Nova Scotia Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard today proposed an Accessibility Act that was supposed to fulfil a Liberal campaign promise to “appoint an Accessibility Advisory Committee with a mandate and a strict timeline to develop accessibility legislation for NS.”
In reality, the committee thus established spent two years consulting with stakeholders and came back with… legislation proposing yet more consultation with stakeholders. Only this time, the plan includes an elaborate map with built-in roadblocks to implementation of improved accessibility.
The legislation establishes an Accessibility Advisory Board that will:
(a) suggest measures, policies, practices, and requirements that may be implemented by the Government to improve accessibility;
(b) assess whether existing measures, policies, practices, and requirements are consistent with the purpose of this Act;
(c) set priorities for the establishment and content of accessibility standards and the timelines for their implementation;
(d) set long-term accessibility objectives for furthering the purpose of this Act; and
(e) respond to requests for accessibility advice from the Minister. [Contrarian emphasis.]
This isn’t complicated. The rights of persons with disabilities are fundamental human rights guaranteed by Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and spelled out in much greater detail in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Canada ratified in 2010. The UN convention obliges Canada “to promote and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights of persons with disabilities including full equality under the law.”
The last thing Nova Scotia needs is more consultation, suggestions, opinions, advice, or setting of priorities and objectives about accessibility. These are human rights. We need clear, enforceable standards coupled with an effective mechanism for their enforcement. Indeed, they are long overdue.
In place of standards and enforcement, the McNeil government has given us a bill requiring an economic impact study of every proposed accessibility standard. No other basic human right is subject to such equivocation. We don’t ponder the economic impact of right to vote, to express a political opinion, or to worship as we choose. We enforce rights—unless the rights holder has a disability.
Not one of the three people quoted in the government’s news release about today’s bill has a disability. Former Canadian Alliance Party advisor and candidate Jordi Morgan is quoted. He’s now the Atlantic vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an organization whose members have a vested interest in limiting accessibility. Says Morgan:
CFIB is pleased Minister Bernard has asked us to be at the table to ensure we recognize the rights of all Nova Scotians, while at the same time holding government to its commitment to avoid unnecessary or costly red tape for small business owners.
This is equivalent to asking the head of the Montgomery Bus Commission to devise a seating chart for Rosa Parks. Heaven forfend treating people as equals should come with any cost to anyone.
Nova Scotia is the Alabama of accessibility rights in the twenty-first century. Nothing in Bernard’s bill will change that.
Human rights lawyer David Fraser has filed an action in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia seeking a review of the NS Human Rights Commission’s refusal to accept a complaint against the province by five prominent disability rights activists.
The complaint is a tad complex, but it aptly illustrates Nova Scotia’s stonewalling of people with disabilities: the failure of municipal building inspectors to enforce barrier-free requirements of the building code; the political failure of provincial and federal governments to give those regulations teeth; and the inexplicable failure of the Human Rights Commission to show leadership in this area—or even accept complaints about it.
In brief, the Food Safety Regulations under s. 105 of the Health Protection Act require restaurants to have a conveniently located washroom for customers, one that meets the building code. Many restaurants are exempt from the barrier-free requirements of the building code because they are “grandfathered” as pre-existing, non-conforming uses. However, when restaurants add seasonal sidewalk patios, a bylaw requires the patios to be barrier free in compliance with the Canada Building Code. This leads to a profusion of Halifax restaurants that admit people using wheelchairs, but do not provide them with conveniently located, barrier-free washrooms.
The health authorities insist this is a building code issue. The complainants contend its a human rights and a health protection issue.
Being able to wash one’s hands before eating is a well-established health priority. A few summers ago, two posh Halifax restaurants were shut down when staff and customers contracted Norovirus. Handwashing was the remedy our health authorities prescribed.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the opportunity to wash one’s hands before eating especially important for people who use wheelchairs. Many people with disabilities are unusually susceptible to infections. Moreover, their hands come into contact with the wheels of their chairs, which in turn come into contact with whatever doggie residues inhabit the mean streets of Halifax. But, really, don’t we all want everyone to wash their hands, not just ourselves?
