Sportsplex: Tuesday was a very busy session at Regional Council (agenda here). The most important item for many in District 5 is Council approved the award of the Sportsplex tender at $23,273,000. The Sportsplex will close at the end of May and if all goes according to plan, it’ll reopen in September 2018. The rink and track will remain open during construction, but there will be periodic disruptions. The big addition to the renovated Sportsplex will be a gymnasium. The community gym will be located off the back of the building where the Nantucket Room and Thistle rooms are now. Also included in the renovation is a new lobby where the main entrance that people actually use is (back parking lot), walkout waterslide, kids splash pad, a new fitness centre overlooking Wyse Road (goodbye basement bunker), and locker rooms. This is a major project and one that has been in the works for more than a decade. Construction will be disruptive and it’s something I’m going to personally feel since I take my kids swimming at the Sportsplex most Sunday evenings. It’s a project though that needs to be done and the end result will be worth it.
New Heritage Houses:
We registered two new heritage houses in Dartmouth. Both homes are on Hawthorne Street, numbers 59 and 68 and they are actually right across the street from each other. 68 Hawthorne is the newer home and it’s actually a little bit of North End Halifax architecture in Dartmouth. It’s a Hydrostone house! It was built in 1919 in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion for a resident who had lost her house on Windmill Road. There are a few other Hydrostone houses in Dartmouth along Windmill Road and Hester Street, but 68 Hawthorne is one of the most intact and immediately recognizable. It’s also the only one that I can think of that was built outside of the completely devastated neighbourhoods along the Narrows.
Number 59 Hawthorne is slightly older than 68 Hawthorne, dating back to sometime between 1909 and 1917. It’s a rare example of an Arts and Crafts style house and it’s strongly suspected to be one of famed Halifax architect Andrew Cobb’s creations. The style, detailing, and built-in features all suggest it’s one of Cobb’s designs. 59 Hawthorne is surrounded by beautiful gardens so it’s not quite as visible from the street as number 68, but it’s still a beautiful home. It’s worth noting that HRM doesn’t offer much in the way of incentives for registering heritage properties. The available grants are not significant and the potential restrictions can be somewhat onerous. Most people who register properties do so because they love their property and want to see it preserved long after they’ve moved on. I thanked both owners for their contribution to Dartmouth’s history.
Hard not to miss this controversial topic: what to do about the statue, street and park named after Edward Cornwallis. Cornwallis was Nova Scotia’s British military governor who was tasked with founding Halifax in 1749. The problem for the British was the land was already occupied by the Mi’kmaq who fiercely resisted the incursion into their traditional territory. After an attack on settlers in Dartmouth, Cornwallis issued a bounty on the Mi’kmaq, which could be collected in return for a scalp. Needless to say, this has made Cornwallis a controversial figure. After HRM’s poet laureate, Rebecca Thomas, presented her poem “Not Perfect” two weeks ago, Councillor Cleary made a motion to establish an expert panel to review and advise Regional Council on any changes to commemorating Cornwallis, and on how to recognize and commemorate Mi’kmaq history. Councillor Cleary’s motion wasn’t about removing the statue or renaming the street, it’s about starting a process to look at options.
The history around Cornwallis is very much in dispute, but focussing too much on how many scalps were collected back in the 1750s, to me, really misses a significant point. History is a difficult subject because it’s not just about the past, it’s also about how we view ourselves and our society in the present. Cornwallis has become a symbol for generations of mistreatment and marginalization that runs through time from the early days of European settlement to the present day. Aboriginal Canadians are measurably worse off relative to other Canadians in almost every way. Life expectancy, health, income, education and employment are all worse for aboriginals. Aboriginal Canadians weren’t able to vote until the 1960, the last residential school didn’t close until 1996, they’re more likely to be murdered, and they make up a disproportionate share of our prison population. We’ve also never had anyone from Mi’kmaq nation serve on Regional Council. In 2015, HRM passed a motion of reconciliation, which committed our municipality to forging a new partnership with the Mi’kmaq. If reconciliation is to mean anything, if we want to make progress in the present, we should at the very least be open to discussing Cornwallis. Mayor Savage described this very well as removing an impediment to advancing the relationship with the Mi’kmaq.
After an hour of discussion, the motion passed 15-1 and I was happy to be one of the 15 who supported it.
Council approved several recommendations regarding the composting system. HRM’s existing composting program is at capacity. The composting strategy will focus future expansion at the Goodwood facility. The goal is to increase capacity from 50,000 tonnes per year to 60,000 with the option to increase to 75,000. HRM will not chase composting contracts with neighbouring municipalities, and will continue to not accept pet waste or “biodegradable bags.” The end goal of the compost program, besides diverting waste, will be to produce high-grade compost.
We did have a discussion about the ban on grass clippings from the green bins. Councillor Walker introduced a motion to include language in the future request for proposals that would give HRM the option to include grass. Grass clippings were banned from the green bin because it takes up space at the composting facility that we all then pay for through taxes, it causes problems in the form of odours and leachate, and it can be managed fairly easily by most homeowners on their own property. I voted against including the language in the RFP because I believe it gives false hope that HRM might one day reconsider. The motion passed 9-7 and I was in the minority. We went onto approve the rest of the compost recommendations.
With a provincial election call seemingly imminent (tomorrow for May 30?) Council also passed a motion to invite the party leaders to come present on how they see the relationship between HRM and the Province. This won’t be a debate with back and forth from Council, it’ll be a presentation. This is the second time Council has done this. Back in 2012, all three of the main parties sent a representative, but Stephen MacNeil was the only party leader to attend. This time I hope all three will make themselves available.
HRM is approaching 50% of the provincial population and it represents most of the economy. HRM has much more capacity to manage its affairs compared to most other municipalities in Nova Scotia and unique challenges, but yet, in many ways, we have no more power than Lockport or Digby or Tatamagouche. Successive governments of all stripes have often been to quick to interfere in municipal decision-making. At its heart, the problem is the Province still treats HRM as a creature of the Province and not another level of government. This was painfully put on display this month with the decision to put the new hospital in Bayers Lake at a site that HRM’s planning department explicitly advised against, and the sudden pop-up announcement of the Burnside Expressway, a project that may or may not have merit given HRM’s upcoming Integrated Mobility Plan. In the short-time that I have been on Council, we’ve had to send requests to the Province to allow lower speed limits, traffic control people to manage special event, and inclusionary zoning. Those are on top of the existing list of requested amendments. Restricting HRM to only what’s written in the Charter stifles innovation and limits HRM’s ability to tackle difficult problems. What we really needs is a more general grant of power to local government similar to what exists in Western Canada. Here’s a Spacing article I wrote with more detail on the subject back in 2013.
- I introduced a motion to look at HRM’s Administrative Order regarding public presentations at Council
- Approved a request to the Province to allow trained traffic control people to direct traffic at special events rather than just the police
- Collaboration with the United Way on developing an anti-poverty strategy
- Approved tender for Argyle Street
- Approved tender for Fort Needham Park
- Set supplementary education rates at $0.075 for $100 of assessed value (a decrease in line with the trend for the past 10 years)
- New HRM insurance plan
- Bonus zoning agreement for Clyde Street development in Halifax
- Directed staff to prepare amendments to the temporary sign by-law to make it less onerous for the industry to operate.