Move along, Nova Scotia, nothing to see here

Our friend the curmudgeon has been quiet for a while, but the spectre of Detroit’s decayed grandeur propelled him to the keyboard:

Move along, Nova Scotians. There’s nothing for you to see in the grotesque collapse of the city of Detroit. Keep your focus on rural development.

Don’t worry about Halifax. It’s wealthy beyond imagination. There’s nothing wrong with its downtown that arresting a few panhandlers won’t fix. Avoid tall buildings; spread out instead. Never mind that only seven of 16 HRM electoral districts are genuinely urban. You can count on the other nine councillors to keep the urban centre healthy and attractive to outsiders from around the world.

It’s far better to resist the global migration to cities, with their greater opportunity and environmental sustainability. Every effort should be made to help country folk maintain their invaluable lifestyles. God forbid their children should leave home to seek their fortunes, knowing they’ll be welcomed back only if they can be judged as failures.

For the genteel squire, let not the scourge of renewable energy destroy their sight-lines, and nay, let not the gypsum for their summer houses come from local mines. Let them fertilize their hobby fields of elephant garlic with wholesome raw animal feces. May they stand firm against the loathsome tide of treated excrement from city dwellers.

Oh, and beware come-from-aways trying to turn derelict buildings into businesses. They know nothing about local ways.


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Contractors belatedly install a wheelchair ramp at the Chickenburger outlet on Queen St. in Halifax Monday afternoon. Background here. Congratulations to Gus Reed for making HRM a little more inclusive than it was yesterday.

The city insists that installing the ramp was a condition of Mickey MacDonald’s “temporary” occupancy permit all along, but the chronology of events tells a different story.

July 4 — Reed, who uses a wheelchair, meets with MacDonald to protest against the newly opened restaurant’s inaccessibility. The owner is adamant that a ramp is not feasible.

July 6 — Reed writes to Brad Anguish, HRM’s Director, Community & Recreation Services, to complain that Chickenburger is out of compliance with the barrier-free requirements of the Nova Scotia Building Code Act.

July 10 — HRM building inspector Michael Morgan visits Chickenburger and issues an “Order to Comply” requiring it to install a ramp.

So… kudos to MacDonald and HRM for putting this right, after an initial delay and a push from Gus Reed.

But wouldn’t it be good to see the city take a pro-active approach and issue similar orders to restaurants that have been out o compliance for years?

Happy Canada Day

The much anticipated fireworks display over Halifax proved an austere celebration. They were fun while they lasted, about 12 minutes, and the cheerful, appreciative, harbourside crowd was a delight.

This cheerfulness, a certain joie de vivre, has a leavening effect on patriotism, an emotion that, left unchecked, can be unpleasant and dangerous.

In that spirit, I point out that, over the last 24 hours, we’ve had the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team don Tory blue jerseys for their pre-Canada Day bout with the Yanks, and the managing editor of the National Post tweeted his outrage that the Globe and Mail occasionally publishes op-ed pieces by moderate-left New Democrat organizer, pundit, and genocide expert, Gerry Caplan.

Leave the public stage for exclusive use by the cranky and aggrieved right wing, is apparently Jonathan Kay’s concept of journalistic virtue, one his journal implements with rigor.

Yet, somehow, the nation survives. Happy Canada, everyone, most especially Mr. Kay.

H/T: BC.  Photo: Sarah Kate Marsh (@sarahkatemarsh).

Welcome Mayor Savage — The Coast deals Kelly a fatal blow

[See update/correction below] The Coast, a Halifax weekly paper, has produced a devastating account of Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly’s mishandling of the estate of  a family friend who had named him as executor and sole trustee of her modest fortune.

In a prodigious piece of reporting, News Editor Tim Bousquet lays out the complex story in relentless detail, layering  fact upon devastating fact through 5,000 words, illustrated with cancelled cheques and sketchy legal and financial filings. It’s too complicated to summarize here, but please read it yourself, especially if you are a resident or voter in HRM.

Bousquet’s work sometimes suffers from his habit of wearing his heart on his sleeve, but this time he wisely eschews umbrage and lets the facts of the late Mary Thibeault’s seven-year probate debacle speak for themselves. The accumulated evidence, Kelly’s refusal to comment, and his apparent effort to enlist wronged benefactors in a secrecy pact add up to an indictment of the scandal-plagued mayor. It’s impossible to imagine Kelly surviving an election in light of The Coast’s revelations.

Politically, His Worship is a dead duck.

It will take a lot of work for other Metro news organizations to catch up with Bousquet’s reportage, but I was surprised to see most of them ignore the story in their Friday editions. The ethical thing would have been to run a short creditor piece — “The Coast weekly reported Thursday that…” with comment from the Mayor and Savage — and the get their top reporters on the job in earnest Friday.

They chose instead to pretend Bousquet’s shocking revelations did not exist. The free tabloid Metro was an exception, as was were the Rick Howe Show and CTV-Atlantic, both of which interviewed Bousquet.

No doubt these news organizations are embarrassed that The Coast, known mainly as a free circulation entertainment paper and a vehicle for syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, scooped them so badly on a story that was already in the public domain. But ignoring their competitor’s accomplishment, and their mayor’s shenanigans, only makes them look small. (Yes Caroline, Andrew, Sarah, and Steve, I’m looking at you.)

[Update/Correction] Contrary to my initial post, CTV-Atlantic did cover the story by running an interview with Bousquet. Apologies for the mistake, and thanks to Greg Beaulieu for the correction.

