1. Shawn Cleary
I’m taking a mapping class at the Journalism school this week. It’s pretty cool!
I’ve always wanted to get into mapping beyond simply using Google Maps, and in recent years new software programs have become available that allow people without extensive tech backgrounds to manipulate GIS databases and make maps. About a year ago, I started playing around with a program called Mapbox, but I found I didn’t have the time to dedicate to learning it to the degree necessary to use it for practical purposes.
So when J-school instructor Fred Vallance-Jones contacted me to say he still had space in this summer’s mapping class, I jumped at the opportunity to join. I believe in professional development in all fields, and here was something exactly tailored to my interests. We’re learning a program called ArcGIS, and already I’m seeing potential uses for it beyond simply mapping: it will allow me to do data analysis on a scale I hadn’t previously thought possible for a small operation like the Examiner.
Anyway, the class is all-day, all-week, which meant I had to plan my time carefully. I decided to get guest writers for most of this week’s Morning Files — Erica Butler wrote yesterday’s, and we have two other writers for Thursday and Friday. I thought for Wednesday, I’d just bang out a short File. Monday’s File I could do over the weekend — there’s usually not much news on Monday mornings, and I could link to other articles the Examiner has published, like Stephen Kimber’s weekly column, which we usually publish on Sundays. It’s summer, my readers are forgiving, all good.
I tell you this to say I haven’t really been paying attention to much besides my class. But yesterday morning I had a few minutes to spare as I ate my granola and downed a quick cup of coffee before catching the bus, so I popped onto Twitter to see what was going on. I joined an exchange between Councillor Shawn Cleary and someone else, to ask the honest question about what Cleary thought of a city hall lobbyist registry. But then — bang! — Cleary started attacking me, weirdly, for not having a Journalism degree:
Huh? Why in response to asking an honest question about a lobbyist registry was Cleary attacking me for not having a Journalism degree?
Well, I soon figured out that Cleary was angry about Stephen Kimber’s last column, which I linked to Monday. Understand that Kimber is a long-time reporter and not just a Journalism school graduate but also a Journalism school instructor.
So attacking me for not having a degree because of something Kimber wrote makes no sense at all. I suppose you could blame me for publishing Kimber, but even then the “no degree!” complaint doesn’t hold up. My best guess is that Cleary somehow thought I wrote the column.
As for Kimber’s column, it’s a balanced and fair piece about Cleary and Cleary’s vote in favour of Armco’s development at the Willow Tree intersection at the corner of Quinpool Road and Robie Street. My deal with Kimber is that his columns are behind the paywall for a week before we make them public, but in the interest of clarity, I’m making Kimber’s column public today. You can read the column, “The contradictions of being Shawn Cleary,” here.
But since somehow I’ve been dragged into this, I’ll express my own thoughts on the matter.
Candidate Shawn Cleary stated his position on the Armco proposal before the 2016 elections. His lengthy post about it seems to have been taken off his website, but thanks to the miracle of the internet archive, we can still read it:
Yesterday, Halifax Council voted 11-4 to reject the recommendation of Halifax planners to give Armco a height limit of 20 stories at the corner of Quinpool and Robie, and instead gave the developer 29 stories.
There are at least five problems with this vote.
First, Halifax has voted against a reasonable balance. From a purely public-interest point of view, there is benefit in having a tall building on Quinpool — which could use the new local customers — and Robie — which is a major transit corridor. But, a tall building there casts a long shadow into the Halifax Commons, one of our best-used public spaces. As a winter city, we must maximize the sunlight in our public spaces and should not give that light away lightly. A height limit of 20 stories would have struck a much more reasonable balance.
Second, Council is doing a bad job negotiating on behalf of the public. Once the Centre Plan is complete, we will be able to use Bonus Zoning to extract money for every square foot of new height to be used to nearby public amenities. In other words, we will be able to say, “In exchange for the public letting you earn more, you need to give the public something in return.”
As it stands, Council voted to give Armco millions of dollars in extra development rights without securing a piece of that benefit for those who have to live with the wind and shadow. For those who believe the 29 story proposal was a negotiating tactic and that the developer expected to receive less, Council’s acceptance of the absolute highest number is particularly frustrating. The fact that most Councillors who voted to make this extra contribution of building rights receive electoral donations themselves from developers does not smell good. Many Haligonians perceive this to be a conflict of interest.
