Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Hat Junkie's Guide For Making Nova Scotia Small Business Friendly.

Yesterday, a hopeful candidate for the next provincial election asked me the following question,  “Anna, would you be willing to write a list of ways that the provincial government can make it easier for small businesses to succeed in Nova Scotia?”
 I dropped to my knees, broke down in tears and through messy sobs of joy muttered, “You mean….. you mean,  you actually want to speak directly to a small business owner to understand how to make things better?  Wouldn’t you rather just hire consultants and create an economic development committee of billionaires? “ Once I moved past my initial shock, I rose to my feet, blew my nose and pulled the following list out of my pocket.  You see, I have been walking around for eight years just waiting for someone to ask me this question. 
I will reveal that it was an NDP hopeful who relieved me of the list in my pocket, but I am sharing it here, incase the Liberals or Conservatives would also care to listen. As small business owners, we are ready to accept help across party lines.  Here’s my list.
1-Please stop taxing small home-based businesses with commercial property taxes.  
Yes, in Nova Scotia, even in exclusively residential zones, PVSC can and will assess the portion of your home used for the business with a commercial property tax rate.  This rule applies to every home-based business, including home offices, with only one exception – Bed and Breakfast establishments of four rooms or less.  If your home-based business is not being taxed with a commercial property tax rate, it is because PVSC does not know about you.  However, they are trying to find you and if they do, you will get a significant increase on your property taxes. Let me try to explain how damaging this rule is. 
Imagine that a hat maker has hired a Syrian Refugee to sew hats in his own home.  Now, let’s say this man is succeeding and heads over to Town Hall to apply for a development permit and a sign permit.  One year later his landlord will find that his property taxes have significantly increased.  Uh oh….What’s a landlord to do?  Increase the family’s rent or tell the man that he cannot run his business in his home? Both options are equally bad. Welcome to Nova Scotia.    Landlords frequently avoid this scenario by prohibiting home businesses.  Business owners avoid an increase in property taxes by not applying for development permits.  Everybody loses.  Most home-based businesses stay underground to avoid burdensome regulation.  If regulation is avoided it benefits no one. Municipalities end up with unpermitted and potentially unsafe businesses and business growth has been prevented.
There’s a very simple solution.  Amend the provincial tax legislation to state that home-based businesses that use less than 25% of the home are assessed with only residential property taxes.  It’s already been done for bed and breakfasts.  When the business grows they will either move to the commercial zone or pay commercial property taxes on the portion of their home used for the business.  
 2-Accessibility grants.
All across Nova Scotia there are beautiful, abandoned churches, fire halls, homes and other heritage buildings just waiting for some creative entrepreneur to breathe new life into them.  Many starry-eyed business owners have considered buying such properties only to discover this little thing called, “Change of Occupancy Classification.”   This means that if what was once a church (assembly)  becomes a sewing store (mercantile) all the barrier free access rules in the building code will apply.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  This is a very good thing.  We want to work towards a province that is accessible to all.  But the cost of the renovations is often a non-starter.  So, many of these beautiful buildings remain beautiful, but empty souvenirs of days gone by.  If the province were to provide accessibility grants to businesses wanting to restore these old buildings, it would revitalize rural Nova Scotia while simultaneously preserving heritage buildings.  Good for business, good for tourism, good for heritage and good for people.
3-Think Local.
I’m scared to mention the Ivany report.  It’s almost like confessing that you still believe in Santa Claus. But there was this little line in there that spoke to me, “We can do it ourselves.”   In the murky world of economic development, focus tends to gaze outwards.  If only we could attract this business or that business all our problems would go away. Meanwhile, you have small to medium sized local businesses that are jumping up and down shouting, “Hey, over here!   I’m doing it already.  If you wouldn’t mind just throwing a tiny bit of money this way, I could hire someone, or expand.”  All across this province there are small businesses that are succeeding.  Look for them and then talk to them.  Ask them what they need to grow.  It’s usually not that much.  Invest in people that already love Nova Scotia.  They are the ones committed to making it work.  Nothing against Ikea or Target, but when the going gets tough, they will hold no allegiance to this province. Supporting small, local businesses is diversifying your investment.  If one doesn’t make it, they don’t take down a whole community with them.
4- Put the answers in one place. 
There are many steps to opening a business. It’s very frustrating for business owners to walk  in circles trying to understand what they need to do in order to be in compliance.  Often businesses are opened that do not have the proper permits; not because of negligence, but because no one has explained to them what is necessary. It’s not uncommon for a fire marshal to give one directive and a building inspector to give another one.  We need to create a culture of communication between various departments, between the province and its municipalities and between the municipalites themselves.  It’s unacceptable to have 51 interpretations of a rule in one tiny province.  I have more than once been asked for advice by prospective business owners.   When businesses are seeking out regulatory advice from the local hat maker, we know we have a problem. It needs to be someone’s job, at the provincial level to help new businesses navigate the system.
5- Regulation needs to come in small, medium and large.
This particularly applies to food handlers.  I have heard from many food vendors who cannot prepare food in their own kitchens.  They are asked to install commercial kitchen in order to meet health and safety standards.  I am not anti-regulation.  Regulation is a good thing, but Grandma baking cookies in her kitchen to sell at the local Farmers market should not be facing the same rules as a restaurant.  Safety comes in different sizes. We don’t require a person knitting socks in her home to have a sprinkler system; why does someone baking 200 cookies a week need a commercial kitchen?
6- Home Business in Public Housing.
This is an issue that I know nothing about, but as a province we need to look into this.  New public housing rules prohibit home businesses.  When I first heard of this rule, I assumed it was because of municipal land use regulations, but Public Housing is owned by the province.  If we want to lift people out of poverty we need to allow them to run small, appropriate businesses from their homes.  Someone sewing or cutting hair creates no safety hazard.  People working from home keeps parents with their children and keeps communities safer. 

So, there you have it.  I hand over my  list to the politicians.  Thanks so much for asking.  That piece of paper was getting heavy.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Thank you, Minister Casey

Dear Minister Casey,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your decision to close Nova Scotia schools on Monday. 

I know you are only too aware that the teachers voted to implement work to rule measures.  This would mean only working to contract.  All the extra work that teachers do on a day to day basis would be put on hold until an agreement was reached between the government and the teachers' union.

As a parent of a child in the seventh grade, I am past the point of needing to be concerned for my son's safety if,  by chance, the school bus were to arrive before the principal or teacher.  But this scenario could indeed be dangerous for a younger child and I am grateful that you had the foresight to realize that if the principals arrived only twenty minutes before the start of the school day and left twenty minutes after the end of the day, as is written in their contract, that we could be putting the safety of our children in jeopardy.

I have to confess, though, that I was shocked to learn that the government  has felt comfortable leaving the safety of our children up to the kindness of teachers and principals. In all these years, it never once occurred to me that when the teachers and principals arrived earlier than twenty minutes that they were not being paid for their time.  Not that I would have felt any apprehension had I been aware of this fact.

You see, teachers and principals going above and beyond the call of duty is something that most parents understand well.  Whether it be school carnivals, Christmas concerts, band practices, drama clubs, communicating with parents, self funded trips to the dollar store to purchase prizes or after school sports, we all know that teachers are motivated by something much greater than money.  They are motivated by love and devotion.    Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine a teacher sacrificing the safety of a child.  But that's neither here nor there because, as I'm sure you would agree, the safety of a child should never be left to the assumption of a teacher's love and devotion.  Something as basic as the safety of our children should  not be on par with after school soccer. 

