Social Policy Framework, municipal elections, dogs & covid, more

Hi all, I had not sent an update this week because there just are not that many things going on.  Right now there is less to report that is urgent, and also Council is getting back into meeting more regularly and that has been eating up my time.

I’ve decided to go back for now to weekly newsletters, and once again make them more general in nature. Look for them Thursday or Friday. I will include a weekly Coronavirus in the newsletter and post more often if something urgent comes up.

Regional Council adopted Halifax’s first Social Policy framework this week.  A Social Policy formalizes a way of thinking about and responding to the social impact of changes in a community. It can guide decision making, set future direction, identify important connections, and support the alignment of policies and practices both inside and outside an organization. In doing so, a Social Policy defines the role of the municipality in responding to current and future social issues.

The areas that are being focused on now are Connected Communities and Mobility, Food Security, Housing.  I want to thank Councillor Lindell Smith for being a champion of this and working hard to make sure this was adopted. This is great for Halifax.  You can read more here: https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/200512rc813.pdf

The Municipal Elections scheduled for October 17, 2020 will go ahead as scheduled.

In a letter this Wednesday addressed to NSFM President Pam Mood, Minister Chuck Porter writes that the request to postpone the elections “was examined,” but the decision was ultimately made to go ahead.

“We are aware of a number of municipalities with vacancies on council who are holding off on filing those vacancies pending the October election,” the Minister writes in his two-page letter.

“If we delay elections beyond October, there will be thousands of Nova Scotians who will not have a representative at the table when those councils make important decisions on the future of their communities.”

For more on HRM elections here: https://www.halifax.ca/city-hall/elections

I’ve been getting emails and phone calls from people who are concerned about dogs running up to and even jumping on them in parks, and dogs playing with each other, and the potential for COVID-19 transmission.

I asked NS Public Health about this and was told that although there have been a few reports of domestic animals becoming sick with COVID-19, there is no evidence that domestic animals can spread the virus to people.  

So while it is not likely to spread, dog owners are always required to have their dogs under control, even in an off-leash dog park. Please remember to keep your dog on a leash from your car to the off leash area.  Dog owners should always be concerned about responsible pet ownership more here https://www.halifax.ca/home-property/animal-services/halifax-leash-areas

I encouraged people to bring it up when they were walking to folks and to phone 311 with concerns.

Coronavirus Update #25 | March 14, 2020

We appear to be a week or two away from entering phase one of Nova Scotia’s recovery plan.  The plan is based on the science-based, evidence-informed national guidance

At HRM, there are a number of things the municipality is doing or is working on to support public safety and economic recovery.

The municipal budget is being debated right now looking at changes to be able to absorb both lower revenue from taxes, bus fares and fees, as well as how to handle the cash flow issues that may happen when some businesses and residents are unable to pay their taxes on time.

We spent a fair bit of time Tuesday and Wednesday debating the scale of the adjustments.

I don’t support a hiring freeze, or cutting community grants. People are expecting more from the government than ever, and we need people to do that work. Our community partners, not for profits from shelters to arts organizations, are all experiencing financial challenges, and I feel it is a betrayal of these volunteer & community groups to take away funding during their time of need.

We are not debating a tax increase, but we are debating what mix of cuts, spending from reserves, and debt is right. The debate continues tomorrow.

The kind of things we need staff to do include the “COVID-19 Transportation Recovery Plan.” There are immediate actions that are needed to allow people to physically distance while walking or cycling and access essential services and local businesses.

As Nova Scotia start to reopen the economy, commuter patterns, and how we travel are unknown and are expected to change throughout the recovery phase. In order to adapt and prepare for changing Public Health directives, the Municipality is developing a rapid response plan to quickly implement tactical elements to accommodate users of the right of way for different scenarios.

Areas under discussion include:

  • Maintain transportation systems to safely move all residents and goods as the city reopens
  • Keep front-line workers safe, and actively manage and support both operational and remote office workforces
  • Delivery & pick-up needs (e.g., restaurants new delivery models)
  • Relieve crowded areas (e.g., parks and narrow sidewalks) to support health department guidance for physical distancing
  • Create clear messaging of the recovery effort as it relates to transportation

When this was discussed at Council I asked if this would include full or partial street closures to allow for more table space for restaurants.

This is critical as it is expected that when restaurants open they will be at 50% capacity due to 2m physical distancing rules. Staff said this was also a part of the work.  Staff has indicated that we will start to see changes in time for the start of phase 1 of the recovery plan, so that is good news.

In addition to this, I made a notice of motion so at the next Council meeting will vote on whether to suspend fee payment for sidewalk cafes (patios) for 2020.  Restaurants have asked for this because they are not sure when they will open again, and they don’t want to pay the $800 license fee for something they may not get to use much if at all this summer.

I will be supporting Councillor Paul Russell’s motion to ask the Provincial government to help get more small businesses onto the Federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CERCA) program.  The Provincial rent deferral program was a good stop-gap measure but will leave many small businesses with a mountain of debt they will never repay.  The Federal program includes a 50% grant, which helps lower the burden on the businesses.

The motion also proposes requesting the Province of Nova Scotia immediately institute a temporary moratorium on any commercial rent default evictions, where the reason for the rent default is related to COVID-19, which is something the City of Toronto has also requested.