I send out my newsletters every few weeks (typically a few days before the Council meeting, so that you will see what we will be talking about, and so that you can share your opinion about it with me). I also want to publish a Happy New Year blog post and, rather than duplicate effort, am posting today’s newsletter here.
I hope you will find this helpful. Please share it with anyone who might also find it helpful, and if this has been shared with you then please sign up to receive it directly on my web site — http://www.paulrussell.ca
In this issue:
- Happy New Year! All the best for 2021
- COVID-19 Update
- Lower Sackville priorities
- HRM priorities
- Coffee, around town
Happy New Year! All the best for 2021
There is no question that 2020 has been a difficult year.
We started hearing about strange events in China a year ago today, Dec 31, 2019, when they built two field hospitals in just a few days. What we’ve been through, since then, has dramatically affected all of us.
As we saw it spread around the planet, we saw a virus that is highly contagious and has a high mortality rate. France and Italy were shut down because their health care systems were overwhelmed.
Because of the global experience, and because we still didn’t quite know what we were dealing with, the common response was for governments to shut down in-person contact as much as possible. In the early days we knew that we had to wash our hands and stay socially distant. Later on we also determined that masks provided benefit. We learned that singing spread the virus, so all singing was stopped. Mass gatherings, including weddings and funerals, and team sports were shut down as part of this.
We’ve learned that we can work from home, and we’ve found new ways to connect with others using Zoom, Facetime, and other software. We’ve become used to the idea of 6 foot social distancing, wearing masks, standing in line up outside of stores because of a maximum limit of people in the stores, and the value of small independent businesses. We’ve learned just how important it is to stay outdoors and active, since this was one of the early restrictions. We’ve learned how important it is to take care of our seniors, and that there is an overwhelming need for more to be done.
We’ve learned to bounce back from tragedy. We went through the mass shootings. We then had the flypast with the snowbirds, to build our spirits, only to have one of them crash as they had finished their cross-country tour, adding another blow to Nova Scotia.
Thank you, everyone, for being so caring and so strong. You have helped out, either by stepping forward and contributing where you could, or by not stepping forward to prevent the spread of the virus. I’ve often said “Stay positive, and stay negative”.
This has been a difficult year, but it’s also been a good year.
We’ve learned to take care of each other and the importance of our own sacrifices for the greater good. We’ve seen an outpouring of emotion and support following each tragedy.
The two most common phrases that we heard, as we headed in to summer, were “Nova Scotia Strong” and “Stay The Blazes Home”. These phrases helped Nova Scotians develop a sense of camaraderie and support for each other. They socialized the lack of social interaction.
Through this year we discovered an incredibly talented and caring pilot, Dimitri Neonakis, who brought us to tears after the mass shooting. Dimitri is one of those quiet heroes who deserves far more praise than he receives. In addition to the sky drawings that he has done, he also takes challenged kids up in his plane, all the time, so that they can experience some degree of freedom.
This has been a deadly virus.
Through some helpful geography and some significant sacrifices by everyone, we are in one of the safest places in North America and, possibly, the world. We have proven that we are strong, that we are working together. and that we support each other. These have been great things for us to learn.
In this newsletter I have reflected on this year and am also looking forward to 2021. We have been through some lousy times, and there are still some difficult times ahead, but I’m absolutely certain that also better days ahead of us.
For now, however, I would like to wish each and every one of you the happiest of years.
We were not able to get together through the holiday season, we are not able to get together tonight, and we are not able to get together for the levees tomorrow, the way we normally would. We can still celebrate the end of the most difficult year that most of us will ever know.
2020 — the year of COVID — will soon be behind us.
I am still looking ahead and looking forward to 2021 — the year of the vaccine, and the start of recovery.
We have the opportunity to make the best of the new year, and I plan to do exactly that.
I wish you the very best for the final few hours of 2020, and hope that all of your postponed wishes come true in 2021.
According to the provincial government (as of Thursday) we only have 22 active cases in the province and, since December 5, we’ve had less than 10 new cases per day. We also have our first case in the hospital in a very long time.
We are still doing incredibly well, especially compared with the rest of Canada. The following map is from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html#a1 showing all of the active cases as of Dec 30, 2020.
