here to see photos of her beautiful shop. I'll be shopping there next summer.
Here is Jane's letter to me:
Just read your latest blog post on zoning and municipal by-laws! Thought you might like to know what is going on in Annapolis Royal in that regard. For several months, Town Council has been working on the formation of a committee to investigate how to reduce "red tape" for its citizens and the business community. It's called the Municipal Effectiveness Advisory Committee (MEAC for short) and it convened its first meeting last week. MEAC comprises two members of Town Council and seven citizens and we expect to be working for quite a while as we are charged with reviewing our Land Use Bylaw, our Municipal Planning Strategy and any other related policies we may choose to look at. It's a great step forward for the Town and you can read more about it HERE. I am on the committee as a representative of the Annapolis Board of Trade, and was appointed chair at last week's meeting. We are all excited about moving forward. We may be a 410 year old place, but we can see the future!
Have a great day, Anna
Mrs. Nicholson Inc.
Here is what I love about the actions taken by Annapolis Royal:
1-They are guiding their own destiny. No need to wait for provincial clarification. They seem to understand that planning is in their hands. They are consulting with their community to create the future vision of their town.
2- They are not denying problems. They have readily admitted to red tape which negatively affected businesses and people. They have taken responsibility and they are taking action. A breath of fresh air.
3-They are being open yet clear. They are encouraging people to come share their ideas and views, but they are also helping them along with clear words like, threats, opportunities, values.......
4- They got creative. Town Halls are not always the most inviting spaces to speak with the community, so they picked the library. Super idea. Libraries are focused, yet intimate and welcoming places to have meaningful discussions.
5- If you follow the link, you will see that they have set very clear goals, such as, "to review and identify barriers to reduce overregulation, streamline procedures, and improve efficiencies"
6- Not only did they create a working group with 7 citizens, but they are encouraging all their citizens to be a part of the process. That is what welcoming looks like.
I will be cheering this group on from my hat studio in Lunenburg. They are leading the way for other towns in rural Nova Scotia to follow suit.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
What do the obstacles facing The Dark Side Cafe in Dartmouth and the obstacles facing Home-based businesses in Lunenburg have in common? Nothing. They are polar opposites. Well, other than mass hysteria, that is. A few days ago this post showed up on my Facebook feed and I watched the reactions of the hundreds of people sharing the post.."Idiots, morons, stupid bureaucrats." My heart fell into my stomach. Partly because I knew, from my own personal experience, that these idiots, morons and stupid bureaucrats were the very people that spent countless of their own unpaid hours schooling me on zoning bylaws and the building code, so that I could better understand the error that was happening in Lunenburg and other parts of rural Nova Scotia. Having actually met or spoken on the phone with some of these people, I knew that they were concerned enough about small business to help a woman outside of their own municipality. But the court of Facebook is not one that weighs facts or makes an effort to understand. The court of Facebook is a reactionary court. It prosecutes without evidence.
So, if I may, let's talk about facts a little bit. The Dark Side Cafe rented a little building, they wanted to run a cafe, but were told that the zoning of the area did not permit a cafe, so instead they said they would run an art shop and serve coffee on the side. That was permitted. What is an art shop with coffee on the side? Well, it's like a bookstore that does book readings and serves cookies. They then proceeded to run a cafe. One month later, the city tells them that cafes are not permitted in the zone, but they could apply for a development agreement and change their use. They chose not to go this route.
Without making an effort to understand what zoning is all about, the whole thing seems petty. I mean, Gawd, what difference does it make if they are an art gallery or a cafe, if they are entrepreneurs bringing new life to Nova Scotia and everyone in the neighbourhood is happy to have them?
Here's the deal. The staff in Halifax understand that zoning bylaws are real, honest to goodness laws. It's their job to uphold the laws. In Lunenburg, zoning bylaws are treated like make believe laws that can be discarded or enforced at will. The other thing to keep in mind is that zoning bylaws are created by the community. They might have been created by the community a few decades ago and individuals in the community may not have shown up for the public meeting, but planning (zoning) is community driven. So, Dartmouth, you made some laws and now you are pissed off that the people you pay to uphold them are doing their job. Excellent reactionary work.
I have learned to love zoning bylaws. Too bad for me because nobody around these parts seems to give a damn about them. Me and the zoning bylaw hang out in dark, seedy pubs, down shots of rum and bemoan the fact that nobody understands us anymore. But if one were to make even the slightest attempt at understanding they would see how truly beautiful and well thought out these laws are. Zoning bylaws are what protect people in homes from having a glue factory or a chicken processing plant move in next door. Zoning bylaws make special places for commercial businesses to group together, so that customers can easily find them. And yes, zoning bylaws allow people to run small businesses in exclusively residential zones without being commercial occupancies.
Back to The Dark Side. They wanted to run a cafe, but it wasn't permitted in the zone. That's O.K. The story doesn't need to end there. This is where a development agreement comes into play. The development agreement says, Hey, the people of Dartmouth technically said you can't run a cafe here, but you do seem like a cool hip addition to the neighbourhood, so we'll ask around and if nobody has any objections we'll make an exception for you. It's a legal process. It's a process that consults with the people. That's an alternative to screaming, "Idiots, Morons, just let us do what we want, you small business haters!"
So, what would happen next if the development agreement went through? Uh oh......It's the dreaded, "Change of Use". Man, I hate those words. I hate them because they have been misapplied to my own business. If The Town of Lunenburg, or even the province made the slightest attempt to understand zoning rules they would know that you don't need a change of use to run a home-based business when it is permitted by bylaw. I'll have another drink, please. When Change of Use is real, it is a bitter pill to swallow. It means that you were an art shop, but now you are a cafe. Now there are different building code regulations that apply to you and these renovations can be costly. I can hear it already...Idiots, Morons, stupid, small business hating, building inspectors.
Sometimes the building code comes to hang out with me and the zoning bylaw in the pub. Get a few drinks into the building code and he really lets loose. "No respect, no respect.... Don't those folks remember the days when factory workers got trapped in burning buildings. Do they care that babies got their heads stuck between the balusters on stair cases. What about accessibility? Why am I always the bad guy?"
