The Co-op Covers Council
That’s right. The Halifax Media Co-op has decided to enter the shady, confusing, frustrating and often boring world of municipal politics. Why? Because even though the Halifax Regional Council’s weekly Tuesday meetings are open to the public, there are inevitably more staffers than spectators in the seats. This phenomenon is unsurprising considering the mundaneness of some of the topics (see “In Other News” below) and the long-windedness of many of the councillors (see all comments below). Still, regional council discusses and votes on the issues that shape this city, and the public has not only the right to know what happens during them but the duty to at least be somewhat aware of them.
Thus we found ourselves Tuesday with a lengthy live Twitter commentary produced during the council meeting and this attempt-at-humour summary before you now. This column of sorts being a new project, we would love to hear your comments. Send us a message to email@example.com, on Facebook or via Twitter.
World Trade & Convention Centre Gets the Go Ahead
With a motion by councillor Dawn Sloane at the beginning of the meeting, this item — arguably the most enticing on the agenda — was boosted to the top of the schedule. It would have been nice, though, if the two hours of discussion that followed weren’t dominated by empty ‘concern voicing.’
Under review was a memorandum of agreement between the province of Nova Scotia and the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) regarding the construction, operation and financing of the World Trade & Convention Centre (WTCC).
The costs of the project are to be shared by the federal, provincial and municipal governments, with HRM’s portion to be paid by property taxes. The staff report explains the tax revenue is to come from the WTCC site itself, as well as from the potential for surrounding property’s assessment values to increase. It gives a mild but unconvincing reassurance that HRM residents’ tax rates and other municipal programs will not be impacted by the need for WTCC monies.
Councillor Reg Rankin didn’t buy it: “This is not an uptrend industry; this is a sunset industry,” he said of the conference centre biz. The report agrees. It acknowledges that since the WTCC was first proposed in 2010, the demand for such a building in the downtown core has changed (by that the staff mean ‘decreased’).
So, just in case, the report outlined some good ole risk mitigation techniques, such as conservatively estimating the assessment value of the WTCC; making an agreement with the province to defer 25% of the municipality’s annual payments (that’s $6 million) for up to 10 years; using funds from other municipal coffers; and drawing on the developer’s letters of credit.
Staff also proposed to devote $40,000 to a marketing campaign to draw business to the WTCC and HRM’s downtown core as a whole. This did not go over well, to say the least. With numerous comparisons to the Shit [sic] Starts Here Campaign, councillors lambasted this use of municipal money. Mayor Peter Kelly’s response? What’s $40,000 when we’re going to spend millions on this development? Ah, the age of frugality.
And try as they did to reiterate their opposition to the project as a whole, councillors were repeatedly reminded (re: interrupted) by Kelly that council had already agree to go ahead with the development; there was no turning back, so might as well quit it with the dissenting.
That sat well with a few councillors, like Barry Dalrymple, who agreed that the council needed to stand by its previous decisions, whether good or bad, in order for residents to respect them. Steve Streatch and David Hendsbee orated on having “pride” in this project and that this decision being a big day for council. It was clear that several councillors desperately wanted this project to pass while they were still in office.
And, alas, it did. After all that hullabaloo the memorandum was passed with an overwhelming majority. We’ll see if this decision will indeed act as a gold star — or a stain — on councillors’ records come election time.
Don’t Let Dem Der Students Vote!
Although what was put forward was a proposed amendment to a Municipal Elections Act bylaw, focusing namely on alternative means of voting during advanced polling and the option for a voter to spoil a ballot or refuse to vote entirely, the councillors spent a deal of time asking a clerk about basic voting practices. Sloane seemed miffed that students who had been residents of HRM for a minimum of three months and had left the city with the intention to return were allowed to vote. That’s just what will bring this city down: vacationing students.
The Sun Might Shine Again
In an amazing feat of logic and patience, the council voted unanimously to defer the staff’s recommendation to scrap the Solar City program until word gets back from the FCM Green Municipal Fund as to whether the project can get help with financing. Solar City supporters had attacked the recommendation as quick-to-the-cut.
Taking Out the Trash
Apparently, HRM’s solid waste management system needs an overhaul — so much so that the city wants to devote $400,000 to consultants to create a new strategy for dealing with garbage, recycling and compost.
The councillors agreed the city’s solid waste was in the dumps, but they took issue with the staff’s approach to public consultation. In a roundabout debate that seemingly had everyone arguing for the same thing but in different words, it was agreed experts would present their ideas for solutions to the public, who would then comment on them, which in turn would be drafted into a final proposal for council to vote on…like almost any other consultancy process.
Moving Toward Accessible Transit
The council was presented with Metro Transit’s Universal Accessibility Plan to be accepted in principle before moving forward with a more detailed implementation plan.
Already on the roads are some of the plan’s elements thanks to a Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission consent order, like the Accessible Service Handbook; increased service from Accessible Low Floor buses; free rides for personal care attendants; attention to snow clearing at bus stops and terminals in the winter; and the Request Stop program.
Councillor Jerry Blumenthal whined about this plan having taken almost a decade to come to fruition, and noted that while wonderful improvements to public transit had been made for the physically impaired, the hearing and visually impaired are still left with a bumpy ride. The council voted unanimously to pass it.
In Other News
Expect new asphalt on Mountain Avenue, Celtic Drive, Flat Lake Drive, Hammonds Plain Road, Joan Elizabeth Way and Sandy Point Road — wherever those are.
The ferries are getting their regular upkeep done to avoid perpetuating Halifax’s Titanic fame.
Construction for the Kearney Lake Connector was approved with hopes to bring civilization to Bedford, or vice versa.
Surprising to no one but council, taking on national sporting events like the Canada Winter Games without the proper facilities in place means a heavy burden on existing facilities to be upgraded. In a tidbit of financial trouble from having to close during construction, the St. Margaret’s Centre is in need of payroll help. For related stories, see every Olympic Games that has been held since, well, forever.
The next Halifax Regional Council sits Tuesday, August 7. Follow @wordpuddle, @hfxmediacoop and #hfxcouncil for live tweeting updates.