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Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia
Canada

Étoile Estates: Sustainable Garden Services

The Garden Plot

Is the Draft Transit Plan Missing the Mark for Eastern Passage/Cow Bay?

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Last month Halifax Transit shared their long awaited proposal to re-work the transit network city wide.   This, at the very least, is unprecedented in our city and badly needed.   Our transit network right now is a hodgepodge of service duplication and redundancy focused on the downtown peninsular core.   This is the draft plan, and I am hoping that as residents all across the city we provide feedback and input that will see a revised draft.

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Halifax: Let's Get Real About Active Transportation

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

One of the most important things a city can accomplish beyond building cultural hubs, great sports fields or libraries is ensuring that citizens can get from point “A” to “B”.   Municipal transportation systems should be such that they are multi-modal and form an integrated efficient network.   Having well designed road, transit and active transportation networks are markers of a city that understands people like options for transportation.   In Halifax, while I feel that we are slowly getting on board – I feel that we have a lot of work to do.  

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Austerity Killed The Recreation Hall

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

For the last several years at least, governments at all levels have been beating their austerity drums quite loudly.  They have presented doom and gloom scenarios that if we don’t change our ways that society will crumble.    Services will disappear, rivers will dry up, sidewalks will be non-existent sort of thing.    I don’t disagree that on many fronts collectively we have allowed our governments to live above their means.  However, if we are to look at government from a purely money in-money out math equation that balances I feel we are lost in translation.

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Commuter Rail will give us a regional public transit network

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

After what truly seems like an entirety, last Thursday the initial report on the feasibility of commuter rail for our city was revealed.    The reveal happened at Sunnyside Mall in Bedford, it was mainly a modified version of show and tell.   While the information presented leaves questions, I feel that is a good preliminary step in the right direction.

The commuter rail study comes at exactly the perfect time. Halifax Transit is in the midst of a network redesign, to re-imagine how public transit services are delivered in our beautiful city.   When we consider the Draft Halifax Transit Plan, the Active Transportation Plan and The Commuter rail plan; we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop a comprehensive, multifaceted integrated regional public transportation network.    Commuter rail should be part of this network to help connect communities such as Elmsdale, Beaverbank, Sackville, Windsor Junction and Bedford to peninsular Halifax.  Having commuter rail in our city would be means to decrease single-use vehicles on the road network, increase active transportation participation within the peninsular and by putting less cars on the road allow us to leverage environmental benefits for all residents.   There has been over the last several years a constant mantra of a “world class” city here in Halifax but without a properly integrated regional public transportation system- how great are we?

1,2,3 Train with me...

 

An easy to use properly integrated regional public transportation network is not only important for residents but also for visitors. We lack adequate connections for some of our green spaces across the city that are used for free recreation by locals and visitors alike.    In that lens, I propose some changes to the rail network.   In the commuter rail proposal they are suggesting 11 stops in the city with the line running from Elmsdale to South End Halifax.  The termination point in the South End is the Via Rail station; however I find that problematic because of the lack of bus connections for that area.   Also, I find that with 11 stops based on the travel time from Elmsdale into Halifax of 58 minutes does not make it competitive compared to car travel times.   Instead of 11 stops on the line, with it terminating at Via Rail I suggest we terminate the line at Mumford.   This would I believe allow two things to happen: it would make this commuter option more appealing to residents and also it would provide a better means of connections into the conventional bus network.   Additionally, I would add a stop at the airport and stop the current bus that runs to the airport.  Effectively, we could reduce the line to a total of 8 stops with the elimination of the downtown-south peninsular stops.   Running trains right into downtown would provide duplication of service which is what transit is trying to rightful avoid.

But what will it cost??

 

In the report CPCS states that capital costs could range from $26 - $130 million with estimated operating costs ranging from $14 - $16 million – depending on the level of service initiated.  While, I admit those are large sums, one must temper them with other amounts of money that we expense for municipal services.   I feel in the long term it is a small price to pay for the long term benefits residents and the environment will gain from a proper regional public transit network.

 

Who wants to climb on board?

BJV

Turn the beet around- Safe Sidewalks Matter

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

As the winter continues its assault on us, people all across Halifax are dealing with the snow and ice that has besieged our roads and sidewalks.   Residents and some councillors have become frustrated with the performance of winter maintenance across our city.  Providing a safe, city in which all residents are able to get from point A to B should be a number one priority.    Over the last week many the conditions on many main roads have improved and allowed for safer travel by motorist.   However, sidewalks all across our city remain treacherous and some are even impassable. 

The debate has raged on in the media, on talk radio, local news and on social media about the level of winter maintenance.  Councillor Mosher made the news talking about beet juice, and also have a request for a staff report that was debated yesterday at regional council.   The debate yesterday was at times heated, and an emotional one.    However the mantra extending from some councillors, that residents should accept this dangerous conditions across our city is ridiculous.    The time for excuses has passed, and residents all across Halifax deserve action and respect from each and every councillor.  I commend Councillor Mason and Councillor Watts as they have been vocal about the dangerous conditions that have been allowed to develop.  At the end of the debate, the motion was approved that would allow an expanded post-mortem winter maintenance report to come to council.

Let our people walk: give us sidewalks and give us life!

This report is a normal occurrence that would come to regional council regardless of yesterday’s ask from council.   However, this report will not reach the desks of councillors until August  - in the middle of the summer.    That I feel is very problematic because this is a time sensitive issue, and it is causing serious safety concerns.   The most important action of a city is to ensure that residents can safely, and efficiently travel from point A to B – irregardless of their mode of transportation.   Haligonians with mobility issues should not be held hostage for weeks on end because they can’t safely participate in our beautiful city.   Expanding the focus of the staff report is positive, we need to consider alternatives and accept our climate is changing and we need to change too.   What is wrong is waiting till August, when this issue could very well be in the back of the mind of many residents.   Council is presently in the middle of budget deliberations from 2015-2016, so I feel it would be prudent in the not too distant future to bring this report back to council.  If we need to adjust our snow clearing budget to accommodate a higher cost of additional supplies for winter maintenance – why put off what we can accomplish “today”. 

Purple Rain, Purple Rain

Also, yesterday Councillor Mosher talked about considering the use of beet juice to be added to the salt brine mixture the city is currently using.    I am fully open to considering anything that could help reduce the winter peril we have experienced this year.    The City of Merritt in British Columbia has been incorporation beet juice into their winter arsenal since 2012 with much success.  Not only has it helped to reduce build up on roads, it has allowed for cost savings on Spring Clean up and for winter maintenance labour costs.    Accessibility year round on our sidewalks must be a number one priority of our fair city.  

What would you like to see the city do?  How are sidewalks in your part of Halifax?