So, what do you do if you want to open a cafe in a funky little neighbourhood? Well, first of all, you check if the zoning permits it. Then you check if the building you are in needs a change of use. If you have the money to proceed with the renovations then go forth and do business, if not, you might want to have a back up plan.
What about this scenario? The zoning rules are outdated or just plain stupid. Here are a couple of examples. In Lunenburg, we had a parking rule for home based businesses that required 3, 20 x10 foot parking spots. Many lot sizes are 40 feet wide. You do the math. What happened? The town of Lunenburg, to their credit, amended the bylaw. It was a long, painful process, but the community came together and said, this is what we want, council listened and now home-based businesses no longer need additional parking spots. It's a good start. Here's another one- In Annapolis Royal, a couple learned that their zoning bylaw said you could have an antique shop, but you could not have an art shop. That is what stupid looks like. The impact of both these businesses on a neighbourhood is exactly the same. No one at town hall tried to understand the intent behind the law. No one reached out to help these people. That couple now lives in B.C.
But a coffee shop? A coffee shop has a higher impact on a neighbourhood than an art shop. So, if in Dartmouth you decide that in this zone you would like to see more coffee shops, then go tell your councilor and start the ball rolling. You guys are in charge. But don't go screaming at the bureaucrats when they uphold your laws.
Now, last but not least, the court case. Do you really imagine that the people behind the desks over there at the planning department were masterminding an evil plot to financially ruin a nice young couple? Come on, people, put your critical thinking caps on. How many attempts at getting these guys to comply were made before the decision was made to prosecute? What would you do if it were your job to uphold the law and a business owner refused? At some point you would have to take action. That's your job. Wait, don't take your critical thinking caps off yet. Is it possible that this thing might get settled out of court or that maybe the fine might be seriously reduced? Maybe this was just the final action that was needed to get a conversation going between the business and the city. It's too bad it had to get to this point.
Accckkk, I lied, there is another last thing. The press. The business owners said $47,000 in fines. That's a sexy number to throw around. Looks great in a headline. Did any of you reporters bother to do a little fact checking?
Laws are not the bad guys, people that are entrusted to uphold laws are not the bad guys. Granted, sometimes you run into a bureaucrat or a building inspector on a power trip, but they aren't all like that. Ignorance and the lack of will to gain understanding is the bad guy. I'm seeing a lot of that right now and it really pisses me off.
Hey, wait for me, Building Code and Zoning Bylaw, if you guys are going out drinking, I'm coming with you.
Monday, January 25, 2016
Dear Minister Furey,
Tomorrow is my birthday. It's been a long, hard year for me. I'll be 48, going on 84. My husband taught me, the hard way, that if you don't tell a man what you want for your birthday, you're libel to wind up with a deer whistle or a tree pruner. (true story)
Before I spill the beans as to what I really, really want, I'd first like to say that I think you're the best.
I know, I can be very critical of government, but ultimately, from my hat maker's perspective, I see all parties made up of individuals. Some of them are good guys and some of them are bad guys and some of them are just collecting paychecks, but I think you are one of the good guys. You alone, brought the obstacles facing home based businesses before the NS government. You, alone, gave me the opportunity to present before the Building Advisory Committee and the Department of Business. You have actually payed attention to a citizen. That is a rare and remarkable thing. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
So, now I'll just come out with it. Could I pleeeeaaaassseee have provincial clarification for my birthday. Halifax knows perfectly well that Home Based Businesses, where permitted by land use are residential occupancies. The rest of North America knows this, too. It really shouldn't be this hard. One little phone call and we will be all done. I'll never ask you for anything else in my life. (don't believe me)
If I can't have that, carrot cake is my second choice.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
The great irony of this post is that I am writing it while sitting on an Ikea Chair. That's because I am married to a furniture maker and one day there will be four, beyond perfect, kitchen chairs in our house, but unless I wanted to sit on the floor for the next 20 years, Ikea was the best intermediary option.
A couple of days ago, the great announcement was made by Halifax's Mayor, Mike Savage, that Ikea would once again be gracing Nova Scotia with its presence. There was dancing in the streets and free meatballs for everybody. Twitter and Facebook, all the local radio stations and our union hating newspaper were abuzz with the news. Even all my fellow tree hugging, local loving friends have been gleeful. Ikea is coming, Ikea is coming! So why, I ask myself, when 300 jobs will be coming to Nova Scotia, from a company that wants to power itself with solar energy, do I feel so bloody contemptuous. I mean, granted, they have been known to use slave labour; they are masters at tax evasion by calling themselves a charity; (the premise is they teach millions of people to build furniture) and they do use 1% of the world's wood supply, but, still, they are better than a lot of other big box stores, right? So, as my brother used to like to say, Anna, what is your problem?
Well, if I had to distill it down, I'd say that first of all, it's just plain gross. Anything that is that cheap comes with a big price tag. There is no way on earth that you can buy a chair for $25 without acknowledging that somewhere on earth, someone is paying the true cost of that chair. Ikea already apologized for using political prisoners in East Germany for assembling their products, so, maybe we should just let bygones be bygones. They say they are better now. The thing is, they never directly ordered political prisoners to assemble boxes, they just had the work done in a country with questionable ethics where they were not able to properly oversee the work. Which brings us to China, where most of the parts are made. When products are made in China, a country not known for human rights, you can be sure that someone is leading a sucky life in the name of "common sense". But what about those yummy meatballs and the fifty cent hot dogs? Well, O.K, I love horses as much as the next guy, I'd rather just be told if I was eating them.
However, none of the above is the real reason that Ikea sends me into a mild depression. All of the above is the world we live in, and the chair I am sitting on is a testament to that fact. The thing that really gets me are "the jobs". Ikea, over the years, has put thousands of small, local Mom and Pop businesses out of business. Local businesses with character and unique identities that made up small towns and big cities. These little furniture shops or kitchen stores or carpenter shops are what makes each of our towns unique and special. It is so hard for local businesses to compete with massive companies like Ikea who, above all else, are devoted to cheap. These little local businesses pour their money back into their communities. Can the same be said for Ikea? Will they use local accountants, local printers and local food suppliers? What about local taxes? Big box stores are infamous for receiving huge tax breaks that none of the local businesses enjoy.
So, while Nova Scotians jump up and down for the 300 (mostly minimum wage) jobs coming to town, I feel sad about the carpenters in four provinces that might have been asked to build a kitchen, but lost that job to Ikea and I feel sad for the small furniture store that might lose a sale because of a trip to Ikea and I feel sad for the small housewares shop, struggling to keep their head above water, that just lost one customer because of Ikea. I'd love to say that there's room for everyone, but there really isn't. Especially when it comes to Ikea because Ikea markets to the same person that might ordinarily support a local business. They market themselves on groovy wholesomeness and it's often the same person that shops at the local farmers market that gets lured in by Ikea's ingenuity.
So, I confess, I'm way more excited about supporting 300 local people in their efforts to run their own unique businesses that keep our communities vibrant and unique than by the prospect of 300 people losing their dreams to the mass cuture that is Ikea and then, later, getting hired to be an Ikea "co-worker".
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
In my last radio interview, I was asked if I was worried that people were wondering why the Hat Lady had her knickers in a knot regarding home-based businesses. Those weren’t the actual words, but that was the gist of the question. Yesterday, after reading a letter to the editor in Lighthouse Now, it dawned on me that my anger has nothing to do with costly renovations, fire doors, commercial taxes or the future of our economy.
This letter, from a man named Christopher Ball, broke my heart. I posted it on Facebook and it has been shared over eighty times. Apparently it broke a lot of hearts. Christopher is one of the many people in the film industry that will likely need to uproot his family and leave Nova Scotia to find work elsewhere due to the gutting of the film tax credit. He eloquently explained how much they have contributed to the economy of this province since moving here over seventeen years ago. But that wasn’t what affected me. What really got to me is that our children go to the same school, we have many mutual friends, I know he and his wife throw great parties and I have swam in their beautiful lake. They are a part of our small community, here on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. They are a family. Like my family, they love this province, they have invested their lives into Nova Scotia and they want to stay. But they can’t. As a result of a bad governmental decision, the film work has run dry and they need to move. Their children will lose their friends. They will lose the community they love and our community will be a little bit poorer without them. This is about real people.
Prohibitively expensive renovations and commercial property taxes for crafts people working from home, and cutting film tax credits are just rules. But behind the application of these rules are real people. Government policies affect human beings who have hopes and dreams and families and community.
I rant and rail and continue to scream bloody murder about the misapplication of rules for home-based businesses because this has caused real people to leave our communities and more real people will continue to be forced to leave our communities and real people want to join our communities and unless we fix this most simple of problems we are not a welcoming place. And I don’t actually give a damn if we are or are not a welcoming place to do business because I don’t actually give a damn about business or tax credits or property taxes. Those things don’t breathe. But I do give a damn about people.
This past year I met some politicians from different political parties. At my kitchen table, I was able to see that these politicians are also people, people that love their families and are part of our communities. At my kitchen table, I could see that they cared. But back in the world of politics everything becomes…political. I talked about this with Jamie Baillie a little bit. I mentioned how frustrating it was to see politicians unwilling to take a stand and he said, Funny, I always thought one went into politics precisely because they wanted to take a stand. That stayed with me.
So, I’m waiting. I’m waiting for a politician that remembers why they became a politician. I’m waiting for a politician who decides they really don’t give a damn about politics, but they do really care about people. I’m waiting for one of the good guys to say, enough is enough. We can fix this. This is not about the economy, money, business or the protection of power. This is about people.
You can read Christopher's letter HERE.
(Thanks to Beatrice Schuler for the great photo, taken at one of Christopher’s and Kristie’s legendary parties.)
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
This is Red Tape Awareness Week and while I do think that our government has taken some positive steps to remove red tape for business, the red tape affecting home based businesses is alive and well and living in Nova Scotia. It's the most solveable problem and the fact that it has not yet been fixed is an embarrassement and speaks to something that has nothing to do with caring about everyday hard working people. This could be solved today.
So, I admit, I went a bit loopy in this interview, but I'm chalking it up to Red Tape Madness. The link to this show will only be up for a few days. It's the January 18th 2p.m show. Head to the 39 minute mark. People get very confused about this issue and I think I spelled it out pretty clearly. Click HERE to listen.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Here's the official definition of red-tape : a series of actions or complicated tasks that seem unnecessary but that a government or organization requires you to do in order to get or do something.
Tomorrow begins Red Tape Awareness Week. It has been officially recognized by our premiere.
There are two things negatively affecting home based-businesses in Nova Scotia. The first is not actually red-tape. It is a mistake.
Many municipalities have zones that are exclusively residential. No new commercial businesses are permitted. Some small businesses are permitted by bylaw within homes and they are considered part of the main residential use. Remember, they can't be commercial because that is against the zoning laws of these municipalities. These types of bylaws are not new. They have been with us for decades. They have already been checked by lawyers at Municipal Affairs to ensure there are no conflicts. So, if a municipality applies commercial building code to a residential occupancy, they made an error. Simple. Or at least it should be simple. That is not red tape. That's a mistake.
An error has been pointed out and the municipality has been asked by a citizen to follow its own laws. Instead of just fixing the error, they create a long bureaucratic process. Something simple has been made complicated. Now we have red tape.
The province of Nova Scotia is now also a part of the red-tape problem. They could simply clarify the mistake by speaking with the experts in Halifax and home-based businesses could get on with this growth thing we apparently need in Nova Scotia. But, instead of just clarifying an error, the province is taking an endless amount of time to study this issue. Unnecessary bureaucracy. That part is also red tape.
Let's make sure, though, that we understand that what is at the heart of this issue is a mistake and the refusal to acknowledge it. Fixing this will require a leader. Someone strong enough to say, enough - a mistake was made, let's fix it and get on with business. Wouldn't it be grand to see this happen on Red Tape Awareness Week?