The complainants deliberately declined to complain against the individual noncomplying restaurants (Effendy, The Wooden Monkey, Le Coq, and The Five Fishermen) but rather complained against the Chief Medical Office of Health and the Minister of Environment (who is responsible for food safety inspections) for failing to enforce the regulations. The Human Rights Commission twice rejected the complaint on grounds that complaints about administration of government programs should go to the Ombudsman. The complainants replied that they were complaining about discriminatory administration of government programs, an issue over which the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act has jurisdiction.
Depart copulating, said the HR Commission. So with lawyer Fraser’s help, the complainants are suing.
Complainer-in-Chief Gus Reed has been my friend for three decades. You can’t be Gus’s friend without getting drawn into his tenacious demands for equal treatment of wheelchair users. Gus lives half the year in Halifax and half in North Carolina, where the Americans with Disabilities Act gives him easy access to speedy official enforcement of accessibility rules. Here in Nova Scotia, he faces lip service to disabilities rights undergirded by non-enforcement of the wishy-washy rules we have. Building inspectors won’t enforce barrier-free regs because, when they do, the business people complain to their councillors, and the inspector soon has an annoyed politician on his case.
Sailor Bup’s: No wheelchair users need apply
Non-enforcement is half the problem. The other half is the building code’s grandfather provision, which applies to so many buildings in Halifax because it’s such an old city. Because the grandfather clause has no sunset provision, exemption from barrier-free requirements becomes a permanent asset that enhances a building’s real estate value. It gets passed from owner to owner in perpetuity—as long as the building remains some sort of retail establishment. When the inaccessible surf shop at Queen and Morris became a candy shop, officials deemed it not to be a change of use. When three different Halifax building inspectors found three different sets of violations at Sailor Bup’s Dartmouth barbershop, not one cited its glaring lack of a ramp, even though there is plenty of room for a ramp and modest ramp is all that’s needed. If the rumoured settlement of Bup’s feud with the city comes to fruition, I’ll bet dollars to Timbits the solution won’t include a ramp.
Quite apart from the human rights and health issues here, consider the lost strategic opportunity. As long as it is grandfathered, an inaccessible restaurant has a financial incentive to retain barriers to wheelchairs. But if provincial inspectors took the logical step of insisting restaurants with accessible patios must have accessible washrooms, accessibility would have a powerful financial incentive on its side. The city and the province could say to restaurateurs, “Sidewalk patios are lucrative; if you want one, invest in an accessible washroom.”
One final word about the Human Rights Commission. Its two decisions refusing to accept a complaint from the disability rights activists in this case are so convoluted, illogical, and twisted as to betray a determination to let provincial government obstructors slip the hook. One hopes the Supreme Court will make short work of this dereliction, but whatever the outcome, it remains troubling behaviour by a body charged with sticking up for the rights of those least able to speak up for themselves.
Family man Peter MacKay holds son Kian. Wait! What’s that tartan?
In this morning’s Halifax Examiner, Tim Bousquet celebrated Peter MacKay’s decision not to run for the Conservative Party leadership by recalling the day MacKay breezed into Halifax to announce funding for the new convention centre. The then-Defence Minister said the Nova Centre would “take the ‘no’ out of Nova Scotia.”
Bousquet calls this “MacKay’s greatest legacy,” but surely that’s a hasty judgment. Picking the low point in Peter MacKay’s public career—by “greatest legacy,” Bousquet meant “low point”—is admittedly a challenge, given the rich trove of disgraceful material to choose from:
- To win the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party on the last day of May, 2003, MacKay signed a solemn agreement with rival candidate David Orchard, promising not to merge the party with right-wing Canadian Alliance, headed by Stephen Harper. Four months later, he forged an agreement with Harper to do just that.
- As Foreign Minister during the 2006 Lebanese War with Israel, MacKay led the Government of Canada in opposing a UN-sanctioned ceasefire.
- As Defence Minister, in July 2010, MacKay used a Defence Dept. helicopter to transport him from a private fishing lodge in Labrador to Gander Airport, at a cost to taxpayers of $16,000. In his first two years as Defence Minister, he spent $3 million using the federal government’s Challenger jets to ferry him to various functions, including one flight costing more than $200,000.
