Tuesday, November 21, 2017

I Don't Want to Grow My Business!!! (and I still matter)



Support growth, support growth, support growth. We must support growth... We sure do hear a lot of that in Nova Scotia.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but the best of wishes for any business that wants to get bigger, but I think this incessant growth mantra just might be drowning out the heart of our communities. 

I make hats out of a room in my house.  I work alone.  Yes, I have hired people in the past and I have enjoyed each and every one of them, but I have finally come to terms with the fact that I like to work alone.  Just me and the dog and the radio.

According to every level of government I am valueless.  We measure value in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that stuff can only be found in trace amounts in my business.  But value really shouldn't be reduced to three boring little  letters and unless we start expanding the definition of the word, we are destined to smother what makes this province truly special...small, independent and creative businesses.


When people come to visit Nova Scotia they come to visit our small shops, services,  restaurants and our artists (and our beautiful nature, of course).  These little businesses are what makes us unique. They give colour and personality to our communities.

I love living in Lunenburg because I can walk down the street to buy wool and obsess about my next project with the owners.  I love living in Lunenburg because our two locally owned book shops host readings and events.  I love living in Lunenburg  because we have many great little restaurants and coffee shops and in every one of these little businesses is a familiar face and a conversation waiting to happen.  These little  exchanges don't happen at Ikea or Walmart or at a convention Centre.  Those places might have GDP, but they don't have heart.  We need to start measuring the value of a business in what it brings to a community.  And if these little businesses on the Main streets and side streets of Nova Scotia have value to us then we had better start protecting them....with policies.

We can start with commercial taxes.  If the owner of a  heritage building on the main street that houses a small clothing boutique is paying the same high tax rate as the Nationally owned grocery store or airplane parts manufacturer  then we are not valuing our small businesses.

If one woman, who makes hats from her home, far from any foot traffic, is paying the same tax rate as a shop on the main street then we are not valuing our artists.  We are also not valuing our Main streets if investing in the restoration of a heritage building will cause the tax assesment to sky rocket. This cost gets passed on to the renter and often pushes the business out of town.  We need property tax rates for different levels of business.  We need rent controls for commercial businesses.  We need to be rewarding heritage restoration with tax credits not punishing it with outrageous tax assessments.

We need to value our main streets.  They are the heart of our province and they are the heart of our communities.  You can't put a price on that, but you can price them out of existence.





Friday, October 6, 2017

An Assault on Common Sense



There was a nasty incident down on the waterfront between the mayor and Bill Flower.  Today's Chronicle Herald reports on the mayor's charge of assault and Bill's response.

Most Lunenburg residents have heard some version of the events, but really they can be summed up as follows:  The mayor lost her shit on Bill Flower and Bill Flower lost his shit back on the mayor and nobody was physically hurt.  End of story. (sort of)

Around two years ago the mayor lost her shit on me.  That's all you need to know.  I was not physically hurt. Apparently the legal system defines assault as any unwanted physical contact.  Fine.  Lawyers love to make money. I knew, in my mind, that regardless of what the legal system called it, what happened that day was not assault.  What happened that day was the mayor lost her shit on me. She apologized. (sort of)

I knew that to go down that ridiculous road of calling losing one's shit as assault would take away from the issue I wanted to solve.  Instead of fixing a problem I would wreck my life, the mayor's life, all my energy would be drained and nothing good could  come of such an action.

But there is a real problem here and one that does need to be addressed.  The mayor often loses her shit.  She lost her shit on me because she wanted to control the conversation and she could not.  She lost her shit on Farley Blackman because she wanted to control the conversation and could not.  She lost her shit on Bill Flower because she wanted to control the conversation and could not.  Controlling the conversation is undemocratic and only leads to escalation.  I'm hoping the Town of Lunenburg will one day learn this lesson.

I, more that anybody, can not tell the Mayor what to do, but I'm hoping that someone who is close to her can.  I'm hoping that someone will ask her to please drop the assault charges.  Nobody wins in a court battle except the lawyers.  I know the mayor loves Lunenburg as does Bill Flower, as do I.  A court battle will only drag Lunenburg further into the mud.

If, as a community, we want to grow and solve problems then we need to learn to let the conversation happen.  Instead of attacking those who are speaking up, try getting them on board.  People who will not stay quiet are not the enemy, they are your strongest assets.

