Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Hey, I've Got a Joke For You...


How do you fix a Waste Water Treatment Plant in Lunenburg?......You make it a Home Based Business.

Sorry, I know, bad joke.  It's just that this morning I listened to CBC's interview with Stella Bowles, talking about the outrageously high fecal count coming out of the outfall pipe onto the boats in Lunenburg harbour and then I thought of how we don't have an odour control system on the plant and suddenly this story that was told to me when I was dealing with my own home-based challenges popped back in my head.

There used to be a woman in town who made soap from her home.  She sold her soap to the local Bed and Breakfasts.  The town told her that she couldn't run her business because of a potential odour problem.  So, she payed thousands of dollars to install an elaborate ventilation system and when she was done they told her she didn't have enough parking.  She gave up and moved to Montreal.

So, the moral of the story is....make the sewage treatment plant a home-based business and all our problems will go away.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Actually, Lunenburg is a Great Town to Run a Business


There's an inevitable reaction to writing a blog that talks about some of the challenges in Lunenburg.  Every person with a dark view of the future latches on to it, runs with it and then it comes....Horrible place to do business....get rid of the councillors........Aggghhhh, NO! Stop please.

I don't always talk about problems.  Tensions always exist, that is not unique to Lunenburg.  I talk about problems when something strikes me as truly unjust.  I talk about problems because sometimes you have to stir up the shit in order to clean it.  So, with that in mind, please allow me to clarify a few things:

1- Lunenburg is a wonderful place to do business and live.  The vast majority of business owners will never experience a problem from the town.  The problems come when something needs to be changed and even here, it is generally just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.  If you are not purchasing umpteen properties or if you are not telling the administration of the town that they are making a mistake you will not experience undue challenges.  Please, open a restaurant, open a shop, even opening a home-based business is now pretty straight forward.

2-There are not a group of maniacal people at town hall trying to stop business.  Seriously, it does not look like that.  There are hard working folks that will help you get through whatever permits you need in order to open your business. If the town tells you to hang your sign higher, that's so that people don't bang their heads.  If the town tells you to move your sandwich board sign next to the shop, that's so that a person in a wheelchair can pass.

3- No, the councillors are not idiots.  I have never said that and I don't believe that.  Mostly, they are hard working people that are doing the best they can in the time that they have. You need to understand that many of the problems that I talk about never reach council.  There is a thick line of divide in our system that divides administration from legislation.  Legislators (councillors) make the laws that guide the administrators, but once they are made they don't and cannot police administration.  So, if there is a problem with an interpretation of a bylaw, council will not know about it unless it is put on the agenda.  When Farley was told he needed 14 parking spots for one building, council was unaware this problem existed.  My issue is not that it had to go through due process to be changed.  My issue is that Farley was told that he had to pay for the amendment and hire a consultant.

Yes, there are things that need to change.  It's not O.K. for an elected official to send a nasty email to a constituent or police anybody's behaviour.  There is no other side.  It's just wrong.  It doesn't matter what the person did. If I need to explain why that is wrong then I'm simply wasting my breath. There will always be challenges.  The problem is what happens when there is a challenge.  I'm advocating that the town, knowing that our population is declining, knowing that we desperately need new businesses and people like Farley who will invest in our town, take some responsibility for moving some overhead wires or changing the wording of our bylaw.  I'm advocating that we don't simply say, no, I'm sorry that can't happen.

But most new businesses will not have any challenges unrelated to the challenge of simply running a business.  I love Lunenburg.  The beauty is mind boggling.  It is a town filled with beauty, creativity and true community.  The future is not bleak.  Those are not my words and they never have been. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vilifying the Good Guy - a Lunenburg Tradition


Imagine being Farley Blackman.  You are sitting in the Lunenburg Opera House, a building that you meticulously restored at your own expense.  You have offered up this beautiful space as one of the venues for Lunenburg's annual Folk Harbour Festival and now you are leaning back and enjoying the music.  Maybe your mind drifts to a sense of accomplishment that you were able to save a beautiful heritage building and that now there are people that get to enjoy what you have to offer.