Friday, January 15, 2016
Premier McNeil and CFIB have just proclaimed January 18th the first day of Red Tape Awareness Week.
Read all about it here.
I'll be doing a happy dance in my little underground hat studio in Lunenburg as a bunch of Bureaucrats ignore the understanding available in Halifax and the rest of Canada. I'll down another shot as the Building Advisory Committee goes on their fifth month of trying to grasp whether permitted Home Based Businesses in exclusively residential zones are residential or commercial occupancies.
If the government needs a poster child, they are welcome to my photo.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Today our property assessment came in the mail. The tax assessor decided to tax the portion of my house being used for my business with commercial taxes. Yes, I will appeal, but I need to talk about this because this sort of thing is what makes it so difficult to run a small business in Nova Scotia. I am a one woman operation. Every time I have to fight because someone is misunderstanding a rule, I lose time out of my day. This lack of understanding is costing me money. As a crafts person,with the income of a crafts person, there is not a lot of that stuff to spare.
Commercial taxes are applicable only to commercial occupancies. Commercial occupancies are permitted only in the commercial zone. My home is a residential occupancy in the residential zone of Lunenburg where no commercial occupancies are permitted. This concept is understood when we are speaking of Bed and Breakfasts. Bed and Breakfasts, in the residential zones of Lunenburg, do not pay commercial taxes. Bed and Breakfasts are Home Occupations. Craft workshops are also Home Occupations. I am a craft workshop.
Sometimes Bed and Breakfasts have people sleeping in their homes, this does not make them a hotel. Sometimes I have a customer that comes to my studio, in my home, to buy one of my hats. This does not make me a commercial retail store. If someone works as an accountant from a bedroom in their home, they are also a home occupation. They are not a commercial office building. Are you following me?
We do not apply commercial rules to homes. We have Land Use Bylaws which are meant to ensure that this does not happen. We need to understand these rules, so that they are not misapplied and so that craftspeople or perhaps someone cutting hair from their home, or working as a carpenter from their home do not have to spend their valuable time fighting. If I need to fight, I would rather fight with my son to occasionally change his clothes or take a bath. Those fights are part of my job description. I signed up for that fight. This fight is not part of my job description.
Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I brought this issue to one of my elected officials? Would one of them advocate on my behalf? Maybe my board of trade?
If every home-based business owner that applies for a development permit and a sign permit is rewarded for their desire to follow rules by a Migraine, then no home-based business owner, in their right mind will try to follow a rule. This is why most home-based businesses are in the underground economy Bad for the town, bad for the province, bad for the business owner.
Can somebody who is in a position to fix this mess, please do so? I have hats to make.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Provincial government, meet Melanie. Melanie, meet the provincial government.
In the murky world of economic development we hear a whole lot about attract and retain - Lure businesses away from other places with financial incentives in the hopes that they stay here and hire a bunch of people, often for low wages. We also hear about extract and export - Bring back coal mining and export the coal because it doesn't meet our own environmental standards (true story). So, how about throwing a little love in the direction of the entrepreneurs that are already in this province? We can call it, Identify and Support. There's actually already a term for it. It's called Economic Gardening. Nurture what is in your own backyard.
I hear what you are saying. Yes, you are adorable and charming and we really love your little business, but you are too small for investment. Let's connect the dots between the importance of entrepreneurs to the future of Nova Scotia and the importance of supporting entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia.
Class, please pull out your dot to dot activity sheets.
Begin on dot number 1- Local businesses spend their money locally. They may be small, but one little sole proprietorship will hire a local accountant, a local printer and buy local supplies.
Proceed to dot number 2 - Local business owners own local homes, pay local property taxes, collect and pay HST, eat in local restaurants, and shop at local grocery stores.
Continue to dot number 3- Local business owners often have local children in local schools. They volunteer their time, donate to local charities and are invested in bettering their communities.
Drag your pencils to dot number 4- Local businesses attract tourists.
On to dot number 5- Small, local business owners do not have to be bribed to stay in Nova Scotia. They came for the life style and the beauty, not the economic incentives. When the going gets tough, they will try their damndest to tough it out.
Finish at dot number 6, -Supporting many small, local businesses that have already proven their ability and wish to grow is a much safer investment than pouring a lot of money into one large business that may very well high tail it out of the province when the incentives run dry. I don't know much about the financial world, but I think I have heard something about diversifying your investments. Please put down your pencils and look at your paper.
My, what a pretty picture you have drawn. It's a beautiful, healthy, local economy.
Did I convince you? If so, here's Melanie's web site. -Meversible Drop her a line. Tell her how the province of Nova Scotia would like to help her grow her business.
If you want to see how two hat makers battle each other to the death then click on this video and if you would like to read the article above, pick up a copy of this week's Lighthouse Now or subscribe online.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
You found me! Good job. So, look on over to the right of this post. Do you see that little box where it says follow by e-mail? If you would like to get a notification every time I find it impossible to keep my mouth shut, then put your e-mail address into that box and press submit. It's that easy.
I struggled (for about two minutes) with what to call this blog. There is so much that I would like to talk about- The progress or lack of progress for understanding home-based businesses in NS; political engagement; supporting local business: supporting people....but I saw a common thread- my inability to not speak my mind. I admire those who have the gift of silence, but I'm not one of them.
Saturday, January 9, 2016
Yesterday I sat in the gallery of Lunenburg Town Hall and listened to The Municipal Governance Steering Committee discuss the future of Lunenburg County. This Committee is made up of representatives from The Town of Lunenburg, The Town of Bridgewater, The Municipality of the District of Lunenburg and The Town of Mahone Bay.