BJV

Taxed to death –Tax Reform in Nova Scotia

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

 

The old adage that the only sure things in life are taxes and death, is one we know all too well in Nova Scotia.   Our current tax regime makes us one of the highest taxed provincial populations across the country.   When our current government came to power a full tax system review was commission.  Back in November 2014, Laurel Broten delivered her report to the government.   Residents have until February 28th, 2015 to submit their thoughts on tax reform and their report. 

 

When the report first came out, I heard some media around the recommendations.  However, I did not take an in-depth read of the report.   Over the weekend I have had a chance to read the report and there are some good points made by the author.   However, one of the things that I feel has always made our province work is balance.   I don’t feel that if even some of these recommendations were instituted as is that we would ensure balance across our province.   All across our province there are many people living in poverty or n the category of working poor.  The main focus of this report a shift to consumption based taxes would hurt already at-risk Nova Scotian’s the most.

 

Consumption Based Tax System Will Hurt Us (Right now)

 “Recommendation 1.3 – Broaden consumption taxes: Nova Scotia should eliminate rebates for the provincial portion of the HST on printed books;children’s clothing, shoes, and diapers; feminine hygiene products; residential energy;and first-time home purchases. Nova Scotia must offset the impact of a broader HST basewith increases to the Affordable Living Tax Credit and reforms to the Heating Assistance Rebate Program (HARP)”

 

Broten believes that by raising the basic personal tax exemption to 11,000 annually that that would allow people to shoulder the increase of consumption based taxes.    If there was more equity in wage rates across our province, I could be led to agree with them.   Retooling our tax system from an income based tax system to a consumption based system is a game of musical chairs.   Tax credits do little to help Nova Scotian’s in their day-to-day life.   Truly, they are a net benefit when one considers the whole picture.    Also, by adding taxes to the above mentioned products would systematically place a huge burden on all Nova Scotians.  

 

Also, the suggestion to lower the corporate tax rates while increasing the small business tax rate over time is regressive.   The reality is that in our economy and in economies across our country, small business is what drives the economy and creates jobs.    Holding the small business tax rate at the current rate makes sense because that will allow our economies to continue to grow.

 

After reading the report, I find little  “bold” about this proposal.   Do we need to think long term yes, however that long term is not by rewarding the rich and burdening the poor.    While the report is honest, and open I don’t feel we are in a position to jump to a consumption based system.   

I would caution the current government on implementing many of these recommendations.   The one glaring fact is that we can’t afford to not act.    

 

Do we make any changes?

 

So, what do we change?  How do we move forward while not leaving many behind?  I agree with the suggestion to hold governmental spending.  Also, I like the idea to increase the basic personal tax exemption – but to 10,000 and not broaden the HST base.    I would suggest that to help  Nova Scotian’s become familiar with a consumption based system that we have a revenue neutral carbon tax.    This would be a good means for Nova Scotians to ease into a tax system switch.     The  system review was a good source of information for government and the public, and I am hopeful that with feedback initiated by this report we will get a tax system that works for all Nova Scotians.


BJV

Stop the chaos in our health care system: let’s hug it out.

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Today, after a long, laboured process James Dorsey was suppose to deliver a decision on where Nova Scotian nurses, support and clerical staff would go in the new health care bargaining structure.    I agree with the government that 4 bargaining units for health care in our province makes sense.  Bargaining takes time, and people power so to reduce the bargaining units would save time and hopefully allow for a more harmonious negotiating process.     Our health care system is in crisis because of how the changes have been attempted to be levied by our present government. 

Promptly after Dorsey’s ruling or lack thereof, Minister Glavine held a press conference to communicate the government’s displeasure with the lack of work completed by Dorsey.   Also, the minister announced that the government will introduce legislation to achieve via reducing the number of bargaining units.   However, I am concerned for the simple fact that we are a mere 6 weeks away from the mergers of the present health authorities into one health authority.  Six weeks and we have no formal structure for how workers will be represented in the new health authority set-up.  

The chaos that this changed, well needed, has caused is inexcusable.   Our provincial health care system is something that all Nova Scotian’s depend on and treasure.   With the rhetoric and posturing on both sides of this equation it is leading to instability in our health care system.   Health care staff and that much more stressed because of uncertainty.   Employer and union leadership continue to debate and posture in local media, and exchange shots and jabs. Minister Glavine and Union leadership need to take a step back, and act in both the best interests of health care workers and patients. 

 

respect-quotes.jpg

Health care is a priority for all Nova Scotians, and as our population continues to age that priority ranking will only grown.   Minister Glavine, should delay the merger of the provincial health authorities until the bargaining unit structure is in place.    Minister let’s put all Nova Scotians first and go back to the table with the unions to come to an agreement with a bargaining unit model.  Four units make sense, but all this chaos and stress does not.


BJV

Halifax Transit Redesign: Renamed Mediocrity

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Earlier this week Halifax Transit released their draft proposal for a redesign of our regional transit network.  Halifax desperately needs a redesign of our transit network, because presently we see huge amounts of inefficiency and duplication of service across our regional transit network.    I am thankful that Halifax Transit is undertaking this network redesign, but the draft plan leaves me questioning how much better it will really get.   There are many changes that are just renaming routes, and small route changes which in the end I feel we do little to improve our overall transit network. 

 

                                               Praise the Transit Czar: We have corridors!

One of the big changes in the draft plan is the introduction of corridor routing. On the surface, I will give credit where due in the fact that this change does go to address some duplication of service in the network.  However, I thought that this new corridor model would be the adoption of express corridor routes with a the very least sections with limited stops.  Instead what we get is full stop service within a corridor route model.   There are some of the corridor routes that strongly resemble presenting routing but with shortened routes or modifications.   While those are positive changes, they are not enough.  Why are we not utilizing a corridor philosophy to the best approach that we can.   If we could have higher frequency, limited stop service on corridor routes when coupled with local transfers and transit priority infrastructure –maybe we could get somewhere at quicker than a glacial place.

 

Missing the boat.

One of the great features of our city is our harbour.  We have a deep, natural beautiful harbour.  Our beloved harbour is one of the reasons that for centuries K'jipuktuk/Halifax has had inhabitants: mi’kmaq, then British and now all of us.   However, for a city our size we have three ferry terminals.   One of which in Woodside until recently has been drastically underutilized.  Even with the service enhancements, the Woodside ferry terminal is a diamond just begging to be admired.   In the new draft plan, there are only two direct express links going to the Woodside Terminal from Cole Harbour.  Did transit planners fall asleep when they were looking at Dartmouth South – Cole Harbour possibilities?   Just past where the Highway 111 ends, we have South Woodside, then Shearwater, Eastern Passage and Cow Bay.    Eastern Passage/Cow bay as of 2011 had a population of nearly 13,000—fast forward to 2015 and easily that community has a population of 13,000+.   However, with the network re-jig there is no express route to connect Eastern Passage to ferry service in Woodside.    It is a parade of cars every morning from Eastern Passage and Shearwater, if we are serious about reducing single use vehicles let’s get these people to the boat!