So, once again, I thank you.  Your decision to close schools on Monday has highlighted how much we owe our teachers and how much we are failing our children.  I look forward to hearing future news stories of a government that is truly listening to the people who we have entrusted with our children's futures.


Anna Shoub,

Monday, October 17, 2016

Donuts For Democracy - How to Increase Voter Turnout

Nova Scotia's municipal elections have come and gone and although there are many changes, one thing has stayed the same.  Voter turn out was very low.  In fact, it went from bad to abysmal. So, in an attempt to remedy this situation, the question that is circulating in the news today is, how can we increase voter turnout.  The answer to that question is obvious.  Donuts.  Everyone shows up for donuts. 

Yes, it's a silly answer, but that's because it's a silly question.  Why do we want to increase voter turnout?  If people feel disconnected from municipal politics; if they don't understand or care about the issues; if the most they know about their candidate is that they are nice or not nice, then is it good for democracy to simply increase voter turnout? If we could increase voter turnout by luring people to the polls with donuts or make voting mandatory,  could we all pat ourselves on the backs and say, Bravo, democracy is being well served?

Perhaps the better question is, why are most people disconnected from municipal politics.  And if people are informed, but are not voting, then maybe the question is why do they feel that there is no candidate to represent their reality. 

Municipal politics is, after all, the level of government that is closest to our everyday lives. Got a smelly sewage treatment plant?  That's a municipal issue.  Feel like you take your life in your hands every time you get on your bike or cross the street? That's a municipal issue  Angered by bulldozers knocking down heritage buildings?  Municipal issue.  Tired of the bus not arriving on time? Municipal issue.  Do you think it's ridiculous that your town will let you sell antiques from your home, but they won't let you sell art?  Yep, that, too is a municipal issue.  So, when people are not interested in municipal politics that is indicative of a real problem. To fix it we have to heal the disease, not the symptom. Voter turn out is the symptom.

Democracy was never meant to be a spectator sport. Democracy is meant to include the citizens.  But as citizens, we cast our votes on election day and then we walk away and watch from the outside as our politicians make decisions on our behalf.  We watch our politicians and applaud or boo because that is what spectators do.   We go back to our busy lives, tell ourselves how wonderful it is to live in a democracy and return in four years' time to, once again, excercise our democratic right to vote.  This has become the definition of being a good citizen.

The politicians, meanwhile, are not exactly welcoming the citizens into the fold and expanding the definition of democracy.  Well, citizens are tolerated as audience members, but not as part of the process. Wait, let me rephrase that.  In a status quo sort of way, citizens can participate in democracy.  They may request to make a presentation to council and public meetings are part of the required process in creating or amending a bylaw. But people are not stupid.  They understand the difference between meaningful and disingenuous engagement. "Thank you for your feedback, it will be taken under consideration."

It was my own experience with my own municipal government that has shaped my views of a broken democracy. Over two years ago, I brought my concerns regarding the town's interpretation of their Home Occupation bylaw to the Mayor and council. There was no room for me in the town's understanding of how the system works. What to do with  a citizen that is so impassioned to correct a wrong that she has spent half of every day, for two years,  researching Land Use and the Building Code, consulting with outside experts and reading studies and statistics?   Bring her in or keep her out? The town's response was keep her out.  Every ounce of ugliness that transpired was a direct result of this decision. 

But what if things had gone differently?  What if council, recognizing my passion to fix an error, had invited me in?  What if council invited everyone in that showed knowledge or a passion for a municipal issue. There is actually a model for this scenario.  It is called Citizen Planning. This concept was introduced to me by Bob Lehman, a two time fellow and former chair of the College of Fellows for the Canadian Institute of Planners. The idea is that the future of planning is changing and the role of the planner will also change from one of controlling ideas to one of gathering ideas from citizens and helping to bring these ideas to life.  You can read more about this concept HERE

The concept behind citizen planning translates directly to all of municipal politics.  Yes, ultimately, it  our elected representatives who vote on our behalf and that is a good thing.  But how they get to this point is the difference between a democracy that brings citizens in and a democracy that pushes citizens away. What we have right now is a democracy that pushes citizens away.

Exclusionary meeting times, committees that do not represent the diversity in the community, a lack of will to hold regular public forums to discuss large issues confronting the community, a lack of will to engage or communicate on social media.  These actions or lack of action push people away.  It is the responsibility of municipal government to include the citizens.

But it's a two way street.  If, as citizens, we hold on to the notion that we do not have a responsibility, yes, a responsibility, to engage in democracy and that once we elect our politicians our work as citizens is done, then we too,  are part of the problem.  Although I received more support than criticism for my efforts,  the criticism was loud and spoke to a way of thinking whose time has come and gone.  I was criticized for daring to challenge, I was called an armchair quarterback.  The belief was and still is that I did not know my place.  I knew my place, but it was a place that did not and does not exist within my municipal government's current understanding of democracy.

People engage with an issue when they care and when they believe their voices are respected and welcomed.  So, how about if instead of beating our heads against the wall trying to increase voter turnout, we instead figure out how to include citizens in the discussion of the municipal issues that they care about most.   What if we find an honest place for citizens within the system.  If we can do that, then we will not only be creating engaged citizens, but we will also be creating future leaders.  Increased voter turnout will be the symptom of including citizens in day to day democracy.  

None of these thoughts, however,  exclude donuts.  I still think donuts will bring in more voters.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Mum's The Word

It's interesting  scrolling through Facebook and watching my friends and neighbours freely talk about the upcoming US election.  But here we are with less than a week to go before our local municipal elections and not a word.  Not a single word from anyone I know regarding their local concerns.  The opinions and conversations are circulating through town in whispers. Yet, this is an election that we can control.  The system of municipal government, whether in Lunenburg or whether in Halifax is relatively small.  People can make a difference. Engaged citizens can have a real impact on the decisions being made.

I understand what is happening.  Everyone knows that after the election we will need to live with each other.  That candidate might be your neighbour or your cousin or your neighbour's cousin.  If you run a business in town then you may need to communicate with your local politicians and if you dared to publicly support one candidate over another then things may not go so well for you if you have an issue in the future.  If you support one candidate, your neighbour may stop talking to you.  Unfortunately, there is good reason to feel this way.  This is exactly what happened in our last municipal election. And when people speak up, they are shunned. 

Everything is personalized.  Our politicians do not have the tools to separate the issues from themselves and most citizens do not have the skills to communicate the issues without personalizing.  It's a real problem because what we end up with, what we have, is a town of disengaged people who vote based on perceptions of nice or funny or local or rumours.  We need to learn how to speak to each other.  We should be doing it in person, not online.  We should be talking and we should be listening.  But we're not.   People have chosen not to care.  There's a basic truth - What we put in, is what we get out.  If we are asleep, our politicians will be asleep, too.  If we don't care, they don't care.  If we are not willing to communicate with them, they will not communicate with us.  They are us.  No better, no worse.  

A small, local government for a small community should be a benefit.  It should make engagement more authentic.  But, instead it has become a handicap.  People are afraid to talk.  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hey, Lunenburg, Here's a Mayor that never served on council.

The talk around town seems to be, if you want to serve as mayor then you first need to serve on council.  Do you recognize the man in this photo?  His name is Naheed Nenshi and he is the beloved, progressive mayor of Calgary, Alberta.  The man has a degree from Harvard University in Public policy.