You are pulled out of this reverie by a message alert alert on your phone.  It's  from the Mayor of Lunenburg.  Is it a short note to thank you for the beautiful restoration?  Perhaps it's a quick email thanking you for removing the scaffolding from your other historic renovation project on Montague street, so that the tourists can appreciate its beauty.  Or maybe she's just writing to thank you for advertising on the back cover of the Folk Harbour Festival booklet.  An advertisement that costs well over $5000.  Folk Harbour Festival covers only 46% of their overhead with ticket sales and could not survive if it were not for the generous contributions from people like Farley.

But no, it's a text stating, "The rest of the community is going all out to put our best face to the world but you, apparently, have other priorities."  Now, how would you feel?  Maybe like you were just punched in the gut?

Well, I'm sorry to say that this is a true story.  It happened yesterday.  You see, after fourteen years of obstruction and ingratitude from the Town of Lunenburg, Farley and Courtney Blackman have decided to call it quits.  They are leaving town. 

But the Mayor's cruel words represent only a small group of small minded people.  Most people are terribly upset to lose this family who have contributed so much to our town and feel nothing but gratitude. People have been plastering signs on the fencing around his restoration work, wishing him well and thanking him profusely for all his contributions.  Farley himself did not put any of the signs there, but the Mayor felt it was the right move to send this email directly to him.

When Farley leaves he will take many, many construction related jobs with him.  Countless people will be standing in the unemployment line.  We will be losing a beautiful gallery, free music venue, a cidery and all the employment that goes with the creation and maintenance of these businesses.  We will also be losing a kindhearted, philanthropic couple who have done nothing but preserve and enhance the Town of Lunenburg.  You can be sure that if there are any other emails from the Town of Lunenburg they won't be asking him to change his mind.  What a senseless loss.

Farley and Courtney, My heart breaks for you.  We will miss you.....in so many ways.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Because Marc Breaugh is Worthy to Represent Us


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Supporting the Arts and Screwing the Artist.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 5, 2017

A Rant From a Former NDP MLA



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

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Stella learns about money, politics and double speak.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, March 3, 2017

Lunenburg Speaks Up.

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






Thursday, March 2, 2017

Can We Choose Deescalation in Lunenburg?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

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

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lunenburg Council Meeting - A few items on tonight's agenda


Just browsed through tonight's council agenda and I noticed a few things that might be of interest to the residents of Lunenburg. 

1-  Council is being asked to approve the contribution of up to $620,152 for exterior work to the Lunenburg Academy.  As a resident I would like to understand this expenditure.  It is a large sum of money.  Will this affect our tax rate?  If we are spending this much money is there still money in the budget to install the bio filter (odour control mechanism)  in the Waste Water Treatment Plant? This money is for the exterior of the Academy. What happens when the paint chips off again?  Is this an ongoing expense?

There may be a perfectly sound plan, but as a resident I would like to hear the details.


Our existing bylaw that states that council times are at 7:00 on Thursdays is being repealed.  This is the policy that will replace it.  This is the very first item on the agenda.  There is a public hearing at the beginning of the meeting, so if anyone has an issue with council meetings taking place when most residents cannot attend please show up and have your say.  If you cannot show up because of the time then feel free to email me a letter and I will submit it to council on your behalf.

I have two concerns with a 5:15 meeting time.  Firstly, it is a difficult time for residents with jobs and parents of school age children.  As such, it limits civic engagement.  

My other concern is that this council time prohibits the vast majority of residents from running for council. We should be striving for a diversity of ages, gender and perspectives on council.  We cannot achieve this goal if we exclude people with jobs. 


This is from the minutes of the last council meeting.  It describes the motion to remove councillor Davis from all committees.  A few things concern me.  It confirms that councillor conduct was discussed in camera.  Can councillor conduct be discussed in camera?  I don't recall that being one of the permitted items listed in the Municipal Government Act.  I am also concerned that there is such an issue being made regarding Councillor Davis' offer to resign.  This offer was made in the heat of the moment, in a private conversation with the mayor. Is it right for the mayor to disclose the contents of a private conversation to the press and the rest of council?  If disclosing the contents of private conversations with the mayor is in fact the right thing to do I'd really like to know that.  Asking for a friend.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Silencing Communication Never Works





After questioning the transparency of the town,  Lunenburg Town Council has voted to remove Councillor Brian Davis from all committees of council.   The majority of council wants Brian to resign, but since they have no legal right to demand his resignation they have voted to silence his voice using any means available to them.

