News

1. “Month-to-month” predation

Templeton Properties’ building at 5778 South St., where Sarah Frame rented an apartment. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“With plans to move to Ontario on the horizon, Sarah Frame decided earlier this year that she wanted to switch to a month-to-month lease,” reports Zane Woodford:

It’s a tenant’s right to do so at the end of their annual lease under the provincial Residential Tenancies Act, so Frame notified her landlord, Andrew Metlege’s Templeton Properties, of her intention.

Having lived in her apartment at 5778 South St. in Halifax since May 2019, Frame was paying $950 a month, and notified Templeton that she’d be switching to month-to-month on the anniversary date, May 1, 2021.

The landlord’s representative, Tim Riley, notified Frame that if she switched to month-to-month, Templeton would invoke a clause in her lease to increase her rent.

“I received an email from Templeton informing me of this clause, and letting me know that if I chose to go month to month, my rent would increase by $500 a month, which was pretty obscene because that would be an increase of more than 50% of my rent,” Frame said in an interview.

The landlord calls it a rental incentive. Dalhousie Legal Aid community legal worker Mark Culligan, with whom Frame worked as a student this past winter, is calling it a “punitive lease incentive,” and Culligan said the practice is becoming more common.

Click here to read “Halifax landlords ‘skirt the law’ by making month-to-month leases more expensive.”

This is the first in our multi-pronged investigative reporting series into the housing crisis. I’m still working on the packaging aspect of the series — setting up a landing page and creating various headlines and such — but we felt this story needed to get out as quickly as possible, so here it is.

Much of our reporting efforts reflect concerns brought to us by readers. You can help us with this; the Examiner’s housing reporting project message line is always open. You can call or text and leave a message with your ideas, angles, and issues you’d like the Examiner team to cover. The number is 1-819-803-6215.

Also, Prince Joe Castle? Come on.

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2. Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes

Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes. Photo: CPAWS Nova Scotia

This item is written by Chris Miller.

My name is Chris Miller.

I know a few things about Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes, which is why Tim asked me to write this bit for Morning File.

If you’re a Halifax Examiner subscriber, or a regular reader of the Morning File, then you probably already know about Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes. Tim has been covering the twists and turns of this saga for more than a decade.

For those who don’t know about this awesome place, it is a stunningly beautiful wilderness area that’s only about five kilometres from downtown Halifax that’s full of lakes and forests and rivers and lookoffs. Parks Canada announced last week that it is considering making Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes a national park and that it has signed an agreement with Halifax Regional Municipality to collaborate on this initiative.

Chris Miller. Photo contributed

I’m a conservation biologist. My job (and my passion) is to create protected areas. That’s what I do.

I actually first met Tim in Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes way back in August 2006!! He was there to cover a story about the conservation campaign I was running. I remember he contacted me out of the blue and asked me some questions. I said, let’s go there and I’ll show you the place, and so we met up.

Amazingly, that article is still posted on the internet 15 years later.

Could this have been one of Bousquet’s earliest reporting in Halifax? I’ve always wondered that.

Since that first article, Tim has consistently covered the ongoing work to protect Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes better than anyone else. He’s published stories about the sprawling development proposal that threatened the area, the valuation of the properties, the land purchases for the park, and the strong support that exists in Dartmouth for protecting these lands.

More recently, the work of Halifax Examiner has expanded to include reporting by Zane Woodford. Zane published this amazing story about how the public was not allowed to use public lands to access the public protected area. That reporting exposed a ridiculous log jam inside government. The government responded by actually fixing the problem, and now the Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area is going to get a little bit bigger at that public access point.

Tim’s also given me space to write some forward-looking pieces about how to actually get Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes protected, and allowed me to geek-out on the conservation details, like this article from 2017 when I mention that a national park would be a good fit.

Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes, Charlies Lake in the fall. Photo: CPAWS Nova Scotia

The news last week about the potential national park designation for Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes is really exciting. It has the potential to take the area to the next level, and be recognized not just as a site that is locally important as a park, but one that is considered to be nationally significant in Canada as well. That’s a really big deal and one that makes it much more likely that all of Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes will actually be protected.

Most of the public lands within this wilderness have already been protected by the Nova Scotia government, yet the ecosystems and natural areas extend onto privately owned lands as well. That’s why the Halifax Regional Municipality has promised to purchase properties in the area to expand the park. A couple of key properties were acquired by the city in 2018 and 2019, but it’s been an excruciatingly slow process for members of the public, like myself, who want to see this important wilderness protected. It is taking a really long time for the lands to be purchased.

To help speed things up, one of the things I’ve been working on for the past five years or so is to get more federal involvement with the protection of Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes. The federal government has significantly more resources than the municipality and can play an important role in completing the conservation vision for this area.