Politics are politics and it wouldn't surprise me at all if there were people that tried to  discredit a very credible man by saying that you first need to sit on council before being qualified to serve as Mayor.  Fortunately, the citizens of Calgary put on their critical thinking caps and came to the conclusion that experience is experience and when you enter politics you bring your life experience with you to the table.

Municipal politics is not rocket science.  There is a process that needs to be learned and it does not take 4 years to learn it.  If it does take four years then that is cause for concern.

David Penney has spent 20 years working in mediation.  He has worked to solve conflicts in municipal governments and large organizations throughout Atlantic Canada.  He has worked as an RCMP officer.  He has served as chair of many committees.  He brings much needed new perspective to the table.   This is a very qualified man and it will take him a few weeks to learn the ropes of Lunenburg council.

So, if you want to say that you need to serve on council before serving as mayor because "that is how we do things around here", then by all means, say it.  But if you want to say, that you are any less qualified to serve as mayor because you did not serve on council first then I'd say, please, look at history and don't believe everything you hear.  Who is saying it and why is it being said?   Put the resumes of both candidates on the table.  Weigh their experience and make an unbiased judgement.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Brief Response to Mayor Bailey's Comment

At last night's Mayoral Forum in Lunenburg.   The candidates were asked the following question:  The issue of Home Based Business must have been very difficult for all parties.  If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?

I don't understand how this question bypassed the rules of the forum.  The rules stated that questions needed to be applicable to all candidates.  But, it was asked and since I was not given a platform to respond I will briefly respond here.

Mayor Bailey stated that the town offered to assist me with the legal process available and I refused.  Yes, this is correct.  There is a provincial appeal process available to anyone that is not happy with the decision of a building inspector.  The Committee that oversees this process is called the Nova Scotia Building Advisory Committee (NSBAC).  There were a number of reasons that I chose to not go this route, but this is the main one.  It was explained to me by the chair of the NSBAC that an appeal never sets a precedent.  If I had appealed my case it would have only solved my case .  I understood, with the help of Jim Donovan, the manager of Municipal compliance for HRM, that there was an interpretive error happening in much of rural Nova Scotia.  It was not a building code problem.  It was a communication problem.  The problem was affecting many businesses.  Not just my own.  We had already lost several businesses in Lunenburg because of this interpretive error.

So, instead of making the case for only myself, I made the case to the province that an error was happening.  They heard me and they fixed it.

As for the rest of Mayor Bailey's response, well, I'd rather not address that.  Anyone who was there could feel the division her answer created.  Instead, I would like to thank Councillor Mosher for his response, when asked the same question the week before in the councillor candidates' forum. His response was wise and kind and displayed great leadership.

What he said was... I know Anna is in the room, and I really take my hat off to her. She championed a cause. As a council, we really don't have the resources to deal with one single issue like this. We are dealing with many things at the same time. The one thing I would have done differently is to bring her on board. To have included her in the conversation. He went on to say that it was a provincial issue, but in the end the best possible outcome was achieved. He held out an olive branch and I accepted it. I can explain why it was not a provincial issue, why it was easily solvable, and I have done so many times, but you know what?   It really doesn't matter. The best possible outcome was achieved and the simple fact that he said, good job and I wish we had included you, was huge. That's what a good leader does. They bridge divides. Not widen them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Mayor With the Skill to Guide us Through Rough Water

There are many reasons to mark an X next to David Penney's name on October 15th.  He believes that Lunenburg's greatest resource is its citizens and wishes to engage them in a meaningful way.  I have seen him chair a meeting and he's a natural.  He's warm,  kind, intelligent, strong and confident. He is a good listener, an eloquent public speaker and he is a communicator.   He is a leader.

I joked once that David Penney would make the perfect Lunenburg Mayor because for the past 20 years he has worked in mental health, but every joke has some truth behind it.  No, no, I'm not insinuating that council needs counseling.  Let me tell you a bit about what David did for a living.

The reason that most people have not seen David Penney out and about in Lunenburg, despite living here for the past twelve years, is that until now, David traveled for work.  He was brought into corporations and many municipal governments to help resolve conflict and to assist organizations with mental health issues when needed.

We all remember the terrible 2014 Moncton shootings  when several police officers lost their lives.  It was David who was called in to help the RCMP deal with this tragedy.  I'm sure his own experience as a former police officer made him an obvious choice for this difficult job.   This is certainly not something that David is going to put on his campaign brochure.  I am writing about this only because I want you to consider the wealth of skill, understanding, compassion and calmness that is associated with this kind of work.

A mayor needs to have many qualities, but one of the qualities that I believe is extremely important is to be a strong anchor in a storm. Someone, who in the midst of crisis, will have the skill to lead the way.  Think of the role that mayor Naheed Nenshi played during the Calgarly floods.  A pillar of strength and leadership.

I'm not being an alarmist.  Chances are that we will get through the next four years without any major catastrophes.  But anyone that pays attention to Nova Scotia politics and who has read the Ivany Report knows that all of Nova Scotia is in for a rough ride.  We have an ageing population, out migration of youth and new people are not coming fast enough to replace those who are leaving.  According to this Chart, put out by The South Shore Housing Action Coalition, The population of residents between the ages of 35-64, will decrease from 874 to 398 in 20 years, if we continue on our current trend.

I just heard one coucillor at the candidates' forum talk about Lunenburg being financially sound.  The problem, apparently,  is everywhere, but within the 4 sq. km boundary of the Town of Lunenburg.  This head in the sand attitude will not serve us in the near future.  We need strong leaders, who are willing to confront our challenges head on, not deny that they exist. We need a leader who has the skill to negotiate our future.

I have complete faith in our future....if we can elect proven, knowledgeable people, with true leadership skills.  We need someone who understands how to navigate conflict.  That person is David Penney.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Preserving Lunenburg's Heritage of Common Sense

Lunenburg has a rich architectural heritage that is protected by its UNESCO World Heritage Status. For the most part, that's a good thing. But like every concept taken to its extreme, without discretion or a vision of sustainablilty, a good thing can become a bad one. The above model represents the plans, drawn by architect Gerry Rolfsen,  for the repurposing of a very rotten barn, know as the Anderson Barn,  into much needed rental housing.  Here's a photo of the Anderson Barn in its current state.

 And here's where things have become contentious. The Board of the Lunenburg Heritage Society is opposing the demolition of this barn, built in the late 1870's, on the grounds that it is an important part of our heritage and its demolition would set a dangerous precedent.  Ordinarily I would agree, but not this time.

Although facts rarely come into play in the formation of public sentiment, I'm a firm believer that facts do matter. Here are the facts: The original intention of the current owner of this property was to preserve the building.  Two separate engineering reports have determined that the building is not salvageable. Every supporting structure in the barn is rotten. By all accounts this building should be condemned.  The rhetoric in town is that these engineering reports were commissioned by the property owner and are, therefore, suspect.  Engineering firms do not work for the customer.  They work for the integrity of their profession. If the barn is to be repurposed, there is no alternative to demolition.

O.K.  let's return to rhetoric for a moment.  The rhetoric is that the colourful buildings that make up the Unesco Fresco block on King st., owned by The Reiblings, are shining examples of how to avoid demolition and preserve heritage architecture.  Many would argue that those buildings actually were demolished.  It was a bespoke, hand crafted, demolition.  The buildings were held together with chains, while every single board was removed and replaced. A fine process for someone with millions of dollars, but the end result was still demolition.

Here are some more facts about the Anderson barn.  In it's lifetime, it has sustained two fires.  It was estimated, by the engineering firms that only 11% of the current building remains from the original structure.  Most of what we see now was cobbled together around 1940.   It is also inconveniently falling down the hill towards Montague st.  Pelham street was constructed to support horses and carriages, not delivery trucks.  The street is slowly falling into the building, pushing it down the hill. The building's demolition is inevitable.  A couple of good storms will save the property owner quite a bit of money.

Lunenburg's bureaucracy has three things available at their disposal to guide the destiny of the Anderson Barn.  There is a demolition permit; there is a development permit; and there is a policy to preserve heritage.  And so, all discussion, in regards to this property, pertains only to these three things.  We need to add a fourth item to this list- The repurposing of Heritage buildings. Without a mandate to repurpose heritage buildings,  so that they are useful to the present, we will inevitably lose our heritage buildings to neglect.  There aren't too many people that will be willing or financially able to preserve a rotten barn as a barn.  We just don't have that many cows in Lunenburg.  What we do have is a serious housing crisis.  We desperately need young people to move to Lunenburg, but there are very few full time rental units available.

The proposed replacement to the Anderson Barn will have 6, beautifully designed, 1 bedroom units.  These will not be seasonal rentals.   The deteriorating structural members will be replaced by a rationalized post and beam timber structure.  The current failing retaining wall will be replaced by a structurally sound wall that will save the building from its inevitable fate.  The proposed building will bring back many of the lost architectural details of the original barn. The plan is to build a new building that respects the architectual heritage of Lunenburg.

Nobody wants to see a heritage building demolished (unless you are a developer in Halifax) , but if we can't apply discretion to differentiate between a rotten shed, that is not salvageable and a building that is, then there are only two possible outcomes.  The first is that Lunenburg properties will only be bought by wealthy people, pushing out the diversity of people that make Lunenburg special.  And the second scenario is that people will not invest in the upkeep of their historically significant outbuildings and we will, inevitably,  lose them.

As well as having a rich architectural heritage, Lunenburg also has a rich heritage of common sense. My friend, Clayton, comes from old Lunenburg stock.  His grandfather was a sea captain and was known for his colourful language.  Clayton said that if his grandfather were alive today, he would certainly have this to say, "Sweet suffering blue eyed Jesus. It's rotten. Tear the Christly thing down and do something useful with the land."  I wonder if Unesco can protect common sense.  Here's the proposed view from Montague st.

Friday, September 16, 2016

You've got Four Years to Fix Democracy in Nova Scotia

If anybody would like to run Nova Scotia please raise your hand. Oh, thank you so much for coming forward.  You fine folks are now in charge of the direction of our province.

This is literally the case in many municipalities across rural Nova Scotia.  Annapolis Royal council- acclaimed, Mahone Bay Council - acclaimed, Port Hawkesbury mayor- acclaimed, Hants County - 5 of 11 councilors acclaimed, Town of Lunenburg council- 7 people running for 6 seats....   This is not a shining example of democracy in action. Running a municipality should not be on par with volunteering to clean the chalk board erasers.

Is it apathy?  I really don't think so. We are a province of dedicated volunteers and citizens that show up to support causes that are meaningful to us. I have never lived in a place with more community minded people than Nova Scotia.  But when it's time to run for council, most people pull the covers over their heads and wait for the elections to be over.  What's going on?

After the election on October 15th, new councillors will take their places around the council tables.  The first item on the agenda needs to be- Who is not in this room and how are we going to get them here in four years' time?  If everyone sitting at the council table is a man, there is a problem.  If everyone is over 50, there is a problem. If everyone is financially secure, there is a problem.  If everyone was born and bred in town, there is a problem.  If there is no racial diversity, there is a problem.  If everyone is retired, there is a problem. In order to solve this problem, council is going to have to consult with their community. 

Today I had a revelation.  I realized that I was one of seven relatively young women, that I know, who seriously considered running for Lunenburg Council, but ultimately decided against it. Every one of these women is intelligent and accomplished.  Most, like myself, run businesses in the town. In a province that is actively trying to attract women into politics, seven women who opted out is cause for concern.

Not offering for council often comes down to simple practicalities like meeting times.  Rural councils are not full time positions and the stipends, while sometimes generous, are reflective of this fact. It is not enough money to give up a day job. A 5:15 or mid-day meeting time might work very well for a retired person, but it doesn't work well for a person with a job, a business or a child. Move that meeting time to 6:15 and you have just made it easier for a working person or parent to come forward.   Many Nova Scotians need to travel for work.  If we wish to include these people on councils then occasionally Skyping into a meeting needs to be an option.

Now let's talk about engagement.  Council meetings are interesting.  This is where decisions are made regarding all the issues that most affect our lives.  Playgrounds, sewage treatment plants, fire protection, animal control, policing,  community gardens, farmers markets, street festivals, heritage preservation, development, what sort of businesses are allowed to operate in town and where they are allowed to operate, how we choose to spend tax dollars... all these things are discussed and decided at a council meeting.  But how can community members know that it's interesting if they can't make it to the meeting?  How can people know that the discussion is interesting if the sound system is broken and they can't hear?  How hard is it for the mayor or a councilor of a small town to simply post an upcoming council agenda to FaceBook with a brief description of the issues being discussed.  We don't need to hire a communications strategist to achieve this goal.   Council meetings are where people learn about municipal politics.  Attending meetings educates the next generation of leaders.  It needs to be the responsibility of municipal politicians to engage the public, so that we are always nurturing future politicians.  If citizens are not showing up to meetings, then something is very wrong and it needs to be fixed.

Any good teacher understands that information is best absorbed through participation.  Yes, ultimately, it is only the councilors who can debate and vote, but there is no reason, in a small town council, that some portion of the meeting can't be allotted to hearing citizens' concerns or questions.   Issues can also be informally discussed at public forums.  It's just not that hard to get citizens involved in government when that is the desired goal.  The thing is, that is often not the desired goal. It's so much easier to make decisions without public input. Is there anything more annoying that an engaged citizen with an opinion, or worse, a citizen that is more informed about a topic than a councilor?

A good council is one that represents all the diverse views in the community.   This is the end goal.  Weak leaders try to surround themselves with supporting voices.  Strong leaders invite different perspectives and welcome conflict.  Conflict is the engine of democracy.  If we don't have diversity of views on council then we just aren't doing this democracy thing very well. And we don't get diversity when councils work to keep it out.

Fix the meeting times, fix the sound systems,  post the agendas to Facebook, embrace conflict and welcome engaged citizens with strong opinions. Teach your constituents about democracy.  Mayors, councillors, you've got four years to bring democracy back to Nova Scotia.  Ready, set, go!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I think we need to talk

I love a good family photo.  There's nothing like the love and bonds of a close knit family to make you smile and believe in the goodness of the world.  However, a municipal council really shouldn't look like the above photo. You see, in a municipal council we are striving for a very specific picture.  O.K.  it's true that not everyone is striving for the same picture that I am about to paint, but there's a right way and a wrong way of doing government and the right way is about openness, honesty, transparency,  accountability to the people that council serves and last, but not least - diversity.

 A community is a diverse group of people.  Let's look at Lunenburg as a case study.  Some people grew up here, some moved here from other places.  Some people are financially comfortable, and some people are struggling.  There are women and there are men.  We have a couple of visible minorities, but not enough. We have retired folks and we have young families, we have single people and married people.   In a good council, every member of the community feels like there is someone sitting on that council that understands their experience in the community and will be willing to speak on their behalf.