Silencing communication is never the way forward.  Two way communication is the only way to resolve conflict.  Silencing a voice that wants to be heard will always backfire.  It creates animosity, anger, frustration and division. Ultimately, when one wants to be heard they will find a way.

We recently saw this phenomena with U.S senator, Elizabeth Warren when she was prohibited from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King .  The senate found her voice threatening, so they pulled up an old law and used it to prohibit her from addressing the senate. What did Elizabeth Warren do?  She went out in the hall and posted a video of herself reading the letter.  It went viral.  The senate took away her microphone and handed her a megaphone.

When the Town of Lunenburg excluded me from the committee that had been established to discuss the very issue that I brought forward, they chose silencing over communication. They took away my microphone and handed me a megaphone.

Brian Davis is asking many questions regarding council procedures.  All effort is now going into silencing Brian Davis' voice.   They are taking away his microphone and inevitably handing him a megaphone. 
When will they ever learn? 

The next council meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday February 28th at 5:15.  Please come and support Brian.  Taking a stand takes great courage.  Taking a stand is a very lonely experience.  He needs the presence of his supporters.  See you there.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Anonymous Love Letters


Last week I went to the post office and found a hand written letter in my box.  I was pretty excited.  I miss letters.  Well, I opened it and wouldn't you know it, it was a hate letter.  It was silly and delusional and signed, "A Lunenburger"  I do know who wrote it because after sharing it on Facebook someone had a signed letter with the same hand writing.  Really, I feel sorry for this person.  I would recommend taking up knitting.  Put beauty into the world.

But speaking of beauty.... Today I went to check the mail and there were two more letters waiting for me.  My first reaction, of course, was, Oh God, get a life.  But I opened them up and wouldn't you know it, they were both anonymous love letters.   I won't share the contents, but to whoever wrote them...I love you.  You are sweet and caring, you made me smile and you are the Lunenburg I focus on. Love trumps hate.

There is one particularly charming part of this story.  All three letters were addressed to Anna Shoub, Lunenburg.  No PO Box, no street address.  Is that not the best?  I do love this town.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

You have shamed the family and now you must die.


Lunenburg Councillor, Brian Davis, has shamed the council family and now he must die.

After weeks of insisting that Lunenburg council needs to be more transparent, Mayor Bailey finally received  public affirmation of her rightness and now she wants Brian Davis to resign.  An article on the  CKBW web site states,  "Bailey is concerned Davis has damaged the trust the town has in council with his efforts over the past weeks."

There's a pattern with Lunenburg council.  It goes something like this:  A citizen, a councillor or the local press dares to ask a question.    Instead of examining a new perspective, Council does everything in its power to shut this perspective out. All effort goes into proving the rightness of how things have been done for years and in silencing and shaming the offending questioner.

Those citizens that attend council meetings have not lost trust in council because council might appear to be wrong.  They have lost trust in council because of how they consistently stone wall any new perspective.

The issue of the day is in-camera meetings, but it hardly matters. It's not the issue, it's how every single conflict is handled.  Shut it up.  Shut it up.  Shut it up.  We are right.  You are wrong. Do you see how wrong you are?  Look how badly you made us look.  Shame!

I'm a news addict.  I love to listen to interviews with other provincial politicians and local organizations.
I have heard Halifax Mayor, Mike Savage, talking about the need for HRM council to constantly examine red tape.  I have watched Annapolis Royal respond to challenges by creating a red tape committee.  A couple of years ago, I spoke to the Antigonish building inspector who told me how he was part of a local group working to reduce red tape. I heard the head of the Halifax police commission state that they were always examining ways to improve their practices.  None of these statements or actions are about being right or wrong.  They are about understanding that things can always be better.  Red tape happens in every organization.   Transparency can always be improved.  It does not matter if you can say you are right.  It matters if you can say, "We can do better."

