HRM Pulls Switcheroo on Premier / Minister with Common’s Pool Building

Say one thing, do another.  In April 2021 HRM’s Jacques Dube asked the NS Government’s Law Amendments for permission for HRM to construct a building to support the new pool on the Central Common. FHC expressed concerns to Law Amendments then; drawings showed two buildings; the public had never been consulted on the design; and the Master Plan public consultation was on-going. Now it seems HRM pulled a switcheroo on the NS Government— there are two, much larger buildings placed in a different location than HRM requested.

Initial Central Common pool and buildings design near Cogswell HRM proposed. (3)

Pool buildings being built- larger and in a different location

FHC has written to Premier and Minister of Municipal Affairs as they both oversee Municipalities and authorize decisions made by the Law Amendments Committee. In this case Bill 103 was an agreement to a particular request from HRM. But HRM did not proceed as it presented it would. 

We believe this “Say one thing, do another,” is too usual a form of governance. It erodes public trust in government. We have asked the Premier and Minister what they have to say about this? And we have also asked if they are willing to propose a remedy the situation such as creating legislative protection of the Halifax Common?  

Read FHC’s letter here

October 6, 2022

Dear Premier Housing and Minister Lohr:

Re: Bill 103, HRM pulled a switcheroo on Government of Nova Scotia with Common’s Pool Building

We write to draw your attention to evidence that HRM has pulled a fast one on both of you, Members of the Nova Scotia Legislature and especially members of the Law Amendments. 

HRM’s Ask to Province In April 15, 2021 HRM CAO Jacques Dube appeared at Law Amendments to request changes to the Halifax Charter with Bill 103. HRM was seeking permission to build a building for the Central Common’s new pool. 

FHC Concerns to Law Amendments Also at Law Amendments that day were Friends of Halifax Common directors David Garrett and Alan Ruffman. They asked the Committee to not approve the Charter change. While FHC agreed that the facility needed to be replaced, the volunteer citizens’ group expressed the need for HRM to complete the comprehensive master plan for the Common.  At that time the plan was in its fourth year of development, had not received the full public consultation it required, both politically and legally and was not ready to be approved by council. FHC was concerned that the on-going piecemeal approach to fulfilling various perceived needs without full public consultation and an overarching plan was continuing the on-going diminishment of the Halifax Common. 

Mr. Ruffman noted that while HRM was asking for approval for a single building, the plan (see below) clearly showed two buildings. Mr. Ruffman underscored concern about the number of buildings HRM was seeking approval for in stating that, “This uncertainty exists because while there were public consultation meetings in 2017 and 2018, no final proposed aquatic centre plan was brought to the public in 2019 and at no time since.” (1) 

FHC’s written submission to Law Amendments on this occasion explained that even HRM’s staff record of public comments to that time found that citizens wanted HRM to wait on the aquatic centre until the final Master Plan was complete.(2)

Figure 1— Initial Central Common pool and buildings design near Cogswell HRM proposed. (3)

Figure Detail showing Pool Buildings as presented to public, Minister Lohr and Law Amendments (3)

Pool Building Design and Halifax Common Master Plan Consultation Although Mr. Dube’s stated that “The consultation during the long-term aquatic strategy and the Halifax Common master plan indicates strong public support for the replacement of the existing assets and new updated aquatic facility in the Halifax Common,” (4) he failed to disclose that the building plan and location then proposed had never been discussed in any detail during of the Master Plan consultation, as one might have logically expected. 

Now, Two Buildings, Bigger and Relocated Just recently, FHC learned that now HRM is building a greatly expanded facility with two buildings that have a much larger footprint than presented during the Law Amendments time. These new buildings are at least 1/3 larger than the design that the city was proposing at the time it asked the province to amend the Charter to give them permission to build. Evidently this was approved when the budget was increased.

As well, HRM has switched the location of the buildings. And there is a large overhead structure that initially seemed to be scaffolding / structural but in fact now looks permanent.

Figure 3- The Pool buildings being built are much larger and in a different location (5)

Building numbers, size, placement, design While HRM staff report in October 2021 that “community engagement related the Halifax Commons Aquatic Project as having been completed through the 2019 Long-Term Aquatic Strategy and identified the 2020/21 Capital Projects Budget” (5), the buildings and the location recommended in that report and approved and now being developed were never part of the Halifax Common consultation and did not receive support through these public processes. Indeed there was no public consultation on the Master Plan since 2019.  At no time did the public have an opportunity to see and vet the placement or design these buildings.

High Value for Open Space on the Halifax Common is Harmed One of the highest values that citizens hold for the Halifax Common is open space. A top ask from citizens during the public consultation on the Master Plan was that there be no more building on the Common. And yet the present design and location of the pool building has the worst aspect for both keeping the sense of open space and for reducing the impact of the scale of the building on the Common. Because the buildings are configured as an “L” they block the view and open-space on two axis. And as the length of the building is along the public pathway, the building is a wall that blocks the view to the west. The overhead metal bar structure encloses and blocks the openness of the space. This new placement also ignores practical physical advantages that would have been gained by re-building at the old Pavilion location including decreased noise and exposure to pollution from the traffic on Cogswell. 

Public Consultation and Public Trust in Government HRM’s public consultation process too often ignores what the public say. It is popular to dismiss citizens who participate as NIMBYs or more generally obstructionists. For example minutes for the recently struck Provincial Housing Task Force show the one document tabled during the meetings was from a US Magazine, The Atlantic, by a US author and entitled —Community Input is Bad (6) 

In this case HRM did not consult the public as it led you to believe and it did not receive approval for what it is now constructed. It misrepresented and misled. Yet we as Canadians and Nova Scotians all largely support democratic processes, rule of law, public institutions and governance structures. 

Legislative Protection of the Halifax Common The 240 acre Halifax Common was granted “to and for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common forever.” In 1763. Less than 20% remains as public open space. As Premier and Minister, you oversee Municipalities. You also authorize decisions made by the Law Amendments Committee. In this case Bill 103 was an agreement to a particular request from HRM. Now we all have evidence that HRM did not proceed as it presented it would. 

We believe this “Say one thing, do another,” is too usual a form of governance. It erodes public trust in government. We would like to know what you both, as Premier and as Minister have to say about this? And ask if you are willing to propose a remedy the situation such as creating legislative protection of the Halifax Common?  

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes for the many tasks as hand, especially those that Fiona has left us with.

Friends of Halifax Common, Board of Directors

(1) Chronicle Herald, April 15, 2021: https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/legislation-to-facilitate-halifax-common-pool-passes-hurdle-100576530/

(2)  https://halifaxcommon.ca/fhc-to-premier-dont-approve-a-pool-building-before-public-consultation-and-a-plan/

https://ca.movies.yahoo.com/pool-revamp-proposal-halifax-common-161746758.html

(3) https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/191210rc1513.pdf

(4) CBC, April 15, 2021: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/new-pool-proposal-for-halifax-common-faces-resistance-from-group-1.5988717

(5) https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/211109rc1521.pdf

(6)  https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/04/local-government-community-input-housing-public-transportation/629625/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share