Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winter In Nova Scotia Is Not An Emergency

I hope this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone, but the coming of winter is not sufficient cause for declaring of an emergency in Nova Scotia. Winter happens every year on a regular basis.

If don't want to read the entire blog post here's the Reader's Digest version:

HRM Traffic Authority effectively declares winter an emergency. Traffic Authority uses emergency powers to implement a blanket ban on parking overnight despite legislation already in place prohibiting parking during storms or clean-up after storms. Traffic Authority does not report to municipal council. Provincial Minister of Transportation can overrule Traffic Authority. Minister agrees winter is not an emergency but won't overrule Traffic Authority. You park on the road on a beautifully clear night and get a ticket.

OK, now the gruesome details.

Municipalities generally have a traffic authority. The authority is responsible for all sorts of things from directing the installation of stop signs to setting speed limits on streets. Municipal councils cannot overrule the decision of this person on issues within the scope of the powers of the Traffic Authority. 

In fairness there is probably good reason for this in many situations. Prior to the this system councils were in charge of placing stop signs and some communities had them on every street corner instead of placed to best ensure safety. The flip side is the position has resulted in frustration for councils wanting to put in crosswalks in some locations and of course the much hated winter parking ban in HRM.

On December 22, 2010 HRM released the following statement:

The HRM Traffic Authority is empowered through the provincial Motor Vehicle Act to make decisions in the interest of safety for the travelling public. To this end, the winter parking ban in the urban and suburban areas of HRM is in place from Dec. 15 until the end of March, prohibiting vehicles from parking on the street from 1 a.m. until 7 a.m.


202 (1) The traffic authority is hereby empowered to make and enforce temporary regulations to cover emergencies or special conditions. 
(2) Such regulations may prohibit or restrict the parking of vehicles between the fifteenth day of November and the fifteenth day of April. 

Really what the HRM Traffic Authority is saying is that winter is either a special condition or an emergency. Winter in Nova Scotia is neither a special condition nor an emergency. I say this because while the regulations specifically allow a prohibition or restriction on parking, it is still intended only during emergencies or special conditions.

In declaring an emergency or special conditions the Minister of Transportation has to be advised.

(4) A copy of any regulations made under this Section shall be immediately forwarded to the Provincial Traffic Authority and shall be subject to cancellation at any time by the Minister. 

In other words, the Minister of Transportation, who is the person the HRM Traffic Authority ultimately reports to, has the responsibility to ensure that any regulations brought forth under this section of the Motor Vehicle Act are done respecting the intent and purpose of the act.

In response to my calls for the Minister to get involved in this issue, the current Minister of Transportation, Bill Estabrooks was quoted by various media today as saying the winter parking ban is not an emergency and thus he won't overturn the ban. Huh? The whole reason he should overturn the ban is exactly because it isn't an emergency. The provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act are being abused and its his job as Minister to be steward of the act.

I have no doubt the Minister would rather this did not fall into his lap. I can't help but agree with his suggestions municipal councils should be able to make these decisions. Unfortunately the Motor Vehicle Act does not provide this authority to municipal councillors. It provides it to the Minister only.

HRM's Traffic Authority says that the reason for the ban is that ensuring streets are clear of vehicles during storms and clean-up operations is important. I agree completely. However provincial law already prohibits parking on the street during both storms and clean-up operations. 

The Motor Vehicle Act in fact has a section specifically about winter parking:

139 (1) Notwithstanding Section 138, no person wilfully shall park or leave standing a vehicle whether attended or unattended, upon a highway or any part thereof in such manner that it might interfere with or obstruct snow removal or winter maintenance operations on the highway.
(2) Where a vehicle is parked or left standing on a highway in such manner that it interferes with or obstructs snow removal or winter maintenance operations, the Department or a peace officer may cause the vehicle to be moved or towed to some other place.
(3) Any cost incurred by the Department or a peace officer in moving or towing a vehicle under subsection (2) may be recovered from the owner of the vehicle and such debt shall constitute a lien against the vehicle.

So to be absolutely clear (if a bit repetitive) the Motor Vehicle Act already prohibits parking on the street during storms, clean-up operations, and even winter maintenance.

According to Paul MacKinnon, the Executive Director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission,  few of the tickets issued under the ban were issued during storms or clean-up operations. Those that were issued during storms or clean-up operations could have been issued under existing legislation. So there seems to be little point to the ban other than ticketing people on clear nights when snow removal or clean-up is not underway. It makes no sense at all.

Minister Estabrooks is right. Winter is not an emergency. 

That's why he shouldn't let HRM's Traffic Authority - which ultimately reports to him only - declare winter in Nova Scotia an emergency in order to enact a ban which is not needed, penalizes residents, and hurts business.

Still haven't had enough? Check out Waye Mason's earlier blog on this very issue at http://halifaxpolitics.ca/2010/12/23/faq-traffic-authority-and-winter-parking/