Monday, May 29, 2017

Because Marc Breaugh is Worthy to Represent Us

I woke up this morning with that awful sense of knowing that I cannot control the outcome of tomorrow's provincial election.

I said to Tony, "The thing that I find so upsetting is that Marc is the most qualified candidate and that doesn't mean he will win."

Tony answered with two words, "Donald Trump."
I'm not at all comparing the other candidates to Donald Trump. Only saying that the most qualified person doesn't always win and more than half of the United States is currently sucking eggs. So, Yeah, that's just the way of the world.

I wish I didn't care.  I try so hard to not care, but being a politician who represents the people should be such a revered, respected, important and honoured position.  The person who wins this role should be well paid, but they should also take the job very seriously and work their butt off.

The thing about Marc is that he's exactly the kind of person we need in the legislature to make politics better.  He thinks deeply about the issues.  He is intelligent, dilligent, tireless, committed and above all...above all, high minded.  The kind of person that would choose a principle over his own job.  Rare.

That's why 82 year old Margaret across the street was out with her hammer and whatever the heck that other thing is putting Marc's sign back in the grass.  She actually really likes Stephen McNeil, but she's voting for Marc because she knows a quality human being when she sees one.

If you haven't voted yet, please vote for Marc Breaugh, in Lunenburg.  He is worthy.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Supporting the Arts and Screwing the Artist.

If Maud Lewis were alive today she would be charged commercial property taxes.  Nice paintings, Maud, but that's a business you are running from your house.  What's that you say?  You only make $10 per painting?  So sorry, that's the way our tax legislation is written. Our hands are tied.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that Nova Scotia is not an arts friendly province because I see all three political parties tripping over each other to show who is more supportive of "the arts" and "creative industries." Unfortunately, in all this one upmanship nobody is talking about the artist.  See, Maud Lewis never would have fallen into the category of "the arts" and she certainly wouldn't have been a creative industry.  She  would have simply been  a woman making art out of her house.  Government might put her on a poster, but there would be no policy to actually make her life easier.

Today in Nova Scotia, anyone who uses a room in their house to run a business is subject to being taxed commercially.  There is zero connection to selling retail. Zero.  If you are a painter and sell only at galleries, you will be taxed commercially.  If you are a quilter that sells at the local farmers market you will be taxed commercially.  If you are a photographer that sells online you will be taxed commercially.  If you whittle wooden mermaids and sell your wares to stores you will be taxed commercially.  You will also be taxed commercially if you write children's stories, translate documents, have a consulting business, groom dogs, cut hair or teach piano.  If PVSC (the crown corporation that does property tax assessment in Nova Scotia) finds you then you will be taxed commercially.  How do they find you?  They find you if you try to do the right thing and apply for a development permit.  They find you by looking for advertisements and they find you if they come across your web site.  And they are looking. I know because I asked.

Artists, as a rule, do not make a lot of money.  My husband and I are both self-employed crafts people. Some of the most commonly used phrases in our house are: 'Do we have money for groceries?'  Should I fix this tooth or hope it lasts till next year?" "If I sell this hat I'm going to get glasses."  This is a sample of a day in the life and it's fairly typical of every artist I know.  We struggle to pay all our bills.  So, when I pay an additional $650/yr in property taxes because I use a room in my house to make hats it hurts. Paying this bill means not paying for something else.  When the town charges me commercial sewer rates on a room in my house that doesn't have any water, it hurts.  How are these policies supportive of the arts?  How can any province claim to support the arts when they don't support their artists?

This is not a difficult problem to solve.  Amend the tax legislation.  It was already done for Bed and Breakfast establishments.  The provincial tax legislation specifies that a Bed and Breakfast with four rooms or less is considered a residential property.  The same can be done for small home based businesses.  It can look like this:  Any house that uses less than 25% of the home, maximum 500 sq. ft., for the business is considered a residential property.  So easy...when there is a will to fix it.

The way the system works now benefits no one. Least of all the municipalities who collect the property taxes.  Who wins when a rule is avoided by the majority of the population?  Rules that are unreasonable are always avoided.  Nova Scotia is filled with home based businesses that are working at staying invisible.  Why not make a rule that is reasonable instead?  Imagine that municipalities charged $50 per year to operate a home based business?  In exchange the municipality lists all the home based businesses on the town web-site and creates a data base of local businesses. Next you promote your artisans with studio tours and you promote your town as a great place to run a home based business.  This might be very beneficial for towns in rural Nova Scotia with declining populations and declining property values.  Isn't having a family fix up a home and pay residential property taxes better than an abandoned home generating no tax revenue?  Nova Scotia is an ideal place to run a home based business and we need people, don't we?