Bluenosed Babbitts speak

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald and, ranking arbiters of mainstream opinion in Nova Scotia, lent editorial support Monday to Mayor Peter Kelly’s forcible police removal of peaceful Occupy Nova Scotia protesters.

The Herald, in a bracing throwback to its days as the fusty Old Lady of Argyle, approved the eviction in every detail: violence, secrecy, sneakiness, double-dealing, rights-violation, and even Remembrance Day timing. AllNS tried to have it both ways. A commentary* by former-Managing-Editor-turned-United-Church-minister Kevin Cox quibbled with Kelly’s timing and secretive decision-making, but endorsed His Worship’s position that a vague and rarely enforced municipal bylaw should trump Sections 2. (b), (c), and (d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In a letter AllNS published this morning, Halifax Filmmaker John Wesley Chisholm pointed out that Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi had reached the opposite conclusion, “saying the Charter of Rights prevented the city from arbitrarily forcing out the protesters — even if they’re breaking a city bylaw.”

Halifax officials, Chisholm wrote, took a big gamble with taxpayers’ money, risking hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions on a possible court defence of

the notion that these protesters’ use of tents to camp out in a public park was so egregious, so outstandingly shocking to our community’s values, of such a danger to public safety, so offensive to our public interests, that it justified a police action to deny their rights and freedoms to assembly and protest under the federal law on which our civil society is based..

Even by the smug standards of Halifax’s establishment media, this was a shabby performance.

*Access to AllNS is by paid subscription, and its flash-based web structure makes it impossible to post accurate links.

Snap your finger, Bill — feedback

Bruce Wark, writing from an HRM neighborhood where the ban on overnight parking is not enforced, critiques my critique of the ban:

[Y]ou use “reasonable accommodation” as though you have proved it. It is as though you are saying that your assertion in the first paragraph is sufficient to support what you’re saying in the second. The rules of logic say that he who asserts must prove. Furthermore, your assertion that “traffic tsar” Ken Reashor “evinces no interest in reasonable accommodation” is a neat, but logically unconvincing way of first, labelling Reashor as a Russian dictator, then glossing over necessary proof by using the verb “evinces.” Where has Reashor evinced this lack of interest? What did he actually say and to whom? Did you talk to him yourself?

You acknowledge that “some car owners will neglect to remove their car during snowstorms.” Why is this not a problem? You go on to assert that “Reashor finds it convenient to punish the entire city.” But that begs the following question: If the parking ban is limited to periods when snow is actually being cleared, what incentive would car owners have to make alternate arrangements? Is it not possible that risking two or three $50 tickets would be cheaper than paying for four months of off-street parking? It’s not necessary for me to argue that car owners are necessarily irresponsible, only that they may be unrealistically optimistic about the number of snow storms in an unpredictable climate. Besides, if the snow does start to fall overnight, where are car owners supposed to move their vehicles if they haven’t already made alternative arrangements? We all know from experience that snow can fall unexpectedly overnight. So why is public safety necessarily a “specious claim” and what proof do you have for your assertion that “the real goal is bureaucratic convenience?”

Reashor is a “tzar” in the metaphorical sense that provincial legislation imunizes him from oversight by the council elected to run HRM. “Tzar” is a common, if irreverent, journalistic locution for unelected officials who exercise power without oversight. Reashor evinced no interest in a reasonable accommodation of the public’s desire for on-street parking on snow-free nights in the brief declaration he issued imposing the ban — a declaration I linked to in the original post. His declaration omits any reference the inconvenience it will cause the majority of law abiding citizens who do remove their cars from the streets during snow storms. It merely advances — without the proof Wark demands of me — a claim of public safety I find specious.

Claims of public safety trip lightly off the tongues of law enforcement and regulatory officials. The US Transportation Safety Board claims public safety requires the Halifax Seaport Market to keep its glorious harbor-facing doors closed at all times, and to surrender one-quarter of its floorspace whenever a cruise ship is in port. Toronto Police claim public safety required the use of massive force against protesters at last year’s G-20. The Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority claims public safety precludes citizens carrying standard tubes of toothpaste onto commercial airliners. The security zealots at the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal claim public safety demands I show photo ID before entering the Joe Howe Building. Stephen Harper thinks public safety demands throwing dope smokers in jail.

These claims have proliferated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Invocation of “public safety” does not facilitate debate; It trumps debate, and it is rarely buttressed by any persuasive argument.

I do agree with Wark on one point: it is a problem when car owners fail to remove their cars from the streets during snow emergencies. Not a public safety calamity, but a problem. It makes snow plowing more difficult and less effective. Reashor has an interest in deterring this behaviour. My objection to his method is that it is disproportionate to the problem. It targets scores of innocent car owners for every miscreant; it makes no distinction between nights when snow plowing takes place and the far greater number of nights when it does not. Such a massive overreaction, IMHO, constitutes prima facie evidence of a lack of interest in reasonable accommodation.

If $50 fines are insufficient deterrent, and they may be, why not increase the fine, but apply it only to the scofflaws? Why not carry out frequent towing blitzes during and immediately after storms, and charge those towed for the full cost plus a punitive surcharge?

This touches on another aspect of the blanket ban. Fining the innocent generates windfall revenue for HRM, which may be why some city officials, and councillors from neighborhoods where it is not enforced, are happy to have a traffic tzar to blame for the system.