Lunenburg never says, "We can do better."  They only say, We are right.   It's exhausting.  This is the change that the citizens who elected Brian Davis wish to see.  We want a council that does not try to get rid of a councillor with a new perspective. We want a council willing to consider that things can always be done better.

Brian Davis'  desire to constantly examine and improve should be commended.
The mayor should be saying, Thank you for your concerns.  Thank you to all the citizens of Lunenburg who are concerned. Let's see if there are ways to be more transparent.  Let's see if there are ways to make our processes better.

There's this notion that council needs to present a united front to the town.  It is the job of a Municipal councillor to represent his constituents to council, not to represent council to his constituents.   A good councillor  questions and improves the processes of council.  I voted for Brian because he was willing to do this job.  Brian represents my values and my perspectives and the values of many other residents.  I'm not sure it's appropriate for the mayor to be calling for the removal of our representation because she feels they  made council look bad.  This is government.  Reasonable people should be able to disagree.



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Closing the Door on Community Sponsorship - an open letter to Bernadette Jordan


Dear Ms. Jordan,


I'd like to begin this letter by saying thank you   for your personal support of the Syrian Refugees in our community.  When the story of Rezan, a talented dress maker,  and myself aired on CTV, you immediately contacted me and inquired how you could go about ordering a dress from Rezan.

I'd also like to make it clear that I feel Prime Minister Trudeau has set a great example to the rest of the world with his welcoming words and actions toward Syrian refugees.  Canada has indeed done plenty. But as the United States closes their door on human suffering, we need to open our door wider.

After filming this video for CTV, Rezan and Shahnaz, the young Syrian couple who were sponsored by The Mahone Bay Community group, sat and waited for their ride home.  I chatted with Shahnaz about her family.  It didn't take many words to understand that she is worried sick about her parents who were left behind in Turkey.  Rezan and Shahnaz are Kurdish and the Kurds face discrimination by the Turkish government.

Because I had already had several conversations with some of the volunteers who sponsored Rezan, Shahnaz and their four year old son, Ali, I knew that the same group was already working to bring Shahnaz's family to Mahone Bay.  I assured Shahnaz that the community will do everything in its power to reunite her with her parents. It seemed that nothing stood in the way, but money and time.

On January 25th,  our federal government ended the public policy to allow community groups to sponsor Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  I hope the Liberal government will consider reinstating this policy.  The success of integrating refugee families into rural communities depends on keeping families together.  Refugees often leave small communities for larger urban centres out of a sense of isolation.

Although Rezan, with his wicked sense of humour, joked that he was in no rush to be reunited with his in laws, it is urgent that we make it possible for Shahnaz's parents to join them in Mahone Bay.  There is no greater support to any family, let alone a refugee family,  than grandparents.  

New immigrants enrich our community on so many levels.  They bring new skills,  new cultures and diversity.  Government sponsored refugees often fall through the cracks when their one year sponsorship has ended.  In small communities, those who have worked tirelessly to sponsor and support refugee families will not walk away when the one year period has ended.

I am hoping you will share this letter with your colleagues in Ottawa.  It's important to see the faces behind the policy.

Thanks so much,

Anna Shoub,

Lunenburg


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to Exclude Young People From Council - Repeal Bylaw Number 4




In a small town council, the job of being a councilor should be possible for the average citizen.  The stipend that a small town councilor receives is not enough to live on. If meetings happen mid-day, you have excluded most people with jobs.

In Lunenburg, regular council meetings are on Tuesdays at 5:15.  There are also mandatory in-camera meetings, general government meetings and committee meetings that take place during regular working hours. 

All municipal councils have a bylaw that sets out the rules for how council meetings operate.  In Lunenburg, it is Bylaw 4.  This bylaw states that meeting times are to be held on Thursdays at 7:00.    Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the 7:00 meeting time was inconvenient, and the time was changed to 5:15, but there was an oversight and the council bylaw itself was not changed. Oops.