Initially, the federal government contributed matching funding to help the city acquire several properties at Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes. That went well, so they have now upped their game once again, and are considering a direct role through the establishment of a national park.

Of course, none of this would be happening without the tremendous support of the community for protecting these lands. When a threat appears, thousands of people will now rush to the defence of Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes. They will write letters and call their councillors and go to public hearings and organize on social media. This sort of grassroots support gives government plenty of confidence that it can take meaningful actions to protect these lands. Votes at Regional Council involving Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes are frequently unanimous (how often does that happen?), and have consistently been in favour of conservation. The national park proposal builds off of this community support.

So, what does the announcement of the national park proposal actually mean for Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes? Well, first of all, we are at the very, very beginning of that conversation. No decisions have been made. All that has been agreed to is that the various levels of government are going to have conversations about what this might look like. There is plenty of room for the public to weigh in and shape the direction of this work.

Parks Canada has created a new type of national park that is intended for urban areas. It is called a “National Urban Park.” The first one was established in Toronto in 2015 and is called Rouge National Urban Park. It is located on the eastern side of the city and is within reach of several million people, yet still supports numerous species-at-risk and important ecosystems. It was a trial balloon for Parks Canada, and now they are expanding to other parts of the country.

Last week, the federal government announced that they will be creating a network of National Urban Parks right across Canada, and that seven cities have already indicated a willingness to participate. Of those, three have signed collaboration agreements with Parks Canada, including Halifax, meaning those three cities are furthest along in those discussions.

Importantly, the federal government has earmarked $130 million dollars toward making this project succeed. That is a significant amount of resources for conservation that will be a big help in protecting places like Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes.

Parks Canada needs to be directly involved with land purchases, to ensure that all of Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes is brought into public ownership and protected. This is particularly important on the city-side of the wilderness area, where most people will be accessing this future national park.

At the moment, Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes lacks a primary access point for the public. Instead, if someone wants to go hiking there, or portage a canoe into one of the lakes, you must park at the end of a cul-de-sac, or along a busy Highway, or at a parking lot by the lumber yard in the Bayers Lake Industrial Park. It’s — how do I say it — less than ideal. And getting there by public transit is even more challenging. A national urban park designation could help, if key properties are acquired. That needs to be a priority.

The national park also creates a moment to reset the core discussion about these lands. This place needs to be inclusive. Every resident of this city needs to feel welcome there. It cannot become merely a retreat for one demographic or another. We must ensure that it is a place that is as diverse as the city itself and can provide access to nature for everyone. Parks Canada needs to embed these principles within every step of the planning process.

The park must be done to the highest possible standard, so that it is a place where nature is protected, and there is clean air and water, but also a place for people to go for their health and wellbeing, to spend time with their families and friends, to go exploring and to have fun. Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes is only going to become more important for the city with time. And, I’m excited about what the future holds.

Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes, paddling on Susies Lake. Photo: Irwin Barrett

When I think back to 2006, when I first took Tim on a hike into this awesome wilderness, that young activist in me would be excited about the national park, but would wonder why it has taken so long and why there had to be so many obstacles put in the way.

I hope that you will keep following this important issue for the city. And that you will get involved in helping make this national park for Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes a reality.

Thank you.

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3. Clock

A rendering of the proposal for the corner of Gottingen and Bilby streets. The perspective, from across the street at CFB Halifax, is impossible, and the buildings shown surrounding the proposal don’t exist. The one on the left isn’t proposed. — HRM/Richard Doucette

“Calling its signature feature “funky and fun,” if maybe redundant and potentially dangerous, members of a citizen committee are recommending in favour of a development proposal for north end Halifax,” reports Zane Woodford:

It’s a seven-storey, 40-unit residential building with three levels of underground parking. On the ground floor, every unit would be a “work-live” unit, where some commercial activity is allowed, and the developer gets around the requirement to provide private entrances for the units.

On the top floor, there’s a clock tower on one side, and a second clock hanging off of a rod cantilevered off the corner on the other side. Because the building’s floor area is more than 2,000 square metres, the developer has to provide public benefit based on a formula baked into the Centre Plan.

Click here to read “Halifax committee recommends in favour of development proposal with ‘funky and fun’ clock.”

This article is for subscribers. Click here to subscribe.

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4. COVID and elections

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Yesterday, there were three new cases of COVID-19 announced in Nova Scotia — all three were young men travelling into the province with the disease.

As I noted in my Twitter thread about yesterday’s case numbers, there’s no dramatic change. A small number of people continue to travel into Nova Scotia with the virus, but there’s no community spread.

