Everything you need to know about Halifax Regional Council’s August 9 meeting

Council is back for a meeting that almost didn’t happen. In this meeting, councillors reviewed a major policy document, allowed rooming houses, talked about parking (natch), and gave some money to community groups.

Although the regional plan review is large, it is not yet law, and the issues it will inevitably cause won’t really be understood or identified for decades to come. And a lot of the major debate on rooming houses already happened at the last council meeting. So let’s get right to it.

Everything council passed August 9

First up, deferred business from last meeting: That beefy regional plan review that councillors Sam Austin and Waye Mason needed more time with. It passed after a long discussion.

Two information items were brought forward at today’s meeting. In what could have been an email, councillor Pam Lovelace wanted information about how land and building values are broken down in this report. And she also brought forward a report on municipal grass cutting, which allowed other councillors to get clarification on lawn standards. Which sounds suuuuuuuuuuuuuper boring, because it is, but councillors accumulating information to better guide decision making is, like, their whole job.

Public participation is getting an overhaul. The new report outlines baseline engagement requirements and should give the public some more power in the process. That administrative order will be coming in the near future.

Council voted to give $47,000 to five community groups from the community grants fund. The Waverley Amateur Athletic Association, Middle Musquodoboit Agricultural Society, Abenaki Aquatic Club, Rockingham Heritage Society, and Terence Bay Community Hall Association will split the money. This is in addition to the $452,714 for 59 other groups. In total, council has now approved $499,714 for 64 community groups. (When this article was first published, this paragraph incorrectly said the five community groups split $452,714.)

The HRM approved $50,000 to have a Canada vs Wales rugby game in the city next year.

If snow plows damage your stuff, Sam Austin wants the city to have some power to make sure residents can get the damage repaired. He put forward a motion to give the HRM power to do that. It passed.

Councillor Cathy Deagle Gammon put forward a motion to have HRM send a letter to the house of commons to support a federal bill (Keira’s Law), which is currently in the Senate before becoming law. It was deferred for reworking. If you don’t understand why it needs to be reworked, here’s a two-minute video. This was later back on the floor as letters of support from the mayor. This motion passed.

Deagle Gammon put forward a motion to create a city policy dictating the procedures for notifying people about road closures. Mason and Russell wanted to make sure the motion was for construction closures, not for things like parades. So Mason proposed a friendly amendment adding that caveat, and the amended motion passed.

There was a public hearing about the shared housing policy, which also came up in the last council meeting. The motion passed, and rooming houses are now legal in the HRM.

Two motions are coming to council, both from councillor Pam Lovelace, one to allow the African Nova Scotian committee to report directly to executive council. The second is about simplifying the process of making market gardens.

Notable debates

Two notable debates this week, both of which have a very long view—the first was on rooming houses. The debate was a lively one about council’s favourite topic: How to make life easier for drivers. Councillors Tim Outhit, Deagle Gammon and Lovelace all opposed this motion to some degree because it doesn’t ask for dedicated parking spaces at rooming houses. Outhit and Deagle Gammon both set aside their opposition, voting in favour of the motion. Lovelace called this a “bad policy” that she “can’t support.” Her concern is that since Halifax Transit is so bad in rural and suburban areas, people need cars, and therefore parking. She is worried that people will be clogging up roads with parked cars if rooming houses don’t have onsite parking. It’s notable to hear a person who has power over shaping HRM’s transit infrastructure citing it as a problem and then trying to work around bad transit instead of making transit better. Cars are killing the planet, and we need to stop driving them. Not putting parking lots in rooming houses is a small part of changing car culture and preventing climate change. Lovelace didn’t end up voting on the motion. She was not allowed to because she left the room to get a drink of water.

The second notable debate was about the regional plan review. This is a large policy that some councillors wanted more time with to make sure they understood the implications of this policy change. What this plan does is try and address a lot of the issues that policy changes in the past (20 to 50+ years ago) have created today. These policy reviews are so important and require a lot of eyes on them. The issues being addressed in this review were caused by previous city policies. It needs all hands because any one councillor may have missed a piece of crucial information. As these policy reviews often highlight, minor or seemingly insignificant policies can have huge and far-reaching impacts on the city. To make a sports analogy, these reviews are as important as the playoffs. Not the Stanley Cup finals—that’s obviously the budget debates—but these debates are second-round-of-the-playoffs level of importance. So it’s notable when someone like councillor Patty Cuttell prioritizes their vacation over the long-term planning of the city. Especially when others, from mayor to municipal reporters, scheduled their vacations for next week to ensure attendance at this week’s council meeting.