Good councils argue.  Yes, they are supposed to argue.  Each councilor is supposed to think independently, share their views with other councilors and when all perspectives have been discussed, there is a vote. When the representation on council truly represents the diversity of views in the community then good decisions are made that benefit the entire community.

In a small town, diversity is difficult.  Particularly when many councilors have grown up together and have strong ties outside of council.  Diversity is difficult when all the members of a council have a similar life experience.  When this happens, good argument falls by the way side. Although there will still be arguments, they will be coming from a single perspective.  That is why when we go to vote on October 15th, those of us that believe that a municipal government needs to represent the entire community and should represent diverse perspectives, need to vote accordingly.

The mayor's brother, Ronnie Bachman,  is running for council.  He is probably a very nice man and I might even like him as a councilor, but personally,  as a citizen, I do not like the idea that two representatives might choose not to disagree in order to keep peace in the family.  Because Mayor Bailey may win again, I will not vote for him.  There is probably no law preventing siblings from sitting on council together, but, in my opinion, it works in direct opposition to the concept of good governance and that is the end goal.  Or at least it should be.

 There are seven people running for council.  There will be six spots to fill out on the ballot, you should only fill out those you wish to see on council, otherwise you are upping the other people's chances of winning.

I will explain why I will vote for 4 people and I will not comment publicly on the others.

1- Brian Davis - A progressive man, a great listener, does not take criticism personally, has lived many places and brings his outside perspectives to Lunenburg.

2- Joseph Carnavale - A very kind hearted and giving man who has repeatedly advocated and fund raised for people in need.  I hope he won't mind me saying this, but I know he and his family had some financially tough times.  There are many people in Lunenburg that struggle to make ends meet.  This demographic is completely unrepresented on council and it should be.

3- Linda Blumenthal - She is a woman, obviously.  I have not yet met her, but I did talk about her with some mutual friends and the review was glowing.  What I heard was she is community minded, open, inclusive, non judgemental  and above all, listens well.

4- Peter Mosher - He served on council this past four years.  As most of you know, most councilors, including the mayor, took my battle very personally.  The perception was that they were attacked. I tried, to the best of my ability, to not make it personal, but to consistently state that council was misinterpreting a law that was well understood in Halifax and most of Canada.   When the parking changes for home based business were before council, I presented at the public meeting.  The resentment towards me was palpable.  The only councilor that looked me in the eyes as I spoke, was Peter Mosher.  I could see in his expression that he was hearing my words and weighing them intelligently and with neutrality.  He was the only one.  I have watched him in several council meetings and he has consistently shown the ability to think for himself and speak for himself.  We do not always agree, but that's hardly the point.  The point is being able to communicate.  When the response is defensiveness, as has always been the case with the mayor, communication is shut down.

These four people have my vote.  I think they would help create a more diverse council.  Someone from an unrepresented economic group,  a newcomer to Lunenburg bringing in fresh perspective, someone from an established Lunenburg family who can speak to the concerns of established Lunenburg residents and a woman with an open mind, who brings in gender diversity and her own ideas.  And of course, David Penney for mayor.

The other remaining candidates are: John McGee, Danny Croft and Ronnie Bachman

Whatever you do and however you feel, agree or disagree-vote.

Friday, September 9, 2016

"Don't be an Armchair Quarterback!"...sighh

I saw this post on The Love Lunenburg Facebook page and, for the sake of my mental health, I  had to shut down the computer.  I realize that it is not meant to be offensive, but it really is. 

In the past two years, this expression, "armchair quarterback" was thrown my way more than a few times.  It was also tossed over to anyone that shared an opinion in regards to how council was dealing with the issue of Home Based Business. Despite having gone out and done all the homework that should have been done by our councillors and staff and despite my direct communication with both municipal and provincial government, I was repeatedly discredited as being an armchair quarterback. This expression has been used to discredit anyone who has openly disagreed with council.

As I do not live in the mind of the councillor that wrote this, I can only imagine that the sentiment behind this statement is that if you want to make a difference then join government. I couldn't agree more. Except that my vision of government includes its citizens. In my understanding and vision of government, engaged citizens are embraced, supported and valued, not put down.

I apologize for taking you back to this ugly time in Lunenburg's history, but it's important.  You may recall that council excluded me from serving on the very committee that they had formed to address the very issue which I brought forward.  The following was the mayor's quote in Lighthouse Now. “She has expressed her opinion about her particular issues often, loudly, and I don’t know that she has anymore that she can add to that. So we have already heard from her in abundance,” said Mayor Rachel Bailey during a phone interview on Monday morning.   There were similar things said on the radio. 

In my understanding of healthy municipal governance these words could never be uttered by an elected representative towards one of their own constituents. In a healthy municipal government, Lunenburg council would have invited me to give the same presentation that I gave to The Nova Scotia Building Advisory Committee.  The huge provincial government invited me in.   My small, local government shut me out.  I was called an armchair quarterback. 

A healthy and progressive council understands that civic engagement is not an item to be checked off of a list.  Civic engagement is the ultimate goal.  In a community as educated, accomplished and intelligent as Lunenburg, the council should be actively seeking the input and vision of its residents. The brilliance of this community is an untapped resource.  Look around Lunenburg and you will see what I mean.  The farmers market, The Opera House, The community garden, the dog park, the walking tours, the small businesses, the artists, L.A.M.P.......all of this is the hard work of regular people in the community. When these regular people speak up regarding a municipal issue, they should not be mocked with the term, "armchair quarterback"  They should be respected and heard and brought on board.

A healthy,  progressive and broad minded council understands that meeting times are not just about the the convenience of the councillors, they are also about the convenience of the citizens that want to participate in democracy.  It should be understood that fixing a broken sound system in the council chambers is a priority because when people can not hear the discussion it is one more reason to not show up. It should be understood that if people are not attending council meetings, do not have informed opinions and are not engaged then council is not doing its job well.  It should be understood that if the current council is not diverse, and it is not, then there is a systemic problem.   Every elected council should be nurturing the next generation of leaders.  That did not happen in the last four years.  But the future is filled with possibilities.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Go Away

This past weekend, in Lunenburg, we witnessed an act of ugliness, cowardliness and stupidity. Someone spray painted the words 'Go Away' outside of dis.cord gallery.   The gallery is owned by Farley Blackman, an American entrepreneur that has invested heavily in the town. He has a passion for restoring heritage buildings and is presently most known for his magnificent restoration of The Lunenburg Opera House.
He posted this photo on Facebook and has received a lot of support from both people that have lived here their whole lives and from people that have recently chosen to live in Lunenburg. By and large, people are good and at the very least, well mannered.  Spray painting 'go away' is not well mannered and there are not many, regardless of their deeper feelings, that would condone this behaviour.  But there are many that share this sentiment.

As I watched the comments roll in on Facebook, I began to see the predictable response to any act of discrimination.  Denial.  This is not a real problem. There is no discrimination against CFAs in Lunenburg.  This must have been one rogue individual.  Some of my best friends are Jewish/Black/Gay/CFAs.   I have never experienced this problem, therefore the problem does not exist.

The problem exists and this is not one rogue individual. This is a very real undercurrent in all of Nova Scotia.  It is an undercurrent in Lunenburg.  This person that wrote these ugly words, wrote them with the support of many and is being congratulated in quiet circles of sympathetic ignorance.  Understanding, means standing under experience.   Very few newcomers to Nova Scotia have had, or will ever have Farley's experience, so very few people can relate to Farley Blackman's insistence that this is a real problem that needs to be strongly addressed by our municipal government.  I had this experience.  I understand what he is talking about. I did not understand for many years, but I do now.