 

Get in your car or stay in your community

 If you live on the peninsula or just a bit outside on the Halifax side of our city, this draft plan is having more pros than cons.  Honestly, for the time I lived on the peninsula, even the current bus system was relatively efficient and got me where I need to go if I stayed on the peninsula.    However, with the implementation of the Urban Transit Service Boundary, there are growing communities just outside the line.   There is little talk in the draft plan about how to connect these communities to the network.   Can we provide transit to every nook and cranny of our city—of course not.  However, I believe there could be a better plan to help rural transit that is funded by local communities to connect to the regional network.    Furthermore, Halifax transit is missing a huge community within the service boundary.   With the network reboot,  my home community of Eastern Passage still remains isolated in the regional network when considering that people want to be moved quickly on transit.     The corridor model applied to our area, results in peak service of only 30 minute frequency and drops to 60 minute service midday/evenings.    There are over 13,000 people living in Eastern Passage/Cow Bay and it is one of the fastest growing communities in Halifax.   However, we do not have an express route linking us to Woodside Ferry Terminal.  Nor is there any plan for a direct connection to Cole Harbour or Baker Drive.  Both of those areas are important for this community as many residents access services in those two locations.    By not using Woodside Ferry Terminal as a hub and adding express services and direct connections for Eastern Passage is a mistake.  Just because the community happens to be at the end of the service boundary is no reason to ignore the need. 

Not all bad

There are positive in this first draft of the network redesign.  The focus of other moving parts of things like the coming Centre Plan, the Halifax Regional Plan and transit technological advances into this draft are good.   It is nice to see that at the very least this plan was not conceived in isolation.    The reduction of duplication of service is a good move.   The attempt to re-define routes so it is easier to understand for both residents and visitors to our city is good as well.    Better coverage for Burnside and Dartmouth Crossing is good as well.    What we can do as users and residents who would like to be transit users again is to provide or honest, respectful comments and help Halifax Transit make our public system the best it can be with the infrastructure we have.   Let’s all put our thinking caps on and take a seat at the table.  Over the next month there will be public info sessions on the draft plan.    Also, take a moment to take the Halifax Transit Survey.  We can have a great transit system, but this plan is not there yet.

BJV

Halifax Water should respect our harbour not help pollute it.

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

CW.jpg

 

 

Halifax Water is seeking input from the public on a season disinfection program that they are looking to implement under the lens of cost savings.   Presently, Halifax Water operates 5 waste water treatment facilities across the city, they are located in Eastern Passage, North Woodside, Downtown Halifax, Herring Cove and Mill Cove.   The proposal would only apply to four of the 5 sites, Mill Cove would not participate in this program if approved by the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment.

Currently, what happens with waste water treatment is that it is screened to remove floatables, suspended and/or settled solids and organic waste from the water. In the last stages at all treatment plants, it undergoes a ultra-violet (UV) disinfection process that kills bacteria in the water before it is discharged back into the harbour.   The proposal from the utility is that from November 1 – March 31st, the UV disinfection would not occur at the plants in Eastern Passage, North Woodside, Downtown Halifax or Herring Cove.   Under the frequently asked questions it states that if accepted this change would save operating costs, and extend live of the UV disinfection equipment.   In a CBC Article, it was cited that this change would save $1000/day.  If implemented it would save an estimated $150,000 annually.   Now, I will admit that to me yes, 150k seems like a fair amount of money, but in the scope of the utility and their budget I am sure it is a mere drop  in the bucket.   When you consider that general manager Carl Yates, has actually had his salaries increase and as of 2009 was making 188,605.53 as referenced from a FOIPO I found online.    I find it laughable that a utility is granting pay increases to senior staff, but in the same breath trying to effectively reduce services.  

However, in principle I am not opposed to utilities finding efficiencies that will save money that will benefit everyone. I am opposed to a utility that will openly pollute any body of water.    Questions they address on their website regarding this proposal go into little detail, and make it quite difficult for residents to make an informed decision on whether is change is good or bad.    In 2015, I believe it is foolish of any company to say they wish to discharge water back into our harbour with bacteria that we could remove. Effectively, what we are saying is that savings matter more than the environment. Furthermore, we spent millions on a proper waste water treatment system to end pollution to our harbour.   The Harbour Solutions project was a proud turning point for our city, and if we are making any changes to waste water treatment it should be enhancing it, not reducing it.  

Lastly, to suggest that we don’t use the water during those months is a false statement.   We have fishing vessels going in and out from Eastern Passage, Herring Cove,  and Sambro.  There are surfers in the water during some of the winter months in Cow Bay.  And in the end, we do not know what the long term effects this change could cause if implemented.   This is a short-sighted , knee jerk reaction from Halifax Water where there are trying to save on the back of our environment.

Public feedback is open until February 20th, by contacting James Campbell.

 

Snow unrest: why we need to re-think our service delivery.

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Ah winter snow has finally arrived in Halifax, and over the last week or so we have acquired a nice layer of winter gold.   Snow banks are now lining our streets, and those sleds that were Christmas gifts can finally be used.  However, there has been much debate over the level of service that residents have experienced.  I support the workers that are executing as current set by regional council. The municipal workers and private contractors are I feel doing their job to the best of their ability given the resources provided to them.  But what is in question by many, and warranted from my perspective is the snow clearing standards themselves.   Our current service standards are built on a priority system with separate rankings for both roads and sidewalks.  Service standards range anywhere from 12 hours to a maximum of 48 hours from end of storm depending on priority and what is being cleared. For more detail on the service standards please visit here.    We live in a geographically large city, which can experience unique weather situations depending on where you are in the city.  These two factors combined with the freeze-thaw cycles that we often experience during the winter help to make snow clearing a significant challenge.    Back in 2013 regional council made a change that city staff would clear all sidewalks on the peninsula vs. previously that some residents were responsible to clear their own sidewalk.   Andrew Murphy wrote an op-ed piece on this change, and even within that year his concerns rang true as they continue to in 2015. 

Comparatively to other centres like Moncton or St. John’s, Halifax’s service standards provide a quick turnaround time in theory.  However, in practice they represent inconsistencies and failure to meet service standards set by council.   Furthermore, with the increased focus on making Halifax a more walkable city the poor snow clearing we see year after year has become a safety concern.    Driving across the region this weekend, I have seen snow banks excessively high that make it difficult for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to see each other.   Many bus stops without shelters are not adequately cleared, nor are countless crosswalk approaches or only cleared to permit passage for residents without mobility challenges.   It is clear that there are aspects of our current snow service standards that are not working.   

So, where do we go from here?