Part of our success has to do with keeping physically distant from each other.
Google has been tracking our location (no surprise) and has mapped it (no surprise) and has made that available (OK, maybe this one is a surprise). You can find the data here: https://www.google.com/covid19/mobility/. This data (as of Dec 27, 2020) shows that we are spending a lot of time in parks and at homes, and far less time shopping and at our workplaces.
Well done! That certainly points to a healthier lifestyle, even if it’s harder socially.
From the update, today (https://novascotia.ca/CoronaVirus/county-restrictions/halifax/), we are also able to start visiting restaurants on Monday. I plan to do just that, starting with the local Tim Hortons and Apt 3. Hopefully I’ll see you there.
We also have two vaccines approved by Health Canada (https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines.html). Although very few doses have arrived, they are starting to be distributed.
With these vaccines we are now able to battle the virus, instead of us just stopping its spread. We will not be out of the woods for a long time, but we are taking significant steps to help us get there.
Lower Sackville Priorities
There are lots of things going on around town. When someone asks me what I’m working on I typically have a hard time responding because there is so much. I am going to continue to work on all of these items:
First Lake testing and remediation
There are two parts to this.
The first is the immediate problem of the high e.coli count, measuring it, identifying where it came from, and figuring out how to correct it. I’ve been working with HRM staff and a number of community members about this. I hope to see a report about it this year, and I also expect to see regular testing for e.coli resume this year.
The second part of the lake testing is determining the actual health of the lake on a more broad basis. Some volunteers with the Friends of First Lake have started doing some of the testing, and they have my full support (including finances, where necessary). First Lake is a gem of a lake, and I am working to make sure that it is healthy and that we can swim in it without any concerns.
Housing insecurity and Homelessness
This is a huge challenge that has been made worse because of the housing crisis. We simply have too many people for the supply of housing that we have. (To some degree this has been eased by COVID because immigration has dropped, but it will start to be problematic again as we get better control over the virus.)
Part of the solution is more housing, and part is more affordable housing. We currently have work happening on an additional 10 apartment buildings in Lower Sackville alone – 7 of them are currently being built, and 3 are in the planning stages. This will help with the supply of housing, but there needs to be more.
I’m working with the Sackville Area Warming Centre to help their operation continue. I would also like to see us determine if there is a need for a shelter in or near Sackville and, if warranted, will work toward it’s development and operation.
I also want to see us have more long term care facilities. This will help many of those in Lower Sackville who are living close to the edge (or over the edge) in terms of being able to live alone. They should have a decent alternative.
Speed on neighbourhood streets
This is another significant issue, and was mentioned more through the election than the next dozen issues combined. I’ve addressed it, partly, in this post: http://www.paulrussell.ca/neighbourhood-speeding/.
We have two possible solutions for the problem of speeding. The first is to add things to the roads to make it harder to speed (like speed bumps, bump outs, stop signs, or police) and the second is to change the design of the roads to encourage or require people to slow down. At this point we’re adding things to the roads. It is not practical for us to redesign the street layout, in Lower Sackville, to build in traffic calming.
The blog post, mentioned above, shows the list of streets that are currently slated for traffic calming. We will continue to update that list as we get more of them done. I will also continue to use the speed radar to identify trouble areas and to remind people to slow down.
This is a priority for those who live on or near a heavy traffic street. Last year I identified three sidewalks, and they are still my top three: Old Beaver Bank Road; Stokil Drive between the elementary schools; and Cobequid Road from Sucker Brook to First Lake. I’m hopeful that they will see some funds in the budget this year.
Crosswalks and crossing guards
I’ve had a number of discussions about crosswalks and crossing guards. The number one place that I’d like to see a crosswalk (or, better yet, a set of lights) is on Beaver Bank Road at Boxwood Cres. HRCE uses this unmarked intersection to map where children should be walking to school, and the HRP (who manage the crossing guards) are reluctant to put a crossing guard there because there is no marked crosswalk.
I’m working on all of those things, especially for that intersection.
Congesting during school drop-offs and pick-ups
Two schools – Cavalier Drive Elementary and Smokey Drive Elementary – have significant congestion while kids are being dropped off and picked up. I had hoped to work with both of those schools and communities to get this addressed before Christmas, but there were too many competing priorities. This will certainly get attention in the new year.
