the stick. I’m asking us to use the stick six months from now, and others want us to stick right now.”

Mayor Mike Savage voted with the majority, in favour of Outhit’s motion, and argued cutting the budget wouldn’t be the right way to negotiate with the committee.

“I don’t think this is how you deal with partners, even partners with whom you have a disagreement,” Savage said.

There was a motion to defer the vote in April too, and Coun. Shawn Cleary reminded his colleagues of his argument at that meeting: when something is broken, you don’t wait to fix it.

“To just keep kicking this can down the road doesn’t help us, doesn’t help them, doesn’t help the community that they’re supposed to be serving,” Cleary said.

Lovelace agreed.

“I think it’s important for us to realize that if we defer this, all we’re doing is accepting status quo,” Lovelace said.

“That’s what we’re here for, right? We are here. We see a problem. We address it.”

The motion to defer passed 9-7, with Lovelace, Cleary, and councillors Waye Mason, Lindell Smith, Kathryn Morse, Lisa Blackburn, and Paul Russell voting no.

Studying development next to Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes

Councillors want to make sure a study looking at proposed development next to Highway 102 near Bayers Lake considers the potential effects on a proposed national park at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes.

Coun. Kathryn Morse brought the following motion to council on Tuesday:

That Halifax Regional Council direct the CAO to require the Highway 102 Corridor studies to consider the relationship to the potential Blue Mountain Birch Cove Wilderness Park, including where and how land should be protected to maintain the full functioning and extent of environmental, recreation, cultural and other features of significance. This should include but not be limited to mitigating impacts and changes to water quantity and water quality in Susies and related lakes in the watersheds of the proposed Blue Mountain Birch Cove Wilderness Area Park and the identification of minimum non disturbance setbacks from Susies Lake and other watercourses and the protection of associated wetlands.

As part of its review of HRM’s Regional Plan, the municipality’s planning and development department received submissions for opening up new land for development, including a submission from Stevens Group for the area between Highway 102 and Susie’s Lake. As the Examiner reported in January, that land is designated as an “Urban District Growth Centre” in the regional plan, meaning there needs to be a “comprehensive secondary planning process” before it can be considered for serviced development.

A map of Stevens Group’s proposal for its land between Highway 102 and Susie’s Lake. — Screenshot/HRM/UPLAND
A map of Stevens Group’s proposal for its land between Highway 102 and Susie’s Lake. — Screenshot/HRM/UPLAND

During budget deliberations planning staff brought forward a proposal to study the Highway 102 corridor lands along with a few other sites. As the Examiner reported in March, council moved to not even look at the Highway 102 lands:

Kelly Denty, executive director of planning and development at HRM, told councillors … it’s important to look into each of the four areas to determine their suitability for development.

“We are contemplating that they will eventually be areas that are developed, so better to know now what the constraints are and take advantage of perhaps a single consultant, looking at this work, looking at all of these areas, doing it in a uniform manner, and getting some intelligence relative to what is actually possible on these lands,” Denty said.

Mayor Mike Savage agreed.

“There’s environmental implications that will be better served by doing some of that planning now, and I think it’s important that we get those done,” he said.

Savage, along with councillors Becky Kent, Trish Purdy, Tony Mancini, Waye Mason, Lindell Smith, and Iona Stoddard, voted in the minority to keep the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area on the list for master planning.

But in March, the provincial government granted HRM $2.3 million “to enable the municipality to conduct critical environmental, land-use suitability, transportation and infrastructure studies to inform future planning and development decisions.”

Judging by the reasoning listed for Morse’s motion on Tuesday, that money came with strings attached, and the municipality is being forced to consider the Highway 102 corridor lands.

“The Hwy 102 Corridor study was funded by the Province of Nova Scotia after a majority on regional council voted against it on March 22, 2022,” Morse wrote. “A majority on council agreed a pre-development study should wait until Parks Canada reviews Susies Lake and the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes as a potential national urban wilderness park.”

The councillor for District 10 — Halifax-Bedford Basin West explained that if the province is going to require this study, it should consider the ramifications.

“I think the issue here is that there are privately-owned wetlands that supply a portion of the water going to Susies Lake and the Chain of Lakes,” Morse said during Tuesday’s meeting. “If that privately-owned land were to be developed, it could potentially have a big impact on Susies Lake, so I think with this study we could look at that, and get some facts around that, and potentially be able to make better decisions.”

Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace moved to take the discussion in camera to receive legal advice. The motion passed unamended after the in camera session.

Electric buses en route

Council approved the purchase of up to 60 electric buses on Tuesday, a first for the municipality.

With federal and provincial funding secured last year, the municipality tendered for the new buses in November 2021, and received two qualifying bids, from Nova Bus Ltd. and New Flyer Industries.

In a report to council on Tuesday, Halifax Transit business analyst Shawn Wadden recommended awarding the contract to Nova Bus Ltd. for $94.7 million.

“The recommended vendor, Nova Bus Ltd., is financially solvent, having operated in the province of Quebec since 1979, and have provided documentation within their submission to support this assertion,” Wadden wrote. “At present there are 255 Nova Bus vehicles in active service in the Halifax Transit fleet.”

The plan is to buy 30 buses this fiscal year and 30 next year, along with all the necessary charging equipment.

The federal government is covering 40% of the cost, the provincial government 33%, and the municipality the remaining 27%.

A new deputy traffic authority

There’s a new deputy in town. Deputy traffic authority, that is.

Council approved the appointment of engineer Lucas Pitts as the new deputy traffic authority on Tuesday.

The traffic authority makes decisions about HRM’s roadways, like where to put stop signs and how to configure intersections. The role has been increasingly politicized in recent years, as the Examiner detailed in this 2020 article.

Councillors created a new process for appointing the traffic authority (currently Transportation and Public Works executive director Brad Anguish) last year, and had the opportunity to grill Pitts about his traffic right-of-way bonafides on Tuesday.

Coun. Waye Mason, chair of the Transportation Standing Committee, recommended in favour of Pitts having already questioned him at that committee’s meeting. He joked that he’s been wanting to hire someone from out west, where bike lanes are more plentiful, for years, and then came Pitts from B.C.

Coun. Shawn Cleary asked Pitts about his preference for road design guidelines from either the more conservative Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) or the more progressive National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), and Pitts said he’s used to overriding TAC guidelines in favour of NACTO’s.

Pitts also faced questioning in camera, after Coun. Patty Cuttell moved to take the discussion behind closed doors. His appointment passed unanimously.

Heritage rocks

A stone in Spryfield now has heritage status.

Council voted on Tuesday to approve heritage registration for the Rocking Stone and surrounding Kidston Lake Park.

The Heritage Advisory Committee voted in February to recommend council register the rock, noting its 200 years of documented history. The committee awarded the stone and surrounding park 60 out of 70 possible points.

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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