Monday, December 17, 2012

Crosswalk Safety: Better Enforcement

Given some of my posts on the need for improved crosswalk safety, I was concerned to hear the recent statement by the Halifax Regional police that, despite a spate of recent crosswalk fatalities and injuries, they do not plan to increase enforcement of crosswalk violations, but will focus instead on educating the public.  It was even more concerned by the statement by Toronto police that the answer to crosswalk accidents is for pedestrians to wear lighter clothes.  This was recently echoed by one Chronicle Herald columnist.

Public education must go hand in hand with enforcement. In order to be effective, laws must be both well understood and well enforced.  The two are mutually reinforcing.  Enforcement without education is unfair, because people cannot reasonably be expected to follow laws they are not aware of or do not understand.   And education without enforcement is somewhat toothless: some people will ignore laws unless they are held to account for breaking them.

I've had more than one person suggest to me that crosswalk safety is merely a matter of common sense and personal responsibility.  Pedestrians know they are at risk, and so they should take every precaution, including wearing lighter clothes.  That certainly seems to be the view of some people within the police department.

I agree that common sense should prevail, and that all users of the road should act with a regard for their safety and that of others.  Pedestrians should look both ways before crossing the road, and should make sure drivers see them and have time to stop.  The fact you had the right of way will matter very little if you are seriously hurt or even killed.

Similarly, drivers need to be exercise caution when approaching all intersections, and be on the lookout for pedestrians waiting to cross as well as those already in the crosswalk.  It is sometimes difficult for pedestrians to tell whether drivers have seen them and intend to stop, so it helps if drivers make eye contact with pedestrians and make clear they have seen them.

A little courtesy doesn't hurt either.  As a pedestrian, I always try and acknowledge drivers that do stop with a friendly wave.

So I agree that Crosswalk safety starts with personal responsibility.  However, as recent events demonstrate, when people are breaking the law and endangering public safety, it doesn't end with personal responsibility.  All the common sense in the world won't save you from other people's lack thereof.  That is why we have laws. 

To that point, I was recently out for a walk with my one year old son, pushing him in his stroller.  We came to a marked crosswalk across a two-lane street near our house.  I looked both ways, and there was no traffic coming in either direction, so we started across the crosswalk.  We were almost halfway across, about to enter the far lane, when a car came speeding around the nearest corner, headed towards us on the far side of the road.  I could see the driver was not going to stop, so I did.  She flew past us about a foot away without even a glance in our direction.  We had been well into the crosswalk when she turned the corner, so I don't know if she simply didn't see us (I'm a big guy, and the weather was good) or if she simply didn't care.  I'm not sure which is more frightening.  I was a little shaken up and didn't get the woman's plates to report her.  I should have.

Had we been a foot further into the road, she would have hit my son in his stroller.  And although I'd exercised common sense and personal responsibility, that would not have mattered had by son been run over.

Where other people fail to exercise common sense and personal responsibility, we need laws to hold them accountable.  But laws only work if they are enforced.

Yet it seems that in Halifax and elsewhere, crosswalk laws are rarely enforced unless someone gets hurt or killed.  It is apparently uncommon for police to ticket either pedestrians or drivers for crosswalk violations unless someone gets hit. And the police seem to have little appetite for an actual enforcement campaign.

Of course, laws can't be enforced unless the police know they are being broken.  I'd encourage users of the road to report crosswalk violations when they see them.  I've certainly heard stories of the police citing people for crosswalk violations based on citizen reports.

Reporting more incidents will also give police more accurate info on just how serious the crosswalk safety problem is.  To that end, I am glad to hear that Halifax police may be getting a traffic accident mapping tool that enables them to identify hot spots.  Of course, the tool will only be truly effective if they then take out their ticket pads and target those hot spots with targeted enforcement campaigns.

At the end of the day, while education is important, better enforcement can serve an educational function as well, a high profile campaign of enforcement can itself be a very effective form of education, reminding both motorists and pedestrians of their responsibilities to themselves and to each other.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Urban Development: Does Halifax need to Grow Up?

It has become painfully obvious to many if not most observers that Halifax has a sprawl problem.  The Halifax Regional Municipality covers an area almost the size of Prince Edward Island, and the city seem to be spreading out rapidly to fill those borders.  The Halifax Regional Municipality has been experiencing significant population growth in its suburbs, while population in the downtown cores of Halifax and Dartmouth continues to stagnate.

The sheer size of the HRM makes our population density unusually low, at 71 persons per square kilometer.  However, even when we look at urban areas of HRM alone, the density is 1106.4 people per square kilometre, which is still significantly lower than comparable cities like Kitchener-Waterloo, London (Ontario) and Regina, slightly less than Victoria, and far below densities of comparable great worldwide.  If Halifax aspires to be a great city, then we need to start thinking like a great city, and growing in a more focused, sustainable way.

HRM's Regional Plan, which is supposed to set the framework for sustainable growth in the HRM for the next 25 years, adopted a target that 25% of population growth should take place in the urban core (essentially Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford) while 50% should take place in the suburbs, and 25% in rural areas.  While some would argue that set the bar too low for urban growth, in the first five years of the plan we fell short of even that modest goal, with only 16% of population growth taking place in the urban core, while 56% took place in the suburbs and 28% in rural areas.  In other words, the city is expanding into the surrounding countryside at a rate that is not meeting even a modest target for sustainable growth.  This makes Halifax a textbook example of sprawl.

What is sprawl and why is it undesirable?

Sprawl has been described as a "land use pattern of single-use zones, typically made up of subdivisions, office parks, shopping centres’ strung together by arterials and highways."  While it is sometimes referred to as "suburban sprawl", the problem is not suburbs themselves, but rather the separation of residential, commercial and retail areas into large, isolated, single-use zones which can only be reached by driving, rather than compact mixed-use walkable neighbourhoods. It is typically characterized by lower population density.

Sprawl is problematic from a number of different standpoints, notably its financial and economic costs, its health and environmental impacts and its social dimensions.

In terms of financial costs, sprawl requires a municipality to provide services to the same number of taxpayers over a larger area.  This requires not only more infrastructure (more pipes, more roads, etc.) but increases soft costs as well: police officers, garbage haulers, and buses, all have to cover a larger area, resulting in increased costs to the taxpayer.

This has a very real impact on the municipal budget.  A recent study commissioned by the HRM shows that changing the urban growth target from 25% to 50% of the population increase would save the municipality  $1.7 billion over the next 20 years. 