When I moved to Nova Scotia, I opened my business and was welcomed with open arms by the community.  Old timers and new comers alike were nothing but kind.  Why wouldn't they be?  I make hats.  I'm a mom. My husband's a woodworker and all we wanted to do was live a quiet life.  Easy peezy lemon squeezy.  Keep your head down and do your work, no problems at all.  Pop your head up and challenge your local government.  Different story.  Come to Nova Scotia and buy a building, fix it up and live in it or run a business...No problem.  Come to Nova Scotia and buy up many properties.....  different story, different experience.  Now you are a threat to the way things have always been in Lunenburg.   So, if you are a CFA, but have never experienced any problems or if you are born and bred 7th generation and have never felt any animosity towards a newcomer, well, that's super, but now would be a good time to stop talking about your experience and start listening.... to Farley and his experience.  Because it's bloody real.  This is not the first hateful experience that has been directed at Farley.  This is just one of many.

Farley made a plea in his public statement.  You can read it at the end of this article in Lighthouse Now.  He asked that the leaders of the town take a stance on this issue.  I'm going to take you back in time a bit, so that I can suggest what this sort of leadership might look like.  As I have mentioned way too often, in 2012  I was one of three businesses featured in this wonderful promotional video for the Town of Lunenburg.  It was a successful venture.  Many people have chosen to live in Lunenburg because of this video.  It also brought a lot of happy attention and accolades my way. But sometimes silence is the loudest noise in the room.  At that point, I had had no interactions with the mayor or councillors, but it did strike me as odd that having brought a creative industry to a small town and having been featured in this video, that no one from my local government ever bothered to stop by and say hello or thanks for coming to Lunenburg or thanks for your involvement with the video.  Nothing.  Not a word. This silence got a lot louder when I was told by administration that I could not open my studio.  For one year I kept this problem to myself and felt more than a little hurt that after offering my time to promote Lunenburg , not one of my six councillors, the mayor or any administrator ever felt the need to help me. It was not malicious it was just disinterested.

So, now let's look at Farley's case. Farley took a historic building that was on its way to becoming land fill and poured millions and millions of dollars into it and has restored it to its original glory. Farley opened a wonderful gallery and out of his own pocket brings in world class, local musicians to play for free.  Farley has restored many houses and commercial buildings.  He never skimps.  Every restoration is done with the utmost of care and integrity.  Farley has provided well paid employment to a factory's worth of local contractors.   In thirteen years, Farley has never been thanked by The Town of Lunenburg for his contributions.  Not once. Think about that.

He has never been thanked because he is resented. There are people who would rather have seen the opera house fall into the sea than to watch it be restored by an outsider.  It's about pride.  Lunenburg should be owned by Lunenburgers.  This is the sentiment behind that despicable and cowardly graffiti.  It is not shared by all, it is not shared by most, but it is shared by many.  Lunenburg does have a proud and glorious past, but now is not the time for false pride.  Now is the time for humility.  Now is the time for Lunenburg to recognize that without people like Farley Blackman and every other entrepreneur that has chosen this glorious town as their own, Lunenburg would watch its most treasured heritage buildings crumble and rot.  Now is the time for The Town of Lunenburg to acknowledge that without people like Farley Blackman the economy of Lunenburg would be in peril.  Now is the time for our Municipal leaders to say, Thank you and thanks for coming.  Publicly, Loudly and in writing.  Set an example.  Show leadership.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Max The Cat Unhappy With Lunenburg Changes

While locals and tourists alike sip their lattes, savour their pastries and enjoy the serenity of the garden at the new No. 9 Coffee Bar on Montague st. in Lunenburg, one former resident is less than pleased.

Max the cat was the proprietor of Out of Hand, the gift shop that was previously located at the same loCATion.  His human and business partner, Marja, had purchased the building for him, many years back. Last year, Marja decided to retire and sell the building and did not consult Max on her decision.  She bought a new home 2 kms. away in Garden Lots, put him in her car and uprooted Max from his home and livelihood.

Marja may have been ready to retire, but Max was not.  Taking matters into his own hands, Max escaped Garden Lots and headed down the road, back to Lunenburg.  It took him one week to find his way to the shop.  He arrived in the garden on a Friday afternoon and was nothing less than outraged at the state of his establishment. "This place has gone to the dogs!", said Max "Literally.  There were dogs seated next to their owners at many of the outdoor tables. I mean, it was bad enough that I had to tolerate, Oreo (Marja's dog) and her stupid ball,  but this is truly outrageous. Why do humans behave this way?  Lunenburg used to be such a nice place." Max briefly inspected the indoor area before being rudely manhandled and placed outdoors again. "They moved my favourite chair!", exclaimed the disillusioned feline.

Max had just resigned himself to accepting some of these poorly thought out changes when he was spotted by Annie May, the 92 year old neighbour who happened to be hanging her bloomers on the laundry line above the garden.  She quickly called Inge, another neighbour, who grabbed Max, stuffed him in her car and drove him back to Garden Lots.

Righteously humiliated, Max is currently planning his next escape. He is hoping to find his way to Lunenburg Town Hall so that he can express his displeasure to Lunenburg Council.  "Apparently there had been some sort of consultation process and these changes had been approved by council, but nobody ever consulted me.  What a farce!," said Max. 
"I just don't understand what's happened to this town. Why is it O.K. for someone to just waltz in here from away and move my chair?"

The No. 9 coffee Bar is located on Montague st. between King and Prince. They sell rather incredible fresh baked bread on Tuesdays and make seriously good coffee.  You can see their Facebook page by clicking HERE.

If you spot Max wandering the streets of Lunenburg please drop him off at Town Hall.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Court of FaceBook

Facebook has some wonderful qualities.  It's a great place to spread a message, promote a business, announce an event, share an interesting article, thought, photo or story.  But lately, I have come to think that Facebook is also down right dangerous. I'm not talking about trolls or online bullies, I'm talking about all of us, intelligent people, good people, thoughtful people, people that are concerned with the state of the world and social justice.

Facebook has narrowed the gap between ourselves and our barbaric, medieval ancestors who enjoyed a pleasant afternoon of watching a man get gored to death.  Facebook has brought us closer to our Puritan ancestors who burned women at the stake for witchcraft.  Facebook is bypassing a long evolved system of justice and any standards of accountable journalism.  Where once we lamented that people were tried by the press, now they are tried by a sea of opinion.

I have engaged in my fair share of Facebook discussions.  Actually, Facebook discussion might be an oxymoron.  I can think of one time where two people with opposing views heard each other.  In every other circumstance, a well mannered Facebook discussion looks something like this - person one states opinion, person two states opinion, person three states opinion....If opinions differ, then person one emphasizes opinion, person two restates their opinion and person three gets louder.  Occasionally, a tidbit of information gets thrown in.  Might be true, might not be true.   If the information aligns with the opinion holder then it's kudos and bravos, if the information doesn't suit the opinion holder then it's ignored or attacked. If the aim of discussion is to broaden our thinking then Facebook fails as a platform for exchanging thought.