Council now wishes to repeal this bylaw and replace it with a new one.  Councilors Brian Davis and Joseph Caravale want the meeting times to be accessible to most residents and the other councilors are happy with the way things are.

The current meeting times are better for staff, who would otherwise need to hang around town for an additional hour and the times are better for the current councilors.  But not making the meeting times more accessible to citizens is short sighted.   In the last election we had 7 people running for 6 spots.  This is bad for democracy.  There are currently no young people on council.  The current council does not represent the diversity of ages, gender and professions in the town and this is not going to change unless council looks at the bigger picture.

The following comment  was left on my Facebook page:

"My father was town Councillor for 15 - 20 years (can't remember exactly) and they always had council meetings at 6 or 7, otherwise he would not have been able to be a Councillor. Also I was a student representative for council (I don't know if they have that now) and went to council meetings. With all my sports activities I would not have had that opportunity."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Do Home Based Businesses Compete with the Shops on Main St.



It seems that when the topic of home-based businesses comes to the forefront, it brings out a discussion as to whether or not home-based businesses create unfair competition with the shops located in commercial store fronts. I understand these concerns.  Let's talk about them.

1- It's not fair that shop owners need to pay commercial taxes while home based businesses pay only residential taxes.

This is not true in Nova Scotia.  All permitted home-based businesses pay commercial taxes for the portion of their house used for the business.  In some cases, they actually pay more per square foot than commercial businesses.  Home-based businesses cannot factor their income into their tax assessment and assessments cannot be compared to shops in the commercial district.  The assessment in a residential zone is based solely on the value of similar residential properties.

The only thing that might not be fair is that home-based businesses receive no extra services for the extra taxes they pay.  They don't benefit by having their streets plowed first or by being in close proximity to other shops where they can easily be found.

2-Why allow retail sales from home when there are empty storefronts to fill?

 It is generally not permitted to have a retail shop from a home, unless you live out in the country where there are no land use regulations and no commercial zone to compete with.

Hold on there, Hat Junkie!  Don't you have a retail shop from your home in Lunenburg?  Yes and No.  Land Use regulations usually prohibit retail shops, but often permit only the sale of goods made in the house.  What's the difference?  When things are made by hand, production is limited.  That means the amount of people that visit per day is also limited. If I had a constant stream of customers coming into my studio, I would very quickly run out of hats. Things made by artisans: hats, pottery, quilts, artwork, are niche markets.  They appeal to a small group of people and only draw a small group of people.  I have less than 50 customers per year in my studio.  There are just not that many lovers of big, nutty hats with giant flowers.  Most days, my only company is the radio and my dog. The good news is, that with the internet, people who love nutty floral hats will travel all the way to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia just to visit me. Great for tourism.

3- But still, even if you don't draw crowds,  why not just rent a shop?

The simple answer is that specialty businesses that  produce in small quantities and do not supplement by purchasing goods to resell cannot afford commercial rents.  Overhead needs to stay low in order to stay in business.

There are other answers as well.  Home-based business owners are often caring for children or elderly family members. These business owners need the flexibility of hours in order to juggle the demands of home and work.

Home-based businesses are also run by retirees and disabled people, who are often excluded from traditional work places because of a lack of accessibility.

Artisans often need to limit their on site customers.  If I was greeting customers all day, I would not have the time to make hats.  Working from home means it's a bit harder to find me.  Those that do find me are looking for me.  It works out perfectly.

4- Do home-based businesses draw people away from the commercial shops?

Not at all.  The opposite is true. Small specialty shops and services come with their own loyal following.  Anyone that drives across the province or country to visit a home-based business is pretty much guaranteed to spend a couple more hours in town patronizing other local businesses.

5- Home-based businesses cause extra traffic and noise and disturb the peace of a residential neighbourhood. Who wants to live next to a home-based business?

Take a deep breath.  Land Use bylaws are a beautiful thing.  They have been written by people that went to school to study these things and every regulation ensures that a residential zone stays peaceful. In most cases you would have no idea that you were living next to a home-based business.

Businesses cannot produce any more noise than ordinarily happens in a house.  You can use a machine that sounds like a vacuum cleaner, but you can't use a machine that sounds like a jack hammer.