My money, however, is on MacKay’s character assassination of Richard Colvin, the diplomat who risked his career to speak up against the Canadian Forces’ illegal practice of turning prisoners of war and innocent Afghan civilians over to the Afghan Army to be tortured.
Channeling Joseph McCarthy, and speaking in the protected confines of the House of Commons where he could not be sued for slander, MacKay falsely savaged Colvin as a patsy for the Taliban.
Twenty-three former Canadian ambassadors wrote a letter condemning the Harper Government’s treatment of Colvin, singling out MacKay, who accused Colvin of accepting the word of “people who throw acid in the faces of schoolchildren.”
“[MacKay] savaged [Colvin] in public, and ridiculed him, and that’s not the way to treat a guy who’s doing his job,” Paul Durand, a former Canadian ambassador to the Organization of American States, to Chile and to Costa Rica, told the Globe. “He is not a whistleblower. He was hauled before a parliamentary committee and had to state the truth.”
When he declined to run for re-election last year, MacKay said, “the time has come for me to step back from public life and to concentrate on my young and growing family.”
The Occam’s razor explanation is that MacKay knew Harper’s government was headed for defeat. At best, he would return to opposition, at worst, lose his own seat.
Again yesterday, when he begged off the current Conservative Party leadership contest, MacKay cited family reasons. I suspect MacKay thinks his party will endure a long sojourn in opposition, and that while he could probably win the leadership, that victory would never lead to 24 Sussex Drive.
A better bet is that the next provincial election will end Jamie Baillie’s leadership of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party, but leave a diminished Liberal majority ripe for defeat by a new Tory leader four years hence. MacKay can take a few years to make money at the US-based global law firm Baker & McKenzie where he is now a partner, then win the premiership in 2021.
After that, who knows?
I have mentioned before that I grew up in a New York City suburb listening to then-twenty-something Vin Scully call Brooklyn Dodger baseball games on a tube radio.
Now 88, Scully is still at it—in his 67th season calling the play-by-play for Dodger home games, these days performed in Los Angeles. In a tribute published in today’s Washington Post, columnist George Will calls Scully, “the most famous and beloved person in Southern California.”
[He] is not a movie star but has the at-ease, old-shoe persona of Jimmy Stewart. With his shock of red hair and maple syrup voice, Scully seems half his 88 years.
More than the maple syrup voice, it was the rivulet of Scullian similies that captured my enduring affection. As I wrote back in 2009:
He said Bob Gibson “pitches as though he’s double-parked.” He said, “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.” He said, “Sometimes it seems like [Bobby Bonilla’s] playing underwater.” He said, “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination.” He said, “When [Maury Wills] runs, it’s all downhill.”
While calling 1987 All-Star Game, Scully saw the Toronto Blue Jay’s uber-smooth shortstop Tony Fernandez for the first time. “He’s like a bolt of silk,” Scully said.
Later this month, or possibly in October, Scully will call his last game. He is retiring at last. Even if you don’t give a fig about baseball, as too many Nova Scotians do not, you should give Will’s loving encomium a read:
Aristotle defined human beings as language-using creatures. They are not always as well-behaved as wolves, but everything humane depends on words — love, promise-keeping, story-telling, democracy. And baseball.
A game of episodes, not of flow, it leaves time for, and invites, conversation, rumination and speculation. And storytelling, by which Scully immerses his audience in baseball’s rich history, and stories that remind fans that players “are not wind-up dolls.”
In recent years, Scully has not accompanied the Dodgers on the road. Hence this recent tweet quoting an 8-year-old Dodgers fan, Zoe: “I hate when the Dodgers have away games. They don’t tell stories.”
Find Will’s whole piece here. Thank you to Stacey May Fowles, whose weekly feminist “Baseball Life Advice” newsletter opens a whole new window on baseball and feelings, and is my most reliable source of news and perspective on the One True Sport, for pointing me to it.
The things a person stumbles upon vacationing in Nova Scotia.