I wish for nothing but peace for this beautiful little town that has so much to offer.  Happy Thanksgiving and may that legalization of marijuana come sooner rather than later.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Shit in Lunenburg Harbour? It's Time to Play Not My Responsibility.


The above photo of raw sewage in Lunenburg harbour makes me want to throw up.  It also makes me want to throw up thinking about how hard one man needs to work to get any level of government to care.

Lunenburg harbour is polluted.  We are killing sea life, making ourselves ill, endangering fisherman, yet the only thing any level of government seems concerned about is shifting responsibility.  It absolutely boggles my mind.  Instead of politicians capitalizing on the energy and determination of a concerned citizen to help fix a problem, they instead capitalize on every opportunity to cover their asses.

Being a citizen trying to get government to care is kind of like being in one of those telephone customer service nightmares where you just pray you will find that one, rare human at the other end of the telephone line who will go the extra mile.  But, alas, most of the humans on the other end of the line care deeply about getting home for dinner on time.

Here's a letter that Bill Flower sent to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada, in an effort to get someone to care.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Environment Canada
Bridgewater Office
Bridgewater NS                                                                                               Sept. 07, 2017

To whom it may concern;
This is a formal complaint made by me to Federal Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, Occupational Health and Safety and also Food Safety! And Department of Health.

Lunenburg Sewage Treatment outfall!

Overview:
Lunenburg has been pumping treated sewage into the federal harbor of Lunenburg for many years.  Fifteen years ago the town built a sewage treatment plant that has never worked properly. Lunenburg consolidated all of the outfalls from the front and back harbor’s and directed them to the treatment plant.  The treated sewage is then pumped into Lunenburg Harbor, a federal harbor, and deposited above grade under the Inshore Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Problems:

The operators of the treatment plant have stated for many years that the treated effluent from the plant meets federal and provincial standards?  This we know is not true!  The boats, dock lines and other equipment used at the wharf are being handled without any precautionary methods because of these false statements putting every ones health at risk. 

Fishing boats unload catches of fish using harbor water from this outfall site to wash fish and to clean everything from fish totes, cutting boards, knives and boat decks as well as their rubber gear, and aprons.  This has been done for many years from this location without any signage to warn the fishers?  The town says there effluent meets Federal standards to be pumped into the harbor?  How can the federal government allow this?  The town is pumping thousands of gallons of fecal material into our waters and nothing is being done about it? When we test it we have 5000 ppm/100ml results!  How is this allowable?  It is dangerous for anybody in contact with this water. People are required to wear protective equipment in anything above 170 ppm   This effluent spills across the slipway where the general public launch their boats.  They stand in this contaminated outfall feces slick to launch their boats.  Fisherman stand their boats ashore to work on the bottoms of their boats here. 

General public?

The general public has been using the slipway at Lunenburg Fisherman’s wharf for many years.  The town has recently decided to put in their own launch way at the bottom of Broad Street.  Yes a wonderful idea!  The problem is that this area is where the contaminated feces laden water stays because of the limited flushing action in the area of the outfall.  When we tested this area we came up with test results of 500ppm/100ml of water.  The town test results were 375ppm/100ml of water?  Is this safe.

If a ship was to come inside 12 miles and dump the kind of waste Lunenburg has been dumping into the harbor it would be detained by Transport Canada, and heavily fined for such actions.  Why is the town except from these regulations?  We have taken it upon ourselves to have the harbor sampled at the outfall sight and results were 5000ppm/100ml of water at the face of the wharf in front of the outfall pipe.

Conclusion:

Many diseases transmitted by fecal contamination at levels we found in Lunenburg Harbor can cause  Gastroenteritis, Conjunctivitis, Hepatitis, Legionella, Cryptosporidium, Giardiasis, E Coli, etc.  Fecal bacteria also has a high risk introducing epidemic diseases like the outbreak of Cholera in Haiti introduced by UN soldiers.  It depends on whether or not one of the contributors to the pollution is harboring one of these diseases and this is totally unpredictable.  Being a tourist destination with many international travelers greatly increases these risk factors.

The town needs to be forced to clean up this totally unacceptable situation under the watch full guidance of Fisheries and Oceans Canada at a federal level.  The outfall pipe for this pollutant must be moved away from human activity where it has a place to flush and dissipate to acceptable levels before coming into human contact and the waste treatment plant needs to be made functional to federal treatment plant standards as soon as possible.  2020-2021  is not considered acceptable in these matters. This is suppose to be a Unesco World Heritage Site.


