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.

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.