Councillor power rankings

Mayor Mike Savage
Score this meeting: 6
Good meeting from the veteran chair; his witty riposte game is starting to make a comeback, and he tactfully dealt with a minor confrontation during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

District 1 - Cathy Deagle Gammon
Score this meeting: 6
Good meeting from CDG; could have been a seven without raising concerns about parking in a debate about making housing more affordable. She also needed to do a bit more homework on the Kiera’s Law motion prior to putting it on the floor.

POWER RANKING SCALE

For their performance at each meeting, every councillor gets a score from 0-10 as evaluated using the qualitative scale below. Hint: More points is better.

10 – Councillor of the year, even compared to others nationally.

9 – Outstanding council meeting.

8 – An excellent council meeting season.

7 – A solid council meeting.

6 – Decent performances; more up than down.

5 – Decidedly average.

4 – Must do better next meeting.

3 – A poor meeting, all considered.

2 – A problem that needs resolution.

1 – Let’s not go there.

0 - Absent

District 2 - David Hendsbee
Score this meeting: 6
A quiet meeting from Hendsbee today; raised District 2’s concerns about the regional plan review.

District 3 - Becky Kent
Score this meeting: 6
Also a quiet meeting from Kent today; she raised concerns for District 3 in the regional plan review.

District 4 - Trish Purdy
Score this meeting: 8
A solid performance from Purdy this week. She did raise a development concern for a developer in the regional plan review. But then she then followed it up with a very poignant critique of Halifax Transit’s planning. That is to say, Halifax Transit seems to be focused on getting everyone downtown, but there is a massive lack of inter-community transit. She also correctly pointed out that not everyone needs to go downtown anymore; some people need to go from Cole Harbour to Lower Sackville and should not have to go downtown first. She wanted to know if this would be addressed in the regional plan review.

District 5 - Sam Austin
Score this meeting: 6
A performance we’ve come to expect from Austin, who weighed in when necessary. Otherwise, he let the meeting flow. Requested more time to review the regional plan review and clearly used it to research his questions.

District 6 - Tony Mancini
Score this meeting: 5
Just a solid meeting in the books for Mancini.

District 7 - Waye Mason
Score this meeting: 7
Mason weighed in when necessary. Otherwise, let the meeting flow. Requested more time to review the regional plan review and clearly used it to research his questions. Also helped CDG get a motion over the line with an amendment.

District 8 - Lindell Smith
Score this meeting: 6
Solid meeting from Smith; asked good questions about the regional plan review, and otherwise let the meeting flow.

District 9 - Shawn Cleary
Score this meeting: 5
Solid meeting, asked good questions, but also interjected when not necessary, prolonging the meeting with little value added.

District 10 - Kathryn Morse
Score this meeting: 6
Solid meeting from Morse; asked good questions about the regional plan review, and otherwise let the meeting flow.

District 11 - Patty Cuttell
Score this meeting: 2
Told everyone last meeting that she was going to play hooky because she scheduled a vacation. Was admonished by the mayor and clerk at that meeting for her plan. As a result, Cuttell missed an opportunity to ask questions about one of the single biggest policy documents the city has produced that will solve and cause major problems for decades to come.

District 12 - Iona Stoddard
Score this meeting: 5
Stoddard has a tendency to only weigh in when absolutely necessary, which was the MO for this meeting.

District 13 - Pam Lovelace
Score this meeting: 4
Hard to score Lovelace low for this one. She did have good questions about the regional plan review. However, she also brought two information items to the floor, one of which was an excellent use of the information item section of the meeting! The other strayed into “this could have been an email” territory. A politician's job is fundamentally a public one, and there will be times when saying something on the public record just to do so is vitally important; this was not one of those times. A resolution could have been reached offline, then brought to the floor (if required) instead of burning through minutes of our lives. Minutes that no one of us will ever get back.

District 14 - Lisa Blackburn
Score this meeting: N/A
Absent

District 15 - Paul Russell
Score this meeting: 6
Good meeting from Russell; asked good clarifying questions during the regional plan review and other motions on the floor, some of which led to good amendments to proposed motions.

District 16 - Tim Outhit
Score this meeting: 7
Solid meeting from Outhit; questions he asked during the regional plan review portion of the meeting clearly come from a place of experience. That is to say, West Bedford sucks, and it sucks because the policies governing its development sucked, and as a result, it was developed poorly. Outhit is trying his damndest to make sure the mistakes made in West Bedford aren’t repeated elsewhere in the HRM. It’s a Sisyphean effort, and although it’s one we expect of our veteran councillors, it is admirable to see the effort.

About The Author

Matt Stickland

Matt spent 10 years in the Navy where he deployed to Libya with HMCS Charlottetown and then became a submariner until ‘retiring’ in 2018. In 2019 he completed his Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King’s College. Matt is an almost award winning opinion writer.

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