Cannabis Bylaw Amendments: A very busy day at Council with a long agenda. The issue that gathered the most attention was the proposed changes to the Parks and Nuisance bylaws to deal with the upcoming legalization of cannabis. The decision to legalize cannabis has been made by the federal government, and the provincial government has made the decision about who can sell it (the NSLC). It’s not HRM’s role to retry or revisit those decisions, the municipality’s job is to determine what is a community nuisance? It’s largely the where cannabis can be used question.
In sorting out how to approach this issue, HRM consulted with municipalities in Colorado to see what challenges legalization brought. The consistent advice was to start with strong rules because it’s far easier to loosen up than it is to crack down. One of the top complaints in Colorado has been the smell, both from people smoking cannabis and from growing plants. What HRM has opted to do is to ban growing plants outdoors in urban areas and to ban smoking on municipal property.
The outdoor growing ban was one I struggled with. I had people write saying cannabis plants don’t have a strong odour, but that conflicted with reports from Colorado and my own search around the web (many an online forum thread focussed on how to hide the smell). I gather the odour can vary considerably depending on the cannabis strains and, of course, on how sensitive your nose is. I ended up supporting the ban on outdoor growing in the urban and suburban areas because there was enough out there to conclude that outdoor cultivation could be problematic.
A key point for me on the growing ban is that the enforcement won’t be heavy-handed. With legalization, this will literally be a garden variety offence. Enforcement will be the job of municipal bylaw officers, who operate primarily on a complaint basis. HRM won’t be searching for plants, and the goal of bylaw staff isn’t to be punitive, it’s to bring people into compliance. The typical scenario for enforcement will be: a neighbour complains, bylaw officers visit, an order to remove the plants is issued, and if grower complies, the matter is then closed. It’s only if the grower refuses to remove the plants that fines and court orders will arise. Since the outdoor growing ban will be complaint based, I fully expect that there will be some cultivation in urban HRM in places where the neighbours don’t mind or don’t notice. In time, experience will dictate how big a deal outdoor growing is and, if it proves to be not much of an issue, HRM can loosen the rules. For now, growing outdoors is limited to rural HRM.
Turning to the smoking ban on municipal property. Banning cannabis smoking was an easy call. To me, it’s very simple: you’re not allowed to walk down the street drinking alcohol and the same should hold true of cannabis. I was disappointed that the Province didn’t make that clear in legislation. Leaving it up to municipalities will potentially result in an inconsistent patchwork of rules. Since the Province didn’t act though, it falls to the municipalities to craft their own bylaws.
The inclusion of tobacco in the smoking ban has been controversial. Tobacco was included because our legal advice is that it’s hard to draw a distinction that will hold up in court, cigarettes are a nuisance both in litter and smell, and because of public health concerns. The changes to the Nuisance Bylaw allows HRM staff to designate smoking areas on municipal property, but it’s not clear right now how that will work.
It’s worth noting that HRM’s bylaw doesn’t go much further than what the Province has already put in place with the Smoke Free Places Act. Smoke Free Places bans smoking within 4 meters of a doorway, window, or intake vent, which effectively means that many of our old main streets have technically been smoke free since 2002 because there is no space on the sidewalk that’s more than 4 meters from a doorway or window. The Smoke Free Places Act’s effective ban on sidewalk smoking in large parts of HRM has never been enforced. It’s understandably pretty far down the police priority list and there are apparently only two staff working on this with the Province. Since HRM’s Nuisance Bylaw will involve bylaw officers rather than police resources, it may be a bit more effective, but I expect it too will often be violated.
So if HRM Nuisance Bylaw’s provisions about smoking on municipal property are difficult to enforce why did I vote for it? For one, it’s about setting community standards. Laws aren’t just about what’s enforceable, they’re about what a community feels is appropriate behaviour. If enforceability was the only criteria we considered in deciding what should be law, then we wouldn’t have speed limits, or litter laws, or requirements to pickup after your dog, and so on. There’s lots that’s difficult to enforce, but that’s okay because laws set expectations that most people voluntarily comply with. The smoking amendments are seeking to set expectations while we’re in this key moment of transition from a culture of prohibition to one of legalization. Enforcement won’t be heavy-handed, but the bylaw will give staff the tools to deal with the most egregious situations. Having a municipal bylaw gives bylaw staff the ability to manage the coming unknown with a light touch.
The amendments to ban smoking in Parks passed unanimously while the Nuisance Bylaw changes passed 13-3 with Councillor’s Whitman, Outhit and Zurawski dissenting.
Stadium: Council passed a motion to formally ask staff to work with Maritime Football Limited to bring forward a proposal for a stadium. Maritime Football Limited wants to bring a CFL team to HRM, but they need a stadium to play in. There has been no formal ask of HRM at this point to support a stadium, but there have been discussions. Guaranteed there will be some ask since stadiums across North America are all built with some form of public investment. Tuesday’s motion was simply to formalize an ask so that Council can consider it. The motion passed unanimously.
While I voted to take a look at what is actually being proposed, I have doubts that what will come back will be workable. HRM’s capital money isn’t infinite. We have to make choice about what we want to invest in. In order to maximize federal and provincial dollars for infrastructure over the next 10 years, HRM will need to come up with its share of the money (many millions). Throw in the flat commercial market that is slowing revenue growth and we’re not without challenges. It’s not doom and gloom. HRM’s debt levels are low and we have healthy reserves, but we need to carefully choose what we want to pursue. We need to identify our priorities.
When I compare a stadium to delivering on the commitments in the Integrated Mobility Plan, or the Library’s long-term capital needs, or Parks and Rec, there is no contest. A stadium is a nice to have, not a need to have. The CAO indicated that Council will be going through its long-term capital plan this Fall, which is an exercise that’s dearly needed. We’ll see what emerges from the discussions.