In other words, to continue to service sprawl, the HRM will either have to charge higher taxes, or decrease service levels just to break even.  Sprawl imposes such high costs, that observers have linked it with municipal bankruptcies in the US and elsewhere.  It has been further linked to higher housing costs and even as a partial cause of the foreclosure crisis in the US.

Sprawl also imposes economic costs.  For example, because of it's dependence on single-occupant vehicles, sprawl is also associated with gridlock, which costs the Canadian economy $10 billion a year.

Spawl is also associated with a number of environmental and health problems.  An ever expanding city can result in loss of wildlife habitat and greenspace, which is essential for both environmental and human health.  It contributes to depletion and degradation of water sources.  The focus on single occupant vehicles increases reliance on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.  And it increases air pollution and sedentary lifestyles, leading to rising health problems and costs.

Finally, sprawl is associated with certain social problems, including loss of community, income inequality, and diminished social services.  Sprawl has been accused of lacking "quality of place" and creating social disconnection.

What is density and why is it desirable?

Our HRM Alliance defines density as "the number of people per area".  Statistics Canada defines an "urban density" as 400 people per square kilometer. Spacing Magazine identifies some of the benefits of density as follows: "Residential density[...] is one of the most important characteristics of urban areas. High densities create vibrant streets, support main street commercial areas, and encourage walking, biking and transit use."

Denser cities avoid many of the problems created by sprawl, as detailed above. Municipalities are able to keep costs (and taxes) down by providing services over a smaller area.  More walkable cities avoid many of the costs of gridlock, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases.  Wild spaces and water can be preserved, providing habitat for wildlife, as well as recreational opportunities for people.  Finally, denser cities often provide tighter, more closely knit communities and neighbourhoods.  This has led some observers to link density with increased innovation.

Why is sprawl becoming a hot-button issue in Halifax?

Addressing the issue of sprawl has created strange political bedfellows.  42 groups as diverse as the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, the Ecology Action Centre, Fusion Halifax, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Halifax Trails Association, and the YWCA have banded together as the Our HRM Alliance, dedicated to making the HRM a more livable and sustainable place.  In particular, the group has been working through the Regional Plan five year review process to try and strengthen the regional plan to more comprehensively address sprawl through seven solutions, including green belting.  They believe that implementation of these solutions will address the problem of sprawl, and help Halifax grow more densely and sustainably.  Groups like the Alliance have been doing a great deal to raise the profile of sprawl as a topic for public discussion.

The issue of sprawl came to a head recently when regional council rejected the application for the 48 story Skye Halifax development.  If built, the two towers would both have stood 150 metres (492 feet) high, making them the by far the tallest buildings in Atlantic Canada.  Council rejected the development on the advice of staff and the design review committee, who found that it did not meet the development rules set out in the HRM by Design rules for downtown development.

Many opponents of council's decision to nix the proposed building suggested that allowing Skye to proceed would have been one way of addressing sprawl.  Many questioned the HRM by Design rules, and suggested Halifax needs to "grow up" and build taller buildings.  Despite this, many vocal opponents of sprawl, and proponents of downtown development, such as the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, supported council's decision. So while many agree on the need to densify and combat sprawl, there is a lack of agreement on whether skyscrapers are part of the solution.

Won't taller buildings help?

While it would seem obvious that building taller buildings is one way to increase density and address sprawl, real-world experience suggests that is not necessarily the case.

On the one hand, New York City, which has 5,818 high-rise buildings, of which 92 are over 600 feet, is quite a dense city by North American standards, with 10,518.60 persons/square kilometer  By contrast Paris, which has only 14 buildings over 492 feet (of which only 8 are over 600 feet).  Paris has used height restrictions to confined high-rise development to specific areas of the city: in most of Central Paris, there are few buildings over six stories high, with the notable except of the Eiffel Tower.  Yet, Paris, with 21,196 persons per square kilometer is around twice as dense as New York.

Houston, which has far fewer development restrictions than most large cities, has 360 high-rises, and 31 skyscrapers over 492 feet.  Yet despite having more tall buildings than Paris, Houston has a major problem with sprawl, with only 1,505 persons per square kilometer.  Similarly, Calgary has few development restrictions and has 14 buildings over 492 feet.  Yet Calgary as a City has a lower density than Houston, at 1,329 person/square kilometer.  It's urban density is not much higher, at 1,554.8 persons per square kilometer.  Calgary is having serious problems meeting the costs of servicing an ever expanding area.  The problem is so serious, that Mayor Nenshi and the fire department have said the City is having difficulty maintaining municipal fire services to meet national standards.

Closer to home, Halifax's North End is one of the densest neighbourhoods in Atlantic Canada, with a density of 5,888 people/square kilometer, despite having very few tall buildings at all.  Another one of Halifax's densest neighbourhoods is Schmidtville, one of its oldest, and most historic.  Schmidtville is a compact, mixed use neighbourhood

So density is not merely a function of height, and there are ways to achieve density without building skyscrapers.  Some experts have suggested that mid-rise development, and not towers, are the key to densification.   Toronto has achieved significant population growth in its urban core in the last several years, due in part to significant mid-rise development, although this has not been without controversy in some neighbourhoods. However, the question becomes how high we go, and what other considerations we want to balance height against.  Is the sky the limit, or is there an optimal height for achieving density?

There is no question that if Halifax is to increase density and combat sprawl, taller buildings will be part of the mix.  However, the experience of other cities suggests that skyscrapers are not necessarily a panacea: the solution will have to be more comprehensive.  Many cities have been able to develop densely without many tall buildings, and in some cases with significant restrictions on height.  Many cities that have allowed tall buildings still have a major problem with sprawl.  Many mid-rise buildings may make a greater contribution than a few high-rises.

Generally speaking, it is the cities that place the least rules around development (like Calgary and Houston) that have the biggest problems with sprawl, while cities with clear, considered development guidelines (like Paris) tend to develop more densely.  Great cities aren't just grown; they are planned.  Whether Halifax becomes the great city it has the potential to be will depend how well our regional plan, downtown plan, and development rules address issues like height and density.

(This post is the first in a series, and is cross-posted with Spacing Atlantic.  In future posts on development in Halifax, I will look at: the rules governing development in Downtown Halifax; the rules around suburban and rural development in Halifax; business and industrial parks like Bayers Lake and Burnside; commercial taxation; and other related topics)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Who Owns the Stanley Cup?