It is clear that there are aspects of our current snow service standards that are not working.  However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  For a city of our size, we do have good service standards but how they get to be implemented is the issue.  For example in Moncton,  for sidewalks outside the core business district staff have 5 days to clear them vs 36-48 hours in Halifax.   However, I feel that we could be doing better and that we need a holistic review of the plan.   I would suggest that we cancel the 2013 change that saw the expansion of sidewalk clearing across peninsular Halifax. The service standards times for items like bus stops and sidewalks need to be adjusted. Two days to clear bus stops in a city where many depend on public transit does not work.  I like Megan Blumenthal's ,(@MegBlumenthal), suggestion that sidewalks get one pass during a storm, then the rest residents take care of.    Also we can copy good practices from other local centres.  In Moncton, they have an adopt a fire hydrant program, whereby residents take responsibility for clearing a hydrant.   Let’s adopt this program in Halifax and also expand it to include storm drains and bus shelters.   Lastly, in collaboration with resident’s associations and/or community groups develop community based lists of people willing to help shovel sidewalks, paths etc for residents who are unable to and to reduce the strain on city staff.  

We live in Canada, we have winter if we work together we can improve safety across Halifax.

BJV

Redesign Community Councils By Authority Not Boundaries.

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

This week Halifax Regional council approved a controversial development in the Halifax South end on Wellington Street. There was concern by some councillors that this approval was flying in the face of advice staff had given, local resident’s objections and sheer intent of current municipal planning policies for that neighbourhood.    Councillor Mason (Halifax Downtown-South) wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Chronicle herald yesterday calling for an urban centre community council.  Based on the areas Councillor Mason refers to it would be my interpretation that if such a community council did exist it would include the following districts:

District 5 – Dartmouth Centre

District 6 – Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East (Only a portion of this district would be included as some of Dartmouth North falls into this district)

District 7 – Halifax Peninsula North

District 8 – Halifax South Downtown and

District 9 – Halifax West Armdale

 

I respect where Councillor Mason is coming from.  As the local councillor, I too would find it frustrating when you are bringing forth the voice of your residents in your district, but others choose to vote against them.   The sounding lament from some more suburban and/or rural councillors is that we need density in the urban core.   And they are right; we do need density in the urban core.  However, we do not need to build for the mere sake of building.   There are many ways that we can achieve density in our city, and successful examples of low-medium rise density across many cities in other jurisdictions.   Regardless, the realities are that it is more sustainable financially and environmentally to build new development in already serviced lots.  Millennials are in large numbers opting to remain in urban cores even as they raise families, and in Halifax we need a balanced approach to handle the cultural shift we are witnessing before our very eyes.  But development needs to have rules, and follow modern design standards with setbacks, thinking of street level massing and how that impacts the surrounding area and local residents.    We have in our city clearer design rules that we have had for much of time that the regional municipality has been in existence.   Coupled with the coming finalization of the Centre plan, it will provide clear guidelines to balance between density and comfortable living in our urban core. 

 

The current configuration of the community councils has only been in operation for a little more than two years.  There are currently three community councils, and yes they cover large geographical areas, but the reality is that our municipality as a whole covers an immense geographical area.   With the vast area that our city does cover comes to beauty in that we have representation on both community councils and regional council from urban, suburban and rural councillors.   This balance of councillors from different communities, I believe allows our local governance to be one of debate, consideration and collaboration to decisions that benefit all residents.    All residents of Halifax have a stake and interest in what happens in our regional centre, as too do we all have a stake in what happens in communities all across Halifax because we are one unified region. 

 

The value that councillors from across our beautiful city bring to community councils and regional council is a form of diversity.  It allows us to consider things in different light that we may have not ever thought about, and there is great value in that.   Coupled with the fact that the current configuration of community councils has only existed for two years, I feel that there are still some growing pains in that configuration.    I disagree with Councillor Mason that we need an Urban Community Council.  If that came to fruition, I feel that would be leaving equally important voices that are outside of the regional core out of those discussions.  However, what I do propose is that regional council give the power to community councils to consider all MPS and LUB amendments and to grant approvals (or not) at the community council level.   In our current municipal governance network, community councils aside from individual councillors have the most direct link to residents.  It would be a better, more inclusive approach to give community councils the authority to approve development applications without the need to go to regional council as well.   That I feel is a more inclusive, balanced approach.

 

BJV

Perspectives on the Dal Denistry Scandal

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Over the last 6 weeks, we have witnessed the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal.    When it broke, I with many others reacted with emotion and disdain which I feel is still valid.    However, for myself as the weeks have brought us into January I have had much time to consider and reflect as new information was added to the public domain.

First to be clear, I do not believe what those young men allegedly said is a joke or something to be brushed aside as a notion of ‘boys will be boys’.   I believe some of those alleged comments made are rooted in attitudes of subjugation namely misogyny and homophobia- whether they realize that or not. 

Presently in Nova Scotia, we have a heightened sensitivity to misogynistic statements and white male privilege because in part I believe of what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons.   I believe we need to be vigilant and challenge institutions and groups that attempt to subjugate other individuals. 

I question the actions of Dalhousie’s administration and how they are handling this matter.  But, I feel we must all pause and be thoughtful.  I am not part of this dentistry class of 2015, and I can’t begin to imagine how this has impacted the learning environment of these students –especially the female students that the comments were directed towards.   I do not support the argument that what the male students supposedly said on the Facebook group are just words.   Words have deep meaning, and they can and do inflict much pain whether in written or spoken form.

In that lens however, ethically it is no fair of me to impose how I would want this situation handled if I were the victims.  I have my own set of personal life experiences and philosophies that would influence that decision and so too do the female students –I feel that we as a city need to respect those who feel that restorative justice is their preferred route.   Equally as a community, I feel we lend our support to the faculty who has laid compliant with the administration and the 4 female students who wrote an open letter expressing that restorative justice was not how they wished to proceed.

Life has consequences, and it is a fundamental law of the universe that every action has an equal but opposite reaction.   I do feel whoever of those men supposedly made those comments on the Facebook group do need a consequence.  However, how do we as a society balance our need for justice against the belief that people can be rehabilitated.   As broken as some people may feel it is, even our criminal justice system is built on the premise that offenders can be rehabilitated and once again be positive members of society.  

While, I too am frustrated daily by the level of racism, misogyny, homophobia/transphobia, xenophobia and ableism I see in our province.  The reality is that these problems are much bigger than the Dal scandal.   They are rooted in our social narrative, and how we are socialized in our cultural context.   Our province via our institutions and governing philosophies are dripping in white privilege.   Until all of us truly own that, and work to change our social narratives things like the Dal scandal will sadly continue to happen.   I do not suggest that we accept events like those as the norm or acceptable, we are right to sing out and challenge them.  However, we must challenge the subjugation daily consistent promotion of equality is a positive way we can proceed. 

Countering the prevailing subjugation we see in our social narrative starts in our home, with how we raise our children.  How we choose to communicate to each other as adults, and how we celebrate both our beautiful diversity and similarities.  Our province is I feel in many ways so divided, often we operate as silos.  If we can make our communities hubs, where we all come together and support diversity in ideas, in celebration and in leadership then I believe we can make our home an even better place.