Sincerely,


Capt. William Flower


And here's the response: 

Dear Captain Flower,

The federal government manages Waste water Systems Effluent Regulations made under the Fisheries act.  The objective of the WSER is to reduce the threats to fish, fish habitat and human health from fish consumption by decreasing the amount of deleterious substances discharged into surface water from wastewater effluent.  The WSER set national baseline effluent quality standards achievable through secondary wastewater treatment and include compliance timelines and rules on monitoring and reporting.  The town of Lunenburg is subject to the requirements of the WSER.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the pollution prevention provisions of Fisheries Act and the WSER.  These provisions and regulations are enforced in accordance with the compliance and enforcement policy the Habitat protection and pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act....

Regards,

Wastewater Program
Environment and Climate Change Canada/ Government of Canada.

Now, does that sound like it was written by a bureaucrat that actually cares or by a bureaucrat whose supper was getting cold?

Is there a politician with a spine, in this country, that will champion Captain Flowers' cause?  Hello?  Anybody out there? 





Tuesday, August 22, 2017

So Damn Proud of Lunenburg


 I have never been so proud to live in Lunenburg.  There was a rally in support of Farley Blackman today outside of Lunenburg Town Hall and the streets were packed.  Once again, the community came together to show their support for a fellow resident who has been facing many obstacles.

But an amazing thing happened.  After Farley addressed the crowd, Mayor Bailey came out and publicly apologized to Farley for the message she had sent him.  It was a very sincere apology and I think it was very big of her to admit that she had made an error.  We all make errors and we are all human.

The crowd was appreciative, but people still insisted that they wanted to see concrete action to reduce red tape in the town. People were very brave to speak up. I won't go through all the comments, but I will tell you that I felt very encouraged.  For the first time I saw open communication and I think that Mayor Bailey was listening.

I did make a very specific request directly to Mayor Bailey.  I said that when the Town of Annapolis Royal experienced challenges, they responded by forming a red tape committee.  This committee was ongoing and included many citizens.   Although there is lots of one on one engagement in the town, what we need and want is open and accountable engagement where anyone who wishes to attend may do so.  If there is a committee to examine obstacles then it needs to include those who have been affected by the obstacles and the town needs to be willing to hear from the people that they perhaps don't wish to hear from.  I asked that the town trust its citizens to engage with their representatives respectfully.

I don't know what will actually come of this and maybe it will be up to the citizens to begin this committee and invite council.  I don't know.  What I do know is that today I was really proud to live in this town and I think that we have grown as a community.

As for Farley's future plans....You'll have to ask Farley.  If he does choose to leave us, he can feel proud that he made this community a better place in many ways.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Hey, I've Got a Joke For You...


How do you fix a Waste Water Treatment Plant in Lunenburg?......You make it a Home Based Business.

Sorry, I know, bad joke.  It's just that this morning I listened to CBC's interview with Stella Bowles, talking about the outrageously high fecal count coming out of the outfall pipe onto the boats in Lunenburg harbour and then I thought of how we don't have an odour control system on the plant and suddenly this story that was told to me when I was dealing with my own home-based challenges popped back in my head.

There used to be a woman in town who made soap from her home.  She sold her soap to the local Bed and Breakfasts.  The town told her that she couldn't run her business because of a potential odour problem.  So, she payed thousands of dollars to install an elaborate ventilation system and when she was done they told her she didn't have enough parking.  She gave up and moved to Montreal.

So, the moral of the story is....make the sewage treatment plant a home-based business and all our problems will go away.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Actually, Lunenburg is a Great Town to Run a Business


There's an inevitable reaction to writing a blog that talks about some of the challenges in Lunenburg.  Every person with a dark view of the future latches on to it, runs with it and then it comes....Horrible place to do business....get rid of the councillors........Aggghhhh, NO! Stop please.

I don't always talk about problems.  Tensions always exist, that is not unique to Lunenburg.  I talk about problems when something strikes me as truly unjust.  I talk about problems because sometimes you have to stir up the shit in order to clean it.  So, with that in mind, please allow me to clarify a few things:

1- Lunenburg is a wonderful place to do business and live.  The vast majority of business owners will never experience a problem from the town.  The problems come when something needs to be changed and even here, it is generally just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.  If you are not purchasing umpteen properties or if you are not telling the administration of the town that they are making a mistake you will not experience undue challenges.  Please, open a restaurant, open a shop, even opening a home-based business is now pretty straight forward.

