News

1. Tourism industry balks at proposal to fund stadium through room and car rental levies

A woman hails a cab from the middle of the proposed Shannon Park stadium.

Jennifer Henderson reports:

The group that represents hundreds of tourism operators in the province is urging the McNeil government to reject a proposal to build a $110 million football stadium on the former Shannon Park military base in Dartmouth.

Click here for the full story from Henderson, including why the tourism industry association is “shocked” at the proposal to increase levies on accommodations and car rentals in order to fund the initial construction of a stadium, and the Premier’s promise to spend “no general revenue” on the stadium, which of course does not preclude additional levies.

The municipal funding of the stadium proposal by private consortium Schooner Sports and Entertainment (SSE) will be discussed at next week’s council session, if Sam Austin’s motion to abandon the project makes the agenda. Austin had originally put forward his motion without notice, meaning it would have required a 2/3 majority to even be discussed, but he changed that on Tuesday, instead giving notice of his motion to be discussed next week. Austin cited the fact that Russell Walker was away from council due to a family emergency as the reason for the change.  Walker had told CBC News that he would be voting against Austin’s motion, along with at least six other councillors.

Austin’s motion is as follows:

That Halifax Regional Council:
1. Rescind its motion of October 30, 2018 directing staff to, among other things, bring a detailed analysis back to Council on the Schooner Sports and Entertainment proposal for a stadium at Shannon Park.
2. Directs that staff take no further action on the stadium proposal submitted by Schooner Sport and Entertainment.

The CBC’s Anjuli Patil spoke with councillors intending to vote against Austin’s motion:

The seven councillors who told CBC News they plan to vote against the measure are Steve Streatch, David Hendsbee, Tony Mancini, Russell Walker, Matt Whitman, Steve Adams and Lisa Blackburn.

Some of those councillors said they don’t want to bail on any stadium analysis because they fear it would send the wrong message to anyone else who may want to partner with the municipality on a major project in the future.

Mancini said he believes “council owes it to all citizens to make a proper, wise and informed decision on the recommendation of HRM staff.

“Let me be clear, I am not saying we should move forward on a stadium. I am saying we should do our due diligence and allow staff to complete their work and come back to council with their report and recommendations in the new year.”

It’s at times like this I like to remind everyone that the city pulled out of a national partnership to research and pilot electric buses, leaving behind $2.25 million in federal funding and the potential for much more, all without a report or recommendation to council, and due to the fact that, as transit director Dave Reage put it in an email to the CAO, “organizationally we are not ready”.

A stadium analysis, conducted by city staff at all levels, is already a city investment in this project. Investing staff time here for the sake of “due diligence” means taking it away from somewhere else.  Councillors make this point all the time, so I’m sure we’ll hear it discussed next week.

2. Council approves cash-in-lieu of affordable housing

This see-through building has been approved for the Willow Tree intersection. If after construction the building isn’t actually see-through, we should sue for false advertising.

Yesterday city council approved a deal with Armco Capital to collect $1.8 million in cash, in lieu of a commitment to build affordable housing units in their proposed tower development at the Willow Tree intersection overlooking the Halifax Common.

Zane Woodford’s report for StarMetro Halifax gives a great breakdown of what led to the decision.

Despite significant public outcry, council voted in favour of bylaw amendments to allow the 25-storey apartment building in June 2018.

To get an extra five storeys above what the draft planning rules of the day contemplated for the site, the developer and the municipality made a density bonusing agreement – a trade of extra density for public benefits.

Council gave Armco four options: buried overhead electrical and communications wiring around the site and 10 units of affordable housing for 15 years; 20 units of affordable housing for 15 years; 10 units and $900,000 towards a yet-to-be-established affordable housing fund; or $1.8 million to the fund.