You can't store anything related to the business outside of your house.

When signage is permitted, it usually needs to be small and appropriate.


Twenty five percent of the home  is generally what is permitted to be used for a business.  There is a maximum square footage specified in case you live in a mansion. So, we are talking about a small portion of the house.  The physical size of the business keeps the business itself small.  If the business grows past the size that is permitted then it has to move out of the house.   At that point the business needs to rent a store front. That's awesome, right?

Even the amount of employees are regulated.  In Lunenburg you can have two employees, but most home-based businesses have one or none.  My studio is 250 sq. feet.  If I had two people working with me in my studio, we would be tripping over each other.

If you have a small dog grooming shop, you won't fit three dogs at a time.  If it turns out there is too much noise, you would have to sound proof.  Excessive noise is prohibited.  Do you see what I mean?  All these concerns have already been addressed in land use bylaws.  We just need to understand the rationale behind the rules.  The rules are good.

6- OK, fine.  So, a home-based business doesn't compete with a commercial business. But we need to revive our main streets.  Shouldn't that be our first priority?

Actually, I think encouraging home-based businesses is a great way to revive the commercial district.
In rural Nova Scotia it is very difficult to keep a shop open on the main street.  One only needs to pay attention to the constant turn over of businesses to see that this is true.

The biggest obstacle to success is that when the tourists leave the, income leaves with them.  In order to change this reality, we need to fill our homes with as many full time residents as possible.  People can live in rural Nova Scotia when they can earn a living in rural Nova Scotia.  Good paying, full time jobs are scarce.  Self employment is often the only way to make a life in rural Nova Scotia possible.

Every family that can support themselves by running a home-based business is a family that can shop in the local bookstore, toy store, clothing shop and grocery store, when the tourists have gone home.   Every family that lives in town full time, brings family visitors who also support the local stores.

We all want the same outcome for our communities.  We want bustling, vibrant main streets.  Supporting home-based businesses is a great way to achieve this goal.






Tuesday, January 17, 2017

We Have The Utmost Respect for Our Ignorant Residents



At Yesterday's Council meeting, Lunenburg Councilor, Brian Davis, took issue with going in camera to discuss the actions of a councilor.  The Municipal government act specifies that personnel issues can be discussed behind closed doors.  Elected officials are not personnel.  At one point in the video, you will hear Mayor Bailey state that she always has the utmost respect for the residents. 

She expresses that respect, as only Mayor Bailey can, with the following quote in this article  in Lighthouse Now.

"If you're doing something right, I don't know how you can do it right-er," she said. "We will continue to conduct the business as we have been conducting it because we've been doing it correctly. I don't know how you convince people that are ignorant to the facts that that is the case, but that is the reality."

Among the ignorant residents in the gallery was a respected lawyer, a former CAO for the town of Lunenburg who has written international policy and a man who builds submarines for a hobby.

It really is difficult to take in new perspectives with a firmly shut mind, surrounded by only those that will tell you what you wish to hear.

Welcome to Lunenburg Council.  Enjoy the show.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How Lunenburg Administration Hurts Good People.


This is the story of two good people and a horrible case of obstructionism  at Lunenburg Town Hall.

Jenn and Chris are a young couple that live in Halifax.  Jenn runs her own dog grooming shop.  They fell in love with Lunenburg and decided it was the perfect place to start a family.  Their plan was to downsize Jenn's business and work from home. 

They contacted  Town Hall in February of 2016 to find out if it would be possible to operate a dog grooming shop from their home.  The town confirmed that they could. They were told dog grooming is considered a personal service and personal services are permitted.  With this assurance they put their house up for sale and gave notice to their commercial Landlord.


After months of house hunting they phoned the town again and  were told that dog grooming is not a personal service because the service is to the dog and not the human.  Jenn was flabbergasted.  She explained that the dog does not bring itself.  The dog belongs to the human.  The dog does not wish to be groomed.  The service is to the person.  We put our house on the market! Why weren't we ever informed that the town changed their mind?

The response - Sorry.  You can apply to amend the bylaw.  The fee is $1000.