The councilor from Mahone Bay expressed her fear that amalgamation would mean the loss of their cultural identity. The councilor from Lunenburg said that, yes, he too shared her concerns. Something here didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it till I got home. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Whose cultural identity are we talking about; your cultural identity or my cultural identity? I am a resident of The Town of Lunenburg, but my history is very different from anyone else’s sitting at that table. Many people have moved to Lunenburg County from other places and all these people bring with them their own unique cultural identities. So, theoretically speaking, if we have an Asian person or a black person or a Jewish person or a Syrian person in our communities, whose cultural identity are we afraid of losing? If any of these newcomers were to become municipal councilors, would it be in their job description to protect one very specific cultural identity, from one group of people and one period of time?
We talk about welcoming people from near and far to Lunenburg County, but yesterday at Lunenburg Town Hall, in 2016, I heard concern that a person from Bridgewater or Blue Rocks, elected to make governmental decisions, might be a threat to the Cultural identity of The Town of Lunenburg or The Town of Mahone Bay. Are we so afraid of new ideas that even someone who lives 10 km. away is considered a threat?
In the scenario of Amalgamation, there is still representation from each community and each community can still have control over their own planning. This means they can still guide their own destiny. Preservation of history and the celebration of the cultural identities that have been here, are still here and are yet to come is also community driven and does not disappear with amalgamation. Community is identity. Our communities are growing and changing and welcoming new histories. What our collective identity or community looks like is a fluid thing. Multiculturalism is not an annual celebration of the “other”; it is an ideology that welcomes all cultural identities, old and new, into our fold and allows the cultural identities that people bring with them to redefine and expand our definition of community. Every new cultural identity that enters our community makes us a little bit richer.
The sentiment expressed by these two people is one that is held by many. When we talk about fear of change in Nova Scotia, this is what it sounds like. I don’t mean to belittle this fear. It’s what many places in Canada have experienced and have had to confront, but overcoming this fear is what makes Canada a truly great country. If Nova Scotia can overcome this fear, then Nova Scotia will become a truly great province.
I don’t know yet if a complete amalgamation of the county is the best way to go. I’m looking forward to hearing arguments for and against. But today, at Town Hall, one question made me think that amalgamation might be just the thing Lunenburg county needs. Maybe it’s time to expand the decision making gene pool.
Listening to the radio a couple weeks back, Tyler Maclean was interviewing Joan Jessome about bill 148. 75,000 public workers in NS lost their arbitration rights. Their wages were frozen for three years. Rick Howe said he could understand that ordinary people might not have a lot of sympathy for teachers, doctors and other public workers. After all, most people have so little in this province. Why should they feel sorry for those with good paying jobs with benefits and pensions? That's when it all clicked into place. I raised my hand to speak, "I know, I know", but nobody called on me. I was forced to talk to the hats again.
This is what I told them. "You know, Hats, I don't have a pension or any additional medical insurance. Last year I spent $3000 on root canals. Apparently, I am clenching my teeth and systematically cracking them.
( I wonder why?) I have never in my life had a paid vacation. We live day to day, and you know what? I want teachers and nurses and doctors and bus drivers to be well paid and to have decent pensions. If they are paid well and have security they will buy my hats or my husband's furniture and local coffee and local booze and eat at local restaurants.
Hats, I can't bring myself up by bringing my neighbour down. It just does not work that way."
Then a couple of days ago, my friend told me a story about her friends that moved to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick only to move back to New Brunswick. They were at a a community potluck and the guy standing behind them said, "Now don't take too much food."
"Excuse me?", he replied.
"Well look at the size of you. If you took all you wanted there'd be none left for the rest of us."
There you have it. We can blame government for lousy decisions, but we really have ourselves and our own attitudes to blame. When we learn, collectively, that the more we give, the more we have and that only by lifting up our neighbour will we lift ourselves up, will we see our province prosper and thrive. That's the way it works. Austerity has never worked and it never will.
So, have another serving of that marshmallow salad. You're a growing province; you're going to need it.
Dear Mr. Casey of The Financial Post,
I tried to ignore the article you wrote about entrepreneurship in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia because it upset me, but it just keeps popping up on my Face Book feed. I have decided, instead, to face it.
I’m responding because I feel that if one is considering investing their life savings into Lunenburg or any other small town in Nova Scotia, they need to be doing so with eyes wide open and a good, solid plan for how to survive here.
In 2012, I had the honour of being featured in a beautiful promotional video to encourage entrepreneurs to move to Lunenburg. It is called Live Well in Lunenburg. I had no idea that this video would be viewed over 40,000 times and I found myself becoming something of an ambassador for this town. This is a job that I took on with pride and joy. I sat down with a number of people wishing to move here and had no problem saying that Lunenburg is a wonderful place to live, with unprecedented beauty and a great community and that you really can make things happen here. My last call from a family of four in Alberta came a couple of months ago and my answers have become a bit more complex. Overall, I still believe all these things to be true, but not in the simple way that I believed it when being filmed for the video.
I have two perspectives to add to your article. The first is from someone that ran into what is commonly known here as “red tape” and challenged her local government on the interpretation of its land use bylaw. In the interest of my own mental health, I can’t go on too much about this. If you want to read more, you can start reading here and probably keep yourself entertained for quite some time by scrolling through my documented experience. In short, when I encountered an error that was preventing my own business growth and this same error was the cause of other home-based businesses leaving our beautiful town, I was not supported by my local government. I was fought tooth and nail. It was one of the ugliest experiences of my life. Had I not discovered how truly supportive the community of Lunenburg is, I would have slinked away with my tail between my legs. This issue is now in the hands of the province and I think there will be resolution one day, but for now, anyone wishing to legally open a home-based business in Lunenburg will be told to make unnecessary and costly, commercially applicable renovations to their homes. The understanding as to how to fix this simple problem exists in Halifax, but our council insists that their hands are tied. The IvanyReport has told Nova Scotians that there is resistance to change and I can tell you, from my own experience, that this is the God’s honest truth. I think it will improve over time, but right now, it’s very real.
My second perspective is from my own success. I know that sounds very arrogant. There is no arrogance behind those words. I am a full time crafts person. That is a rarity. I make hats for a living. My husband is a woodworker who also runs his own business. We have an eleven year-old son. We are living the dream. We have figured out how to pay a mortgage and feed a child while living in paradise. I will not lie to you and say there is any money left over at the end of the day or tell you that we have retirement savings or dental insurance, but we are happy, live in a truly beautiful province and we earn an honest living. This to me is success.