By my reckoning, about 70,000 people still need to get their second dose before we can reach Phase 5 of the reopening, which is where most public health restrictions are removed.

(Using the population figures provided by the province to me, and the daily vaccination data, the figure as of yesterday was exactly 73,780, but an unknown [to me] number of military personnel have been double-dosed, so the actual number may be as low as 65,000.)

Premier Iain Rankin and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang at the COVID briefing on May 7, 2020. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Last week, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said that enough people have booked second doses to reach Phase 5, but those appointments are scheduled into September and October, so he urged people to rebook for August appointments — there is enough vaccine in the province right now for all 70,000 people to be double-dosed. I don’t know — perhaps many of those appointments were rebooked — but at current rates of vaccination, we won’t reach Phase 5 until the first or second week of September.

As I’ve written before, Nova Scotia’s vaccination program is doing exceptionally well.

Still, there’s anger at those who won’t get vaccinated. I understand this; I’m certainly angry that other jurisdictions seem to have given up on controlling the virus at all. Alberta’s decision to place no limitations on those who test positive for the virus seems particularly reckless.

(While Nova Scotia’s Phase 5 will see the lifting of most restrictions — mandatory masking and gathering limits, for example — I hope that the self-isolation requirement for positive cases remains, and Strang has hinted that isolation limits for travellers based on vaccination status may continue.)

Given all this, passport vaccines have become an issue.

I’m conflicted on the concept.

For one, I really do think Nova Scotia is a different kettle of fish than, say, Florida. I’d be scared silly to be in Florida right now, and I’d be clamouring for limits on the unvaccinated. But in Nova Scotia? If the goal of herd immunity via vaccination means anything, it should mean that we’ve reached a point where we can move about our communities with little worry of a major outbreak caused by the unvaccinated among us, and especially if we continue the emphasis on border controls and contact tracing that has characterized the province’s COVID response so far.

I realize others have contrary views, but given the Nova Scotia context, I don’t want to have to trot out proof of vaccination every time I get on the bus or go to the gym or the tavern. Yes, I realize this is a small inconvenience in the scheme of things, but I additionally worry about government overreach and mission creep, how a vaccine passport requirement would affect the already marginalized, and what specific authority would be given to, say, restaurant managers.

As I say, I know there are contrary views. You know who can help me think this through? Dr. Strang, that’s who.

In press briefings, Strang has been asked about vaccine passports several times. I’ve asked him about them myself. And each time, he’s been hesitant to embrace the concept, and has deflected the issue onto the federal government. It’s clear, however, that he and his colleagues have thought about vaccine passports — hey, they’re the experts — and, for whatever reasons, have declined to go down that road.

So what’s changed?

In a word, politics. Premier Iain Rankin called an election, and so the twice or thrice weekly briefings with the premier and sitting side-by-side in televised question-and-answer format have ended. Strang did one Zoom briefing solo with reporters (not televised), and then a second press conference on TV on Thursday, August 5, a full week ago.

But on Monday, August 9, Rankin announced that if reelected he will “explore the concept of adopting a provincial vaccine certificate for Nova Scotians to show proof of immunization when dining at restaurants, shopping, visiting gyms and other businesses.”

“Exploring” provides a lot of wiggle room, but if Rankin is actually suggesting that a vaccine passport be adopted, he seems to be contradicting everything Strang has told us so far.

Or is he? I honestly don’t know. I’d like to again directly ask Strang about this, but as of this morning, there are no briefings with Strang scheduled.

Tuesday — five days from now — is Election Day. Does Strang intend to remain out of public view, keeping himself from being questioned about Rankin’s vaccine passport proposal, until after the election?

I hope not. But if so, this is an unfortunate politicization of Public Health.

A lot of people made a big deal about the election being called during a public health emergency, but I didn’t then think that was such a problem. I thought, and still think, that the actual mechanics of voting — going to the voting booth, lining up spatially distanced, using a brand new pencil, etc. — are safe enough and no real threat to public safety, so long as provisions are made for those most at risk.

But now, I’m seeing that the election call was in fact problematic, and doubly so once Rankin decided to make vaccine passports a political issue.

I might be all wet about my concerns over vaccine passports, but Rankin, and apparently Strang, have eliminated any opportunity for me and the rest of the public to get Public Health’s expert opinions on the matter.

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Noticed

The Dixie Fire. Map: Google

In November 2018, I wrote about the profound sense of loss I felt when the town of Paradise, California was destroyed by wildfire. In terms of human loss, the fire, called the Camp Fire, remains the most destructive fire in California history:

I lived in the area for nearly two decades. I know those hills like the back of my hand, having biked and hiked through them, swam in the Feather River and Butte Creek, visited with friends throughout.