Last Tuesday, Jenn plead her case to Lunenburg Council.  She asked that they please reconsider the definition.  She said that if it was absolutely necessary to go through a four month bylaw amendment that she would, but that it's truly ludicrous to have to do this and she would be unable to earn a living for four months.

At Tuesday's council meeting, the town said they did not recall ever telling Jenn that her business was permitted.

This is an e-mail from the town to Jenn's husband, Chris, dated February 8, 2016.  

Hello Chris.



I was speaking with Jen last week regarding our general requirements for business uses permitted in residential zones. A dog grooming business is permitted as a business use in a residence (home based business) or in an accessory building. I have attached the requirements as set out in Part 3.1 of the Land Use By-law. The home would have to be your primary residence. You would not be permitted to have kennels outside or have the dogs stay overnight. Jen had related that she would prefer to convert a detached garage for her business.  It looks like the garage is roughly 120 ftĂ‚², which is well below the maximum allowable area.  We have one application form that covers the development, heritage and building permit.  There are no fees for development permits and heritage permits.



The property is located within the Heritage Conservation District. Changes to the exterior (cladding, windows, doors, additions, signage etc) of the home or garage will require a heritage permit. For quick reference, see page 19 of the pdf of the Construction & Renovation Project Information Guide  



Jen and I had discussed bringing an accessory building such as a detached garage up to building code standards, especially the requirement for having a washroom available.  I had checked with Keith Fraser, our Building Inspector, regarding an exemptions for small sized buildings.  There are no exemptions.  It turns out that mobile small vendors do not have the same washroom requirements as small home based business because the mobile ones (e.g. carts) are regulated under the Motor Vehicle Act.  Jen has likely spoken to Keith as he was going to call her regarding her question on exemptions.



In short, the dog grooming business is a permitted use in a converted garage in the OTR Zone. You would need permits  - a development permit for the use, very likely a heritage permit for exterior changes and/or signage, and a building permit for changes to bring it up to meet code.



I hope that this helps. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.



Regards,



Dawn




This experience is not just red tape.  This is pure obstructionism. Two people have been put through a crazy amount of stress and when they tell their story the town denies it  happened.

I thing an investigation is in order. 









An In Camera Spanking

This Public council meeting, scheduled for Monday, January 16th  at 4:00 p.m is not an in camera meeting.  This is a public meeting where the second item on the agenda is to not hold the meeting in public. (You can't make this stuff up.)

4:00 is a difficult time to attend.  I wonder why our CAO chose that time?  Well, hard to say, but this is still a public meeting.

Now, I grant you, this meeting will probably be a bit like staring at a blank movie screen, but it's still important that as many people as possible attend.  Here's why:  Brian Davis stirred the pot last Tuesday evening by daring to question the legality of what had previously been discussed in camera.  This action has stirred up quite a lot of discussion as to what should or should not be discussed behind closed doors.    

Perhaps the mayor is planning  to thank Mr. Davis for his efforts to create a culture of transparency in the Town of Lunenburg.  Or.... it is also possible that there will be some effort made to ensure that Councillor Davis never steps out of line again.

The words, "potential litigation" do not conjure up images of roses in the spring time.   I could be mistaken.  Maybe the town has a hankering for suing someone else, but if there is any effort made to silence the one person who is daring to ask tough questions then I think the citizens of Lunenburg need to be there to support him when the recommendations are made at the end of the meeting.

So, bring your knitting, bring a book, but most importantly bring yourselves.  We elected Brian Davis to work on our behalf and he is going above and beyond.  Please come and support him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lunenburg's Secret Council Meetings


You might have heard that we had a doozy of a council meeting last night, here in Lunenburg. And you might be hearing the words, "in camera meeting" being tossed around and wondering what the heck a council meeting has to to do with a Nikon Coolpix.  To be honest, I have no idea why it is called an in camera meeting, but I do know that it means the meeting is not open and accessible to the public, like other council meetings.  The public does not get to hear what is being discussed and only learns of the decisions made by digging through the council meeting minutes on the town web site.  Most people don't do this.....But I'm not most people.