With the news that NHL lockout negotiations have broken down, there is an increasing chance the Stanley Cup finals won't take place this year, leaving hockey fans wondering how they will get their hockey fix.  It has also left some fans wondering why it is that the NHL controls the Stanley Cup at all.  If they aren't going to award the trophy, shouldn't someone else be able to play for the "Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup"?  Why does the NHL get to decide who plays for the hockey's holy grail anyway?  Or as one article put it "If the NHL won't use it, can Canada have the Stanley Cup back?".

While one commentator has referred to the legal status of the Stanley Cup as "unknowable" that is not entirely accurate.  There are some uncertainties around the legal status of the Cup.  However, it seems fairly clear that while the NHL holds trademarks over the name and image of the Stanley Cup, it doesn't actually own the Cup.  The Stanley Cup is held in trust.  A trust is a legal relationship in which one person (the donor or grantor) gives a piece of property to another person (the trustee) to hold that property for the use and benefit of a third person (the beneficiary) or for some charitable purpose. 

In the case of the Stanley Cup, it was gift from Lord Stanley of Preston, then Governor General of Canada in 1892, to be awarded to the top amateur hockey team in Canada.  Lord Stanley appointed two trustees of the Cup, and laid down some fairly general preliminary regulations governing how it was to be used and awarded, which gave broad discretion to the trustees.  The Cup was intended to be a challenge cup, and in the early years, the champion of any senior hockey league could challenge for it.

Around 1908, with the introduction of the Allan Cup for amateurs, the Stanley Cup became the trophy for the top professional hockey team in the country.  The Stanley Cup final became a competition between the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and the National Hockey Association (precursor of the NHL), and later the Western Canada Hockey League as well.  These leagues grew to include American teams, and in 1917 the Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup.  The PCHA and WCHL later merged to form the Western Hockey League.  In 1924-25 the WHL's Victoria Cougars became the last non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup.  When the WHL folded in 1926, the NHL was left as the sole league playing for the Cup.

In 1947, the Trustees of the Stanley Cup reached a deal with the NHL that gave the league exclusive control over the Cup, sole discretion over how to determine the winner, and the ability to reject challenges from other leagues.  Although it does provide that if the league ceases to be the top professional league in the world, or that if the league dissolves or terminates, the Cup shall revert to the control of the trustees.  The current trustees are both former NHL Vice Presidents.

Many people have since questioned the validity of this agreement, and for good reason.  Trustees are required to honour the intentions of the donor of the trust.  Intentions can sometimes be difficult to interpret, and in this case, the few regulations that Lord Stanley did lay down in writing give fairly broad discretion to the trustees.  However, it seems fairly obvious that Lord Stanley intended the Cup to be a challenge tropphy, and not to become the exclusive property of one league.  There's a strong argument that it was simply not open to the trustees to enter into such a deal with the NHL, and the agreement is invalid.

During the 2004-2005 hockey lockout, a recreational team called the Wednesday Nighters decided to challenge for the Cup, and took the trustees to court to challenge the validity of the agreement.  The case dragged on and ultimately settled in 2006, by which time the lockout was over.  The settlement agreement provided that the trustees could award the Cup to a non-NHL team in the event that the NHL failed to hold a Stanley Cup competition that season.  However, when the 2012 lockout commenced, the Trustees made clear that even if the NHL doesn't have a season this year, they will not entertain any challenges from non-NHL teams. 

The Trustees are on shaky legal ground here.  Again, their actions don't seem consistent with the original intentions and purposes of the trust, and the agreement with the league is of questionable legal validity.

There is some question as to whether this is a purpose trusts, or a trust for persons.  If it is a trust for persons, it is always open to the beneficiaries of a trust to take the trustees to court and enforce the terms of the trust.  While it is not entirely clear in this case who the beneficiaries of the trust are, there is a fairly strong argument that the beneficiaries are the Canadian people themselves.  If that is the case, then literally any Canadian could go to court to enforce the Stanley Cup trust, and try to force the trustees to award the trophy.

Obviously, the NHL would fight this tooth and nail.  The Stanley Cup is their most valuable asset and they would not give it up without a fight.  Anybody seeking to challenge the league's control of the Cup would doubtless be met by an army of lawyers, and would probably get bogged down in endless procedural wrangling and appeals.  The case likely wouldn't be decided until long after the current lockout is over.

However, given the fact that the NHL is now potentially facing it's second lost season in just 8 years, fans might want to ask themselves whether the NHL is really the best custodian of the Cup, or whether it is time for hockey fans to take control of the cup back, and return it to the use for which Lord Stanley originally intended it: a challenge cup for the best teams in the Dominion of Canada.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Democracy Gets Thrown under the Omnibus Again

One of the latest controversies to hit Parliament Hill is the Harper Government's use of so-called omnibus legislation.  The latest incarnation is Bill C-45, a budget omnibus bill that is a sequel to Bill C-38, the omnibus bill the Conservatives passed in the Spring after delivering their budget.

Bill C-45 is 457 pages long and will amend a number of pieces of legislation.   As with Bill C-38, the opposition has objected to both the size and the scope of the bill.  One major paper has called it "an affront to democracy".  Some other news outlets have been more or less silent, or have simply referred to it as "sparking profound changes".

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has suggested there are "no surprises" in Bill C-45, that the opposition simply failed to read the budget over the summer, and that Parliamentarians should now do the job they are paid to do and dutifully pass the legislation.  NDP critic Nathan Cullen has stated that doing their job is exactly what the opposition wants to do.  Who has the right of it?

The Legislative Process

In order to understand the controversy, it is important to understand a little bit about the legislative process, and the passage of omnibus and budget bills.

To become law, legislation must first be introduced to either the Senate or the House of Commons as a bill. Once it has been read in the house twice, it is referred to committee for detailed study.  The nature of the bill determines which committee it is referred to.  A budget bill is typically referred to the Finance Committee, while a bill dealing with, for example, Aboriginal Peoples, would go to the standing committee on Aboriginal Affairs.  After detailed study, a committee refers the bill back to the House, often with proposed amendments. 

Committees are where much of the real work of Parliament is done.  They review legislation in more detail, hear from experts on the topic, and interest groups representing those who will be primarily affected by legislation.  Based on this input, they are able to recommend often vital changes to the proposed legislation.

Omnibus Bills and Budget Bills

Omnibus Bills themselves are nothing new.  New laws often have to make changes to a number of related pieces of legislation, and omnibus bills such as the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1968-69 made major changes to the criminal law in Canada by amending several pieces of legislation.  The important thing is that it was all on a related topic.

