Recently MLA Diana Whalen posed an interesting question in her Letter to the Editor of the Halifax Chronicle Herald that pointed at the shoddy handling of the ‘ Mainland Common Recreation Center by the staff and elected officials of the Halifax Regional Municipality. I’m in full agreement with Mrs Whalen’s position and the comments offered by Bette El-Hawary, P.A. Kidd, Rhonda Beers, Francis MacDonald, and Doug Boudreau each in their own Letters to the Editor, all of whom speak from their personal frustration with the whole process and lack of involvement by our elected leaders.
I have a few comments of my own but first some personal history.
Where to start?
This issue has been part of my world for as long as I can remember.
- I’ve lived between Meadowlark Crest.,Chadwick Place and Westridge Drive for 30 of the past 35 years.
- I attended Halifax West High School when it was on Dutch Village Road and was considered a New School with 1,500 students from the area now serviced by Halifax West, J.L. Ilsley & Sir John A MacDonald. All bussed in each day by a fleet of 50 buses and requiring 6 portable classrooms and split shifts in my grade 10 year.
- I remember when Lacewood Dr. stopped at Bayview, when the YMCA opened the Northcliff Pool with its inflatable roof, and when there was no Dunbrack Dr or Bayers Lake or Parkland Drive.
- I remember when the old city of Halifax took over the Northcliff Pool from the YMCA (they could not afford the upkeep of the roof) to serve a population of 20,0000 in its catchment area.
- I’ve witnessed the phenomenal growth of the community referred to as Clayton Park & Clayton Park West from a sleepy bedroom community, where new homes sold for $ 28,000 to $35,000 as it grew into a dynamic, thriving, multicultural center with new homes in the $ 250,000 to $ 500,000 range and a population in the service catchment area that is pushing past the 200,0000 mark. Most of that growth exploded into the area in the last 10 – 14 years.
- I have watched the change in what ‘we the people‘ want in our community. There is a much greater demand for municipal services that would not have been considered in the past.
- I have campaigned door to door with the candidate in the past two Provincial Elections and was campaign coordinator for a candidate in the past Municipal Election & was at his side at every door, every day of that champagne and I have a pretty good idea of what this community was asking for at that time.
- I have attended Chebucto Community Council meetings on this issue when I was one of a dozen people in attendance & when the room was over filled with angry residence objecting to a proposed Recreation Center that resembled a resort with out the floating bar.
- I have attended ‘Town Hall’ meetings at the New Halifax West with a couple of hundred other concerned citizens where we were treated as unwanted interference and at one session managed and controlled as to what we were allowed to ask.
- I have spoken out at every one of these sessions of my concern that the City was not building a facility for the future of our community but was doing the minimal that it could get away with and ducking the responsibility.
- I have been involved with the Build It Right group from its inception as a public participant, a petition signature gatherer and I’ve attended meetings as a member with the Managers of both the Department of Planning & Development and Recreation and Sport. where our concerns were treated with a rather condescending attitude.
- I have talked personally with those same Department managers where they have commented that ‘anything is possible if there is the political will’. And there is the biggest part of this problem, that lack of political will starts right at the top.
- Every project with in the Recreation and Sport domain had been waiting with baited breath for a successful Commonwealth Games Bid. It was absolutely mind boggling the number of times that the Management of those departments commented that ‘everything depends on getting the Commonwealth Games and being able to tap into the ‘extra’ funding that would be available from the Federal Government because we were hosting an international event of this stature.
- This logic came to a grinding halt the day that his highness Peter Kelley unceremoniously pulled the City’s support of that Bid. Not only was that decision an insult to the hundreds of bid participants in business community but it ended every one of those projects that had been using the strategy of waiting for the Holy Grail…. there was no plan B, so back to the drawing board we go…. effectively pushing each of those projects a year or two further down the road or in some cases off the road all together.
The Current Reality
After ten (10) years of public involvement it angers me that here we are seven (7) months before the next Municipal Election and the City & Province are still stonewalling the public as to their plans for this facility.
- How can anyone be expected to believe that the huge amount of heavy earth moving that is currently being done on the proposed site is in preparation….without a plan!!! Talk about throwing money away! I f you believe that I’ve got some swamp land in Florida that you can buy for $1,000.00
From my perspective in this situation the ‘City’ lacks leadership and any firm vision & direction that would come as part of a strong Mayor & Council. There has been a deliberate effort to pacify the community by using the HRM’s version of Public Consultation and much like what has been happening with the School Review Process and lets be clear …. this attempt has failed.
By ignoring the the input of community based organizations like Build It Right and the hundreds of voices heard at the many public meetings the ‘City‘ is setting its self up for ridicule, criticism and controversy.
The attitude of ‘Concerned Citizens’ has changed over the years. The hundreds of people from this community who have taken the time out of their busy lives to be involved in the process, to make their concerns known, ultimately need to know that their voice was heard and taken into consideration.
Short of that, the process is flawed, the project will become a lightning rod for all the complaints that will be rightly aired.
The Missing Link
In all of the years that this situation has dragged through the painfully slow process, the missing component has been the political will of our elected representatives. The counselors for this area have resisted any objective input from the public and for the most part have avoided any involvement, despite repeated invitations. Not once have I seen, heard or read of Mayor Kelley having attended a meeting on this matter, nor has his opinion ever been expressed publicly although comments from staff as to the lack of Political Will starting at the top have made it clear what position Mr Kelly has taken.
If Halifax wants to continue to grow and keep its youth, to keep some of the new graduates from our universities and have the young geniuses of the (RIM) technology world make this their home its time to face reality.
- Its time to invest in our youth by giving them a chance to grow to their potential with a ‘Center of Excellence’ .
- Its time to invest in a positive and healthy community by providing a community / recreation canter that promotes an active and involved lifestyle for all ages.
- Its time to invest in our communities by putting the services where they are convenient and stop using the logic that oh well you can do that over there … on the other side of the city … 45 minutes each way [by car & 2 hrs by bus … during peak hours]
- Its time for strong, aggressive leadership that chases all potential stakeholders and doesn’t stop till they get the best for Halifax. If Port Hawksbury can raise the funds…. you know the rest of that comment!
- Its time to make the changes in all of the processes to effective allow public participation & to speed up those processes thereby allowing Halifax to grow into the great city that it could be.
Halifax is a great city & Clayton Park is a fabulous area in which to live.
To me the fix for this situation comes down to a change in attitude and a new approach. The key objective of any project undertaken by the Halifax Regional Municipal should be;
- by using effective community consultation the project meets the needs of the community,
- all the participants can be proud of their involvement, proud of the facility and proud of Halifax.
In reality it is a team approach with bottom up concept development combined with conciliation and facilitation, add some creative problem solving along with a consistently positive attitude by all involved. And that’s an approach will make the difference. I’ve been known to say on more than one occasion “give me the right attitude and anything is possible”.
Couple that approach & attitude with a strong leadership team that is willing to be involved in the community, to be transparent in its methods, accountable to the voters, and willing to promote Halifax as a great place to live at every opportunity and through every method and most importantly be ready & willing to fight for every ounce of funding that we are due.
No matter what Moncton says Halifax is the regional center and should start acting accordingly, on all levels. Invest in the infrastructure, the facilities and the people …. the rest will be here or come here.
Unfortunately it appears that the Mayor and Counselors have decided to go into the upcoming election with a [potentially] flawed proposed facility hoping to gain community support for their version of what is needed.
I wouldn’t want to be knocking on doors this fall with any of them…. its not going to be nice.