Just do it!

Behave like Dave

Halifax Council, Annapolis Group directors:

will you leave a legacy behind or just empty chairs?

A long time ago I accompanied some staff from Nova Scotia Environment on a two-day trip in the Tobeatic Wilderness Area in southwesternNova Scotia. Our job was to check out a derelict cabin before demolition in the winter. We canoed, portaged, camped, and visited an island covered with lush old-growth forest. suit imageA satellite phone was our only link with civilization. “Dave”, one of our guides, cooked gourmet meals in a single frying pan (everything tastes great when you’re camping).

Dave’s job sometimes required him to spend weeks at a time alone in the forest and he loved it. I asked if he was concerned that someday he might be too infirm to go into protected areas, where ATV and wheelchair access is banned.

“No. I’ll be happy knowing that partly because of the work I’m doing, wild places will always be available to people’s children and grandchildren,” he said.

I trained my bullshit meter on him but there was no reading. Dave meant what he said. He could think beyond his own self-interest.

In late 2007, ’round about the same time Dave and I had our conversation, NSE announced it would convert more than 3,000 acres of Crown land between Highway 103 and the Bicentennial Highway, adjacent to the Bayers Lake Business Park, into a protected wilderness area like the Tobeatic.

There would be places there where you could neither see nor hear the city. And you and your backpack could reach the trail heads by public transit.

Even better, as the new release somewhat naively put it:

Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area will complement Halifax Regional Municipality’s regional planning strategy, which includes creating a large park in that region.

“I’m very pleased with the province’s collaborative approach and support for HRM’s regional plan,” said Mayor Peter Kelly. “This will help us move forward with HRM’s plans for a regional park in the area.”

This was genius. The city would create a municipal park of about 1,350 acres that would be the necessary protective buffer around the wilderness area. But, being a municipal park, it would also provide a near-wilderness experience for people who don’t or can’t hike into the back country. In other words if  —  perish the thought — Dave found himself in a wheelchair someday, he and others could still enjoy a semi-wild area.

Many believe the project, if completed, would be the largest urban wilderness area in North America. Perhaps, but the real value is that this patch of paradise would be available to Haligonians and their neighbours no matter how big the city grows. Think of Calgary’s (smaller) Nose Hill park, which is 11 square kilometres of high plains, replete with wildlife and cheek by jowl with 12 communities.

Blue Mountain-Birch Coves Lakes Wilderness Area is a legacy project. If our descendants are going to have it, then key people have to raise their gaze and think bigger. Like Dave.

Sadly, 11 years later, park proponents have learned just how slowly municipal government can move. The province fulfilled its promise but successive city councils, apparently dazzled by the power and glory of the developers who own much of the needed parkland, couldn’t come to grips with their task.

By way of background, ownership is not the last word on what happens to a piece of land. For example, the city can “buy” your land at fair market value to widen a road. Usually, the landowner and city are able to negotiate a deal, which is what Halifax has been trying to do with landowners around the wilderness area. The last resort is expropriation, which forces a sale at the fair market value.  It’s based on the idea of the greater good, which is why the province expropriated land for the Maritime Link power line.

So far, city staff have made one purchase — 80 hectares by Hobsons lake in January — from West Bedford Holdings.

That might have inspired other owners to sell but for one thing: a $120 million lawsuit by Annapolis Group, a private company with long history in Nova Scotia. It owns critical portions of the land the city needs and, ironically, claims the land is being effectively expropriated by the delaying in negotiating purchases.

The city says Annapolis “… acquired the majority of its lands in the area prior to 2006 in speculation of potential future serviced urban development. The Plaintiff acquired additional lands in 2014 from Armco Capital and the Sisters of Charity with the same intention.” (Emphasis added.)

Speculation is a common practice: you buy land at a low price and wait for the day it’s worth a lot more, e.g., when cities like Halifax expand.

The land in question is currently assessed at under $2 million, one-sixtieth of what Annapolis is suing for.

In response, the city says it is acting well within its rights. (And it still has the right to expropriate.)

Of course, both parties to this suit have to prove their cases in court, but that’s a problem. City staff have to round up at least 8,000 pages of documents demanded by Annapolis. At the last appearance in Supreme Court, the city was represented by outside counsel, which is expensive. This puts enormous pressure on city hall’s officials and councillors to give up or pay an outrageous price.

