Lindell Smith. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Coun. Lindell Smith’s social policy framework passed unanimously at Halifax regional council on Tuesday after a nearly three-year wait, though the councillor worried it lacked teeth.

“Everything we do in the city, we have an impact on people’s lives,” Smith said.

“We recognize in HRM that we have a role in social policy.”

The social policy framework is a way to formalize the municipality’s approach to social issues. It’s already providing social programs like the Mobile Food Market or low-income transit passes, but it’s approached those programs haphazardly.

“While we are doing great things, in the absence of a formal social policy, we are operating without defined values and principles, a formalized governance structure, and areas of focus that would help to govern the municipality’s approach to social policy,” senior policy advisor Mary Chisholm told council during a presentation on Tuesday.

Now, Halifax will have three areas of focus for its social policy: connected communities and mobility, food security, and housing.

The social policy framework itself, an administrative order, includes a value statement: “HRM is a safe, healthy, and welcoming community where everyone is able to participate fully in their community.” And it sets out social policy goals: to “strengthen community health and wellbeing;” to “enhance equity and inclusion;” and to “build on social assets and community capacity.”

As a result of the framework, chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé will strike a working group with representatives from every municipal department to meet quarterly to track existing social policies and look for opportunities for new ones.

While he was happy to see the report finally make it to council, Smith worried the administrative order itself was a little light.

“My only concern with this is the actual meat of the administrative order,” he said.

Smith quoted Cochrane, Alta.’s version of a social policy framework that specifically named all the departments that would be subject to the policy.

“For me, really the administrative order, it talks more about the committee and some of the overarching policy and principles but really doesn’t dig deep into the meat of what this will actually do when it comes to policy,” he said.

Dubé told Smith that the social policy goals cover what he’s looking for, and there’s no need to add to the administrative order.

“We will be coming forward with specific actions associated with this policy under a variety of categories going forward,” Dubé said.

Chisholm said that like everything else, the pandemic has altered the course of the social policy framework in the short term.

“The most immediate next step is to develop a social response to COVID-19 using HRM’s social policy to guide the development,” she said.

Legalizing boulevard gardening

A boulevard garden is likely not what you think it is, or what I thought it was till being corrected.

It is not a garden on a boulevard.

No, a boulevard garden is the metre-wide strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. The municipality owns it, but property owners are tasked with maintaining it.

The current municipal bylaw imposes stringent regulations on that grass, requiring property owners to keep the grass “closely clipped and to a height not greater than six inches” and in “good order including raking and renewal of the grass as necessary.” That’s now likely to change.

Following an October 2019 request for a report from Dartmouth Centre Coun. Sam Austin, staff brought a report to council on Tuesday recommending in favour of bylaw amendments “to permit the placement of boulevard gardens.”

The staff report suggests a long list of restrictions be placed on the gardens, including height limits on plants, a ban on digging deeper than 30 cm and the prohibition of “trees, woody plants, or climbing vines” or in the municipal right-of-way.

The bylaw amendments will come back to council for first and second reading before becoming law.

Fallen RCMP officer’s name to be added to list

Const. Heidi Stevenson

Coun. Lorelei Nicoll’s motion to pay tribute to Const. Heidi Stevenson received unanimous support at council on Tuesday.

Stevenson was killed in last month’s mass shooting, shot by GW after her cruiser collided head-on with his mock RCMP vehicle near Shubenacadie, N.S. The 23-year veteran of the force left behind two children, Connor and Ava, and her husband, Dean.

As a fellow resident of Cole Harbour, Nicoll knew Stevenson well.

“She was a hero in life, just from all the things she did for the community,” she said in an interview last week.

Nicoll’s motion asked for a staff report on adding Stevenson’s name to the list used to name or rename municipal streets and facilities. But she wants Stevenson’s family to help choose what will be named after her, when the time is right.

“Many residents are suggesting ways we could memorialize Constable Heidi Stevenson who lived in Cole Harbour and worked at the Cole Harbour RCMP Detachment for many years,” Nicoll’s motion said.

“A close friend of the family has willingly offered to help by receiving these suggestions which will be discussed with the Stevenson family at an appropriate time in the future.”

Typically, a name is added to the list using just an application form, but councillors felt it was important to declare their support for Stevenson and her family. Municipal solicitor John Traves said her name would be added to the list quickly.

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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