Budget Bills also typically contain amendments to several pieces of legislation, such as the Income Tax Act and other statutes, in order to carry out the provisions of the budget.  These changes are usually primarily administrative, and relate directly to budget implementation.

Problems with Omnibus Budget Bills

Where Omnibus bills become problematic is when they try to amend large amounts of unrelated legislation, because they avoid allot of the oversight, legislative scrutiny and democratic debate that is necessary to ensure legislation is well thought out and well drafted.  For example, Bill C-38 last Spring contained major amendments to the Fisheries Act, and completely revamped the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.  Normally, these types of changes would be reviewed by the standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans and Environment and Sustainability respectively.  However, because they were tacked on to a budget bill, they were reviewed by the Finance committee only, which has neither the time nor the expertise to properly review these major legislative changes.

Similarly Bill C-45 contains major amendments to several pieces of legislation, including important protections in the Navigable Waters Protection Act.  Some of these were never mentioned in the budget.  This time, the Conservatives backed down slightly and agreed to allow 10 House of Commons committees to review the omnibus bill..  However, some of these committees were only able to meet for a day.  Further, the government stated they would only be willing to entertain amendments to the bill if they were not "contrary to government policy".  Of over 1,700 amendments proposed by the opposition in committee, the government voted down every single one, meaning in reality they were opposed to any amendments at all. 
Without the power to recommend specific amendments to the bill, the committee power of review is rendered fairly toothless.

Another problem is the sheer size of the Bills.  Both Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 were over 400 pages, yet the government quickly moved for closure on debate, meaning major changes were made to several different Canadian laws with very little debate in the House of Commons at all.  Debate on Bill C-38 lasted 22 hours, much of which was spent defeating proposed amendments.  Debate on Bill C-45 lasted just over 6 hours.  This is simply not enough time for meaningful debate on legislation of this scope.

Finally, votes on budget bills are considered a confidence vote: if the government loses the vote, it is a motion of non-confidence and the government falls.  Backbenchers in the Conservative caucus, who normally have some freedom to vote against government bills if they don't agree with them, generally feel they have to vote for the budget.  So a backbencher who has serious trouble with, say, some of the changes to the Fisheries ACt, nonetheless has to vote for it because its a budget bill.

The end result of this is that some of our vital democratic safeguards in the legislative process are being short-circuited.

The Use and Abuse of Omnibus Bills

The Liberal governments of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin were notorious for using omnibus legislation, although they were hardly the first.  Stephen Harper, as opposition leader, validly objected to the Liberals use of omnibus legislation calling it undemocratic and "a contradiction to the conventions and practices of the House.” However, as a Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has taken the use of omnibus legislation to a whole new level, as Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 demonstrate.

The government has concocted the argument that all of the Omnibus Budget amendments are related to the "Jobs" and "Growth" and therefore budget measures that need to be passed expeditiously.  That is, quite frankly, an insult to the intelligence of the Canadian public.  Of course most legislative changes are related to the Economy, in the same loose sense as most of them are related to "Democracy".  What matters at the end of the day is whether legislation is getting scrutinized in a way that ensures it is fair, democratic, and effective.  In the case of the recent omnibus budget bills, it isn't.

Obviously, there is a need to balance democratic process with legislative efficiency.  However, this government is nowhere near to striking the right balance.  So while Minister Flaherty claims that MP's are simply "not doing their job" by "not reading" his budget, in reality, his government is going out of their way to ensure Parliament can't do its job properly. Like my earlier post on prorogation, omnibus bills are yet another example of a way in which Canadian governments are undermining the role of Parliament, and with it, our whole system of Parliamentary democracy.  Regardless of whether they support this government and its policies or not, that is something all Canadians should be concerned about.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Could Peter Kelly have gone the way of Rob Ford?

With the news of Rob Ford's removal from office in Toronto for conflict of interest, some Haligonians have been asking themselves whether the same thing could have happened to former mayor Peter Kelly.  With Kelly having chosen not to run in the last election, it's something of a moot point, but an interesting question about conflict of interest nonetheless.

The question refers to the cash for concerts scandal, during which Mayor Kelly was accused of having contravened the HRM Charter by signing off on a loan to a private concern promoter, an arrangement which was kept secret from council.  The scandal only came to light when the promoter failed to repay the loan, and resulted in the resignation of HRM CAO Wayne Anstey.  However, Kelly refused to step down as mayor despite calls for his resignation.

But it's what happened next that raises the potential conflict of interest.  The Auditor General's report on the scandal was tabled at council on June 14, 2011.  At that meeting, council decided against a motion to hold an inquiry into the matter.  At the subsequent meeting on June 21, 2011 council heard and defeated a motion to censure Kelly and suspend him as mayor for a week for his role in the scandal.

While some informed observers at the time suggested that Kelly would have to be removed as presiding officer at June 14, 2011 debate, I am told that Peter Kelly refused to step down from his position as chair of the council meeting at either meeting, despite the fact council was considering motions to conduct an inquiry into his behaviour, and ultimately to censure him. 

Mayor Kelly did decline to chair a subsequent meeting discussing the cash for concerts scandal in May 2012.  However, he referred to his refusal to chair as a "perceived conflict of interest" rather than a contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.  Had there been a conflict of interest under the MCIA, Kelly would not only have had to resign the chair, but remove himself from the debate on the issue altogether.

By contrast, Rob Ford initially got in trouble for using his position (and his letterhead) as a city councillor to solicit donations to his private charitable foundation.  He was found by the city's ethics commissioner to be in breach of the Toronto city council's code of conduct and ordered to repay the money.  When the ethics commissioner's report came before council in 2010, despite being warned he was in conflict of interest, then councillor Ford chose to participate in the debate.  Mr. Ford refused to repay the amount as ordered.  The issue came before council in 2012, and despite again being warned of his conflict of interest, Mr. Ford spoke to and voted in the debate.  Council ultimately overturned the previous ruling and did not require Ford to repay.

An application was brought by a citizen of Toronto to have Mr. Ford dismissed as mayor.  In a detailed ruling released on November 26, 2012, Justice Hackland found that Mr. Ford was guilty of a conflict of interest, that Ford's actions were not the results of inadvertence or a good faith error, and that Ford must therefore be removed as mayor, although he was not barred from running for office again.