The Dalhousie Dentistry scandal is but a symptom of our larger issue of oppression that happens in Nova Scotia.  If we truly want to change that it will take hope and hard work but we can do it together.

 

BJV

Sound the alarm: Closing stations does not make for efficency.

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

At the December Executive standing committee of regional council a report was presented by Doug Trussler, Chief of Halifax Fire and Emergency services.  The staff report is proposing the closure of 3 urban fire halls, 4 rural and the relocation of 2 urban fire halls in the Sackville/Bedford area. 

We on some fronts appear to be entering a period of history in our city where the bureaucracy is content to let basic infrastructural needs be diminished whereas they and council allows some extras to happen.   Every city needs sufficient levels of fire, police, refuse collection, sidewalks, transit, roads etc.    I find it alarming of the trend I see of city departments that from a citizen’s perspective are not working together.  

Closing fire halls in neighbourhoods that are growing seems counter intuitive to nuances of the regional plan.  Further, people must be safe.  Fire fighters provide services other than saving our buildings they often act as first responders.   Additionally, for much of our history fire halls have served as social outlets and supports for the surrounding neighbourhoods that they are present in.    The bigger question, that I feel we need to ask ourselves and our elected officials is who is guiding this proverbial ship that is our city.   While, we have much to celebrate in Halifax and be thankful for there too is much that we can improve on.  No, our city is not broken, but there are many roads that must be smoothed.   I feel it is time that we ask who councillors are advocating for.  At this tenure, I thankful to live in Halifax and thankful that at least Dartmouth Centre Councillor McCluskey is not afraid to question staff and take thoughtful stances that lately many I have been in agreement with.

Below is the letter I sent to the members of the Executive Standing Committee:

“I have reviewed the staff report regarding reorganization of HRFE resources. 

 In reading the report,  I feel there are some positives:

 

- The proposed 5 year investment plan for tech upgrades.

-The reposition of Station 8 and 9 seems to make sense and will help to address coverage shortfalls.  

 

However , with the proposed closures I have some concerns.

 Station 4 ( Lady Hammond Rd)

 This station from listed stock is one of two in North End Halifax.    There are significant examples of older housing stock in this neighborhood.   Whether single dwelling or multi-unit with older housing stock it gives potential to materials or building attachments that may increase fire risk or burning ability.   

 

Additionally, with the closure of Station 4 it would reduce support to EMS services as it is my understanding many fire fighters are trained as first responders and the closure may impact the accessing of emergency services.   

 

Lastly , that Station 5 (bayers rd) could replace the coverage Station 4 provides.   While it may meet 2006 response times as prescribed by council on paper.   I question the efficacy of coverage it may provide.   I question this because of traffic congestion often experience in that area of the city that,  in my opinion has strong potential to impact even emergency vehicles.

 

My concerns regarding the closure of Station 13 are similar as above.   In addition,  I'm disappointed that Stations would be reduced in the Dartmouth core.  Downtown Dartmouth is destined for growth and to increase urban density.    I see no proactive plans in the staff report to either:

 A ) Communicate long term plans for staff or station expansion for Dartmouth proper.

B) Modernize Station 13 for future anticipated growth in the downtown core.

 If Station 13 is closed, with the fire boat being moved to Station 15 (pleasant st)..How will this impact staffing levels at that station?  Do they have a surplus of staff presently?   Lastly,  I do not accept that Station 3(West St)  could safely be considered to provide coverage to Downtown Dartmouth due to the need to cross the bridge.   In my opinion the bridge is not always a reliable means of crossing in terms of effectively, timely crossing.    Coupled with impending bridge re-decking starting next year, this seems quite problematic.  

 

While  I'm not very familiar with the location of Station 11 (Paton rd), I would estimate similar concerns of removing the other two urban stations

 Lastly ,  there appears to be no plan indicated in detail how volunteer recruitment will be continued and enhanced.   Could some of the reallocation of urban core volunteers not be reassigned to rural stations where workforce levels are more of an issue.”

 

 

Closing fire halls does not make sense.  I urge everyone to email your councillor and challenge this staff report.

BJV

My Holiday Message for 2014

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

 As 2014 quickly draws to a close, all across our city and our fair province Nova Scotians are preparing for the arrival of Santa Clause.   From far and wide family and friends will gather to celebrate the holidays and the coming New Year.    December is always a time of reflection, where we as Nova Scotians can reflect on the year that is coming to a close and to dream for the year that is yet to come.

 We face many challenges in our province and in Halifax where I reside.   We have an aging population, and finite resources.  There are realities that we need to address, however we as Nova Scotians are resilient and one of our strengths is that we endure and find solutions even in the most challenging of times.

This year we have many successes and some decisions that leave questions to be addressed.    Across our province the cost of living continues to rise, and pressure to make ends meet are felt by many Nova Scotians across our province. 

As we join to celebrate this festive time, I ask all Nova Scotians to continue to support residents in our communities that need help however that looks.   It is unacceptable that all across our province that people struggle daily and have to make choices between buying food and paying rent, between have their medications, clothes over their power bills.   Regardless of the financial challenges we face, as a province we will face them together.

My Christmas wish is that as we turn the page into 2015 that each and every Nova Scotian will ensure that no one is left behind, that all voices have the opportunity to be heard and respected.   Share what you can, and let us all work hard in 2015 to raise the bar on equity in our beloved home by the sea.

 

From my family to yours we wish you a Happy Holiday Season and a bright, prosperous 2015.

 

Much love to all

~BJV

On the path to grow our family.

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

This week, my husband and I should find out if we approved for adoption with the province of Nova Scotia.  It has been almost two years since we began our journey to grow our family.    We choose to grow our family via adoption because it feels as the most logical means for us to accomplish this.   Surrogacy is expensive and technically illegal in our country, plus there are many children that need safe, loving homes.    For me, I have known probably since my mid-twenties that I do some day want to have children.  Being gay, I wasn’t completely sure how that would happen.  Obviously, the biological method was off the table, so once married adoption was our option. 

The journey to becoming parents didn’t feel real for me until we did our pre-training classes.  In these classes we learned why children come into care, touched lightly about attachment, family transition and met other perspective adoptive families.   It was interesting to hear other family’s stories, but as we were the only same-sex couple in our group – somewhere inside there were times that I did feel uncomfortable.   That may sound silly, but because of socialization many members of the rainbow community can at times experience internalized homophobia.   I feel that was a part of it, but also the feeling of hearing others say how they had always wanted to adopt.   It took me some time to reconcile my feelings to own that we were just as worthy as any family in that room.   That, I found surprising because I didn’t think I would feel that way for I have always been proud to show who I am and my stregenths to anyone. 