Here’s what I have to offer from my 21 years as a small business owner. Diversify and be prepared to work all the time. I know that if you come to visit Lunenburg in July or August you will see a happening little town, with so many great shops, restaurants, festivals and sidewalks full of happy tourists snapping photos of colourful buildings. You will also see one of the best and busiest farmers markets in the world. Come back in January and you will see the same beautiful buildings, but most restaurants will be closed for a few months. Many shops also close up or reduce their hours and those that stay open know very well that they will not make more than the cost of heating the building for the day. Although the customers have disappeared for the winter, the electric bills, heating bills and rent or mortgage and commercial taxes remain. Businesses in the commercial district have less than four months to earn their living for the year. For this reason, most new businesses do not survive. They come and they go. But some, including myself, do survive and even thrive.
There are countless Face Book pages singing the praises of Lunenburg, but the reality here is it’s bloody hard to make a living and there are almost no jobs that pay more than $12 an hour. If people want to come join us here, in Nova Scotia, and I hope they do, then we need to start writing articles about reality. We need to understand why most businesses fail and we need to understand how those that succeed do what they do.
When I first came to Nova Scotia in 2008, I supplied over thirty stores throughout North America with my hats. I had three sales reps. It was insane. I also sold my hats online. I never stopped working. When I did, it was to read my son a story or tuck him into bed. I set up at the Lunenburg Farmers Market, The Hubbard’s Farmers Market and The Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. Doing the Halifax Market meant waking up at 3:45 a.m, being on the road by 4:45, driving an empty highway before the snow plows were awake and returning home in the dark at 6:30, only to be greeted by a pouncing puppy, eager for his walk and a pouncing young boy who missed his mom. I would spend all of Sunday recovering. At the Seaport Market, I would chat with fellow Lunenburg entrepreneurs, Pierre and Lynne from IronWorks Distillery and Deborah and Steve from The Laughing Whale CoffeeRoasters. Among other things we shared stories of how we kept ourselves awake on the 75 minute drive in the dark. Our weekly conversations taught me that we are all in the same boat. There is a price to pay for living in Paradise. You need to do the markets, wholesale, retail, do craft shows, sell online, and promote, promote, promote.
I’m happy to report that my business continues to grow. At this point, my online sales have grown. I cut down the amount of stores I supply and instead just focus on a select few. After years of promoting this beautiful town, people now come to seek me out in my little studio or at our local farmers market. I no longer need to drive into Halifax. I have found balance and I can work regular hours and make a respectable living, but it has taken me years to get here.
Mr. Casey, your article helps with promotion, and for that I thank you, but we also need to remember that people will read these articles or watch these videos and based on what they read or hear will make decisions that will affect their lives. The cost of picking up a family and moving is very expensive. These people need to understand what it really looks like to have a successful business in rural Nova Scotia. It is not all rosy. There is sacrifice involved and many things that would have been easy in a large city will be infinitely more difficult here. Is it worth it? Hell, yes. But if one is going to attempt living the dream they need to proceed with eyes wide open.
But today, the news came out that reporters at The Chronicle Herald are looking at a lockout as a Christmas bonus. You can read about it in the Halifax Examiner, here. There really isn't much sense of me going on about it too much as Graham Steele pretty much summed up my feelings here. People's jobs and pensions are being threatened and our ability to know what is happening in this province is at stake. So, in light of this news and my unwavering view that if we value real news we have to be willing to support it, I decided to write a, hopefully, less contentious version of my previous blog post, in support of our local paper, Lighthouse Now.
Lighthouse Now is the only publication on the South Shore that covers council meetings and that will report on serious issues facing our community. Real journalism means balanced and accurate reporting. In the interest of not offending, I will clarify that I am talking about the policy of the paper, not the individuals writing the articles. If a paper is being controlled by their advertisers or by influential powers within a community, then much of what is actually happening in that community will not be discussed.
In my seven years here, I have seen many individuals' difficult experiences, in our region, get swept under the carpet. The fact that Lighthouse Now is reporting not only on the happy, positive stories in our community, but also discussing conflict and challenges facing ordinary people trying to make a living in Nova Scotia, makes them a paper worth supporting.
Not everyone feels gleeful that Lighthouse Now is discussing difficult issues and there have been several attempts to silence them. The pressure is real.
The question we need to ask ourselves is- do we care? It's certainly easier not to know about conflict. One can lead a pretty nice life here if they only see what they wish to see. Yes, we can and should grow our community by promoting the many wonderful businesses and individuals that call this place home, but that philosophy only goes so far. Our community also faces serious challenges, serious inequities, a need to discuss our future, and many unresolved frustrations. The paper is not causing conflict, they are just choosing to air it. I think this is the way forward.
The South Shore needs Lighthouse Now. Please support them and the important work they are doing. Contact them here for a subscription or to advertise. As for The Chronicle Herald, support the journalists. We really need them, too. You can read the message from their union here.http://www.cwa-scacanada.ca/EN/news/2015/150213_halifax.shtml
Voice your concern by contacting The Chronicle Herald CEO, Mark Lever at firstname.lastname@example.org or the newsroom VP, BrianWard at email@example.com
This was the view from the cottage. I know, I know, I'm the luckiest girl in the world. This is 45 minutes from my home and my home is equally as beautiful.
here to rent this place. Grab a few friends, split the cost. It's so worth it. There is so much to see in the area. You would even be close to Halifax. It is the ultimate home base. I'll be back with my sisters in law. Next time, I'll bring more wine.
Bill Friedman, a well known scientist that recently passed away.
Between the beauty, the wine, a good friend, the ocean and cold wind in my face, I was really able to put my life in perspective.
