City Council by Facebook? Why not

Government by Facebook post? We could do worse. We do. Read any report of any Halifax council meeting.

And then consider this.

On Thursday afternoon, Bedford Councilor Tim Outhit posted on his Facebook wall: “$20 million to widen Bayers Road, or $25 million to launch an initial commuter rail service?”

He invited his Facebook friends to weigh in. By Saturday morning, he’d had 67 responses.

Most—perhaps no surprise—favoured rail. Far more interesting—and perhaps surprising—was the quality of the discussion.


Outhit’s question followed a February staff report he’d asked for on the scheme’s feasibility. Staff estimated a five-stop service between Windsor Junction and the VIA station through existing rail corridors would cost $31 million to launch plus $6.5-million annually.

Starting the service initially at Bedford, of course, would make it cheaper—and therefore comparable to the controversial scheme to widen Bayers Road to accommodate more gas-guzzling, on-the-road-to-no-place-to-park, one-rider automobiles.

During the Facebook exchanges, official reports and blog posts were referenced and linked, significant questions asked and answered.

John Wesley Chisholm posted a link on the history of a Truro-Halifax commuter rail system that operated until the Halifax Explosion. “This is not a dream or fantasy,” he wrote. “This is Halifax as it was planned and intended to work… We could make it happen.”

“Start with Bedford to Halifax,” allowed Waye Mason, but then add more stops “and a huge park-and-ride terminal at Duke… Let’s get low-floor rail that can operate as streetcars, like Austin, Texas, but can go on freight rails, and then drive a rail down Hollis, all the way to and through [the] dockyard.”

Even those, like Mike Flemming, who argued “we do not have the population base to make [commuter rail] service economically viable,” pushed for a more “efficient transit system that brings commuters from the outskirts to transit hubs.”

“Let’s invest in the future of transportation instead of extending the agony of the current inefficient and doomed mode of transportation that is the single-commuter car (or SUV),” summed up Tom Servaes, adding wistfully: “I’d love to zip along the Basin reading my email on the way into the city.”

Would that city council sessions sounded so sensible.


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