It’s just 19 characters (22 if you count the spaces) in all-caps Helvetica, painted Highway Yellow against an industrial green girder. Yet, somehow, the “Welcome to Cape Breton” sign on the Canso Causeway swing bridge maintains a deep iconic grip on Cape Bretoners.
Just this morning, it showed up in my Facebook feed when Megan MacDonald, a CB ex-pat home from Toronto for a few days’ R&R, re-posted this meme from the “Meanwhile in Cape Breton” group:
Years ago, riding a bus from Halifax to Cape Breton, I compared notes with the woman in the next seat about the point in the journey when it finally feels like we’re home.
I said, “When I get to the Bras d’Or look-off, and see Boularderie Island splayed out below.”
She said, “When I see the sign at the Causeway.”
No need to ask what sign she meant. Do an image search for “Welcome to Cape Breton,” and photos of the girder take up 11 of the first dozen frames.
See that fancy billboard at the bottom right? Municipalities, tourist agencies, service clubs, industry associations, and Gaelic societies have spent untold tens of thousands commissioning graphics design firms and sign manufacturers to welcome visitors to our island in beautifully inventive ways. Not one has the power of those four unadorned words, unassumingly wrought on a plain steel beam.
Just the right words. In just the right place.
The following is a statement from Karen Guss, communications director for the City of Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections:
In view of the City’s commitment to public health, safety and basic common sense, we will not issue permits for block party dumpster pools. And while you would think this decision would not require an explanation, three days of press requests have proven otherwise. So, Philly, here’s why you shouldn’t swim in a receptacle most often used for waste:
- First and foremost, this could reduce the amount of water available should a fire break out in that neighborhood. So if you would like to have water available should a fire break out in your home, don’t illegally tap a hydrant
- There is also the potential loss of life by injury due to the hydrant water pushing a small child or even an adult into oncoming traffic.
- Finally, remember that the pressure of the water coming out of the hydrant is so strong, and so powerful, that if opened too quickly or closed too quickly, it could deliver a jolt to the main of sufficient force that could break the main … and many blocks could lose water service until it is repaired.
We are not screwing around, Philly. The Streets Department will not issue any future block party permits to the 2400 block of Cedar, and officials have contacted the dumpster rental company regarding its failures to obtain the proper closure permits and to take mandatory measures to protect the street during placement of the dumpster.
In short, the City strongly recommends that residents opt for recreational options that are safer, more sanitary, and less likely to deplete the resources firefighters need in an emergency.
Guss issued the statement—which, if I may say so, is a rare model of simple, direct, government prose—in response to media requests about a block party on Cedar Street in which revellers rented a dumpster, filled it with water from a fire hydrant, and used it as a temporary swimming pool. Their fatal flaw may have been posting photos on Instagram:
Just for the record, Pabst is really crappy beer.
H/T NextDraft and NPR.
Yesterday, talk show host Rick Howe and I were chatting about Marilla Stephenson’s appointment to a civil service position based on a fake competition in which she was—by design—the only candidate. Howe said it was the sort of behaviour Stephenson herself might have condemned when she was a political columnist for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.
“Unless it was the Liberals who did it,” I quipped.
It was a cheap shot—and as it turns out, dead wrong. When Premier Stephen McNeil did something uncannily similar shortly after his government’s election in 2013, then-columnist Stephenson denounced his patronage abuse in ringing terms. Twice.
McNeil’s friend Glennie Langille, a former CBC reporter, had been his director of communications until March, 2010, when she was dispatched to her native Pictou County to serve as “outreach officer.” In reality, she was preparing to run for the Liberals in Pictou West in the 2013 general election.
The election went well for McNeil but not for Langille, who placed a poor third to Tory Karla MacFarlane. No matter. Shortly after assuming office, McNeil named Langille the province’s Chief Protocol Officer at a salary similar to that of an MLA.
Columnist Stephenson was quick to pounce. “Never underestimate the potential for a politician to disappoint,” she wrote on December 2, 2013:
Any hopes that Premier Stephen McNeil planned a route on the high road careened sharply into the ditch Tuesday. Ironically, it was a political ambush completely of his own making.
With dozens of appointments looming on provincial boards and commissions in the months ahead, McNeil has begun with a backward step that sets a poor tone for voters’ expectations of qualified appointments and fair hiring practices in the provincial bureaucracy.
The premier has thumbed his nose at Nova Scotia’s civil servants by demonstrating preferential treatment for a party loyalist in filling the protocol job.
Two months later, a release of emails under the Freedom of Information Act showed how thoroughly the fix was in for Langille, just as a release of emails this week showed how the fix was in for Stephenson.
Stephenson pounced again in February 7,
2004 2014 column headed, “Brave new world, same old patronage.”
The more things stay the same in Nova Scotia politics, the more they stay the same.
Any voters who are in denial about how party loyalists access the spoils of power in the wake of an election victory may wish to take a spin through a collection of internal emails outlining how Glennie Langille became the province’s chief of protocol.
After the Langille appointment became public in December, McNeil defended his choice, saying she was qualified for the job.
But that, sadly, is not the point. The integrity of the public service — access to which is supposed to be based on merit, not patronage — is damaged when a premier feels compelled to remove a job from its jurisdiction in order to reward a good friend and political loyalist.
The premier declared in December that he was being “up front” about the appointment, and in almost the same breath defensively said Langille’s resume was the only one to land on his desk.
Of course it was. That’s exactly the way he engineered it.
This is not the sort of change Nova Scotians voted for when they chose the Liberals, and McNeil, to put Nova Scotia first.
You can read Stephenson’s Langille columns here and here. You can read the Langille emails here, the Stephenson emails here.
The Stephenson emails are not yet online.
There is one key difference between the patronage appointment Stephenson condemned in 2013 and the one she herself received in 2016:
Before naming his close friend Langille to be Chief Protocol Officer, McNeil lowered the salary from $100,000 to $85,000 and removed the post from the civil service. Langille would work on year-to-year contracts so the next government won’t be saddled with her appointment. The job Stephenson received this spring effectively converted work she had been doing on contract for $83,259 a year to a previously non-existent but now permanent civil service position at $106,000 a year. The next government will be stuck with her.
It’s tempting to end this post with some play on the words, “The more things stay the same in Nova Scotia politics…” But the truth is, Stephenson’s patronage appointment isn’t more of the same. It’s a quantum step backwards to the corrupt, unlamented era of John Buchanan.
[Thanks to Bruce Wark for steering me to the Stephenson columns.]
Four months ago, I leapt to the defence of former CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Laurie Graham, whose appointment as principal secretary to Premier Stephen McNeil came under attack from anti-government scolds.
Today there’s a fresh kerfuffle about former Chronicle-Herald columnist Marilla Stephenson’s promotion to a newly created civil service position as liaison between the Executive Council office and government departments. Since October 2014, Stephenson had been working on contract doing outreach for the One Nova Scotia Commission.
The two hirings seem superficially similar, but they differ in one crucial respect.
Graham received a discretionary political appointment. When Stephen McNeil’s term as premier ends, so will her employment.
Stephenson received a civil service appointment. She has a job for life, and will continue to draw a salary long after McNeil leaves 1 Government Place.
To function in our system, every government needs a small number of purely political positions. An MLA’s constituency assistant. A cabinet minister’s executive assistant. A handful of trusted confidential employees in the premier’s office. No serious student of government disputes this.
As former Deputy Attorney General Doug Keefe wrote to Contrarian last March, “[O]ur system tries to keep a bright line between the politically neutral civil service, which has a duty to serve whomever the voters send, and the very small number of people who are partisan supporters of the party or office holder.”
The McNeil Government failed to keep that line bright when it custom-crafted a civil service position for one pre-selected confidant.
Records the Government Employees’ Union obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the government initially hoped to hire Stephenson without a competition, but received advice it had to hold one.
So the senior bureaucrats charged with creating the position designed a “competition” so narrow as to remove all doubt about the outcome. They limited applicants to the handful of people working in the Office of the Executive Council. They invited Stephenson to personally vet the job description—an opportunity afforded no other candidate.
To no one’s surprise, Stephenson was the only applicant. The bespoke job won her a 27 percent raise, from $83,259 to $106,000.
Like any other premier, McNeil is entitled to create whatever political positions he thinks he needs. But he is not entitled to create permanent civil service positions and stock them with cronies.
Doing so harkens back to the corrupt practices of the Buchanan Government, one of the most wasteful and destructive periods in modern Nova Scotia history.
Contrary to whatever communications advice McNeil may have received, the flimsy contrivance that handed Stephenson an un-tendered job wasn’t helped by his brazen denial of favouritism obvious to all. This, too, calls to mind the facile dissembling of John Buchanan.
Getting politics out of civil service hiring took decades of struggle. Backsliding will not end well—for government or citizens.
Call me contrarian, but I don’t believe Nova Scotia will have an election this fall.
Speculation about a fall vote has been rampant since Province House reporters and opposition MLAs raised the alarm back in May.
The government’s five-year mandate doesn’t expire until October, 2018, and the usual four-year benchmark between elections is still a year off. But the latest Corporate Research Associates poll shows McNeil’s Liberals with a commanding 59 percent to the PC’s 21 percent and the NDP’s 18. So the temptation to go early exists.
Pretending to call an early election might be a smart strategy. It forces opposition parties into panicked preparations where methodical planning would be more to their advantage. It persuades the seatless third party leader to pass up a risky byelection, reinforcing an image of weakness.
Actually calling an election, two years before the government must, poses unnecessary risk of voter rebellion.
As Graham Steele has pointed out, Premier John Buchanan twice went to the polls after just three years, in 1981 and 1984, winning his second and third majority governments. (As his popularity faded toward the end of the decade, Buchanan waited four years, and barely eked out his last majority in 1988.) But there is no shortage of contrary examples:
- In April, 2014, the Parti Quebecois’s 19-month-old minority government held a slight lead in the polls when Premier Pauline Marois called an election, hoping the PQ’s nativist Charter of Values would propel her to victory. Instead, she lost her own seat, and the PQ won the smallest vote percentage in its history as the Liberals cruised to victory in 70 of the National Assembly’s 125 seats.
- Alberta’s Conservatives topped the polls in April 2015, when Premier Jim Prentice called an election two years before he had to. A month later, Prentice lost his seat and 44 years of Conservative rule came to an abrupt end with the election of a previously unthinkable NDP majority.
- Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were running neck-and-neck with the NDP, and the Liberals trailed, when Harper called an unusually long 11-week election campaign last August. By early October, anti-Harper voters began to coalesce around Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who went on to win a majority with 184 of Parliament’s 338 seats.
- At the start of the 2013 British Columbia election, the NDP led the Liberals almost two-to-one. They topped every poll during the campaign–20 in all–only to lose by 4-1/2 points as Liberal Premier Christy Clarke‘s government won an increased majority with 49 of the legislature’s 85 seats.
- For most of the 2014 Ontario Election, PC leader Tim Hudak was running neck-and-neck with Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, but on election day, the Liberals won by 7 percentage points, capturing 58 of the legislature’s 107 seats.
- It’s not recent history, but the most notorious example of early election hubris occurred in 1976, when Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa’s Liberals held 102 of 110 National Assembly seats, the Party Quebecois just six. Bourassa called an election three years into his mandate, hoping to capitalize on the success of the Montreal Olympics. Rene Levesque’s separatist Party Quebecois scrambled to an upset victory with 70 seats, in a vote that would roil Quebec and Canada for decades to come.
I think McNeil will win the next election, even if he calls it this fall. I don’t sense any great mood to throw the bastards out, as I did in 2013, 2009, and 1999. But Nova Scotia voters are volatile. The last time we elected back-to-back majorities, Ronald Regan was President of the United States, and the Soviet Army was fighting US-backed Mujahideen guerrillas in Afghanistan.
If they get the feeling Premier McNeil is manipulating the election process, voters could turn quickly.
If McNeil waits until next fall—or even spring, after tabling a solidly balanced budget—the issue of manipulating voters with an untimely election will be off the table.
That’s what he should do, and my guess is, that’s what he will do.
But I’ll have my camera phone ready, just in case.
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