Third, Council has exculpated bullying as a tactic. Armco initially proposed a building height of 22 stories back in 2014. When staff suggested it was too high, the developer came back with 28 stories. For Council to say “Sure” is an insult to public process. As Councillor Watts said at the time, “It’s unusual, to have concerns listed … and have a proposal come back that does not address those concerns. I’ve not seen that before.” So how does Council respond? By giving them a yes anyways.
Fourth, we only get so much growth per year, and we are better off to distribute that growth amongst many developments, large and small, rather than to concentrate it all in just a few towers. Our growth rate in the Regional Centre is higher now than it has been in years because more people want to live in the core, which is fantastic, but our growth rate is not yet at New York or Calgary levels. Some tall buildings may be necessary and in some locations, a 29 story building may be appropriate, but we are not so desperate that we need to let them cast shadows over our major parks.
Fifth, this decision undermines public confidence in planning. As with the Wellington decision, local residents, the local Councillor, city staff, and the planning advisory committee were all against the proposed height, but Council voted to pass it anyway. City staff are telling residents that under the Centre Plan, height limits will be respected. The more that Council disregards planning staff’s recommendations, the harder that is to believe. We don’t want to lose that public trust.
Clearly, this building will not destroy Halifax, and other elements of the development, such as the first few floors, are well-designed. But the building’s height fails to strike the right balance for the public. If we continue to make decisions with such disregard for process and local concern, we will only stoke an antagonistic relationship between the public and developers. With good process, clear rules, and consistent decision-making — in a system where developers can make solid returns and the public can be happy with outcomes — we would all be better off.
Frankly, we need some new Councillors. I am accepting no donations from developers this election in an attempt to restore public confidence. If you think that’s a good idea, I hope you will support my campaign. This is ridiculous and needs to stop.
These were words of wisdom! Cleary sensibly and clearly supported a reasonable-but-not-excessive level of density and height — 20 storeys max — for the Armco site, defended the professionalism of city planning staff, and argued that very tall buildings might be appropriate elsewhere on the peninsula but not at this site.
Importantly, Cleary also underscored the importance of local control. Let’s read that part again:
[T]his decision undermines public confidence in planning. As with the Wellington decision, local residents, the local Councillor, city staff, and the planning advisory committee were all against the proposed height, but Council voted to pass it anyway. City staff are telling residents that under the Centre Plan, height limits will be respected. The more that Council disregards planning staff’s recommendations, the harder that is to believe. We don’t want to lose that public trust.
When the Armco proposal came to a vote before council two weeks ago, the local councillor — Lindell Smith — voted against it. So did the councillor whose district is across the street, Waye Mason. Planning staff also was opposed to the development. But now-Councillor Shawn Cleary not only voted in favour of the proposal, completely upturning his 2016 position, but also led the charge for it, bizarrely calculating millions of dollars in supposed “benefit” on the fly, seemingly on the back of a napkin — a calculation Cleary’s fellow councillor, Sam Austin, himself a professional planner, called out as “the epitome of ad hocery.”
So, yes, it’s appropriate to discuss Cleary’s role.
Understand that I firmly believe that politicians not only can, but sometimes should, change their minds. New information comes, circumstances change, better arguments emerge, more reflective thought occurs. And there were debatable nuances in the changes made through the various iterations of the Armco proposal.
But let’s step back and consider. Cleary was, I think, elected for two reasons.
One, he was not Linda Mosher. This may have been the defining reason, actually. The shelf life of all politicians eventually expires, and Mosher, the former councillor for the district, had built up considerable opposition because she was so clearly a lapdog for every development proposal that came along. The first time I talked at length with Mosher was back in 2008, when she drove me around her district; we stopped in Purcells Cove at the site where Mosher wanted a fast-ferry dock built, and she pointed up at the backlands, explaining that they could be developed once a ferry served as a work-around for the Armdale Rotary. Through all the years after, I don’t recall her opposing any significant development proposal. That sort of unblinking support for all development everywhere no matter the details built incredible enmity in the district. Just about anyone could unseat her; I think with a some slick brochures, Karla Homolka could’ve defeated Mosher.
