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Halifax council rejects smoking ban alternatives

No Smoking
No Smoking - FILE

The smoking ban is back on.

A motion to consider alternatives to the bylaw city council passed in July that prohibits smoking on municipal property except in designated areas ended in a tie at Tuesday's regular council session, meaning it went down to defeat.

Council had asked staff to prepare a report considering alternatives should tobacco be removed from the bylaw, leaving just cannabis use to be restricted.

The staff report came back recommending the original bylaw continue but also offered an option to go with just a cannabis ban or, as a second alternative, to ban cannabis use except when the user has a medical exemption.

Coun. Sam Austin had started the reconsideration off at the July 31 council meeting and was disappointed that the alternative he preferred — governing only cannabis use but allowing a medical exemption — did not win the day.

“I would have preferred a different outcome but I'm happy that I put it forward and council got to have a second, thorough look at it and then reached the conclusion we did,” Austin said after the meeting. “ I kind of got the sense just from what was said around the table that we couldn't agree on what the alternative was going to be to what we passed back then rather than an endorsement of it.

“So, we'll now see what comes.”

The Dartmouth Centre representative said council made its decision and he abides by the democratic process.

Those who opposed the bylaw as it stands did so for several reasons, most citing the difficulty in enforcing the bylaw and how effective it really will be in contributing to a healthy city.

Coun. Tim Outhit (Bedford-Wentworth) said he thinks there was still confusion among councilors, some of whom would have preferred a complete ban on smoking altogether, not one that allows it in designated areas. Another concern is that bylaw enforcement officers would only be on duty until 8 p.m., leaving complaints to be handled by police, he said.

“I think (it) will be difficult to enforce, A, (and) B, will not do anything to deal with folks' concerns if they didn't want to smell it or see it, they're still going to smell it and see it,” Outhit said. “There'll be clusters of people instead of the odd individual and, of course, after 8 o'clock at night, people could be reporting this to police, who I think have more important things to focus on, so I'm not particularly happy with this decision.”

Councillors Bill Karsten, Tony Mancini and Russell Walker were unable to attend the session but Austin didn't think their presence would have changed the outcome.

“You never know (with) other voices around the table, but I know Coun. Walker and Coun. Karsten, they both spoke about it in the past and they were both very strongly in favour of the current model, so I don't think it would have made any difference.”

Several “housekeeping” aspects of the motion did pass after reconsideration, including changing the name of the bylaw from the Nuisance Bylaw to the Nuisance and Smoking Bylaw as well as clarifying some terms, including removing references to cannabis as “weed,” to avoid confusion.

Mayor Mike Savage was fine with the small details that passed but he said he had some issues with the bylaw as a whole.

“I think Coun. Austin had outlined pretty well an option which I was in general in support of,” Savage said following the session.

“I spent a large part of my adult life campaigning against smoking, as president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation and public health and as an MP but I think it’s opportunistic when this is the issue of legalization of cannabis, to lump them all together, so I had some issues with that.”

The city will now have to move forward with determining where the designated smoking areas will be.

Council also welcomed Matt Whitman to his first meeting since being injured in a motorcycle accident.

Whitman, who was in a wheelchair and sporting a sling on his right arm, thanked all who helped him in his recovery to this point.

“I just want to thank the first responders who were there for me four weeks ago,” Whitman told council. “The police, the paramedics, the firefighters and then the folks at the QEII (Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre) that looked after me.”

He also thanked his family and colleagues for their support as well as the organization known as Bikers Down, who helps those injured in motorcycle accidents.

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