But why are we going through this? Do company directors cease being citizens once they’re behind boardroom doors? Maybe you can’t be a board member and my friend Dave at the same time.

Or, maybe you can accept the fact you speculated on some land and lost, which is part of being a developer. Then you can be a citizen for a moment and realize you are standing in the way of an historic project that will improve the lives of everybody in your community and their descendants — forever.

You can sit down with the city and negotiate a fair deal.

For the same reasons, if you’re a councillor, you can stop being afraid and direct staff to begin expropriation. The Utility and Review Board might have to adjudicate, but it’s a lot faster and cheaper than the court system. My guess is the two sides will quickly come to an agreement because, as the saying goes, nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of a hanging.

Other landowners will follow suit and all concerned will be celebrated as legacy-builders.

Annapolis directors*: do the right thing and take your place in history.

Councillors**: grow a pair of ovaries and start the expropriation process. Leave a legacy when your council days are over instead of an empty chair.

*Annapolis directors: C. Robert Gillis, Director; David J. Hennigar, Director; Archibald Colin Hattie, Director; Jason A.O. Weston, Asst. Secretary; Murugesu Sooriyakumaran, VP-Planning & Engineering; April Greencorn, CFO & Corp. Secretary; Archibald Colin Hattie, President; David J. Hennigar, Chairman; Michael Laycock, VP – Development.

**Councillors: Steve Streatch, District 1; David Hendsbee, District 2; Bill Karsten, District 3; Lorelei Nicoll, District 4; Sam Austin, District 5; Tony Mancini, District 6; Waye Mason, District 7; Lindell Smith, District 8; Shawn Cleary, District 9; Russell Walker, District 10; Steve Adams, District 11; Richard Zurawski,  District 12; Matt Whitman, District 13; Lisa Blackburn, District 14; Steve Craig, District 15; Tim Outhit, District 16, Bedford; Mike Savage, Mayor.



Amended Notice of Defence of HRM filed Apr 5, 2017 re Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS V HRM Amended Notice of Action filed March 22, 2017 re Annapolis

Related posts

Don’t negotiate! Expropriate!

BMBCL parkland potentially worth $67M







Photo from the future shows an NSLC weed store, not a mock-up of a washroom at the heavily-subsidized CFL stadium to be built in Middle Musquodoboit.

Hack to the Future: we check out the Halifax

legal pot scene as it will be in July 2019

The Turpin Labs time-travel division has completed its work, allowing us to REPORT EVENTS BEFORE THEY HAPPEN! The machine is not perfect, but we had an unpaid intern who was willing to test it. Here is her report.

I am reporting to you from Halifax one year in the future. Weed is legal. You can get it at the liquor store (even though a federal report warned against that), the cops have trained up as DREs (relax older men, it stands for Drug Recognition Experts), Halifax is spending a million dollars a year to harass outdoor smokers of any kind and to protect citizens from the smell of perfectly legal pot plants growing in back yards. Here is my account.

I stop by the Joe Howe St. liquor store to check out its weed outlet, as requested. I’m nervous because booze almost destroyed my life and I haven’t been to a liquor store in five years. I find the weed section right away–it’s in the back, sporting a public washroom-style storefront. The windows are mostly frosted, but a large sign above the area says “CANNABIS”.

I walk to the store-within-a-store, my heart thumping because I can see bottles of wine and whiskey floating past in my peripheral vision. I can almost taste the smoky scotch arranged row on row. Inside, I make the buy hastily. It’s something called “Relax”, pulled from a drawer by a stern, dues-paying union clerk in a starched blue shirt.

I again walk through the booze section of the store as I make my way toward the parking lot. My hand is wet as it clutches my government-approved stash. I’m cool with the weed, of course, but the sight of all that alcohol makes me sweat. My mind goes blank. When I reach my car, I discover a bottle of Ballantine’s in my hand. I lock it in the trunk, my last bulwark against falling off the wagon.

As I sit in the car craving a drink, I consider taking a toke from my new stash to calm down, but I know DRE cops are on the prowl. Too risky.

I make it home sober. I find my husband arguing with a Halifax bylaw enforcement officer, recognizable from camouflage jackboots and fatigues that make him hard to spot in parks. For sidewalk work, he has another outfit disguised as bricks and concrete.

“We don’t grow weed here,” my hubby says. “And besides, it’s legal to grow four plants.”