If this were as bad as it gets then I'd just leave bad enough alone, share what I want to share and try not to engage in a debate that has no hopeful outcome.  But this is not as bad as it gets. Take this recent example:  A photo of a  classified ad from The Cape Breton Post has been circulating online.  The ad reads, "House for rent, two bedrooms, one bathroom, Well maintained home for family (white) within downtown of Sydney, NS, and then the phone number,"  I saw this post myself and did what most people did.  I flipped.  What kind of backwater, racist moron writes something like that? I did the Facebook thing and I shared it with a strong dosage of indignant outrage.  Then a friend sent me a message.  Apparently, English was not the first language of  the people that posted the ad. Someone who saw the post called the number and talked directly with the owner who confirmed, in less than perfect English,  that the house and trim were white and they did not care what colour the renters were.  Oops.  I took down the post. Chalk it up to an editing oversight.  But so many other people had shared it as well.   I watched the comments.  A few people chimed in, explaining that there was a misunderstanding.   I would have thought that the discussion would end there, but it didn't.  Lots of back and forth, questioning the motive.  No way could someone make that mistake.  I don't believe that for a minute.  A flurry of opinions and not a fact to be found.  Call them! Find the house! Teach them a lesson.  (Burn them at the stake, stone them, feed them to the lions!)

I confess, I really wanted to join the discussion, but I resisted.  The last thing I need is to unleash an ugly mob of Facebook comments.  But seeing as this is my blog, I'll write what I wanted to write here....
Who cares what you think?  Your opinion could easily be right as it could be wrong.  Haven't you watched enough law and order to know that things are not always as they appear?  Do you think that lawyers spend years in law school to finely hone their opinion? What gives you the right to pronounce anyone guilty without even speaking to them?  Think of the damage that your opinion might be causing.  If that stupid error was shared on 1000 pages, what's to say that some wingnut vigilante won't find these people and hurt them?  Watching these Facebook discussions feels like watching a barbaric ritual.  We really aren't as evolved as we think we are.

Cat videos.  I'll be sharing cat videos.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why I Love This Seriously Flawed Building Code Amendment.

On August 1st, the province of Nova Scotia amended the Nova Scotia Building Code Regulations to clarify that home based businesses that stay within a set of rules are not subject to building code rules meant for commercial occupancies.  This clarification was a great relief.  I spent two years of my life fighting for this clarification. This amendment is a wonderful thing for all of rural Nova Scotia. The amendment is, however, seriously flawed. It's a poorly written rule that is, in itself, red tape and will most certainly cause problems down the road. But that said, it's the perfect rule for Rural Nova Scotia. I'll try to explain what I mean.

In order to understand why this rule is problematic you will need to understand a few facts:

1-There was no need to amend the building code.  The building code was never broken.  The only thing that was ever broken was communication and the only thing that was ever needed was clarification.  We already had very good rules.  They functioned in Halifax, some small Nova Scotia municipalities, in all of Canada and in all of North America.  The planning rules that allow home based businesses to exist are good, well thought out rules that have evolved over time.

2- This amendment has been presented as an "exemption' to certain rules in the building code.  Balderdash. There is no such thing as an exemption to the building code.  I repeat, there is no such thing as an exemption to the building code.  The building code is there to keep people safe in buildings.  An exemption to the code would mean that we are less safe.  The building code amendment has simply clarified which are the correct rules for a building inspector to apply.  That's not an exemption.  That's just about understanding which paragraph to read.

3-Planning and the building code are a happy couple.  They work together and communicate.  Lunenburg and other municipalities insisted they never talked to each other.  The province knew better.  Here's part of a communication to myself from the senior planner for the province of Nova Scotia,

"......Home Based Businesses (HBB) and the relationship between the building code and land use / zoning controls, has, I expect, been significantly informed and made clearer by your experience over the past year. I certainly recognize your point that Home Based Businesses are a planning matter (ie land use / zoning matter) and indeed that is one of the reasons that I was invited to assist and provide input to the Nova Scotia Building Advisory Committee (NSBAC) in their review of this matter......Land use regulation via municipal planning documents work hand in hand with the building code which regulates the design and construction of buildings, in particular as it relates to safety and access. ...."

So, if the province understood how a municipality's planning informs the building code, why didn't they take the simplest route to clarification?  Put in writing, within the code,  that when land use regulations permit a home based business, there is no change of occupancy classification to the house.   End of story.  Two good, but separate rules,  a zoning bylaw and the building code. They live side by side and talk to each other.  That's the way it has always been and that's the way it should have stayed.  But here's what happened instead- the chocolate (zoning bylaw) fell into the peanut butter (the building code) and we got a whole new recipe. I like Reese's peanut butter cups, too, but not in this case.

Here's an example of a possible mess:  The amendment states that no more than 25% of the house can be used for the business or up to 50m2  (a little more than 500 sq. ft.) 25% is a pretty typical number seen in zoning bylaws as the permitted maximum percentage that can be used for a business.  But, when creating zoning bylaws,  this percentage can change from municipality to municipality.  If a town has small homes, then 25% of the house would not be sufficient.  So, let's say that you have an 800 sq. ft. house and this amendment allows you to use 25% of the house.  That's 200 sq. ft., but next to your house you have a little outbuilding that is  250 sq. ft.  Understanding that the average house size is small, and wanting to permit the use of accessory buildings, the municipality might have allowed 40% of the house to be used, but now, because of this amendment, there's a conflict.  The use of a percentage is a planning tool,  each municipality would decide on an appropriate percentage and maximum square footage based on the typical house size in the municipality.  It's whichever number comes first, the percentage or the square footage.  A municipality with large house sizes might apply a low percentage and a municipality with small house sizes might apply a higher percentage.  A municipality can use discretion based on what works for their community.  When the percentage is written in stone, in the building code, discretion has been removed and as a result, we will see instances where the rule makes no sense.

Here's another example:  The business owner needs to be a full time resident.  This is a planning rule.  It doesn't belong in the building code.  Building codes control occupancy load, accessibility and fire safety, but they don't control residency.  Now a building inspector has been given the authority to control something that would ordinarily be out of their jurisdiction.  That scenario often does not end well. Imagine arguing with a building inspector about the 4 months you spend in Mexico each winter and whether or not this qualifies you as a full time resident.

But like I said, I love this amendment.   I love this amendment because of the lady that I talked to today at the farmers market.  She had shared her story with me last year and thanked me for taking on this battle.   I never wrote about her experience.  It was too heartbreaking.  I asked her if I could share the story now and she said I could.  I'm going to change her name.  Let's call her, Laura.

Laura and her husband had a Bed and Breakfast in Lunenburg County.  They were in a terrible car accident.  Her husband was killed.  She was badly injured.  She could not work and went on disability.  When Laura began to heal she decided that she was not up for running a bed and breakfast, but she would instead like to have a small gallery in her house.  The building inspector came and told her she would need fire separation, barrier free access...the works.  The building inspector told her that she would be on the lookout for a sign and if Laura opened her business she would shut her down.  Today Laura came to tell me that she plans on getting that gallery up and running.   This flawed rule is perfect in this situation and it will be perfect in many situations.  This flawed rule will help so many people.

It is an excellent rule for a province that communicates poorly.  It is an excellent rule for those building officials who lack the capacity for discretion.  It is an excellent rule for a province with a multitude of fifedoms.  It is an excellent rule for small municipalities that are not interested in learning from our largest municipality.  It is an excellent rule for small municipalities that are not interested in cooperation with other small municipalities.   It is an excellent rule when there is poor management.  It is an excellent rule when there is an absence of strong leadership.  It is an excellent rule for rural Nova Scotia.