The decision to go with cash in lieu of actual units seems to be based on problems with how the province administers affordable housing. For provincial regulatory reasons, in order for Armco to build affordable units, they need to be administered through Housing Nova Scotia, something Housing Nova Scotia is reportedly reluctant to do on a small scale. In addition, the units would only remain affordable for 15 years. (Presumably we want a city where people can live in a home longer than 15 years.) Councillors arguing in favour of the cash-in-lieu deal pointed out problems with the 15-year timeline, and talked about the possibilities for a fund that can help repair current affordable housing and build new units, with control going to non-profit organizations. Councillors opposed talked about the risk of “ghettoization”, if the city approves expensive units in plum locations, and then builds affordable units somewhere less convenient.

There’s currently no guidelines or criteria for how or where the new affordable housing fund might be spent. That will be up to council sometime in the new year.

Probably one of the more shocking revelations of the discussion came from Shawn Cleary, who pointed out that according to new Centre Plan rules, the cash payment required for the density bonus given to Armco would actually only be $841,000. “So we’re getting $1 million,” said Cleary on Tuesday.  “You’re welcome.”

If Cleary’s calculations are accurate, it seems the city is poised to greatly underestimate the value of additional units in Halifax’s development market, and effectively short-change its ability to keep at least some of the rental market affordable.

3.  Halifax buildings have plenty of fire code violations

Firefighters work the rear of the building at 81 Primrose Street. Photo: Halifax Examiner, May 2018

The CBC’s Angela McIvor takes at look at Halifax fire code violations:

A CBC News Investigation found that 5,912 fire code violations have been issued across 846 buildings in the Halifax Regional Municipality since Jan. 1, 2018. Some buildings had dozens of violations, while most had a handful. 

The most common offence is not having up to date records, testing, and maintenance of fire safety devices with a total of 1,755 violations.

McIvor spoke to Matt Covey, division chief of fire prevention for Halifax Regional Fire, and found that on average, buildings are getting inspected about once every three years, and buildings with three or fewer units are not inspected at all.

“We have a lot of fires in those buildings and tragic fires, so we have to try and get there through public education,” he said.

Covey said most often the cause is traced back to disabled smoke alarms.

“If it doesn’t work, a lot of people might think that, ‘Well, I’ll just wake up.’ You will not wake up. The fire will consume the oxygen in the building. You will go into a deeper sleep and by the time the smoke has gotten that far, it makes it very difficult to do an escape,” he said.

4. Mancini enquires about multiple arrests of police officers

StarMetro’s Zane Woodford and Haley Ryan report on the third arrest of a Halifax police officer in a month, and the reaction from Deputy Mayor Tony Mancini, who also sits on the city’s police commission. Mancini says he has requested a debrief on the arrests.

The latest arrest is in response to a report of threats being made. The previous two arrests were in response to accusations of sexual assault and theft.

5.  Barrington bus lanes to extend farther north

The city issued a tender this week to extend the new transit lanes on Barrington farther north by about 1.7km, from Devonshire to Glebe.

According to city spokesperson Erin DiCarlio, planners saw the opportunity in space available for the transit lane while working on the plan for extension of the Barrington Greenway, which also included transit lanes south of Devonshire.

On the face, this is simply good news. More transit priority lanes mean less time that buses, carrying dozens of people, are stuck sitting in traffic along with cars, carrying far few people.

After all, the city’s Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP) identifies Barrington Street as a transit priority corridor from Spring Garden all the way to Africville (even though there’s no bus actually going to Africville.)

However, although the IMP identifies Barrington as a transit priority corridor, Halifax Transit’s earlier Moving Forward Together plan does not show a corridor route running along Barrington this far north. (The corridor routes in the MFT are essentially the high frequency spines of the bus network, with less frequent local routes designed to help feed them.) Stantec engineers, hired to review the city’s corridor route plan, have suggested the possibility that if transit priority is implemented along Barrington, perhaps it makes sense to move the northern corridor route (currently the 7) down to Barrington.