We need to make it safe for our students to get to school, and we need to make sure that the parents and guardians are able to drop the kids off safely.
Indoor gym, track, and field
In the 2019 election I started hearing about the desire and the need for an indoor gym and field. These would be multi-sport areas and would allow things like soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and track, to happen all year ’round, instead of just when the weather is nice. I’ve been working on this ever since and will continue to move it forward.
Beaver Bank Road — All of it!
I’ve identified priorities all along Beaver Bank Road, and I am working on all of them.
First is the concern about pedestrians crossing at Exit 2. We need to make it safe. I’ve been working with HRM and the province and, during the election, polled everyone that I could in the Sackville Manor park for their preferred solution. The community has now identified a solution, so we need to move forward with it.
Next is the lights at Old Sackville Road (and the next intersection up, at Downsview Drive). We need to do something to make it safer for pedestrians while also making it safer and easier for vehicles. We’ve got a number of ideas, and also have to work with the province on that.
I would like to see a middle turning lane along Beaver Bank Road all the way from Sackville Drive to Avery’s. This would allow for traffic to continue to pass while other cars are turning left.
I’ve already mentioned the intersection at Beaver Bank Road and Boxwood Cres. This needs -something-, and we’re still working towards what that could be.
The intersection at Stokil Drive could use some improvements. We saw improvements this year but, at that stop, I’d like to see an advance left turn in all directions.
Permanent Accessible washrooms at some parks
Kinsmen beach and park has a huge number of visitors. The splash pad is the busiest in HRM, and when we get the lake issues fixed I’m sure that it will be even busier. At this point we have two porta potties at that park. I’ve been speaking with HRM staff about having permanent washroom facilities there, or at least having accessible porta potties.
A budget that we can afford
2021, and the next few years, are going to be rough for the budget and for our pocketbooks.
We expect lower than normal property tax revenue, because of businesses not being able to pay. At the same time we expect higher than normal expenses, because of the virus. I’m going to what I can to help keep our services to the standards that we expect, and to keep our taxes as low as possible.
We have also seen the federal and provincial government give out tons of money because of the virus, and I expect that both our provincial and federal taxes will increase dramatically. The federal government has so much new debt that it will take years to repay it, and then we will still have to repay the debt from 2019 and earlier.
Since those two levels of government are likely going to increase the taxes, I’d hate to see us increase taxes as well. That being said, we need to see some of our services improved.
Improved road conditions
We measure the condition of every inch of paved road. (This has been happening since 2016. Prior to that we measured about 1/3 of the paved roads every year.) This data has shown us a trend of how average pavement condition index across HRM, and this is shown in the graph below.
From 2012 to 2015 it was improving. For the past few years it has been deteriorating (we don’t have the 2020 rating data yet).
I would like to see us get back to the gradual increases that we saw previously, and repeat the trend from 2012 through to 2015. Unfortunately this will have an impact on cost. I believe that this will be a worthwhile investment.
Electric (and hydrogen powered) buses
We are moving forward with the electrification of our bus fleet. This is going to take a fair amount of infrastructure work, but it’s something that needs to be done. As dirty as it is building the batteries and generating the electricity, it is worse to run diesel buses. Once we electrify the bus fleet we can focus on producing cleaner energy.
Once we move away from diesel, however, we’ve got another step to go — hydrogen power. We need to make sure to take the hydrogen economy in to consideration during any changes that we make now. We will still need a refit with the hydrogen economy, but we can lessen that refit if we do the right planning now.
Coffee, around town
I am in the habit of having coffee at various locations around town while doing my work, and I show this schedule on my web site of PaulRussell.ca.
Every week I update my web site with the times and locations where we can get together for an impromptu chat about whatever Sackville or municipal matter is on your mind.
If you see me at Tim’s or at Apt 3 then feel free to come over and say Hi.
We’re able to get back in to restaurants and coffee shops as of January 4, so I’ll be spending quite a bit of time there.
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Councillor – Lower Sackville / District 15
Community – Professionalism – Collaboration
Web site: http://www.PaulRussell.ca
Councillor Constituency Coordinator: