Agenda April 6
Agenda Budget Committee April 7
Probably the most potentially controversial item on Council’s agenda was a motion by Councillor Mancini to review HRM’s unique shared policing model. HRM is the only municipality in Canada with two police forces. Halifax Regional Police (HRP) was created at amalgamation by combing the police forces in Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford. HRP handles the urban areas, while the RCMP tackles the predominantly rural former county (although Sackville and Cole Harbour aren’t very rural these days). The question is, does the shared policing model provide HRM with the best results and if not, what are our alternatives?
The last time shared policing was seriously looked at was more than a decade ago. At that time, HRM concluded that it could save money by replacing the RCMP with a single municipal force. Some of the assumptions made in reaching that conclusion were contested and there was a lot of pushback from Country residents in support of keeping the RCMP. The 2010 Council opted not to proceed with any changes. A lot of time has passed since 2010. I’m not sure what the recommendation or conclusion might look like today. We could keep the status-quo and try to better coordinate operations, we could adjust some of the boundaries to better align urban and rural areas, or we could replace the RCMP entirely. There may be other options to consider too.
One of my major concerns that I want to see considered in the review is how much local control we really have over the RCMP. The RCMP are different than HRP. They provide policing via a contract with the Province. HRM then has a loose agreement with the Province to pay for the RCMP. We don’t have direct control. With so much changing in the world of policing, and HRM potentially embarking on some significant reforms in how we do things over the next few years, one of the key questions is can a nationally controlled Ottawa police force be an effective partner? Can the RCMP adapt or does HRM have to choose between reforming policing and having the RCMP?
I don’t know what the answer to those questions are, but it’s not encouraging that HRP has apologized for the disproportionate number of people of colour that were subject to street checks, while the RCMP hasn’t. It’s been a year and a half since the HRP apology and it’s still silence from the RCMP. This isn’t a knock against our local officers, it’s not their call to make. The problem is any decision on an apology has to come from Ottawa. Not being able to respond to local need with three words, “I am sorry” doesn’t fill me with confidence that the RCMP will be able to adapt to more complex requests for change.
Getting a report back on shared policing will take time. The CAO indicated that he would return to Council after scoping out work for a consultant and the review would need to be coordinated with the other policing reports that are underway. I don’t expect a quick answer here, but it’s good to add this to our police review.
Traffic Authority Appointment:
Council approved changes to how the Traffic Authority is appointed. The Traffic Authority is a position set out in the Provincial Motor Vehicle Act. The Traffic Authority is responsible for erecting signs, street markings, crosswalks, traffic lights and other traffic control measures, lanes, parking regulations, speed limits, school zones, etc. Basically a ton of the practical elements that make up our streets are set by the Traffic Authority.
The roots for all of this go back to the 1950s/1960s. Traffic engineering in the post-War era was regarded as an a-political scientific exercise free from ideology and values. As a result, most legislation established Traffic Authorities as arms-length bodies. It was a technocratic time.
The problem with that technocratic world view is that traffic engineering isn’t a-political. It involves choices around values and trade-offs between competing priorities just like other decisions. Engineers and planners during those post-War decades prioritized moving as many cars as possible as quickly as possible and gave little consideration to the needs of pedestrians, transit riders, or cyclists. The car was king. That has been changing as cities around the world begin to adopt Complete Streets approaches, but like all change, acceptance of new norms doesn’t happen all at once. The result is it’s not uncommon in many cities for there to be friction between politicians, planners and engineers…. although who is leading and who is catching up varies!
Here in HRM, our situation is typical. The Traffic Authority is appointed by Council, and it’s the Authority, not Council, that ultimately decides on what happens on our streets. Given how important the Traffic Authority is, Council wanted more say in how the Authority is selected to ensure that the appointee supports Council’s overall values and objectives. Under the new rules that Council adopted, the CAO must nominate a Traffic Authority within 3 months of the position becoming vacant (we’ve had acting deputies for the last 2-3 years since Bruce Zvaniga left for Brampton), the Transportation Standing Committee gets a chance to review and question the nominee, and the process is set out for what happens if Council rejects the CAO’s choice (the CAO would have to bring back alternate candidates).
The changes are, for now, a symbolic assertion of Council’s role. They also create a sort of nuclear option for Council of being able to basically vote non-confidence in the Authority. Non-confidence isn’t something that I foresee here in HRM. I don’t get my way on every road decision, nor should I, but when I look at how things have changed over the last four years in terms of road design and approaches, I’m reasonably confident in HRM staff… I’m not sure I could have said that 5-10 years ago pre-Integrated Mobility Plan! HRM is doing things now that we would have never considered. I think of the redesign of Prince Albert Road, narrowing of Chadwick and Renfrew Streets, deployment of Rapid Flashing Beacons at crosswalks, temporary street modifications, slow streets, removal of the push button lights in dense areas, proliferation of curb extensions, our first protected bike lanes, transit only lanes, etc. There is of course more work to do, but the world is changing, and, I know it sometimes doesn’t feel like it, but so is HRM.