“Yes, but the city says the odour of the plant is a nuisance, so you can’t grow it outside. Your neighbour says he can smell four pot plants in your yard. That’s a $10,000 fine. Who should I believe, him or a pot-head?”

I jump in: “The odour is the bloody privet hedge. It’s flowering. Not everybody likes the smell.”

I turn to my husband: “I kept asking you to cut the thing back. I told you some neo-puritan pissant would think it was weed!”

The bylaw trooper’s radio makes that “bleep” noise your hear on cop shows.

“All units! All units! A pot-head and two ‘bacco-heads have been spotted smoking by the breakwater at Point Pleasant Park. Witnesses say a child is in the area.”

“Holy spliff! That could be $6,000 in fines,” the odour-patrolman says. “You two are off the hook this time, but remember, I’ll be sniffing around.” He taps his nose and then points menacingly at us before sprinting to his car.

Suddenly I notice it’s time to pick up the kids at school. I hit the road. The cops pull me over on the Bedford Highway. Why? I was driving under the speed limit.

“Nobody obeys the speed limit on Bedford Highway,” the burly one says. “Only stoners drive that carefully. We’re trained to spot that kind of thing because there’s really no reliable scientific test for weed impairment.”

“Yeah,” says the skinny one. “We used to bust pot-smokers. Now we’re DREs!”

Then he sees my NSLC weed on the console. He “seizes” it for evidence.

“Hey, you want some popcorn?” he says, shoving a bag of buttery, freshly popped corn under my nose. The smell is too much. I grab a mouthful.

“So, you’ve got the munchies,” says the big cop. “That’s strike two.”

“What’s your name?” I ask him indignantly so I can file a complaint.

He looks me right in the eye with a perfectly straight face. “Officer Lionel Longfart,” he says in a monotone

I can’t help laughing.

“Right,” says the other cop. “You’ve got the giggles. Strike three.”

They cuff me and throw me into their car, but let me phone my husband so he can pick up the kids.

At the station they take blood, urine and saliva samples. They take me into a dark room to look at my pupils. If they’re too big or too small or don’t react quickly enough, that’s bad. They also look up my nose for white powder.

Outside I see the small cop putting on rubber gloves.

“Gotta do a muscle tone test on your neck,” he says. “If they’re rigid, you’re stoned.”

“Of course they’re tense after all this crap,” I say, consciously trying to relax my neck. “But I’m good if they’re relaxed, right?”

“Nope. That can be a bad sign, too.”

Two hours later, I’m free to go. I take a long pull from the scotch in the trunk. Five years of sobriety shot to hell and no weed. I call my “illegal” dealer “from “the street”.

“Sure,” she says. “I’m just about to pick up Cassandra at her ballet class. I can drop it off on the way.”

Attention Turpin Labs: please beam me back to the present ASAP. Legal pot is not safe.


Further reading:









Nova Scotians without docs June update

Rate of increase holds steady

The growth in the number of Nova Scotians seeking but unable to find doctors climbed in June at a rate of 4.7%, or 2,483, which is in line with previous reporting periods.

Metro Halifax (the “health networks” of Bedford, Dartmouth South, Halifax and Chebucto Peninsulas) continues to be the locus of the worst problem, with 26,682 people seeking doctors (about 51% of the provincial total). Metro’s total is up 850.

The Central Zone (all of HRM) continues to represent about 54% of the problem.

In terms of raw numbers, the biggest change was in the Queens and Lunenburg health network, with 447 more people seeking doctors. In percentage terms, West Hants was hardest hit with increase of 27%.

The most dramatic improvement was in Inverness/Victoria/Richmond, where those needing doctors shrank by 17%, or 209 people.

The source, as always, is the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s accountability report.

Related links:

Boroughs without doctors: trends

Boroughs without doctors: checkup

Boroughs without doctors #3

Boroughs without doctors #2

Halifax too haughty?

Boroughs without doctors #1




How’s work going?

Not so good for the civil service

Recently I ordered a single-shot espresso at a well-known coffee shop. It was handed to me in a medium paper cup, where it looked like tobacco juice on the bottom of a large white spittoon. Puzzled, I looked at the server who–as if to demonstrate what an alienated employee looks like– merely shrugged.Grey-Gear-patrol-

Geez, I thought, what if the NS civil service was like that? Does government measure that sort of thing, I asked?

It turns out the Public Service Commission does it with a survey called “How’s Work Going?” and the results are discouraging.