It would be impossible  to speculate on how a Nova Scotia court might have ruled on the conflict of interest in the Kelly situation.  There are some obvious factual differences between the two cases.  Rob Ford's removal did seem to turn in part on fact he was advised he was in conflict of interest, and chose to disregard.  It is not clear of whether Kelly was advised of his conflict of interest, and what role (if any) that played in his decision.  In addition, the Act is limited to direct of indirect "pecuniary" (i.e. financial) interests.  In Ford's case, the financial interest was clear: he would otherwise have been required to repay the donations.  In Kelly's case, the financial interest is a little less clear.  Kelly would not have had to repay the concert loan, although it is possible an inquiry might have resulted in charges for breaches of the Charter, including fines, or that a suspension would have entailed loss of salary, either of which would constitute a pecuniary interest.

A further reason it is hard to speculate is that the Ford decision may well be appealed, and we might get a different statement of the law from a higher court.

What I can say is that Nova Scotia's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is nearly identical to the Ontario MCIA under which Rob Ford's was removed.  So where a mayor, councillor or municipal committee member is in a conflict of interest (as defined in the Act), it would be open to a citizen to bring an application to have that person removed from office.  And while a Nova Scotia court would not be bound to follow the Ford ruling, it would certainly have to consider it, given the similarities between the pieces of legislation.

The Act has its exclusions and defences, so removal is certainly not guaranteed.  However, where a conflict of interest occurs, Haligonians have the same accountability tool available to us as the people of Toronto.  All it requires is  one bold citizen prepared to prosecute the case.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Crosswalk Safety: Part 3: Community Crosswalks

I was pleased to learn this weekend that the traffic authority has made the decision re-install a crosswalk they had recently removed at Prince Albert Road in Dartmouth.  This is actually the crosswalk that originally brought the issue of crosswalk removals to my attention.  It is in my neighbourhood, and I learned the hard way it had been removed while out for a walk with my one year old son a few weeks ago.  We arrived at the crosswalk to discover that while the sign was still there, the lights and markings were gone.  It left an extremely precarious situation.  The sidewalk ends abruptly at this location, and the closest marked crosswalk is three blocks away.   The crosswalk is frequently used by the nearby MicMac Aquatic Club, and during events at Lake Banook.  Cars often park on the shoulder here and cross the road to get to events.

Apparently the authority had underestimated the amount of pedestrian traffic at the intersection, a fact that was brought to their attention by the Club, and by councillor Gloria McCluskey.

As suggested in my last post, this raises a question about whether the traffic authority may have got their pedestrian counts wrong at other removed crosswalks as well.

It also points to the need for more community involvement in decisions regarding placement of crosswalks, for at least a couple of reasons.

First of all, the community will be in a better position than HRM staff to observe the level of pedestrian traffic, and identify the peak crossing times that have to be measured in order for the authority to apply their standard of twenty crossings an hour at peak hours.  The community can actually assist the traffic authority in doing their job.  In this case, had the traffic authority consulted with the community before removing this crosswalk, they would have avoided the cost of removing the crosswalk, and the added cost of having to re-install it.

Second, the community will also be aware of other factors that the traffic authority may want to consider, such as high numbers of seniors or children in the area, large distances to other crosswalks, and other considerations that may make the removal particularly dangerous, as it was in this case.

At the end of the day, the current process gives the community too little input into where crosswalks should be placed and removed.  This has created the current conflict, and led to a number of dangerous situations where crosswalks have been improperly removed.  The traffic authority needs to find a way to involve the community in its decision-making process regarding placement of marked crosswalks.  This way we can all ensure that safety is being put first.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Crosswalk Safety: Part 2: Taking Charge

I woke to the sad news this morning that yet another pedestrian was killed in an accident in a marked crosswalk last night.  It's another reminder of why better education and enforcement is needed.

In my last blog post, I talked about some of the other recent crosswalk accidents in Halifax, some of the legal responsibilities of drivers and pedestrians, and made a few suggestion as to what could be done to improve crosswalk safety from a legal standpoint.

In this post, I talk about the government officials in charge of crosswalks.  They have been back in the news due to the recent decision by the traffic authority to remove a number of marked crosswalks in the HRM.   The removals, and the lack of notice to the public prior to removal, have resulted in a backlash in the community.  This raises questions about who is responsible for crosswalks, and how they make their decisions.

Why are marked crosswalks important?

As stated in my last post, the Motor Vehicle Act ("MVA") provides for both marked and unmarked crosswalks, and provides that basically every intersection has a crosswalk, whether it is marked or not. 

There is some debate over whether marked crosswalks improve pedestrian safety.  A controversial 1972 study suggested that marked crosswalks actually increased the likelihood of accidents.    However, a more recent study suggests that while marked crosswalks alone may not improve safety, when combined with better engineering, enforcement, education and other improvements, they can enhance safety.  They can also assist in channeling pedestrians to safer crossing locations.

Personally, I can say from experience that while most drivers will stop for pedestrians at a marked crosswalk, far fewer stop for pedestrians at unmarked crosswalks.  Thus, marked crosswalks are essential in providing safe and convenient places for pedestrians to cross the road.

Who is in charge of creating marked crosswalks?

Under section 90 of the MVA, the "traffic authority" has the power to establish crosswalks with markings and other devices at intersections "where, in his opinion, there is a particular danger to pedestrians ... and at such other places as he may deem necessary."  In other words, the traffic authority has broad and pretty much unfettered discretion as to where to establish marked or signalled crosswalks, although danger to pedestrians appears to be the overriding concern.  

Who is the traffic authority and who does he report to?

While there is both a municipal and a provincial traffic authority, under s. 86 of the MVA, it is the municipal traffic authority who has primary responsibility for most roads in the HRM.  Regional council appoints a municipal official as the municipal traffic authority, in this case Ken Reashor, who is also HRM Director of Transportation and Public Works.  The regional council also has the power to remove him (implied by s. 18 of the Interpretation Act).

However, the provincial Minister of Transportation has the power to remove the municipal traffic authority and appoint a replacement if it appears to the Minister that the traffic authority is not carrying out it's duties.   

The fact that different levels of government can appoint and remove the traffic authority creates slightly convoluted lines of authority for the traffic authority, described in more detail here.  This has created confusion about who the traffic authority reports to, to the point where I have had regional councillors assure me (with honest belief, but incorrectly it seems) that the HRM traffic authority is actually accountable to the Province, not to regional council.

The traffic authority is supposedly meant to enforce the MVA without "political interference" from regional council.  However, as mentioned above, the traffic authority has broad discretion in some areas, including crosswalks.  This combination of broad authority, lack of political interference and unclear lines of authority means the traffic authority has a great deal of power with very little accountability to the community he serves.