At the same time, on the other end of the IMP-identified Barrington transit priority corridor, where there are corridor routes a-plenty, we are actively planning for a gap in transit priority lanes. The Cogswell Interchange redesign proposes to rebuild a street network with transit lanes only between Duke Street and Upper Water, creating a sort of island of transit priority.

In terms of what the long term vision is here for transit, there appear to be mixed signals.

6. Cryptocurrency widow reaches settlement

Jack Julian of CBC News reports on the bankruptcy settlement for Jennifer Robertson, the widow of a cryptocurrency exchange founder who stole from his clients before suddenly passing away on his honeymoon. The story is worth reading just for the recap of what Gerald Cotton, the QuadrigaCX founder, did. Writes Julian,

A total of 76,319 unsecured creditors — virtually all of them QuadrigaCX clients — have come forward to claim they are owed $214.6 million.

Cotten died with sole knowledge of passwords used to encrypt “cold wallets” — offline storage devices — of various cryptocurrencies.

A forensic investigation revealed those wallets were empty, and that Cotten used aliases to transfer clients’ funds into his own accounts.

Robertson said she had no knowledge of Cotten’s illicit activities.


Views

1.  Police response to protest “heavy handed”

Judy Haiven writes in the Nova Scotia Advocate:

On Monday in Darmouth, it was the police who closed the MacDonald Bridge – not the protesters. Police also closed bike and pedestrian access to the bridge in both directions, which seemed needless and punitive. Especially since earlier the protesters had promised to allow this traffic. By contrast, in Toronto, the protesters and police allowed bike and pedestrian traffic over the blocked bridge. Why couldn’t Halifax police do this?

The police release about the arrests made at the bridge rally (18 protesters arrested, fined, and released) cited public safety as the reason the bridge, including bikeway and walkway, were closed. When I asked police spokesperson Constable John MacLeod for more information, he emailed, “the decision to close the bridge was made in consultation with the Halifax Harbour Bridges when concerns for public and officer safety arose from the crowd that had assembled on the bridge.”  MacLeod’s answer seems to indicate that this was a last minute safety decision by the Bridge Commission and the police, made at 7:35am Monday morning, as the relatively small, and apparently fierce, crowd of protesters descended from the bridge bus terminal to the bridge toll gates. This scenario seems highly unlikely. The Bridge Commission is highly protective, and almost certainly decided pre-emptively that they would rather close down the entire bridge rather than run the risk of having a protester anywhere on the structure. You might question the wisdom of that risk assessment, as many on Halifax social media have done, but at least there’s a debate to be had on the issue. But as to why both the police and the Bridge Commission would wait until 7:35am on Monday morning to announce their intention to close the pathways, leaving cyclists and pedestrians expecting to cross stranded and forced to detour, I’m not sure there’s much debate. That was just a bad decision.

But the disruption of some cycling and walking commutes (and the conflicts that arose as a result) are only part of the issues with the handling of Monday’s #bridgeout rally. Back to Judy Haiven, and her concerns with the mixed messages coming from the police and their new chief:

As recently as last Friday, Dan Kinsella, Halifax’s new police chief, wrote in the StarMetro, “At the core of good police work is an integrated response approach which uses… respectful interactions and community co-operation and goodwill.” Little to none of that goodwill was evident at the Dartmouth demonstration today. He also wrote about “our officers [using] empathy, concern and kindness,” and the necessary “shift from a …command and control policing model to a community-focused, people oriented approach.” 

Halifax police not only prevented cyclists and pedestrians from using the bridge, but police also arrested 18 activists– probably more than 30% of protesters.  Why did the police decide to criminalize peaceful protest after three hours? The police action was punitive and even provocative. Clearly in using a command and control method to contain and punish activists – it seems the chief has some explaining to do. 


Noticed

The Canadian Press is reporting that a memorial service for former premier John Buchanan will take place on Friday at the Rebecca Cohn auditorium in Halifax.  Presumably details will be forthcoming.  In the meantime, condolences can be left at Province House or online.