“Employee engagement” has dropped 21 per cent since 2007, 23 per cent since 2009. It’s something the provincial government defines as “the extent to which individuals feel connected to and involved with their jobs and their organization.”

Here at Turpin Labs, engagement means you get your espresso in a ceramic cup so it can be properly savoured.

Every two years the PSC sends a survey about the workplace to each of its 10,000 employees. It then weights the answers to come up with an employee engagement “index”. An index of 60 denotes an engaged workforce; anything below, not so much. In 2017, the index hit 57.

Main engagement chart June 30, 2018
It’s tempting to correlate the numbers above with the reigning political party at the time the surveys were done. However, there is not enough (public) data to support that idea. Because the surveys are conducted every two years, changes will inevitably coincide with changes of government, whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship. In other words, if the real cause was vampires sucking the blood from civil servants, this graph might look exactly the same. The best that can be said is that employee engagement has dropped about 21% since 2007 and 23% since it peaked in 2009 during Rodney MacDonald’s Conservative government.  SOURCE: https://novascotia.ca/psc/employeecentre/employeesurvey/

Brian Taylor, a media relations advisor for the PSC, wrote the following in response to my query about this:

“… In 2011, the areas of engagement identified as needing the most improvement were Leadership Practices, Clear Expectations and Directions, and Recognition. 

“Downward trending employee engagement is a phenomenon that is being observed across the country in both the public and private sector. The Nova Scotia Public Service is actively looking deeper into what employees need to feel satisfied and engaged. We have increased our focus on engaging the ‘whole’ person by looking at solutions that take into account work life balance, enhancing communication and relationships, provide support beyond the workplace and ensure employees have the right training and development to build leadership.”

I like the PSC because it walks the talk on employee training, but it has to be said there’s nothing new in that last sentence. And, in 2017, employee engagement in Canada experienced an uptick.

As noted in the chart caption, you cannot attribute changes in the index to specific events, such as elections or vampire attacks. But the trend is undeniable: the index has steadily declined since it peaked at 74 under Rodney MacDonald’s Conservative government. We know there is a problem, but we don’t know why.

So, Turpin Labs’ award-winning Analytical Division decided to search for similar trends among the answers to particular questions in the survey. The result is below.

Picture3 question trends
The Turpin Labs analysts found two questions where the answers followed a trend comparable to the engagement index. In some years the data was unavailable or omitted because the question was changed. What’s notable are the similar trend lines, not the values; however it’s a safe bet the “I feel valued” responses dragged down the overall index.                                      SOURCE: https://novascotia.ca/psc/employeecentre/employeesurvey/

The units of measurement for the questions over the past 10 years can be vague, but the trends are not. The chart shows the trends for the overall engagement index and the response to “I am proud to tell people I work for the Government of Nova Scotia” track closely. The same can be said for “Overall, I feel valued as a Government of Nova Scotia employee”, and it’s not much of a stretch to say that question drags down the overall index.

I am not coddling civil servants here. Everybody wants to feel they are valued by their employer.

“Hmm,” you say. “That’s all well and good, Bill. But has Turpin Labs taken the trouble to compare responses from various departments?”

Yes, it has. Below is a gorgeous, two-coloured chart showing the results.

Picture2 departmental comparison
SOURCE: https://novascotia.ca/psc/employeecentre/employeesurvey/

(Beauty, eh?)

It’s noteworthy that Nova Scotia Environment has dropped from a government-leading 72 in 2007 to the bottom of the heap, at 43, in 2017. Assigning a new minister to the department in January 2017 may have been intended to help. If so, the question was rendered moot last Thursday when the previous minister was returned to the post.

The Department of Justice, recently criticized for dismal conditions at the Burnside jail, has dropped to 50 from 72 since 2007.

Your correspondent worked for seven years in Nova Scotia’s civil service, mostly in the environment department, before capturing the CEO position at Turpin Labs. I learned the civil service is pretty much like any large workplace–it has the usual mix of slugs, high-performers and people who need to be motivated. If I had to characterize civil servants, I would say they work hard and believe strongly in the public good. Frustration, not laziness, is the main enemy of high performance.

My biggest shock, however, was seeing the importance of a good minister. A good deputy minister is also essential, but the secret sauce for an effective department is a minister who knows how to lead. Who knew?

More on this in future posts.