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COUNCIL RECAP: Staff to open talks with CFL bid group, road safety plan and pot by-laws both approved

HRM staff will study ‘risks and opportunities’ connected to a bid for a CFL team, stadium.
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Halifax City Hall (File photo)

HALIFAX – The group behind a bid to bring a CFL team to the Halifax-area hasn't made any asks of HRM, but Councillors Tuesday voted for staff to open talks with them to “assess opportunities and risks” associated with a potential team, stadium and developments.

Maritime Football Ltd. have reportedly made progress with the league in recent weeks but a stadium remains the biggest stumbling block.

The group met with Councillors behind closed doors during a meeting earlier this month, but weren't present Tuesday when Lower Sackville Councillor Steve Craig tabled the motion for staff to study what HRM can and can't contribute.

Craig supports a stadium for the Halifax-area to hold events as it continues to grow, but when it comes to the potential CFL project, he would like to see the private sector remain in control.

"I don't support HRM being a financier or a banker on this project," Craig said in putting forward the motion, which eventually passed unanimously.

No details of what the group could ask of HRM or what their bid includes have been made public, but Craig did say during Tuesday’s meeting it would include a “stadium district” that would include development.

It’s been reported Maritime Football has two sites picked out in HRM; a primary one in Dartmouth Crossing and a secondary in the Bayers Lake Business Park.

Many Councillors voiced concern of any future financial liability or risk taken on by HRM for any proposed project or contribution to the private sector, with many offering up some pre-determined pessimism about the staff report’s eventual findings.

Halifax West-Armdale Councillor Shawn Cleary supported staff looking at the potential but said he “didn't see a lot of hope” after Premier Stephen McNeil said earlier this week there would be no provincial support for any proposed CFL team.

“I don’t expect positive recommendations,” Cleary said, adding he still wants to ensure the public clearly understands the potential risks versus the potential benefits of such a project for the region. 

Bedford Councillor Tim Outhit also supported the staff report but warned Councillors against getting ahead of themselves, as he said HRM giving money to a private corporation remains illegal and any financial ask would likely require provincial legislation.

Portland – East Woodlawn Councillor Bill Karsten was “more optimistic” about the possibilities from the report and said he was not appreciative of what he perceived as negativity around the table.

Staff will now open discussions with Maritime Football and the provincial government and return to Council at a later date with recommendations.

Changes to by-laws dealing with legalized pot puff, puff, pass

After some spirited debate during its meeting Tuesday, changes to both HRM’s nuisance and parks by-laws were approved ahead of the legalization of marijuana across the country on Oct. 17.

One amendment was made to the first version of the nuisance by-law, as fines for those unlawfully consuming in public ranged from $100 to $2,000, but the lower end of the spectrum has been lowered to $25.

Councillor Cleary said the change was made to remove the “punitive nature” of the penalty.

For homes within the water and sewer service area, the federal limit of up to four plants must be grown indoors, while rural areas will be permitted to grow outside. 

Traves said in staff’s work studying complaints in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is also legal, odour was the biggest one from residents and the reason for growing restrictions.

After passing second-reading, fines for those caught unlawfully growing cannabis remain at a range from $1,000 to $10,000, which includes the possibility of plants being ordered removed or destroyed at a cost of a lien on the offender's property.

Changes to the parks by-law also passed second-reading, which mainly outlawed smoking marijuana or tobacco in municipal parks but also banned drones and defined a bicycle as a vehicle.

When it comes to pot, designated consumption areas are expected to be in place and properly signed well ahead of the legalization date, according to CAO Jacques Dube, with an education campaign for the public to begin likely after Labour Day.

"I'm confident we can get it done on time," he told Council. 

Some Councillors, like Timberlea - Beechville - Clayton Park - Wedgewood Councillor Richard Zurawski, felt the new municipal enforcement regime was “too restrictive” for a legal substance and continued what he called a an old-school “just say no” mentality when it comes to marijuana use.