For any family who is planning to have kids or already has some, I believe that is a very special and rewarding endeavour.    For people that can get pregnant and experience growing a family that way, I count them so lucky.  And I admit that even though, there is no biological means for my husband and I to be pregnant in the traditional sense – I am envious of that.   There is part of me that so longs to hear others be excited that we are expecting versus saying ‘cool it is that we are going to adopt’  As if, it is some big miracle that we want to grow our family and choose to do that by adopting.    I want the showers, the excitement of friends and co-workers and the sheer anticipation of a new life joining our family.  No, if our family grows will that process bring a total new life into the world but it will bring a new life into our world.   I believe that is something to celebrate, to swoon over and to share with everyone.    I don’t want to be known as the same-sex family on the street, I just want to be known as another family on our street.    It ‘s challenging because I embrace and celebrate the differences that make our family special, but the only frame of references I have for child rearing are ones seeping in heterosexual norms.  It is a question of how one retains their queerness as a gay man while raising a family and that is a question I have not fully answered yet.

Another unanticipated aspect of the journey to date, even though that I knew we may not get a “healthy child” is dealing with my own biological sensibilities.    I sense and am connected to my desire to father children and the type of children that we are open to from a sub-contentious level could be argued to be against our nature.   Everyone hopes and prays for a health child, and that they will remain healthy for their whole lives.   We hope for that too, but because the vast majority of children in care have special needs in some manner –it forces me to re-define what healthy really is.   We are open to children that are on the autism spectrum, have fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), learning disabilities etc, do we know right now that we will always be able to handle a child with one of those: no.  However, we both have good examples of parents that were and are committed to their children.  I gather from hearing a lot of other parents and reading articles that there is a good part of parenting that really is just trial and error.  There is no manual, and I don’t think that part of raising kids will be different for us.   I worry how we will do and how many sleepless nights we will have.  How we navigate being working parents, the school system, our kids teen years and beyond but I think those are things that all parents or perspective parents ponder. 

Are we going to be the perfect parents: no. But we will do our best, and provide for our kids.

 

Right now, I can’t wait to learn if we can say “we’re expecting”

 

BJV

Sidewalk Blues - Originally Published in October Issue of The Beacon

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Sidewalks are often something most of us may not necessarily think about every day, or at all.  We generally assume that our municipal government will ensure that there are complete and adequate sidewalks in all parts of the city.  However, in our community of Eastern Passage – Cow Bay that is not the case. A complete connected system of sidewalks coupled with crosswalks, parks, sufficient transit services form part of the basic infrastructure that a city should be providing to all residents across the region.    The lack of a complete sidewalk system in our community is a serious issue that limits our activities, may deter business investment and creates grave safety concerns.

In our municipal planning strategy for Eastern Passage – Cow Bay it states the following regarding sidewalks:

 

“Pedestrian Systems

Long standing resident concerns about pedestrian safety led to the construction of a new sidewalk along portions of Shore Road and other major streets in the Plan Area.

Sidewalks have generally been cost shared and constructed by the Department of Transportation and Communications, the Municipality and area residents when a request for such service has been received. However, there are some locations, particularly near schools, where potential dangers exist for pedestrians due to the lack of sidewalks.

 

TR-17 It shall be the intention of Council in cooperation with the Department of Transportation and Communications and area residents to undertake a review of existing sidewalks, crosswalks

and street lighting and to produce a priority list of future improvements including overhead

walkways.” – Eastern Passage/Cow Bay Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS)

 

     Sidewalks are important because generally they provide safe and efficient connectivity in and between communities.  They provide recreational opportunities for residents and help to bring customers to local businesses.  In our community there are many streets that have incomplete sidewalks or none at all.  Consider for example on Shore Road, where there’s a sidewalk on one side only that does not service the whole road.  Abruptly, with no warning it stops at the intersection of Shore Road and Shoreview Drive.    Another Principal route in our area, Caldwell Road too lacks a complete sidewalk system on both sides and after Hornes Rd there is no sidewalk service at all.   Cow Bay Rd also lacks a complete sidewalk, and around the 600 block of Cow Bay Rd again we are left without sidewalks.   It is unacceptable that because we live outside the regional centre, that we are not benefiting from the same basic infrastructure that residents experience in the regional centre and many other parts of the city. 

      So, why are sidewalks as important as basic infrastructure that the city should be providing at a standardized level across our city?   The first and arguably the most important is safety.  Eastern Passage and Cow Bay are growing communities.  As referenced from the 2011 Department of Justice Community Counts is that our population sat at 11, 740 which represents a growth of 13.5% compared to 2001.   Of those 11,740, 26.4% of our local population is under 20.  Safety is a concern from any age group, but it would be prudent to ensure we are meeting a minimal standard of safety for our youth and seniors.   Part of that larger safety plan is investing in a complete sidewalk network in Eastern Passage – Cow Bay.  On Shore Road, there are several Halifax Transit stops that are not on a sidewalk, and also school bus stops where again we do not have a sidewalk.  Government and communities need to do more to be proactive to prevent tragedies before they occur and not react when it is too late.

     The second reason is twofold: community cohesion and health.   Neighbourhoods with complete sidewalk systems benefit the community.  With a full complement of sidewalks, it will encourage people to explore their neighbourhood.  While they are out for walking there are the benefits of getting to know your local area.  Also, you will get to meet and have conversations with other residents which help to create connections and a sense of belonging for all. Lastly, as you are out exploring your community and meeting friends you also are physically active.  This is important because sidewalks provide a free way for everyone to exercise.  For most people, walking is a safe exercise that helps with overall health.   However, for people that are younger or older or have some mobility challenges, living in an area with an incomplete sidewalk system can actually deter them from being active.    In a time, where we have a strong awareness of the benefit of social connections and being active, basic infrastructure that can support this is a need not a want.

    Lastly, having basic infrastructure like sidewalks, public transit, parks, schools etc is a way that a community is inviting to residents, businesses and visitors.  Like roads, sidewalks play a big part in bringing customers to local business.  When there are incomplete sidewalk systems, it impacts business with reduced foot traffic which might impact profits. Fewer profits means less jobs and fewer taxes collected which impacts us all.   There are businesses within Eastern Passage-Cow Bay that are not serviced by sidewalks and that is unacceptable.  

     Having a full sidewalk system in our community is a priority and must be a priority for city hall.  When visiting Halifax.ca, it references how you should call 311 to request consideration for addition of a new sidewalk.   As for a master list of new sidewalks that will be added in our community, I see none.  There have been sidewalk renewals during this year but no new sidewalks to help complete the system.   Basic infrastructure is imperative as our community continues to grow; ensuring proper basic infrastructure will ensure that our community will be able to meet the needs of a growing area.  Sidewalks are on the minds of many in our area, and Chris Bowers is one of those people.  He has written about the sidewalk issue as well, you can visit his blog at http://epwinesnob.blogspot.ca.   As a community, we should remind the city of their own planning strategies and ensure sidewalks are where they need to be.  If you are interested in learning more, please get in touch with Chris or myself.