Government

City

No public meetings for the rest of the week.

Province

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) —
Public Service Commission, Laura Lee Langley – Public Service Commissioner
Department of Agriculture, Frank Dunn – Deputy Minister
Department of Justice, Karen Hudson – Deputy Minister
Department of Community Services, Tracey Barbrick – Associate Deputy Minister

Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Service – May 2019 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 1
Committee page here.

Legislature sits (Wednesday, 1pm, Province House)

Thursday

Legislature sits (Thursday, 1pm, Province House)


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Role of Transcription Factor EB in the Pathobiology of Triple Negative Breast Cancer (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Logan Slade will talk.

On the Presence of the Past in the Future of International Labour Law (Wednesday, 4:30pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Adelle Blackett from McGill University will speak.

Love & Information (Wednesday, 7:30pm, David Mack. Murray Studio, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — a theatrical experience for the age of Google and Twitter, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Laura Vingoe-Cram. Performances 7:30pm until Saturday, matinee Saturday 2pm. $15/10.

Thursday

Federalism and the Politics of Equalization Policy: The Future of Territorial Redistribution in Canada (Thursday, 11:30am, Room 1011, Rowe Management Building) — Daniel Béland from the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada will talk. From the listing:

How should federal money be distributed to Canada’s provinces? The federal equalization program attempts to address fiscal disparities between provinces. In part because of its explicitly redistributive nature, equalization is a source of political controversy. The rhetoric of equalization critics such as Alberta Prem​ier Jason Kenney has become increasingly contentious at a time when the federal program features prominently in debates over issues such as carbon pricing and pipeline building. How can we make sense of these recent developments? What is the future of equalization in Canada and what steps can we take to improve the program, from a political standpoint? The answers to these questions are not straightforward but addressing them now is particularly vital as the 2019 federal election approaches.​

More info here.

Thesis Defence, Earth Sciences (Thursday, 1:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Carrie-Ellen Gabriel will defend “Losses of Carbon from Mineral-associated Soil Organic Matter Pools in Podzolic Horizons Following Soil Climate Changes Associated with Forest Clear-cut Harvesting.”

Loving Nature (Thursday, 7pm, Halifax Central Library) — Dale Jamieson from New York University will talk.

Dianne Saxe

The Climate Crisis and the Role of Carbon Pricing (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — Dianne Saxe will talk.

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

Lou Andreas-Salomé (Wednesday, 6pm, Burke, Theatre B) — screening in German with English subtitles.

Kent Monkman, Making Miss Chief (Wednesday, 7pm, Halifax Central Library) — the artist discusses how the creation of his shape-shifting, time-travelling, gender-fluid alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle has enabled him to challenge the authority of the settler version of North American art history upheld in museums across the continent. Reserve your free ticket here.

Thursday

No public events.


In the harbour

05:30: Valiant Ace, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Baltimore
06:30: Seven Seas Navigator, cruise ship with up to 550 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Sydney, on 12-day cruise from Montreal to New York
10:00: BW Lynx, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Philadelphia
10:30: John J. Carrick, barge, arrives at MacAsphalt from sea
11;30: Valiant Ace sails for sea
11:45: Grandeur of the Seas, cruise ship with up to 2,446 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on a nine-day roundtrip cruise out of Baltimore
15:30: Seven Seas Navigator sails for Saint John
18:00: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
18:30: Grandeur of the Seas sails for Baltimore


Footnotes

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  1. The purpose of affordable housing is to, well, provide affordable housing. Now the precedent has been set for developers to just by their way out of that. I guess folks like Armoyan dont want any un-rich riff raff cluttering up their McBuildings so they can increase the price by buying off the City. Meanwhile there are many, perhaps hundreds of people in desperate need of housing.

  2. Later, when Council approves the stadium, part of the reason will be “well, we already did our due diligence by having staff study the report, so if we don’t go ahead with the construction, that will be time wasted that could have been spent on other projects.”