"I think we know that doesn't work,” he said, adding penalties for consumption will also target those who likely can't afford it: marginalized communities or those who are “young and dumb.”

He also felt a complaint-based system can be used as a weapon in personal disputes, particularly after-hours when Regional Police would be responding to such a nuisance call.

Chief Legal Counsel John Traves said the key will be adapting to changes and issues as they arise, particularly with enforcement and consumption. 

“Finding a balance between different people's definitions of 'the enjoy of their property' is going to be difficult at first." Traves said, adding that “controls and structure” allow for issues to be minimized. 

Like alcohol, marijuana will be regulated by the province with some revenues from sales expected to be passed along to municipalities to offset startup and ongoing costs that include enforcement.

Dube said HRM and the province are in the midst of hammering out a revenue agreement with the hope of having it finalized by the end of the fiscal year.

Dube told Councillors it’s HRM's position "all of its expenses should be covered.”

“Period."

Staff have predicted it will cost roughly $1 million annually to enforce various by-laws once recreational pot becomes legal. This includes hiring eight new by-law officers, one new supervisor and support staff, acquiring a new work space and changes to current signs. 

Road safety framework approved

Despite criticisms from some stakeholders involved in its creation, Regional Council voted Tuesday to approve its plan for road safety with a goal of reducing accidents with fatalities or injuries by 20 per cent over the next two decades.

Taso Koutroulakis, Manager of Traffic Management at HRM, presented the 'Strategic Road Safety Plan,' which contains a bold vision statement of "moving toward zero fatalities and injuries for people using any mode of transportation."

The plan is meant to address the roughly 1,400 people in the Halifax-area, including pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and passengers, that are injured each year in collisions.

It was short on specific actions or 'counter-measures' to mitigate the severity and number of crashes but staff including Koutoulakis pointed out crash data needed to be analyzed more closely before those could be definitively determined.

Critics like the Crosswalk Safety Society of Nova Scotia, who were stakeholders in the plan that was years in the making, have been vocally critical of this lack of detail along with the plan not having a goal of ‘absolutely zero fatalities.’

Staff and Councillors like Cleary said it was somewhat obvious the ideal goal would be zero fatalities.

Cleary pointed out ‘Vision Zero’ started in Sweden, who achieved a 42 per cent reduction in 10 years between 2006 and 2016, but still not zero.

Deputy Mayor Waye Mason said the point of the plan is to reduce the "engineered errors" with “an eye on zero.”

Hammonds Plains Councillor Matt Whitman also raised concerns about a lack of budget impact outlined with the plan, which staff noted would come forward in regular capital budget talks each year for the given department. 

The lack of concrete detail also prompted Councillors to vote for a name change suggested by Mason, officially changing the title of the plan from the ‘Strategic Road Safety Plan’ to ‘Strategic Road Safety Framework.’

Bruce Zvaniga, Director of Transportation and Public Works at HRM said codifying safety priorities like what is done in the approved plan gives staff confidence and “clear Council direction” dealing with traffic issues in the future.

He said staff heard the criticisms and felt the focus needed to be the timing of priorities for traffic calming and safety, but ceded work is needed with stakeholders, a “partnership that will be critical moving forward.”

Cornwallis commemorative committee changes

During its meeting Tuesday, Regional Council approved the addition of two members to the panel tasked with examining how Halifax’s controversial founder is commemorated on municipal property.

The panel was struck last spring amid pressure from the Nova Scotia Mi’maq community and other indigenous advocates who noted Edward Cornwallis had issues a bounty on Mi'kmaq scalps as Governor of Nova Scotia.

While the panel was originally supposed to have eight members, staff recommend two more be added to “accommodate additional expertise and experience.”

The current ratio of half appointments by Council and half appointments by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs will be maintained, meaning one more from each group's nominations would be added to the panel. 

Councillor Whitman was the only member who voted against the expansion of the committee and confirmed with staff that it was the only HRM committee where members were paid, with the current rate of honorarium at $150 per meeting.

Whitman said he wanted to re-iterate he does not support the panel’s work.

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