Perhaps one day we will be able to throw this rule away, put in a little paragraph of clarification in the building code and operate like the rest of Canada.  But we're not there yet. In the mean time, I'm happy this amendment exists.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spin Disguised as Communication

 Last week I was one of many residents in attendance at Lunenburg's council meeting.  On the agenda was our very stinky Waste Water Treatment Plant.  Living in Old Town, the only time that I, personally,  smell sewage is on my daily walks on the back harbour trail, but for residents of certain streets in New Town it is a constant.  I have friends that lost the sale of their house because of the odour and I know many people who often can not open their windows in the summer and fall.

The meeting was very informative. What I learned was that our sewage treatment plant was built without an odour control system.  At council it was discussed that the  omission of this equipment was a cost savings strategy and that it was believed that it would not be necessary but whatever the reason, an error was made.  In the end (no pun intended) , the residents of Lunenburg have paid dearly for this attempted cost savings.

 From the discussion at council, at least one councillor believed that the entire Waste Water Treatment Plant was a mistake.  Councillor Mosher spoke to the public, at length, about how the plant was intended for Northern climates and does not operate well when the weather turns warm.  After years of pouring money into repairing the plant, he felt jaded and asked staff to compare the cost of installing an odour control system to the cost of an entirely new plant.  His request was not granted.  Mayor Bailey expressed that since the plant's installation in 2003 it has had many upgrades and repairs and the sewage that is treated is passing all provincial standards, so in that regard it does work. She reiterated that it's not that the odour control system was broken, it's that there never was  one.  So, it seems that the reason the town has failed to remedy the odour problem is because they were trying to solve the problem without actually installing an odour control system.  Doing the job right is a lot less expensive than doing the job twice (at least twice).

About a month ago, council went against staff recommendations and voted not to apply funding towards the  installation of an odour control system.  I'm not unsympathetic.  It's a case of the boy who cried wolf. Staff presented them with many solutions that failed and now when presented with a real, honest to goodness, odour control system, that has been proven to work in Charlottetown, PEI and a couple of other places they have lost faith and are weary of wasting tax payers' money. But here's where citizens come into the picture.  A friend of mine who lives at ground zero put a post on FaceBook regarding being gassed and it got a lot of attention.  The post was noticed by council and the issue made its way back on to the agenda.  Because so many people showed up to the meeting demanding an immediate solution, the motion was passed to approve the spending of $54,000 for the design of a bio filter.  (that's the odour control system.)

Now, here's where you need to pay attention.  The $54,000 is for the design on a piece of paper.  Let's say that you want to build a new house  You pay an architect to draw the house.  Now you have a drawing.  You do not have a house. What was approved at council was to pay for the design.  The design will be completed in October. Remember, council voted to spend money on a different problem, so there is no money to actually implement the design.  The cost of implementation was estimated at $780,000.  The next council will vote on whether or not to approve the implementation of the design.  They likely will, but they don't have to.  If between now and then something else breaks down on the plant, council might feel that it is not worth pouring more money into the beast. If the next council does approve the implementation, then and only then will staff try to secure funding.  Most infrastructure grants are funded one third federally, one third provincially and one third municipally. There probably will be funding, but maybe not. So, right now, we, the tax payers of Lunenburg have approved a picture on a piece of paper.  That's it.  Don't get me wrong.  I think it's great.  I think it was the right thing to do and I think there's a good chance that everything else will fall into place.  If all goes well, it was estimated that people in New Town will be able to take the clothes pins off their nose in July of 2017. (Hang in there, Guys.)

 So, the town put out a press release on the town web site.  Here it is.   To summarize, the announcement explains that 'the town has approved $54,000 for the design....  the town has taken a major step towards addressing waste water treatment odour..... The design will be completed in October.... '    No mention of installation, cost of installation, estimated date of installation or that there is no money to carry out installation at this point in time.  The press release is not communication.  It is not technically dishonest because everything in it is true, but if the aim is to inform the public, I would say there were some pretty key pieces of information left out. The press release is political spin.  The reader is led to believe that Mayor Bailey and council have finally fixed a thirteen year old problem.

I read this press release last week, noted to myself that the town desperately needs to hire a communications person, posted a brief clarification on Facebook and then I walked away from it because, really, who needs it?  I've got better things to do with my life than writing this  blog post at midnight.  But today, CBC picked up this piece of spin and ran with it.  Without interviewing the town, they took the press release at face value and wrote an article.  Seriously?  CBC? I sent in my complaint and they adjusted the article a bit, but it's still misleading.  You can read it HERE.   But now there are so many people that actually believe this problem was solved for $54,000.  What a disservice to the public.

So, yes, I am concerned with a lack of real journalism and all that jazz, but what I am really concerned about is that most people will read the town's communication and believe that the problem will be solved in October.  There was nothing wrong with the actual facts.  Mistakes were made.  They fixed stuff, figured stuff out along the way and now they really think they have the solution.  They approved the funding for the design, which will completed in October and the next step is to approve the installation and secure funding.  The whole thing should be fixed by next summer.......  That would be clear communication with the aim of educating the public. Why can't this sort of communication come directly from the town? 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

We need to stop telling politicians to develop thick skins.

Two years ago I bumped into politics in a big way.  I was just minding my own business, making pretty hats, when an incorrect interpretation of a rule got in my way.   Realizing that Nova Scotia had lost many valuable people because of this same mistake, I set about trying to get it fixed.  To understand the details of this situation you can click HERE and also HERE.  It was meant to be easy,  but it became a long, complicated and often very ugly experience.
I watched politicians obfuscate, threaten, attempt to get others fired, shut down communication and ignore reason and facts.  This was by no means the sum of my experience, but it was part of it.  It was the most difficult part.

While I learned many things in the past few years about planning, the building code and the political process, I was left with a giant question that lives in my mind without an occupancy permit. Why?  Why do politicians behave this way?  What happens between the beginning, where a fresh faced person, wanting to make a difference, puts their hat in the ring,  to the point where they, too, are playing the game of politics?

I had many moments over the past couple of years where I considered running in the municipal elections.   A healthy government is a diverse government and adding my voice to the table would mean people with similar circumstances to myself would have representation.   But there was one main thing that stopped me from offering.  It seemed to be a given that in order to be a politician you needed to either have or develop a thick skin.  I neither have a thick skin, nor want one.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and that's the way I like it.

But the past couple of years have sparked a notion
that things don't have to be this way, so  I have been on the lookout for inspirational politicians who govern with grace.   Yesterday, I came across an interview with Lisa Helps, The mayor of Victoria, BC.  On that page were the words I have been looking for, the words that we need to be teaching all our potential politicians.  This is what she said, "Stay open-hearted. People say to me all the time that you must need a really thick skin to do this job, but as soon as you have thick skin, you don’t let stuff in. It means you’re closing down. And there’s a lot of shit that comes my way for sure, so [when] that comes in I say, “That is kind of irrational and makes no sense and is not based on any evidence.” All right, so that doesn’t stay. But then I get some really good feedback like, “Why are you doing it this way? How about this instead?” and that actually is important. If you’re thick-skinned and closed-hearted, you aren’t open to feedback."

And that's the problem with politics.  We keep telling potential politicians that they need thick skins, so that is exactly what we end up with- people who walk around wearing invisible armour,  people that protect themselves from the very real ugliness of public opinion and the unrealistic expectations that we have of our leaders by blocking out all feedback, good and bad.   But really we need to encourage open hearts and strong, healthy filters. So, that's my personal goal. I want to grow a thick filter.   I'll work on it for the next four years and then we'll see where life has taken me.  You can read the full interview by clicking HERE.