Clear Bags May be coming to a curb near you (Originally Publshed in November Edition of The Beacon)

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Among the many services that our city provides, garbage collection is one that impacts all of us and touches every household. Municipal refuse collection is an important service that helps to keep our homes and communities clean. As we have evolved our waste management systems, we can directly benefit our natural environment and lower costs for garbage collection. Lower costs in waste collection provides the potential for funds to be re-directed to other key services, such as sidewalks, transit, recreation programming and educational services.

This past September, Halifax Regional Council proposed changes to By-Law S-600, Solid Waste Resource Collection and Disposal. As stated on the Halifax website, some changes include:

·         removing boxboard from the green cart, with the exception for use as kitchen scrap catcher;

·         Garbage bag collection from 6 bags to 4 clear bags for residential homes, with the provision of one of the bags being black or opaque.

·         using kraft paper bags for leaf and yard waste instead of plastic bags; and

·         Banning grass clippings from curbside collection.

 

Halifax has been a leader in waste management and diversion for years. Since 1999, we have had a full green cart program that has helped reduce the impact of organic material on landfill cells. Despite earlier education programs about the benefits of composting, residential collection only has a 52% diversion rate according to a 2014 municipal staff report.   Of the curbside garbage collected, up to 50% could have been recycled or composted instead of being sent to the landfill. Comparatively, the commercial, businesses, and apartments sectors in our city currently have a diversion rate of 66%. This rate is still nothing to rave about, but it is marginally better than the residential success. Each tonne of garbage that enters local landfills costs taxpayers $170, reflecting both capital and operational expenses.  Excess weight caused by improper sorting adds additional costs to the city, which can add up quickly with even a small change in diversion rates.

Moving to clear bags makes sense to reduce costs, improve diversion rates, and help leave a healthier environment for our children and our grandchildren. However, to move forward and continue the success of diversion we all need to do more, including residents and governments. After fifteen years of composting and a strong recycling program in Halifax, it is a disappointing statistic that half of what ends up in our landfills should have been composted or recycled. It could be argued that we could attribute this stat to modern lifestyle changes and the shifting balance between home and work life may impact the time households dedicate to sorting their trash. Over the last fifteen it seems over packaging of products has invaded our store shelves.  Stronger awareness of how to help reduce waste before a product even leaves the store shelf would be beneficial to all across our city.  Combining awareness campaigns with the power of our consumer dollars would send a strong message to companies who make these products with abundant packaging that ends up in our landfills as waste. If we simply choose to buy fewer products with excessive packaging, retailers would have to take note. Opting for paper over plastic, or bringing reusable shopping bags are simple but effective ways to reduce excess waste in our homes.  There are ways to help reduce waste at home as well. During the 1990s, there was an influential campaign that actively promoted the three “Rs”: reduce, reuse and recycle. Waste reduction could be achieved if we all were to better employ the “3 Rs” in our daily lives by making it a family affair and involving everyone in the home. For example, unwanted clothing could be donated to charity or traded with a friend; old newspapers could be recycled or saved for starting gardening beds; empty glass jars could be reused as containers for various items.

 

However, in order for any of the proposed amendments to successfully reduce landfill waste, the people affected by the proposed changes have to willingly adopt the changes.  In addition to the four bag limit, there needs to be a provision for when people may have more regular garbage that can’t be composted or recycled due to renovations, seasonal cleaning etc. The current changes as they are now will not allow for this. There are other cities that employ a tag system where people pay a fee for tags that they place on any extra garbage bags for collection. However, I do not feel that in Halifax we should charge households for additional garbage collection. I believe that the occasional extra household garbage bag collection could be offset by the reduced household garbage bag limits. Savings in collection costs would offset the occasional extra garbage bag collection. 

 

Lastly, as a region we must become more mindful of how all residents dispose of their garbage.  Across the Halifax region we have a significant number of multi-unit residences, such as rooming houses, university dorms, apartment buildings and condos.   If they are over 6 units, private collection occurs.  However, they are still required to separate refuse as you would in a single family unit.   To truly regain our progressive stance on waste diversion, clear bag rules should apply to all residences across the city.  The current proposed changes will not apply to these types of residences. Having lived in several multi-unit residences prior to becoming a home owner, many times I witnessed other residents who did not correctly sort their garbage.  As previously mentioned the non residential sector presently diverts 66% of all garbage produced from the landfill.   There is room for improvement. Better education coupled with clear bag use would help reduce improper waste disposal in this sector as well. Waste reduction and better environmental stewardship can be a cause that all residents champion not just home owners. Positive change will benefit us all.

Reducing the bag limit and switching to clear bags for residential collection makes sense.  The proposed changes are not about reducing the service the city provides, but about making the service more efficient and a better value for us the tax payers.   Other municipalities in Nova Scotia that made the change to clear bags saw improvement in diversion rates from the landfill, even as soon as the first year.   On Tuesday, December 2nd at 6pm, regional council will hold a public hearing regarding the proposed changes for bag limits and use of clear bags at city hall.  For more information please visit: http://www.halifax.ca/recycle/contact.php

Edible Landscapes Required Part of Urban Planning

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Over the last five to ten years, there has been a resurgence of local food movements across Canada and North America.    These movements have been rooted in re-connecting primarily urban residents with their local food producers.   They have helped foster a renewed appreciation for seasonal, healthy eating, and a better understanding of issues farmers face.  Furthermore, it has allowed urban residents the opportunity to directly participate with farms via a community sourced agriculture model.  However, even with a renewed focus on eating local, for many people in our city and province, a secure source of healthy food eludes them. 

One answer to help foster a more secure source of healthy food is community gardens.  While, I do believe that community gardens are one piece of our food security puzzle—I do not think they can fulfill the demand.   Presently, the majority of community gardens within HRM that I am aware of are relatively small and in more affluent areas of the region.  With the exception of the Hope Blooms garden in the Gottingen St area and the community garden in North Dartmouth, most seem to be more a place for hobbyists.  Providing space for people to come together via a community garden is positive, and has benefits; but I believe it is time for us to become serious about food security on a large scale.

With the securing of funding for a Grocery Co-Op in the North End Halifax, and Community Food Centre in North Dartmouth: food security and reliable access is on the mind of many citizens.   If you look at the economic realities of North End Halifax and Dartmouth: there is limited access to affordable, fresh, local food.  This is because of a present lack of smaller, local grocery stores and larger chain grocers that are more centrally located in those neighbourhoods.   Centrally located chain grocery stores present a problem because of affordability and limited access either due to mobility or financial constraints.

Food security is not simply about what people have access but equally to how they have access to it.  In HRM and in Nova Scotia, we need to address food security, from the top but more importantly from the grassroots level.   Across all neighbourhoods, we need to advocate for our communities and push for city policy that supports full scale urban agriculture and urban hens.  On city wide urban agriculture and urban hens, our city is behind so many other jurisdictions.   Although, we need to educate our local politicians, the push collectively needs to happen at the grassroots level.   As a community, we can create opportunities to grow food on a street, across a neighbourhood, in our community and with work across all of HRM.