In this case, The Minister of Transportation, Maurice Smith, has made clear that he considers decisions regarding crosswalks to be a municipal matter and will not interfere.  However, MLA and former councillor Andrew Younger makes the point that the province is certainly able to amend the MVA to create a process that allows for more citizen input.  I would point out that the province could also amend the MVA to limit the traffic authority's discretion, and make clearer what factors he should consider in deciding where to place crosswalks.  I would argue it would also be open for regional council to set guidelines, factors to consider or criteria for the traffic authority to apply when appointing the traffic authority. 

How does the traffic authority make decisions about where to place marked crosswalks?

Residents have been critical of the decision to remove crosswalks without community input, and without regard to the needs of the community, notably in neighbourhoods with many children or seniors.  In response to the criticism, Ken Reashor, the traffic authority, suggested that decisions regarding placement of crosswalks is based on "what is safe", and not political pressure.  Indeed, safety is the only consideration the MVA requires him to consider. The authority claims he is only having crosswalks removed where they fail to meet the national standards of the Transportation Association of Canada20 crossings per peak hour.

The application of this standard is the result of the 2007 final report of the crosswalk safety task force, which recommended that municipalities should use a consistent approach in the installation of crosswalks "based on technical merit".  The task force also recommended that existing crosswalks be re-assessed when roads are re-furbished, and that "where existing marked crosswalks are not warranted, they must be removed due to potential safety hazards".

Obviously safety is not the only consideration.  In an interview, the HRM's deputy traffic authority, Taso Koutroulakis talks about the removals, and makes clear that not delaying vehicle traffic is an important consideration as well.

While it is possible he was selectively quoted, I notice that nowhere does Mr. Koutroulakis mention the importance of pedestrian traffic flow.  Nor does he mention the large inconvenience that may result to pedestrians by having to walk farther to crosswalks, which may prove to be an obstacle for people with mobility issues, not to mention children and seniors.  While marked crosswalks should not necessarily be placed too close to intersections, they also shouldn't be placed too far apart.

The application of the standard raises some questions about how and when crossing are being measured.  How often are HRM staff going out to take measurements, and are they catching peak crossing times, which vary from location to location?

It also raises a more fundamental question about the appropriateness of the standards themselves.  As this article by a recovering engineer suggests, standards reflect the priorities of traffic engineers, and may not reflect the priorities of the community.  Standards like the one being applied here are guidelines that are meant to enable us to achieve our priorities.  It's important we discuss those priorities, what relative weighting they be given, and not mistake the standards themselves for priorities. If 20 crossings per hour becomes the goal, instead of safety, convenience, and so forth, then we have misplaced our priorities.

It's also a reminder that traffic engineering is more art than science.  More than almost any branch of engineering, it requires engineers to make decisions based on assumptions about human behaviour, rather than scientific properties and principles.  Human behaviour is inherently unpredictable, and the law of unintended consequences applies.  We should constantly be reviewing our standards to make sure they are actually promoting the kind of safe behaviours we desire.

Where does that leave us?

I'd close with a few recommendations.  First of all, I think the lines of authority for the traffic authority need to be clarified.  Regional council needs to be given the power to remove the traffic authority as well as to appoint.  Second, either province or the council needs to set some clearer criteria or guidelines around how the authority's power over crosswalks should be exercised.  While the decision should not be political, elected representatives should be able to identify the community's priorities, and make sure those are taken into account in how the authority makes decisions.  Third, when removals are being made, notice should be given to the community, and an opportunity to present reasons why the crosswalk should be maintained.  Fourth, where crosswalks are deemed to be unsafe, enhancing safety through signals and other engineering measures should be considered instead of just removal.  Finally, as I stated in my last post, better education and enforcement is needed to make all crosswalks, marked and unmarked, safer for all users of the road.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crosswalk Safety: Part 1: When Everyone's Responsible, No-One's Responsible

Crosswalk safety has been back in the news  recently for a couple of reasons.  First, the last year in Halifax has seen a number of accidents involving pedestrians that have resulted in serious injury and even death.  A few examples include:
The second reason crosswalk safety has been in the news is the recent decision by the Traffic Authority to remove a number of marked crosswalks in the HRM.  (I will address this in more detail in my next blog post.)

Although the two are not directly connected, they do seem to illustrate a larger disconnect between decisions regarding crosswalks and the on-the-ground reality that drivers and pedestrians are facing.  We are repeatedly told that crosswalk safety is everyone's responsibility: drivers, pedestrians and all users of the road alike.  Yet at the end of the day, who is really responsible?

What is a crosswalk?

A crosswalk is defined in section 2(h) of the Motor Vehicle Act (the "MVA") as: "that portion of a roadway ordinarily included within the prolongation or connection of curb lines and property lines at intersections or any other portion of a roadway clearly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface".  In other words, crosswalks can be marked or unmarked.  And since most intersections in HRM have some gap between curb and property lines, and its not possible to tell where there is one, it is safe to assume that basically every intersection is a crosswalk whether it is marked or not.  

An intersection is anyplace where two roads (be they highways, alleys, or anything in between) join each other at an angle, whether or not one highway crosses the other.   So this applies at T-junctions as well as four (or more) way intersections.

Who has to stop for whom at crosswalks?

The MVA has a number of rules around crosswalks, including at intersections with traffic signals (see s. 93).  Section 125 of the MVA deals with intersections where there are no traffic signals, and states "the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way to a pedestrian lawfully within a crosswalk or stopped facing a crosswalk".  In other words, as a driver, you are not only expected to stop for pedestrians already in a crosswalk, but also where a pedestrian is stopped and waiting to cross.  Remember, that responsibility applies whether at a marked crosswalk, or at any intersection without signals.

This section of the MVA goes on to place some responsibility on pedestrians as well, stating that "A pedestrian shall not leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so closely approaching that it is impractical for the driver of the vehicle to stop."  So as a pedestrian, while cars should be stopping for you at crosswalks, that doesn't mean you should be running out in front of them.  The section goes on to say that at crosswalks with pedestrian beacons, the pedestrian shall not leave the curb until the beacon is activated, and that a pedestrian crossing a road other than in a crosswalk has to yield to vehicles.  The Act also provides that none of the above relieves either drivers or pedestrians from exercising "due care".  

What are the penalties?

Failure to obey this section of the MVA can have very serious consequences for both drivers and pedestrians, including a fine of $687.41 on conviction.  Of course failure to obey these laws often results in serious injury or death for the pedestrian, regardless of who is at fault.  As such, it is incumbent on both pedestrians and drivers to be extremely careful at crosswalks, whether marked or unmarked.  

