Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Serious Rant About Dumb Rules

In case you haven't heard, I have made a bit of a kerfuffle here in beautiful Lunenburg.  It has been going on for a long time, but I have tried to not burden my lovely customers with a political battle.  Today, though, my story was mentioned again on CBC radio and it took me out of my peaceful summer dream and back into the land of fretful and exasperated thoughts.

Here's the story in a nutshell.  I make hats in my home.  I wanted to hang a sign and invite people to visit me in my studio.  We have a bylaw that allows this. I got all the necessary permits, but then our building inspector told me that I need a Change of Use to Mercantile and this triggers commercial building code requirements.  This means fire separation, new doors, new entrance, barrier free washroom.  The list is long and would cost over $20,000.  The town also wanted 3 car parking, but they are working on this one.

I make hats, my husband makes furniture.  These changes to the home are cost prohibitive to us.  For most of the year my business is selling online, to stores and at our market.  For 2-3 months of the year, tourists grace our town and this is when I typically will get visitors.  In a very busy week I might get 5 people in the entire week.  I know, why bother for 5 people?   Here's why. Aside from just loving to meet my customers, most people that make the special trip to find me in my off the beaten path studio are looking for me and more often than not they walk out with one or sometimes a few hats.  When you make your living using your hands, every little bit helps.  And it's fun having people visit me.  They enjoy it and I enjoy it. 

About a year after the visit from our building inspector I made a discovery.  I learned that in Halifax they do not view home based business as Lunenburg does.  I also learned that many other places in Canada operate like Halifax. Home based business is considered an accessory use of the home and it is considered to be beyond the jurisdiction of the building inpector.  It is a land use issue, permitted or not permitted by bylaw.  So, I tried to explain this to the town and, well, guess how it went over?  Right.  Not so good.  I was quite polite about it and 100 people showed up to support me, but this made no difference.  The message received from the town was, our hands are tied, it's beyond our decision making capabilities, the province needs to tell us what to do, our building bylaw doesn't work like Halifax's,  Halifax is wrong.....This has been going on since February and it really made me ill.  It became hard to sleep, hard to eat, hard to work, hard to enjoy my family and my life.  It became all encompassing.  I had learned so much about Home Occupation and Municipal Bylaws and Accessory Use of a Home and no matter how I tried to explain it, it was met with resistance.  I kept thinking that if I could explain it simpler or differently that a light bulb would go off.  My neighbours understood and heard me, but the town was deaf.  It is such a maddening experience to not be understood and then realize that you are willfully being ignored.

Today I had another revelation.  I had thought the facts were important.  The explanations as to why the town is incorrect in their interpretation.  I have had so much support, but the  circumstances and details have often been misunderstood, but still, I have been supported.  Now I get why.  Because it's dumb.  Everyone on the outside knows it.  Plain and simple...Dumb.   As the town and the building inspector blab on about the rules,  the people that the rules are meant for know these rules serve no one.   I'm a tiny little one woman show.  A friend told me how the building inspector, in one of the meetings, blabbed on about the possibility of a tour bus showing up at my home and liability, blah, blah, blah.  I was truly flabbergasted.  What could I do with a tour bus?  My studio is 300 sq. ft, but most of that is work space.  About one third of that is where customers stand.  I can fit two people in my studio at a time.  Tour buses don't apply to me.  I'd have to turn them away.  Even if anything the town or the inspector said was correct, it wouldn't matter.  The reason this has struck such a cord with so many people is because no one cares about or wants rules that work against progress.

Rules are meant to serve the public.  Some people love rules.  Bureaucrats love rules.  It gives their lives definition.  Rules can be a good thing, but sometimes the people applying them get so much pleasure from the mere notion of rules that they become blind to what everyone else can see.  Suddenly the application of the rules make no sense at all, yet the keepers of the rules are myopic.  Definition of myopic- near sighted, lacking imagination, foresight or intellectual insight. The end result is that these rules are no longer serving the public.  They are serving the bureaucrats  That's a bad thing.

So, since I seem to be in a rambling state of mind and there is no editor in sight, I will keep on rambling.  If you are still here, thanks.  I missed the mention of my case on CBC this morning, but apparently the provincial fire marshal was being interviewed and he stated that he is part of a panel discussing my case.  On the one hand this makes me hopeful that there might be intelligent people on this panel that don't suffer from Myopia, but on the other hand it sent my mind into a tail spin because it got me thinking, Is there an artist on this panel?  Is there someone in this group that can explain what the experience of a full time artist or crafts person is like in Nova Scotia or do all these panelists have things like pensions, salaries, savings, enough money to pay their bills. You see, I'm uncomfortable with my fate being decided by people that can't imagine what it's like to be in my shoes.  I know, for example, that Lunenburg's  town employees are quite well paid with generous benefits.  How can someone that gets things like paid vacation and dental coverage possibly understand how asking someone like me to make expensive changes to their home can tip the scale just enough to allow me to fail?  Do these panelists have any notion of how damaging their rules can be to tiny businesses like mine?  Yet, tiny businesses like my own comprise a huge part of Nova Scotia's economy.  When people come to visit Nova Scotia, they are not coming to visit rule makers.  They are coming to visit culture and if I may say so myself, I am part of this culture. I'm part of the cog that keeps Nova Scotia turning.  I just want that understood by the people holding their rules so close to their hearts.  I want our CAO and mayor to understand that the reason they can be so well paid is because of the hundreds of small and micro businesses like my own that make Nova Scotia a colourful and wonderful place to visit. We feed you, please make your rules support us.

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