You see, this is what has happened in the past year. I was fighting for a cause. I had no idea it would be so hard. Knowing that the issue I brought forward was so easily solvable, I imagined that Lunenburg council would jump at the opportunity to fix it. And then, seeing that this was not the case, I imagined that the provincial government would jump all over the opportunity to right such an obvious wrong. I thought, hey, this certainly has caught the media's attention and people are feeling pretty glum about Nova Scotia's future these days. How can the government possibly delay in fixing an issue that is free to solve, especially when the answer is already in the hands of our largest municipality. With so many serious issues facing our province, they must be so eager for a good news story. So, I just kept going and I kept fighting, always believing I was almost done. But I never was.
I looked around one day and realized I had become a public figure. The Red Tape Rabble Rouser. To some a hero and to some a villain. I have found myself afraid to leave the house. For one year I have been a walking ball of anxiety. My business has been compromised, my health has been compromised and my personal life has also been compromised. I felt like I had uncovered a layer of Nova Scotia that I did not know was there. It was a layer I did not want to see and I couldn't unsee it. This new understanding was clouding my vision of all the beauty and all the good around me and I had come to the point where none of it made sense anymore.
But this past weekend, surrounded by beauty and peace and wine and a good friend, I was able to come to the conclusion that I can stop now. That I can't fix every wrong. That I also deserve to love Nova Scotia and Lunenburg and enjoy its beauty and enjoy my friends and family. I have come to the conclusion that my work is done and I have no interest in being a public figure.
I am interested in my son and my husband and my friends and my customers and my hats and in helping. Yes, it is my nature to help and to stand up for others, but I can't do it at the expense of myself and my family. I need to find ways to help where I am not the eye of a storm.
I do still believe in Nova Scotia because I believe in the many individuals that are here doing great things. I believe in all the entrepreneurs that are defying all the odds of making businesses work in small towns. I believe in the selfless people like Farley Blackman who are investing money into Lunenburg to restore falling down buildings, despite being treated rudely. I believe in all the hard working people that work to make this a wonderful and generous community. I believe in our local newspaper who have not been afraid to talk about difficult issues. I believe in the people taking risks and investing themselves and their futures in Nova Scotia.
I don't know yet if I believe in those who have been elected to serve us. I have seen some pretty discouraging actions. Time will tell. But change will come with or without their support.
For now, though, the issue of supporting our home based businesses is in the hands of our leaders. Hopefully, they will lead, but whether they do or don't, I'm going to enjoy the things and the people that matter. I'm joining the party.
Today something really great happened. A man that I know, only a little, came up to me at the market and told me that I had really offended him. That's not the great part. I get no joy from making someone else feel badly. It seems to be part of the package when you are trying to effect change. There are humans behind systems and humans have feelings. When I do offend, unnecessarily, I try to correct it if I can. It won't always be possible.
The great part was that he came up to me, in private, and spoke to me, face to face. That took courage and kindness. It got a little heated, but ultimately we were able to hear each other out. We shook hands and walked away as two human beings with a little more understanding and mutual respect.
Had this gentleman not addressed me, had we swept this under the rug, we both would have harbored resentment and never would have realized how much common ground there was between us.
I really don't see conflict as divisive. Every great invention, work of art, social movement and positive change is proceeded by conflict. The question is, how do we learn to hear each other out.
I keep saying it, but this is why I am so thrilled with our local paper, Lighthouse Now. They are talking about things which have been unmentionable until recently. These are real issues to real people. These are issues that affect the growth of our province. We can grow resentments or we can grow as a province. I'm trying for the latter.
Back in May, I stood in front of the Planning Advisory Committee and tried to explain why home based businesses in the residential zones are not commercial occupancies, but are considered to be a part of the main residential use. I remember Councillor McGee saying, Anna, just run your business. Nobody is stopping you. His point was that there are hidden home based businesses throughout town, even in his own home and despite these businesses being underground, nobody is trying to shut them down.
But here's the thing- It happens and it actually happens a lot. You might just end up with a neighbour that decides they don't like you and then when three beautiful ladies come all the way from Yarmouth to do some Christmas shopping in Lunenburg and then commit the cardinal sin of turning around in these people's driveway, they might run outside and be most unwelcoming to these visitors. So unfortunate, but it is a sad reality of life. We have all met these sorts of people.
Without a development permit, those sorts of neighbours can stop people from making a living. I know of other stories like this in Lunenburg. There is a woodworker whose neighbour is retired and has created a large file on this man. He stands in his yard and takes photographs of every step he takes. Particularly creepy when you have children. No development permit, no rights.
Yes development permit, no worries.
Just go ahead and run your business is not a healthy economic development strategy for any place, but particularly not for rural Nova Scotia, where we desperately need entrepreneurs. Good policies and bylaws and the business owners bothering to obtain the proper permits is the only way to bypass nasty attitudes. We can not change people, but we can ensure that the rights of entrepreneurs are protected.
Want my advice? If you run a home based business, it does not matter if it is part time or full time, if people occasionally come to your home because you make hats or whether you have a mail order business making whittled Santas, go get yourself a development permit. You are supposed to have one. You will be protected. I love mine.
And to these three wonderful ladies who drove all the way from Yarmouth to support Lunenburg....It was so great to meet you. Enjoy your hats and thank you for coming. We are mostly nice here.
So, when Sheldon Macleod asked me if I would like to speak about my presentation on the radio this coming Friday at 2:00, I said, sure, absolutely and I thought, while live radio interviews are at the top of my 'things that terrify me' list, at least I will be able to give an upbeat report.
This morning I received an e-mail from the NS Building Codes Coordinator, who heads the Building Advisory Committee. I want to be very clear here, so that no undue offense is taken. This is a very nice man that has treated me with great respect and is doing his job in a professional manner. He has patiently responded to every one of my questions and has even taken the time to keep me informed as to the entire process of how recommendations are made to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. So, nothing that I am about to say is questioning these facts or questioning his professionalism. He had read this past blog post,
Dear Government of Nova Scotia and was informing me as to the lengthy process required to change the Nova Scotia Building Code Regulations and then the process of the recommendations subsequently being adopted. This is all understandable.