So what's the problem?

In spite of the penalties and the obviously serious consequences, the number of serious accidents above would suggest that many Haligonians (pedestrians and drivers alike) are not taking crosswalk safety seriously enough.  

I use many crosswalks daily, and while most drivers are respectful of marked crosswalks, more days than not I see someone ignore a marked crosswalk altogether.  Most of the accidents described above took place at marked crosswalks.  Further, most drivers seem to be completely unfamiliar with the obligation to stop at an unmarked crosswalk.  Not infrequently, I also see pedestrians entering crosswalks in an unsafe manner.  

Better public education is needed to clarify the rules of crosswalks.  In particular, people need to be made clear on the fact that every intersection is a crosswalk, and that drivers do need to yield to pedestrians, whether they are in the road, or waiting to cross.  However, pedestrians need to be reminded that having the right of way does not mean they should enter the road in an unsafe manner, and they should not be doing so where it is impractical for a driver to stop.

One could also argue that stiffer penalties might be needed.  While a $650 ticket seems like a hefty price for a moment's inattention, it remains a relatively small price compared to a human life, which is often the cost of inattention.

However, laws are only effective if enforced, and I think there has been a lack of attention to enforcement of crosswalk rules.   We should not have to wait for someone to get hit in order for someone to be ticketed, and if someone is hit, other charges beyond failure to yield should be seriously considered.  At the end of the day, clear rules, properly and consistently enforced, are the only way to make the roads safe for all users.

(In my next post, I will talk about the government's role in crosswalk safety, and in particular, the recent decision by the traffic authority to remove several crosswalks in the HRM.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Election Day in Halifax: The Start of a new Era?

It's election day in Halifax, and there is only one certain outcome: Halifax will have a new mayor.  It's the end of the Peter Kelly era, as the man who has held the mayor's chair for the last twelve years exits under a cloud of scandal.

The assumption seems to be that former Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Mike Savage is a shoo-in to replace Kelly.   Most of the polling showed him with a decisive lead over his closest competitors, retired police officer Tom Martin, and business owner Fred Connors.  It remains to be seen if either Martin or Connors has been able to close the gap in the last few weeks of campaigning.

Regardless of who assumes the office of mayor, they face a number of challenges.  Halifax's violent crime rate is among the highest in Canada.  An infrastructure deficit means taxpayers could face a significant tab (estimated by Halifax Water to be in the order of $2 billion) to fix crumbling water and sewer infrastructure in the next several years.  Halifax continues to underinvest in its downtown and urban core, and the city continues to sprawl at an unsustainable rate, failing to meet even the modest goals of its own 25 year regional plan.

However, the biggest challenge the mayor will face may be trying to get council on the same page and moving the city in the same direction.  The previous council was described by many observers as "dysfunctional".  Some councillors continue to put narrow parochial interests, no matter how small, ahead of the good of the municipality.  Council has reversed its own decisions, and then sometimes reversed again, on more than one occasion.  Council has been highly criticized for making many decisions behind closed doors in "in camera" sessions.  And there is often a lack of public consultation on key issues: the costly Bayers Road/102 widening appears to be proceeding, despite a complete lack of public engagement or even a proper council hearing on the project.

Reality is that there will likely be many familiar faces on the new council.  Barring a few upsets, due to the new district structure, some of the toughest races involve incumbents against incumbents.  It is likely that the new council will look allot like the old one.

If Savage wins as expected, he will need to demonstrate the skills in working across political lines that he showed as an MP.  If he can pull off the upset, Martin will need every bit of the street smarts he learned as a police officer.  Similarly, Connors will need to show he can win over councillors with his ideas and enthusiasm.

Haligonians will need to temper their expectations with the reality that we have a weak mayoral system, which does not provide much power and authority to the mayor.  He will have only one vote amongst 17 on council, and although his role as chair gives him some ability to control the agenda, that power is limited.  The exercise sometimes looks a bit like herding cats.  It remains to be seen if the new, smaller council size makes this task any easier.

The mayor will also have to deal with CAO Richard Butts, who in the year and a half since he joined the municipality from Toronto, seems to have carved out a large sphere of authority for himself.

Although some people have been underwhelmed by the mayoral campaign itself, I think there is one positive thing we can take from it.  As an observer, I have seen a huge upsurge of new energy and new ideas around how to move this city forward.  There is a sense that Halifax has tremendous potential and opportunities.   There are numerous ways citizens can engage in moving the city forward, including the regional plan five year review, which is ongoing.

Regardless of who sits in the mayor's chair, or any other seat in council chamber, as citizens it is up to us over the next four years to hold their feet to the fire and ensure that we seize some of these opportunities, bring some of these new ideas to life, and see Halifax realize on its tremendous potential.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Pro-Rogue's Gallery

Prorogation is back in the news in Canada, after Monday's surprise announcement by Dalton McGuinty that he was both resigning as Premier, and had advised the Lieutenant Governor to prorogue Ontario's legislature.  Pundits and political commentators have been weighing in on the appropriateness of McGuinty's actions, with some describing it as an abuse of power, while other argue that he has every right to prorogue.

As a starting point, it's important to understand what prorogation is.  A Wikipedia article describes prorogation as: "the end of a parliamentary session in the Parliament of Canada and the parliaments of its provinces and territories. It differs from a recess or adjournment, which do not end a session, and from a complete dissolution of parliament, which ends both the session and the entire parliament, requiring an election for the House of Commons."

Prorogation is a power of the monarch (known as a Royal Prerogative or prerogative power) which is exercised by her appointed representatives, the Governor General in the case of federal government, and the Lieutenant Governor in the case of the provinces.  This power is exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister or Premier, but is otherwise virtually unfettered.  Since all Parliamentary sessions must come to an end at some point, prorogation is generally a routine parliamentary procedure, and is typically done once the government has completed the agenda they set forth in the speech from the throne that starts each parliamentary session. 