There are direct relationships between what one’s diet is and how that determines their health.   In Nova Scotia, we have some of the highest rates of cancer, diabetes is on the rise and the health of our youth is falling.   People in HRM living in poverty have their health compromised daily because of lack of access to affordable, fresh healthy food.   So, how can we change this in our community?  Throughout HRM we have green space that is being under-utilized; there are inedible plants and flowers lining the majority of municipal and provincial buildings.  A model for action, not for endless municipal staff reports, comes from Todmorden, England.   “Incredible Edible” is a movement of making our land one that can nourish us with equal, universal access to plan and harvest.  Imagine of all the land throughout HRM, the planters in front of municipal buildings that now house bushes, shrubs, and flowers that we can’t eat.   Imagine this same land: that instead of growing flowers and shrubs, we grew food.   The potential of how this would transform our local ecosystem, and transform the lives of so many residents across HRM is immense.  To walk out in your neighbourhood and have fresh, local grown food: how positive would that change be for you?  Food security should be a grassroots response: we can change land use, grow food and change lives.  

In 2014, I am excited to see that this idea is starting to take hold.  Halifax Diverse has planted several types of fruit trees in Leighton Dillman Park to begin an urban orchard.    This is a small step to making our landscapes more interactive and reconnect people with their food.  Coupled with the grown popularity of the local food movement, and Common Roots Urban Farms—food security is on the radar for many.    However, even with those positive steps there is still much work to be done.  We are fortunate to have so much land in our city, and we should do our best to use it our full potential.

BJV

Power in People: let's be barrier free.

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

Two things happened on Saturday, my neighbouring riding of  Dartmouth – Cole Harbour liberals choose their candidate for the next federal election – congratulations to Darren Fisher on winning the nomination!  Also, after a quick stop at the candidate’s house that I worked for and supported my husband and I went to see Pride.   Pride was set against the backdrop of a nationwide miners’ strike during 1984-85 in the United Kingdom.  The key message of the plot was solidarity.   The movie really got me thinking: in our post modern era what is solidarity? Do we even know?   Generally intent would point to the labour movement, but today many times unions act no less divisive than some governments.   

 

When I consider where we have been, and where we are as a society, I am thankful for progress.  However, at the same time I am perplexed with the systems we are privy too.   Our systems are broken: government, schools, roads, buses you name it.   In 2014, we are moving in a societal structure generations in the making that is built on parochial and subjagating perspectives.  Where we should be operating in hubs and supporting each other, many of us are in silos.   We work or go to school, come home and repeat this cycle.   I don’t fault fellow citizens for this, for it is very hard to chart a course adverse to socialization.  As many of you know, I volunteer a lot across our city.  I sit on many boards and several committees that work to varying degrees to help improve the lives of community members.   Again, however there are times that many of these groups work in isolation.  When I look around the common theme I see is barriers: for inclusion, political participation, employment, education, strong communities, support of diversity, raising a family, being party of the community as a youth or senior.

We have challenges in our world, but at the same time we have opportunities.  But, to develop our opportunities there are at least two things I believe we first must do:

1 – Acknowledge that in our world that racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, classism, ableism etc exist and happen every day in every community.

2-Realize that it is only in true solidarity of all peoples regardless of background working together to support each other, to challenge oppression even when it does not impact one directly, and to celebrate individual and collective success.   Strong, unadulterated solidarity is what will move all of us forward.

I see the hope in people’s eyes and the potential in their skills.  It is time, we hit the reset button and as a people come together to challenge the system that whether intended or not facilitates division.  I feel that as a collective, we need to shift our perspective on government.  Government is not a body that dictates to us, but in fact works collaborates with all citizens.   Inclusion, progress and solidarity will not come without hard work.  I challenge everyone to do best in their daily lives to support inclusion and solidarity in their networks.

BJV

 

Clear Bags For All

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt

During the regional council meeting last Tuesday, the topic of garbage came up again on the agenda.  There are recommendations from staff on modifying By-Law 0600, which deals with solid waste management.  The biggest proposed changes is dropping the bag limit from 6 to 4, I support this change in theory.   I believe that it is beneficial to help via policy to reduce our waste output and to further encourage increased composting and recycling.   We were and one could argue still leaders in our waste diversion.   However, there is always room from improvement.   Changing people’s habits are hard, as we are wired to be creatures of habit.  While, I think the proposed changes are positive, the plan needs a bit of adjustment to make a more substantive shift.

The proposed changes will limit garbage bags to 4 from the present 6.  Initially, all four bags would have been clear, but with a motion from Councillor Fisher the proposal would allow one opaque bag.    There were privacy concerns raised and that some residents would not want other residents viewing their undesirable trash.   While, I respect that some things we toss out may be adverse, I feel we should have kept it at four clear bags.  For most houses that I see, they have at least one garbage can with which they use to house their trash in between collection.  If residents had refuse that they wish their neighbours not see, that clear bag could be placed in the garbage can.   This would balance the needs of both the city and residents; having all four bags as clear would allow items that should be diverted into other collection streams from entering the landfill while ensuring privacy for residents if they so desire. 

In addition to the four bag limit, there needs to be a prevision for when people may have more regular garbage that can’t be composted/recycled due to renovations, seasonal cleaning etc.   Other cities employ a tag system, where people would pay for addition collection.   However, I do not feel that in Halifax we should charge households for additional collection.  This is because, I believe that the occasionally extra collection required can be offset in two ways.   First, with a reduced bag limit collection costs would already see savings and that in turn would offset occasionally extra collection.   Second, a strong education program for residents about diverting garbage that can be composted re-used and or recycled is required.   I can remember as a youth, there was much more public education around reducing, reusing and recycling.   I believe that programs like this need to come back to help remind and re-educate people about the “3Rs”.  Also, I would suggest that the city take a larger role in providing educational support to residents who wish to compost at home.   This is a benefit to collection cost, because less organic waste would go into the green cart. 

Lastly, as a region we must become more mindful of how all residents dispose of their garbage.  Across the Halifax region, we have a significant number of multi-unit residences from rooming housing, university dorms, apartment buildings and condos.   If they are over 6 units, private collection occurs.  However, they are still required to separate refuse as you would in a single family unit.   To truly regain our progressive stance on waste diversion, clear bag rules should apply to all residences across the city.  I have lived in several multi-unit residences prior to becoming a home owner, and I can recall many residents who did not sort their garbage at all.  The ICI sectors in Halifax (business/commercial/apartments) presently only divert 66% of all garbage produced from the landfill.   There is room from a big improvement and better education coupled with clear bag use would help here to.

With a few tweaks of the staff recommendations, the amendments to this by-law will go a long way in helping to green our city and be part of the solution to ensure a better balance between residents and the natural environment.

 

BJV