2-There are not a group of maniacal people at town hall trying to stop business.  Seriously, it does not look like that.  There are hard working folks that will help you get through whatever permits you need in order to open your business. If the town tells you to hang your sign higher, that's so that people don't bang their heads.  If the town tells you to move your sandwich board sign next to the shop, that's so that a person in a wheelchair can pass.

3- No, the councillors are not idiots.  I have never said that and I don't believe that.  Mostly, they are hard working people that are doing the best they can in the time that they have. You need to understand that many of the problems that I talk about never reach council.  There is a thick line of divide in our system that divides administration from legislation.  Legislators (councillors) make the laws that guide the administrators, but once they are made they don't and cannot police administration.  So, if there is a problem with an interpretation of a bylaw, council will not know about it unless it is put on the agenda.  When Farley was told he needed 14 parking spots for one building, council was unaware this problem existed.  My issue is not that it had to go through due process to be changed.  My issue is that Farley was told that he had to pay for the amendment and hire a consultant.

Yes, there are things that need to change.  It's not O.K. for an elected official to send a nasty email to a constituent or police anybody's behaviour.  There is no other side.  It's just wrong.  It doesn't matter what the person did. If I need to explain why that is wrong then I'm simply wasting my breath. There will always be challenges.  The problem is what happens when there is a challenge.  I'm advocating that the town, knowing that our population is declining, knowing that we desperately need new businesses and people like Farley who will invest in our town, take some responsibility for moving some overhead wires or changing the wording of our bylaw.  I'm advocating that we don't simply say, no, I'm sorry that can't happen.

But most new businesses will not have any challenges unrelated to the challenge of simply running a business.  I love Lunenburg.  The beauty is mind boggling.  It is a town filled with beauty, creativity and true community.  The future is not bleak.  Those are not my words and they never have been. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vilifying the Good Guy - a Lunenburg Tradition


Imagine being Farley Blackman.  You are sitting in the Lunenburg Opera House, a building that you meticulously restored at your own expense.  You have offered up this beautiful space as one of the venues for Lunenburg's annual Folk Harbour Festival and now you are leaning back and enjoying the music.  Maybe your mind drifts to a sense of accomplishment that you were able to save a beautiful heritage building and that now there are people that get to enjoy what you have to offer.

You are pulled out of this reverie by a message alert alert on your phone.  It's  from the Mayor of Lunenburg.  Is it a short note to thank you for the beautiful restoration?  Perhaps it's a quick email thanking you for removing the scaffolding from your other historic renovation project on Montague street, so that the tourists can appreciate its beauty.  Or maybe she's just writing to thank you for advertising on the back cover of the Folk Harbour Festival booklet.  An advertisement that costs well over $5000.  Folk Harbour Festival covers only 46% of their overhead with ticket sales and could not survive if it were not for the generous contributions from people like Farley.

But no, it's a text stating, "The rest of the community is going all out to put our best face to the world but you, apparently, have other priorities."  Now, how would you feel?  Maybe like you were just punched in the gut?

Well, I'm sorry to say that this is a true story.  It happened yesterday.  You see, after fourteen years of obstruction and ingratitude from the Town of Lunenburg, Farley and Courtney Blackman have decided to call it quits.  They are leaving town. 

But the Mayor's cruel words represent only a small group of small minded people.  Most people are terribly upset to lose this family who have contributed so much to our town and feel nothing but gratitude. People have been plastering signs on the fencing around his restoration work, wishing him well and thanking him profusely for all his contributions.  Farley himself did not put any of the signs there, but the Mayor felt it was the right move to send this email directly to him.

When Farley leaves he will take many, many construction related jobs with him.  Countless people will be standing in the unemployment line.  We will be losing a beautiful gallery, free music venue, a cidery and all the employment that goes with the creation and maintenance of these businesses.  We will also be losing a kindhearted, philanthropic couple who have done nothing but preserve and enhance the Town of Lunenburg.  You can be sure that if there are any other emails from the Town of Lunenburg they won't be asking him to change his mind.  What a senseless loss.

Farley and Courtney, My heart breaks for you.  We will miss you.....in so many ways.