As of this morning, three of my friends (including Kelly) have lost their homes, but I’m sure that tally will increase. The death toll reached 42 as of last night but that number too, I fear, will soar.

I learned much about wildfires when I lived in the area. I’ve witnessed a lot of bad fires, a lot of destruction. I had seen horrors before. The Camp Fire, however, is unimaginable orders of magnitude more horrific.

Time and again, we’re seeing the wrath of an angry planet express itself in biblical levels of destruction: hurricanes, droughts, blizzards, fire.

I know that I’ll be lamenting more losses in coming years. We all will.

And yet, while we’re destroying the planet, no one much seems to care.

The Camp Fire ended up killing about 85 people. I think about 20 people I know lost their homes, among with the tens of thousands I don’t know. Thousands of people have horrific memories of fleeing the fire through hellish highway corridors, flames rising all around them. The nearby city of Chico, where I had lived, took in refugees, acted as the base station for firefighters and Red Cross operations. Smoke hung over the valley for months. Everyone was, and remains, traumatized.

And now there is the Dixie Fire, just up the ridge from Paradise. Geographically, it is the second largest fire in California history.

One town — Greenville — has been destroyed by the fire, a horrible loss for those residents.

I have memories of much of the area now consumed by fire. Those mountains were basically my playground. I once went to the Greenville Rodeo, a ridiculous experience where my girlfriend got in a fistfight with a cowgirl, which is what seemed to pass for recreation in those parts. I sometimes went with my ne’er-do-well friends to drink and play poker for days at a time at some cabins on Butt Lake, just down from Almanor. Another group of friends lived in the old dead resort towns up the Feather River. There were camping trips throughout the area, and often I just drove around, or hiked unknown trails.

Those fun times are 3,000 miles and 20 years removed. I don’t want to cheapen the experience for those suffering immediate harm by comparing it with my own sense of loss, so let’s just say it’s deeply saddening.

Two things strike me, however.

The obvious is that these hellish disasters have become routine, and I fear that our immense capacity at normalizing even the worst trauma — shifting baseline syndrome — will cause us to minimize or compartmentalize the losses. Oh, another town destroyed by wildfire? Pass the sugar. It’s somebody’s else’s problem, something relief officials have to deal with, or maybe some experts will get around to addressing. I do it myself when there’s no direct personal connection, and yet I know that every disaster can’t be a gut punch, or I’d never survive.

My second thought is personal. Thinking back, I’m amazed and a little jealous at how carefree my younger self was. There weren’t deadlines and commitments, no real structure to my life. If I wanted to spend a week in the woods, nothing was stopping me. I would sometimes get curious about something, and spend every night for a month in the university library studying it — to no end, just because I wanted to know. I was probably a bad boyfriend because I never gave a thought about my future.

Now, people depend on me. Relatives in an emergency and the day-to-day, employees for a paycheque. I have an accountant, for fuck’s sake, and a lawyer, doubly fucks. I’m not sure how this happened.

Don’t get me wrong: there are immense rewards in my current life. I value those around me like I should’ve valued those around me back in the day. I know how lucky — privileged — I am. And having responsibilities is grounding, gives me purpose.

It strikes me that the loss of my carefree years is emblematic of a society that can no longer mess around, that must attend to responsibilities and respond to the multiple crises around us, including the environmental disaster.

It’s time to be an adult.

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Government

City

Design Review Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm) — live streamed on YouTube

Regional Watersheds Advisory Board (Thursday, 5pm) — live streamed on YouTube

Province

No meetings.


On campus

No events.


In the harbour

Halifax
07:10: John J. Carrick, barge, with Leo A. McArthur, tug, arrives at McAsphalt from Saint John
08:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
09:30: ZIM Vancouver, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
10:00: NYK Romulus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Caucedo, Dominican Republic
11:45: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 36 to Autoport
12:00: Durable, cable layer, arrives at Pier 34 from Baltimore
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves to Pier 41
20:00: NYK Romulus sails for Southampton, England

Cape Breton
12:00: Arctic Lift, barge, with Western Tugger, tug, move from Port Hawkesbury anchorage to Aulds Cove quarry
12:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
15:00: NS Laguna, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
16:00: Nordpenguin, oil tanker, moves from Anchorage C anchorage to Point Tupper


Footnotes

Between the Dixie Fire, the latest ICCP report, the Nazi resurgence… I’m a bit overwhelmed.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Parks Canada are the national experts on park management. They will apply that knowledge and experience to making Blue Mountain Birch Cove a destination-worthy attraction not only for the community but for people across the country. The economic benefit will be significant and long-term. A city with a national park is truly noteworthy!
    An important point too is that Parks Canada is skilled at indigenous engagement. I have no doubt at all that this park will honour the Mi’kmaw with respect and dignity.
    This is one of the best pieces of nature news I have heard in my lifetime.