But Shawn Cleary is no Karla Homolka. And that’s the second reason he got elected: He’s a nice guy who ran a campaign distrustful of development and explicitly opposed to the largest proposed development in the city, Armco’s Willow Tree proposal.
This is not a case of more information or nuanced arguments swaying a councillor to change his mind; rather, it’s a complete betrayal of voters.
Yesterday, Cleary made a couple of complaints about me: I don’t have a degree was one, but the second was that I should have called him before, er, Kimber wrote his piece.
I utterly reject the second. Cleary is a public figure. He makes public statements and public votes, and it’s appropriate to report on and critique him for those public statements and votes.
I’m not a fan of access journalism, or even much of talking to politicians more than I have to. I usually avoid press conferences and scrums unless I have a specific question that hasn’t been addressed in public. Politics shouldn’t be an insider game and, worse, politics shouldn’t be a game of spin, which is what private interviews usually entail. Say what you have to say before the TV cameras, and then we can all judge it.
As for Cleary’s first complaint, plenty of people came to my defence on Twitter yesterday, citing my past work, naming all the famous journalists without degrees, pointing out the inherent authoritarianism of credentialing reporters, and more. I appreciate that support! But I’m not sure what my credentials or lack thereof have to do with Kimber’s opinion.
The bottom line is that Cleary ran a campaign explicitly in opposition to Armco’s Willow Tree development, then utterly changed his position once his buddy Joachim Stroink was hired to lobby on Armco’s behalf.
Otherwise, in defence of my non-educated self, I am spending all day every day this week taking that Journalism class. Maybe one day I’ll have enough schooling to pass Cleary’s demanding credentialing measure. I can only hope.
It’s kind of crazy, though: even without a degree, I’m not so stupid that I don’t know how to read a byline.
2. Dine and dash
Yesterday, Erica Butler questioned the legality of restaurants requiring servers to cover the bills of people who “dine and dash.” A few hours later, Jason Edwards, of the PinkLarkin law firm, published a blog post about the issue:
Whether an employer may make a deduction from a server’s wages for a dine-and-dash will depend on whether or not the Employer can show that the dash was the employee’s fault. In a dimly-lit, busy pub this might be difficult to prove. Servers are not security guards: they are busy serving.
It is also likely that deducting the equivalent of an entire bill for a meal and a few drinks will bring a server’s wage below the Code minimum.
3. R.I.P. Whitefish
The “build artificial habitat elsewhere for the endangered species so we can destroy their native habitat” schemes hardly ever work.
Community Design Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 11:30am, City Hall) — the Centre Plan fiction continues.
Public Information Meeting RE: Hobson Lake Lands (Wednesday, 7pm, Bedford-Hammonds Plains Community Centre) — in January, the city bought Hobsons Lake and a few hundred acres of surrounding forest so that the land can be incorporated in the Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park. This meeting is to talk about what if any uses will be made of the land, where trails will be built, and (important to the neighbours) where parking lots and entrances will be placed.
Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) — Chrissy Mcdow, the owner of Lady Drive Her, the car service that provides women drivers for runs to and from the airport, is talking to the committee about creating a new category of taxi licences for women drivers so her company can operate in the rest of the city.
Port Wallace PPC Meeting (Thursday, 6:30pm, HEMDCC Large Meeting Room 1, Alderney Gate) — there’s no agenda posted as of Tuesday night.
No public meetings for the rest of the week.
Thesis Defence, Interdisciplinary PhD Program (Wednesday, 9:30am, Room 3107, The Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Ping Lu will defend her thesis, “Tai Chi: A New and Ancient Reality: The Socio-Cultural Context of Older People who Practice Tai Chi in Halifax, Canada and Jinan, China.”
Understanding the biological role of beta-glucosidase 2 [GBA2], a gene mutated in neurological disorders (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — PhD candidate Saki Sultana will talk.
No public events.
In the harbour
2:30am: AS Felicia, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Kingston, Jamaica
6am: Elektra, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Zeebrugge, Belgium
11am: Elektra, car carrier, moves from Pier 31 to Autoport
9:30pm: Elektra, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
I’ll be away from the internet all day.