Supporting the arts is important.  Supporting creative industries is important.  I don't want to diminish either of those objectives.  But the arts don't exist without artists.  Supporting artists begins at home.  Literally.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Rant From a Former NDP MLA

I hear a lot about how the NDP accomplished nothing when they were in government. Government is about changing one tiny rule at a time. Most of what happens never hits the press, particularly the good news. I really enjoyed this rant from Lunenburg's former NDP MLA, Pam Birdsall.

"The NDP formed government in 2009, one year after a world economic crash. The pulp and paper companies were failing and the province was not doing well. Expectations of our government were very high and as you said, bureaucracy is intrenched and does take time to change. That being said we accomplished many things in four years.
We created seven Collaborative Emergency Centre's to provide same day or next day appointments across the province lowering ER closures for four years in a row.
We increased minimum wage four years in a row, and reduced small business tax rate by 40%, the first time it had been reduced in almost 20 years.
I chaired the committee that created the terms and references for creating Arts Nova Scotia and improved the Film Tax Credit to help support the creative economy. This was important to me as I have been part of that economy for 40 years in my business.
We established the Five Year Paving Plan, taking the patronage out of building roads!
Through our 10 year plan for agriculture, Homegrown Success, we made strategic investments to increase competitiveness our companies to help the agriculture.
We created 250 new community college seats, opened nearly one thousand long-term care beds, expanded the Care Benefit for seniors from$200 to a maximum of $800, invested $500,000 in Transition Houses and Women's Centre's, took provincial tax off power bills and home heating, increased the Nova Scotia Child Benefit by40%, took HST off more family essentials including footwear, children's clothing and diapers.
We increased income assistance and were the first government in more than 20 years that did not pass legislation to over-ride collective agreements, using free collective bargaining through a fair and respectful approach!!!!!!
Did anyone know that we put hard caps on green house emissions for electricity resulting in becoming one of the top five best moves on climate change in Canada being recognized by The David Suzuki Foundation.
Our government did a lot for Nova Scotians and the sad thing is that they didn't know, or simply forgot.
That is my rant as a former NDP MLA."

Friday, March 31, 2017

Stella learns about money, politics and double speak.

Thirteen year old Stella Bowles has sure learned a lot in the past couple of years.  After discovering that raw sewage is contaminating the Lahave River, she petitioned her local government to take action.  Her perseverance paid off.  After decades of inaction The Municipality of the District of Lunenburg (MODL) took the first step to clean up the river and created a program to help home owners with the cost of replacing the straight pipes with septic systems.

MODL's  program benefits only one portion of home owners along the Lahave.   Straight pipes are illegal, but laws without enforcement are ineffective.  The province will only enforce the law if there is a complaint and most people don't want to complain about their neighbours' straight pipes.  So, the problem persists. Raw sewage keeps pouring into the river.

Stella could have put her feet up and gone back to being an ordinary kid, but some kids are just extraordinary.  She understood that there was a simple solution.  If the province of Nova Scotia enacted legislation to require a septic system be installed when a property changes hands,  the straight pipes would eventually go away.  Hardly seems controversial.  

So, Stella wrote to Margaret Miller, Nova Scotia's Environment Minister, and asked her to consider this legislation.  The following is an excerpt from the response that she received.

"NSE has approached the Registry of Deeds in the past to discuss the recommendation of provincial legislation that would require the correction of straight pipes during a property transaction, but the recommendation was not supported due to the potential impact on the sale of properties."

Now that paragraph is just chock full of lessons for a thirteen year old...

Lesson one- People might not buy a property if they have to abide by the law and if we make them obey the law they might not like us anymore.  If they don't like us anymore they might not vote for us.

Lesson Two - Money is more important than the environment.  Sorry, Kid, tough lesson.

Lesson three- If you want to be a provincial leader you will have to learn how to stupify your constituents.  Say things like "The OSSDS Regulations govern the installation of on-site sewage systems, and require certified individuals to design, select and install systems in Nova Scotia. Land owners are responsible to maintain proper function and maintenance of their on-site sewage systems under the OSSDS Regulations"

Right, Stella already understands this perfectly. That's why she wrote to you. The law requires people to have properly functioning septic systems.  Straight pipes are illegal.  But a lack of enforcement (leadership) is causing the problem to persist.  She presented a perfect solution, but the province doesn't want to make waves.

Time for the province to girl up. You can read Stella's letter and the official response here and stay tuned for Stella's upcoming science fair project on April 6th at the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre in Bridgewater.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lunenburg Speaks Up.

 Here are a few of the comments from the petition to Lunenburg council.  Because this is a small town, it's difficult for people to openly express their opinion, but the fact that so many people have already done so is really amazing.   I guess people do care about basic democratic principles.  One of the most heartening things about this petition is that many of the signatures and comments are from young Lunenburgers in their twenties and thirties.  Our future.You can still sign the petition by clicking HERE

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Can We Choose Deescalation in Lunenburg?

We have a problem in Lunenburg.   One councillor is giving the other councillors trouble.  He has now been kicked off all committees of council, including those that are integral to making good informed decisions.  The town is divided.  We have been here before.  Is there any way that we can take a deep breath and consider a new way of handling conflict?

Here's the deal in a nut shell.  Brian Davis has concerns about some of the processes of council.  Is anybody outraged yet?  If you are, please pause and consider that questioning a process is not a heinous crime.  Questioning an administrative process should not solicit outrage.  If you disagree with that statement, well, we may not be able to find  common ground, although we can probably still talk about children, dogs, the beauty of Lunenburg and the wonderful pastries at the Farmers Market.

If you agree that questioning a process is not a heinous crime and is not worthy of a call for  resignation then let's continue.  Brian is a new councillor and he came on too strong.  You can't simply walk into an organization and try to restructure it.  My husband once tried to tell me how to sew labels on my hats.  Ask him how well that went over.   Now this doesn't mean that Brian doesn't have any valid concerns or observations.  I think he has plenty of valid concerns and some of those concerns have been backed up by a strong legal opinion.  But he went about trying to address these concerns in a way that made it difficult for council to proceed with the business at hand.  He used the council chambers as a court room and he is not a lawyer.  It was not a good strategy.  I think he knows that and is sorry.

On the other hand,  if Lunenburg Town Council/adminstration views themselves as welcoming to new perspectives they might only be communicating with those that agree with them.

If either side comes to the table and says we are right and you are wrong then we are deadlocked and that's pretty sad.  A lack of willingness to question oneself is a terrible quality in a leader.  If we put aside egos and personalities and pride we might find a way to listen to each other.

But I'm going to interrupt this conversation to mention democracy because this is the real issue here.  Lunenburg Town Council is a democracy.  There are fundamental principles of democracy, like we vote people in and we vote people out.  We cannot silence the voice of someone we don't like or who is a pain in the ass.  You can do those things in a business, but not in a democracy.

So, there's the conflict.  Lunenburg council is indeed a workplace and it's a good thing to try to find a way to work together, but it's not a business.  In a business you can fire someone or demote them.  In democracy you need to find another way forward.  That's why they say democracy is messy. You are stuck with each other.

I see valid frustration on both sides.  But still..... democracy.  Calling for a councillor's resignation because he made it difficult to proceed is kind of silly.  There are people that voted for Brian and want him to stay.  All the councillors represent the people. You can't internally decide that one of you no longer will represent us.  That's our job and we'll do that in a few years.  Every once in a while it is legitimate to call for a councillor's resignation.  You call for a resignation when a councillor has been caught embezzling or having an in camera affair or some other such thing where their moral capacity is called into question.  Nobody should be questioning Brian's morality.  He has that stuff in spades.  Kicking him off of important committees is, simply put, undemocratic.  It's silencing the voice of an elected official.  That's as wrong as wrong can be.  In three and a half years the people of Lunenburg will get to decide whether they are happy with the jobs that the councillors are doing.  Until then, please find a way to work together.  On one hand, obstructionism is not a good vehicle for change, but on the other hand, bullying is a terrible response.  Get help.  Try mediation....or medication.  Leave your egos at the door.  You all owe it the citizens of Lunenburg to find a way forward without a big legal mess.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Petition to Lunenburg Council - Reinstate Brian Davis Back to the Committees of Council

The Chairman of the the Nova Scotia Law Society on Municipal Review provided Brian Davis with an official legal opinion regarding his removal from the committees of council.  In her opinion, she felt that council exceeded the authority granted them by the province by removing Brian Davis from committees that are integral to his core decision making ability as a councillor.  She also felt that the constituents of Lunenburg are being deprived of elected representation in matters considered in these committees.   As a citizen of Lunenburg, I feel that my rights to elected representation in these committees are being violated.  If you feel the same please sign the petition.  Click HERE to sign.