Where prorogation becomes problematic, however, is where the Prime Minister or Premier uses it for partisan political advantage instead of effective governance.  As detailed in the above wikipedia article, Stephen Harper was controversially granted a prorogation in 2008 to avoid a vote of confidence in the House of Commons when the opposition parties signaled their intent to defeat his government and replace it with a Liberal-NDP coalition with the support of the Bloc.  In 2009, Harper was granted another prorogation, stated to be to suspend Parliament during the Olympics, but suspected by many to allow his government to avoid facing difficult questions in the House of Commons about the Afghan Detainee controversy.  Similarly, in 2003, the Governor General granted Jean Chretien a prorogation, which enabled his government to avoid tabling a report on the sponsorship scandal with the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

Of course, partisan advantage is often in the eye of the beholder.  Conservatives supported the 2008 prorogation, stating that the proposed coalition was unstable, and a "coup" designed to "overturn the results of the recent election".  Those comments showed a huge misunderstanding of how parliamentary democracy works.  In any event, many of those same Conservatives had no problem with Stephen Harper writing a letter to the Governor General offering a similar arrangement to govern with the support of the NDP and the Bloc in 2004.

Similarly, many of the Liberals who described the 2009 prorogation as an attempt to "padlock Parliament" had no such compunction about Chretien's 2003 prorogation which served a similar partisan purpose.  And many of those same Liberals now defend McGuinty's prorogation, even though it is of indefinite duration until the Liberals pick a new leader, and appears designed to avoid a contempt finding against members of his government.

Of course, it is difficult to ever determine what the real reasons for a prorogation were, since the Governor General or Lieutenant Governor is not required to give reasons for their decision, and the Prime Minister or Premier is not required to disclose their advice.  Another problem is that there are no written rules limiting the way in which the power can be exercised, although there are arguably some limited constitutional conventions setting procedural limits around it use.

Canadians should be concerned about the above developments, and asking all parties tough questions about the use and abuse of the power of prorogation in all of the above situations.  Prorogation brings the business of Parliament to a halt, preventing important legislation from being passed in a timely fashion and vital committee work from getting done.  It also hinders the Opposition from doing their job, which includes asking tough questions of the government in the House of Commons.  It is quite simply not in the best interests of the country to allow Parliament to grind to a halt whenever it suits the governing party.

Several reforms have been proposed to the power of prorogation, including requiring Parliament to approve a prorogation.  In their excellent book "Democratizing the Constitution", Professors Turnbull, Aucoin and Jarvis suggest that prorogation should require a 2/3 vote in the House of Commons, which would generally require the government to get the support of one or more opposition parties in order to prorogue.  They also suggested the creation of written guidelines, similar to New Zealand's cabinet manual, regarding when certain prerogative powers and powers of the Prime Minister should be exercised. 

Guidelines seem easy enough to implement, although might be more difficult in practice, as there seems to be a lack of agreement among even constitutional experts as to when the power of prorogation is properly exercised.  Rules seeking to limit when the power of prorogation can be exercised may be more difficult to implement, especially since a 2009 decision of the federal court suggests that placing any limits on prerogative powers would require a constitutional amendment.   Amending the constitution has proven nearly impossible in Canada since 1982.  Nonetheless, the difficulty involved does not mean we should avoid attempting reform on this and other important constitutional issues.

One simple measure that might go some way toward beginning to address these problems would be if Governors General and Lieutenant Governors started providing reasons for their decisions to prorogue and exercise other prerogative powers.  I am not aware of any legal impediment, and is certainly within their powers to do so.   It could serve many purposes, providing more clarity and transparency around how these powers are used, helping Canadians to better understand our constitutional arrangements, and even helping some clear precedent around when it is appropriate to exercise these powers.  This is by no means a comprehensive solution to the problems raised by prorogation, but would at least be a first step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Of Lawn Signs, Landlords and Tenants ...

With municipal elections fast approaching, some interesting legal questions have come up.  A friend of mine woke up the other day to find an election sign on his lawn which he hadn't authorized.  He phoned the candidate and found out the sign had been authorized by his landlord's mother.

This situation raises some interesting questions.  What right to landlords have to put up election signs on rental properties?  What right do tenants have to stop them?   And what right do tenants have to put up signs of their own?  What about condo owners and condo corporations?

I'll deal with the last question first, as the answer there is somewhat clear.  In Nova Scotia (as in some other jurisdictions), s. 54C of our Municipal Elections Act provides that a landlord cannot "prohibit a tenant from displaying election advertising posters on the premises leased by the tenant".  Similarly, a condo corporation cannot prohibit the owner of a condominium unit from displaying election advertising posters on the premises of that person's unit. 

However, a landlord or condo corporation can "set reasonable conditions relating to the size or type of election advertising posters that may be displayed on the premises and may prohibit the display of election advertising posters in common areas of the building in which the premises are found".  There are similar provisions in both the provincial Elections Act and the Canada Elections Act, so similar rules apply in provincial and federal elections as well.

These provisions have not, to the best of my knowledge, been argued in court in Nova Scotia, so it remains to be seen what kind of restrictions our courts would consider to be "reasonable".

However, it's important to note that the tenant's right is limited to the leased premises.  Most leases make a distinction between the premises actually leased by the tenant, which the tenant generally has the exclusive right to use and occupy, and common areas, such as halls, stairways, driveways, etc., which are used by some or all tenants.  There may also be areas of the landlord's property that aren't covered by the lease at all, such as a front lawn.

For those of you in apartment buildings, the leased premises are usually just the apartment itself.  So you may be able to put a sign in the window (subject to reasonable restrictions on size and type), but not much beyond that.  For those of you leasing entire houses, including the yard, you may be able to put the sign on the front lawn if that is part of the leased premises.  For those of you renting parts of houses or buildings, it is more of a gray area.  In each case, a careful review of your lease to determine what is and isn't included in the leased premises is essential.

As to what right the landlord has to put up an election sign, things are a little less clear.  Elections legislation and the Residential Tenancies Act don't deal specifically with this point, so it will really come down to the specific terms of your lease.  Again, your lease should identify the leased premises, common areas and so forth, and hopefully spells out what rights and responsibilities you and the landlord have with respect to each area.  Generally speaking, the landlord only has limited rights to enter the leased premises, but more rights with respect to common areas, and can do what they want on unleased portions of the property.  So if you live in an apartment, chances are your landlord can't put up an election sign in your apartment, but is likely within their rights to erect an election sign on the front lawn.  If you live in a house, and the leased premises include the whole property, then you likely can prevent the landlord from putting up an election sign on the property. Again, a careful review of your lease will be necessary. 

My friend was ultimately able to resolve the situation by calling his landlord.  And that should generally be your first way of dealing with this issue.  If that fails, you can always contact the residential tenancies program to find out more about your rights and how to assert them.  And, if necessary, you can contact a lawyer to help you interpret your lease.

This blog represents my own personal views and is provided for information purposes.   It is NOT meant to be legal advice.  If you require legal advice, you should consult a lawyer regarding your specific circumstances.