One of our new councilors, Brian Davis, has had some serious concerns that the Town of Lunenburg was in violation of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) which is very specific for what can be discussed in secret.

Let me tell you a bit about Brian, he is the most gosh golly, good natured, feller you'll ever meet.  He speaks very slowly and is wont to stop mid phrase to give you a hug.  He kind of reminds me of Jim Nabors.   But don't let his mannerisms fool you.  He is very smart, very principled and he will relentlessly fight for what is right.  He is progressive and welcoming. In short, Lunenburg is lucky to have him.

Here are the minutes, describing the in camera meeting that caused Brian to be concerned.


Brian is right to be concerned.  I am concerned. Here's why...

1-  It was decided, in camera, to forgive The Lunenburg Academy of Music (LAMP) their rent from May- November, 2016.  O.K.  Let's talk about that.
I love having LAMP occupy the third floor of the Lunenburg Academy.  They enhance the town and I wish them every success in the world, but there are approximately 700 households in the Town of Lunenburg that are footing the bill for a very expensive repurposing of the former school.  If the town is forgiving LAMP their rent, it means that they are asking the tax payers of Lunenburg to foot the bill instead.  If I had had the opportunity to hear the rational behind this decision I might be happy to be a part of this charitable donation, but I prefer to have a say in how my money is being spent. Perhaps the town can claim that this is a negotiation regarding a lease and therefore is acceptable to discuss in private,  but why would they do that?

One of the reasons that the province allows in camera meetings is because a municipality might be negotiating with different parties and you wouldn't want to show your hand to the other parties.  In this case, there is no other party.  It's LAMP and the the town (us), so why be secretive?  If the town respects its citizens they should let us witness the debate, not treat us like it's none of our business.

2- LAMP nominated the town for the NS Community Arts and Culture Award.  The nature of this award is to then give the money back to the nominator (LAMP).  They did not do that.  They put it directly in the town coffers.  O.K.  they kept the money to offset the rent, but this is fabulously non-transparent.  How much was the rent?  What are the tax payers of Lunenburg donating to LAMP on top of what we are paying to repurpose the Academy.  Enquiring minds want to know.  Again, I love LAMP, but I also love transparency.  The two should not be mutually exclusive.

3- Brian Davis expressed his concern that the MGA expressly forbids any decision to be made in an in camera meeting.  Council can make a recommendation to staff or legal council, but the recommendation has to come forward in an open meeting.  They cannot vote in camera.  The town solicitor explained that the vote that happens in camera isn't actually a vote.  The vote has no teeth....  Here's where I start banging my head.  The minutes state, MOTION CARRIED.  Yes, everything can be twisted to mean anything if we pay lawyers thousand of dollars to do the twisting, but the MGA should be reasonably understandable to a citizen.    Most people read, motion carried, to mean, motion carried.  A decision was made. Once the issue reaches the open meeting, the public hears nothing about how the decision was reached or even what council was talking about.  The mayor asks for a councilor to approve the minutes from the in camera meeting and another councilor seconds the motion.  End of the story.  The public is left in the dark.

I guess even Mayor Bailey felt the final decision was made in camera because she spoke about the arrangement with LAMP to Lighthouse Now, well before the minutes were approved.


4- At yesterday's council meeting, Brian requested that the minutes be read aloud.  His motion was defeated 5-2.  Why?  If Lunenburg is so transparent, why deny his request?  To what end?  The minutes are public if you look for them, so what's the big deal?  It was the simplest of asks and it was overwhelmingly shot down.  If council has nothing to hide, why work so hard to hide it?

 See, we can debate what is allowed to happen in camera until the cows come home, but If council  respects the people they serve  then they will go to every length possible to keep all discussion out of private meetings, not find the legal loop hole to do the opposite.

What next?  Well, I heard Mayor Bailey on CBC this morning talking about bringing in a municipal lawyer to work with council.  That can't be cheap.  I hear that the Department of Municipal Affairs will do the same job for free, but the mayor needs to request it. Why not get the information we need to understand that everything is on the up and up, straight from the horse's mouth?  I really don't have money to throw around...and that is our money you are throwing around.