Budget 2021 Planning and Development:
HRM’s Planning and Development budget was presented to Council yesterday. It was the last of HRM’s major departmental presentations. The bulk of what the planning deparment does is what you would expect from the name, but the department also handles bylaw compliance, building inspections, and is responsible for several big picture initiatives including the Integrated Mobility Plan, Green Network Plan, and HalifACT. Most of the department’s costs are staffing. This 2021 budget proposal is to restore COVID cuts and increase the overall funding by $3.2 million. This would give the department a $16.6 total budget as compared to $13.4 million pre-COVID. Council may add further funds to the Planning Department as we moved several items to the budget adjustment list including extra staff to handle the department’s growing workload, additional money for heritage conservation in the Schmidtville and Old South Suburb Heritage Districts, and a water quality study for First Lake in Sackville.
HRM’s economic boom over the last several years has caught up to our planning department. The department hasn’t been able to keep up with the volume of applications and has been falling further behind each year. As the number of requests has grown, processing times have, in some cases, doubled.
Building inspections have also surged, with 29,531 last year compared to 20,828 in 2017. The department is just not able to keep up with all the work and there are economic and social costs to leaving them understaffed.
The Planning department’s base budget this year includes converting a bunch of term positions into full-time, but it actually would have only grown the department’s overall compliment by two. Every additional body helps, but the problem is bigger than just adding two more people. In addition to the two included in the default budget, Council moved three additional planners, three building officials, three bylaw officers, and an engineer to the budget adjustment list for additional consideration. We’ll make a decision on Planning and Development’s staffing and all the other items on the adjustment list on April 21. Stay tuned.
One of the things that the planning department manages are HRM’s environmental initiatives, including the lakes program. 2021 is looking like a big year for lakes initiatives. HRM will be implementing several actions from the Banook Micmac Pollution Study. In addition to the enhanced street sweeping that is part of Transportation and Public Works’ budget, HRM is anticipating getting the pigeon netting installed underneath the Circumferential, and installing our first curbside rain garden as part of the Prince Albert Road project to prevent runoff from the street going directly into Banook. Other lake initiatives scheduled for this year include the Floating Yellow Heart pilot in Little Albro and staff will be returning to Council in the next few months with recommendations for starting a new lake water quality monitoring program. I’m very pleased with the growing efforts to protect, monitor, and restore our lakes.
While COVID has loomed large over the last year, the existential crisis that threatens human civilization hasn’t gone away. Climate change remains the issue of our time. The scale of the change that is needed to address the problem is daunting and it might be tempting to conclude that nothing we do in HRM will make any real difference, so why bother. The problem is if everyone adopts that attitude, we’re in for a world of hurt. We have a moral duty to act and we have to hope that others will as well.
HRM is already taking action to implement our Climate Change plan, HalifACT. It has popped up throughout our budget discussions in various department’s presentations and is already shaping our capital planning and projects. HRM is committed to having net zero municipal operations by 2030 and trying to facilitate change in the wider community. If we act decisively over the next decade, it is possible for HRM to meet our Paris commitments by improving energy efficiency of existing and new buildings, electrifying transportation, and investing in renewable energy.
Back in the summer, when HalifACT came to Council, I amended the motion to ask staff to bring forward a resource plan for the 2021 budget. A project as big as HalifACT isn’t going to be accomplished by a handful of people. It’s going to require dedicated resources. HRM is adding six more to the HalifACT team as part of the 2021 budget, but, unfortunately, the implementation plan for what we’re really going to need isn’t ready yet. Safe to say it will be more than the 10 we have! The Planning Director indicated that work is underway and they will have a report to Council in the next few months.
I’m disappointed that a staffing plan for HalifACT wasn’t ready, but the CAO is proposing that we build some cushion into the budget to compensate. The CAO is proposing that Council budget $2.5 million for extra staff to work on any number of HRM’s ambitious plans, like HalifACT, that need more people. In the absence of having the actual resourcing plan done, this is the next best thing. What I don’t want is to have to wait all the way to our next budget in 2022. We need to be ready to move on hiring as soon as we know what we need. We have to treat climate change as the emergency it is.
- Approved purchasing three new fire trucks
- Amended the Siting of Telecommunications Antennas Administrative Order to allow for one year extensions of municipal concurrence letters
- Requested staff reports on painting the Pan-African flag on crosswalks in historic black communities (similar to the Rainbows that are painted for Pride), on the feasibility of building a park and ride at Exit 18 on the 107, on an Africville Visioning Process, and on reforming how we handle taxation as it relates to transit services
- Gave first reading for possible amendments for the Akoma Lands in Cole Harbour (former Home for Colored Children) to enable redevelopment of the lands
- Directed the CAO to pursue improvements to the bike lane on Devonshire Avenue to make it an all ages and abilities route (protected lanes)
- Assigned the contract with K and S Windsor Salt to Windsor Salt Canada to reflect the recent sale of K and S Windsor’s Canadian operations
- Given the ongoing challenges that the hospitality sector is facing, Council adopted changes to the Licenses, Permits and Processing Fees administrative order to forgive/waive the patio fees for 2021
- Finalized changes to the Solid Waste bylaw that I wrote about earlier (second reading)