Please let me explain my frustration and this is, once again, being addressed to our government who has a stated mandate to remove red tape for businesses. I'll begin with the following definition of red tape, courtesy of Wikepedia:
Red tape is an idiom that refers to excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to governments, corporations, and other large organizations.
Now, let's go back and review this conundrum facing Home Based Businesses in Rural NS. Home based business owners in Lunenburg and elsewhere are being ordered to violate the zoning rules of their towns, by constructing commercial occupancies in exclusively residential zones. These businesses are permitted by the Land Use Bylaw of the places I am talking about.
If Halifax did not have clear understanding as to how land use informs the building code, if the rest of Canada did not have clear understanding of how land use informs the building code, if North America did not have this same, clear understanding of how land use informs the building code, then I would say, by all means, let's research the heck out of this, meet for months on end to discuss how the building code relates to home occupancies, commission studies and go through all due process.
If the province had not commissioned a brilliant and forceful report that chose the title of Now or Never in a desperate attempt to light a fire under our collective behinds, that conveyed how urgent it is to support entrepreneurship in this province, if I was not witnessing fellow business owners leaving NS and others on the outside waiting patiently for the the green light of clarification to put down roots in this glorious place....if there was not this gigantic elephant in the room called, UNDERSTANDING, in HRM and in so many places, then I would be all over this intensive research.
However, the understanding exists and we have people in this province like those in the HRM , who can sit down with the deputy minister of Municipal Affairs and the deputy minister of Business and explain this all so perfectly and clearly. Then these same two deputy ministers could take this information and double check it with Ontario or British Columbia, whose Building Codes look a lot like our own and then formulate a strong statement for the benefit of rural municipalities. That is what would help. That is what cutting red tape looks like. Taking the most obvious route between point A and point B.
That is what we are waiting for. Leadership.
Sure, go ahead, rewrite the book simultaneously, if that is what you feel needs to be done, but this issue is so solveable and can be tackled from so many angles. To ignore those that already get all this stuff is simply unconscionable. If this can't be fixed easily then I despair. I really do.
Yes, I know, in politics it is...political. One municipality takes great offense when they perceive they are being told what to do by another municipality, the province can not tell a municipality what to do, for all I know from my little, limited hat world maybe the province does not want to take advice from Halifax. I don't know much, but I know that if we don't put our egos aside to serve the future of this province that the future is grim.
Could we perhaps, just this once, as Mr. Ivany suggested, come together to find solutions. Business as usual is not good enough. The status quo will not get us out of this mess. Strong action is needed. Nova Scotia can not afford to not see the elephant of understanding in the room. Please, go meet the elephant. It can only help. Nova Scotia needs to look inwards at what is happening in its largest municipality and outwards at what is happening in the rest of Canada. Rewriting the book is red tape.
Red Tape is not the best solution for red tape. You are losing us, here.
I really don't want to talk on the radio anymore or even write these difficult blog posts. I want to make hats.
The Place: The Department of Business, Halifax, NS.
The Date: Tues. Dec. 1st.
The Mission: Make Presentation to the Department of Business without falling apart
The Goals: 1) To make it understood how enormously important home based businesses are to the Nova Scotia economy. (72% of business owners in rural Canada operate from home. Yup, it's true. Statistics Canada said so.)
2) To convince the Nova Scotia government that it is crucial to remove obstacles for home based businesses in Lunenburg and other parts of rural Nova Scotia.
3) To work together to find creative solultions for removing these obstacles by thinking out of the box.
4) To remind the government that there is more than one way to skin a cat, that we all need to be part of the solution and that that lovely One NS Report said:
Nova Scotia has the Assets and opportunities. It is about us, our courage, our imagination and our determination to do better. Most importantly we can do it ourselves.
Wish me luck.
Sometimes the forces against positive change feel overwhelming. But, inevitably, whenever I feel like I have reached the end of my rope, some small gesture of kindness comes through for me and gives me the strength to persevere with this silly battle. Silly because Lunenburg council can at any point just say, I get it now and it would all be over. They are the only ones standing in their way. But, I digress. That is not what this post is about.
Yesterday, I was feeling particularly down trodden and I thought, I wonder if Ray Ivany has some advice for me about my presentation to the Department of Business this coming Tuesday? So, I sent him my eight page presentation with a note to express that I didn't actually expect a reply, but that you can't blame a girl for trying.
Today the phone rang and it was a lady named Kathleen, who is Mr. Ivany's assistant. She told me that Mr. Ivany had asked that she call me and that he apologized for not calling himself. He is convalescing from a heart attack. (I had no idea or I would not have made a pest of myself.) He is apparently doing very well.
He wanted to let me know that he read the presentation and thought it was very good. I'm still smiling.
His one bit of advice was to quote liberally from the One NS report. I do believe that is all the advice I need. Kathleen and I talked for around half an hour. She said, maybe you won't see the fruit of your efforts, but you are planting seeds and they will take root. She thought there was a reasonable chance that my grand children would see the fruit of my efforts. I'm, of course, hopeful that change can happen in this life time, but I understand what she was telling me. It allowed me to breathe again. Just keep on keepin' on. One foot in front of the other and eventually change will happen.
About a week ago I listened to two journalists talking on the Sheldon Mcleod show. The Ivany Report came up and one of them joked that every time anyone says Ivany report you need to down a shot of your favourite schnapps. (Ironworks Rum, please) I laughed because it was funny, but I also cringed a little. I don't want talk of this report to become cliche. It's a really good report and what a loss to Nova Scotia it would be if it went by the way side with the last ten reports. It has to be behind every decision we make in this province. Does this decision serve the future of Nova Scotia or not? If yes, proceed, if no, find another way. On a personal level, the repeated insistence that all Nova Scotians need to work together to find solutions is a huge motivating force. Whether we are milliners, presidents of universities, Ministers of the legislative assembly, deputy ministers, department staff, mayors or councillors, we each have it in us to affect change and to do the right thing.
So, Mr. Ivany, rest up, get better, we need your strong voice and thank you for not being too busy to be kind.