Service Exchange Agreement: HRM and the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) have reached a new Service Exchange Agreement. The old Service Exchange Agreement established the arrangement between HRM and HRCE in terms of playground maintenance and access to facilities. Unfortunately, there were always challenges in making the Agreement work, particularly from HRM’s perspective around access to school gyms for community and recreation use. Under the new Agreement, gyms will be listed and booked in HRM’s Recreation software just like an HRM facility. Bookings will also no longer be bumped at the last minute for school use, which was a big problem for groups expecting to use school spaces. HRM will continue to provide free access to HRCE for fields and the Oval and manage the grounds around school sites. I know a lot of work has gone into sorting out differences between HRM and HRCE, and piloting the new approach. I’m very pleased with the new provisions that will help ensure that school gyms are available for community use. We’re too small a Province to not make the most out of our publicly-owned facilities, no matter which order of government is responsible for them.
Road Safety Framework: Another item that attracted some attention was the new Road Safety Plan (since renamed to Road Safety Framework). The Framework commits HRM to joining other cities around the world in a Vision Zero approach. The underlying philosophy is that humans are fallible and road design should, therefore, be forgiving of mistakes. The need to do better here is clear: every year between 1,200 and 1,600 people are injured in collisions on HRM streets. Some of them die. Enforcement and education are important, but design is the most important element. Council made some amendments to the Framework, including increasing the reduction in injuries and deaths from 15% to 20% over the next five years, and setting a long-term zero target of 2038.
One of the criticisms of the Framework that came from stakeholders is that it has no budgetary allocation. The Framework will be part of the 2019/2020 budget deliberations, but as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t necessarily need a separate pot because there is already a lot of money available. Every year HRM spends around $30 million on street capital projects. Every street we repave is a potential opportunity to fix some of the underlying design issues. It’s something I have pushed aggressively in District 5 and I’m pleased that staff have been very receptive. Over the last year and a half, instead of repaving as usual, the crosswalk in front of the Mic Mac Aquatic Club has been fixed, the sidewalk is being extended on Sinclair, a road diet is being considered for Prince Albert Road, and there is an exciting alternative design coming forward for Chadwick Street (consultation to come). It’s definitely not business as usual in HRM’s Transportation and Public Works department.
HRM’s real challenge is that the streets we have are the products of 50 years of car-centric design. Redesigning them as complete streets that prioritize pedestrians, cyclists and transit users isn’t going to happen overnight. Over the next year, work on the Framework will be focussed on data gathering/analysis so that HRM can target its investment where it can do the most good. I’m very optimistic about the future of our streets because (1) the current leadership and staff in place in Transportation and Public Works, (2) Council is in support, (3) there is a large capital budget that is already available, (4) HRM is investing in active transportation and transit, and (5) the Integrated Mobility Plan is in place to provide the underlying policy basis. I firmly believe that we will see transformational change over the next decade.
Sullivan’s Pond Weeds: I was pleased to put forward a motion about providing weed control at Sullivan’s Pond. Anyone who walks by the Pond on Thursday or Sundays will know the familiar sight of the Halifax and Area Model Boat Club’s races. The Pond is ideally situated for the Club’s activities in terms of prevailing winds and being able to get boats directly in and out of the water from the shore. Unfortunately, weeds tend to choke the course as the summer goes on, forcing the model boaters to shift their gatherings to a lake in Chester. The Club would like to hold a national championship, but the weeds make it impossible to play host. It’s an old problem (checkout this 2014 Global TV spot for a good summary). I asked staff to look into the issue after a presentation by the Club to Community Council and the report that came back estimates $10,000 would be needed to clear the course during the summer. The Club’s leadership has indicated that they would likely be able to fundraise a portion of the needed funds. With any luck, an agreement will be reached between the Club and HRM on cost-sharing this project and next summer, the boats will be able to ply the Pond for the whole season.
- Approved the Schmidtville Heritage District, the redevelopment of the Motherhouse Lands by Mount St. Vincent, and the less than market sale of a conservation easement on the future Purcell’s Cove Backlands Park (a busy night for public hearings)
- Council approved a 10 year contract for road salt
- Moved forward with revised private road fees at Jenna Lane and Sandy Point Road
- Revised the terms of reference for the Cornwallis committee to increase the number of committee members from eight to 10.
- Deferred taking action on Councillor Blackburn’s motion for a Children’s Charter pending the return of a separate report on a Social Development Framework
- Amended the Surplus Real Property Administrative Order to allow non-profits who are acquiring property from HRM to pay the minimum fees over 24 months rather than in an upfront lump sum
- First reading for the bylaw to create a local improvement charge for properties in Fall River that are being hooked up to municipal water
- Approved revised community grants for Water Ski and Wakeboard Nova Scotia and the Banook Canoe Club
- Entered into a funding agreement with the Province for the Dartmouth Ferry Terminal Pontoon refit and additional bus purchases (federal, provincial and municipal funding)
- Opted not to pursue a temporary sidewalk project on Herring Cove Road because site conditions are challenging, and planning is underway for an actual sidewalk for next year
- First reading to schedule future public hearings for development proposals on Cowie Hill Road, and Main Street, and reduced road frontage for several lots in Meaghers Grant
- Approved funding for Halifax’s bid to host the Women’s World Hockey Championship
- Appointed new members to the Heritage Adivisory Committee, and to the Design Review Committee
- Approved naming rights for the Sportsplex (more on that to come once it’s publicly released)
- Requested staff reports on improvements to to the intersection of Beaver Bank Road and Windgate Drive, Grove Park in Beaver Bank, funding for Nova Multifest, wetland compensation,