  2. This suggestion doesn’t fit with a news site, but with the description “It is an independent, adversarial news site devoted to holding the powerful accountable” it’s worth an ask. Could relevant Morning Files have a Call to Action section?

    The headline “Let’s all work to make Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes National Park a reality” makes a reader think YES!, but aspiring activists/folk overwhelmed with current crises might not know what to do. Even just one clear Call to Action bullet could help: eg if it’s a federal level concern, “Call/write/email your local MP (with link to gov’t page with names and contact info).” Thanks.

  3. Very glad to know you’re doing the series on affordable housing Zane. The $500 increase is outrageous and must become illegal. Mark Culligan’s work is essential to combatting this exploitative behaviour.

  4. Great article on Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes national park idea Chris. I’ve been a big fan of the lakes since I first camped around the loop in 1973. An extraordinary treat so close to the city. Already diminished by nearby highrises but still a gem we must protect. I really appreciate your comments about accessibility to all demographics. The one thing I’m puzzled by is that you don’t mention the vital role of the Friends of BMBCL in the public advocacy you rightly say is essential. As a member with no leadership role I highly recommend people join this group to actively support protection. See:
    https://www.bluemountainfriends.ca/

  5. My first career depended upon up to date proof of vaccination. I still have them. They are attached to government documents which allowed me to fly anywhere in the world without a passport. I don’t understand the fear/opposition to vaccines. Would you go to the Far East or West Africa or East Africa without being vaccinated ?

  6. Thank you, Chris, for the great piece on Blue Mountain.

    And thank you, Tim, for your words. I came of age in the 70s. Watergate, Vietnam- a walk in the park compared to what faces 20-somethings today. I am selfishly glad that I know what it was like to be carefree – but it breaks my heart that my kids never will.

  7. Spent a lot time partying at Susie’s lake in the seventies.
    Lived in “The Pubs” I wonder if it is still called that now? Federal Ave/Romans Ave.
    We would hitch-hike out with bottles of wine, bags of weed and munchies stuff into back packs. I’m sorry to say that the wine bottles didn’t return with us. Great memories tinged with some guilt and regret at our careless
    littering. I try to assuage my guilt these days by fiercely following recycling rules and carrying a garbage bag and extra poop bags with me while out walking my dog.

  8. Your papers please

    The idea of requiring us all to carry vaccine passports makes me think of every movie about the Nazis in WWII where there is always a scene where regular citizens, minding their own business, get stopped and asked for “your papers please” to prove they are no threat to the state. That’s nowhere I want to live.

    Freedom of movement is as fundamental to democracy as voting. Vaccine passports would create an opportunity to limit or even remove that freedom. Worse still, vaccine passports would give us something we certainly do not ever need any more of–namely, another reason to separate ourslelves out into different groups, with the inevitable outcome of one group feeling superior to the other.

    Fascism creeps in “on little cat feet.” Forget vaccine passports.

    1. I see this as a temporary public health measure.
      Whatever this passport turns out to be should indicate that you are as safe as can be assessed right now, whether that’s vaccinations or a recent covid-19 test result. This could protect everyone in a restaurant or a church. Sure it may be a nuisance but I think it’s hardly creeping fascism.

    2. One way they could make the vaccine passports more privacy-friendly is to eliminate the internet connected smartphone scanner app. Print them on plastic cards like drivers licenses with the same anti-forgery measures in place. If a place wants to use Scotiapass, they have to pay someone to stand at the door and look at the cards. There is no privacy issue there because there is no data collection, other than what someone can remember.

  9. “… how a vaccine passport requirement would affect the already marginalized, and what specific authority would be given to, say, restaurant managers …”

    Remember, in the bygone era of 2019, when it was a mainstream left talking point that voter ID was a racist Republican conspiracy to prevent people of colour from voting? I certainly do.

    Secondly, credible sources have recently reported that the vaccine does not prevent COVID-19 infection and transmission, and that will only become more true as vaccine-resistant variants are selected for. So even a restaurant full of people with their Scotiapass ($75 fees if you’re late for your booster?) will not be nearly as safe as Rankin implies it will be.

    1. I think we should restrict ourselves to international certification, like we do for Yellow Fever, like we used to for Smallpox. As Delta and newer variants are likely to defeat the vaccines it’s all a bit moot anyway, but at least international border control is one line of defence.