Everything you need to know about Halifax Regional Council’s July 12 meeting

Our council report features everything that passed, the notable debates and the debut of The Coast’s councillor power rankings.

Marathon meeting of council on Tuesday. Councillors have a break coming up—there would normally be another meeting in two weeks, on July 26, but it’s been cancelled—so this week our fearless city leaders had hours of gruelling debate and managed to get most of it done. Not enough to skip the August 8 meeting too, but a lot was accomplished.

There are some changes in the works about rooming houses and construction noise. Those will go to committees on their journey to become bylaws. There were fierce debates over these two, with the rooming house debate straying into, but managing to mostly avoid, some xenophobic threads.

The city will also finally, finally—in four to nine months—be moving away from physical tickets and cash for Halifax Transit fares. Read about all this and more as The Coast’s city hall coverage unfolds below.


Everything Halifax Regional Council passed July 12

The beloved Elmwood got approval from council to be renovated. It’ll go to the design review committee for final approval.

Council adopted some housekeeping changes to the Land Use Bylaws and some municipal planning strategies.

The city forked out $2,500 to fly a couple of people from the World Council of City Data to give council an award for being good stewards of city data.

Council endorsed the Anti-Black Racism Framework and will periodically get updates from the CAO about how it’s going.

Council passed a motion to deal with increased rodents and invasive species. This changes bylaws to allow more discretion in using pesticides and poisons. Since climate change is accelerating the spread of pests and invasive species, the city needs more flexibility in its solutions.

The city is getting three new fire trucks for $2,909,414.

The city’s computers will run on Microsoft for the next three years to the tune of $9,631,077.

Halifax Transit is finally getting an app for tickets, which should roll out in the next four months, with full implementation taking at least five months longer. Until then, cash or physical tickets will be required.

The convention centre is going to lose money again this year: $7.45 million. Halifax will pay 50% of that: $3.7 million. As a reminder, Mayor Mike Savage called the $3.2 million for modular housing for the unhoused both “a crazy pile of money” and “very expensive.” He made no such objections to this $3.7 million.

The Keshen Goodman Library is getting an increase to its renovation budget due to “market conditions”: $2,765,310.

The city is going to put a lift station in Burnside for $3.1 million. But it’s going to damage a wetland so the city will give Ducks Unlimited $480,350 in a weird and tepid manifestation of a carbon offset scheme.

Council approved and adopted an immigration strategy.

The city is starting the process to allow single-unit housing on Youth Camp Road. It passed, and the next step will be public participation.

The Sandy Lake ecological assessment is done. There was a brief-ish debate about the language of the motion and how it relates to provincial and municipal areas of responsibility, but in the end, the motion passed and will be integrated into the municipal planning strategy for Sandy Lake, which will come back to council for final approval.

A little section of road by the Banook Canoe Club that the club has unofficially been encroaching on will now officially be the club’s to encroach upon.

Speaking of encroachments, 805-819 Bedford Highway can now officially encroach.

Encroach, by the way, means the city is allowing the owners of the land to extend beyond their property boundaries into someone else’s.

The regional plan review phase 3 was deferred so councillors Waye Mason and Sam Austin could have more time to read the huge report. Councillor Patty Cuttell was concerned that people like herself might be on vacation for the meeting on Aug 9, where the review would be deferred to. The clerks and mayor reminded Cuttell that the meeting hadn’t been removed from the schedule so it is expected councillors should not have booked vacation for that time.

Ledwidge Lumber wants to expand, but that requires amending the municipal planning strategy. A public hearing will be scheduled to get community feedback.

The Sheet Harbour Marina is getting $50,000 to help plan a new marina.

The North American Indigenous Games will be getting $429,500 from the city in preparation for when they come to town next summer.

In the consent agenda (AKA the things everyone agreed on and didn’t need to debate):

1102 Purcell's Cove Road, 18 Wilfred Jackson Way, and 2287 Brunswick Street will all get public hearings to see if they should be heritage buildings.

Flags at crosswalks bylaw amendment got first reading, the anti-idling policy got extended, and bilingual stop signs in the HRM are coming. Also, staff will start figuring out how to better protect pedestrians on left and right-hand turn intersections.


Notable debates

Putting the ‘mean’ in means testing

This one was not much of a debate, really, but notable. Councillor Tony Mancini noticed that when HRM upped its rec fees, a lot of families who could participate before couldn’t now. Essentially what happened is that although the city does have lower rates for people with low incomes, it also makes people prove they are low income enough to get the lower rate. In practice, this prevents low-income people from accessing programs they qualify for.

People who design the means-testing schemes tend to be middle-class bureaucrats who make the qualifying criteria easy for them, assuming everyone has the same access to things like personal transportation, internet or free time. And in making policy with those assumptions, they have excluded the city’s poor from participating in public rec programs. Jaques Dubé, the city’s top boy, told Mancini that he couldn’t guarantee a solution by the fall intake of classes. Tough luck, poor kids, the city’s chief administrator doesn’t want to sort out the administration of your rec programs.

The solution is as simple as adding a box at checkout: Do you need the low-income rate? If the person signing up clicks it, apply a discount. If the city is worried about who is using the discount, then audit the program and find out who is using the box and why. Make the bureaucrats deal with the bureaucracy, not the poor.

Room for rooming houses

One of the debates danced dangerously with xenophobia and escalated into a crescendo of Kavanaugh-like exclamations of “Profit is not evil!” And it was about rooming houses. Rooming houses, for those who don’t know, are like bad hotels. Renters get a room instead of an apartment, usually with shared bathrooms instead of private ones.

In the debate, Austin and Mason both pointed out that opposition to rooming houses is that they tend to be rented by immigrants and the poor. They said that the legislation to ban them was rooted in the overtly racist NIMBYism we like to pretend is in the past. “The origin of many of these regulations came from a place of ‘I don’t want people who are different than me living in my neighbourhood,’” said Austin during the debate. This was debunking the argument made by councillor Kathryn Morse: “When you’re setting up rooming houses in suburban areas for families near schools, it’s not making the most of that particular type of housing.” Oh won’t someone think of the children‽

This wild debate started because Cuttell wanted a carve-out for rooming houses in the land use bylaw, because they are frequently exploitative for profit, so should be taxed commercially. She did not explain why the frequently exploitative for-profit rental apartments should not be taxed commercially. Enter councillor Shawn Cleary, who lambasted Cuttell, saying that “Profits are not evil, there is nothing wrong with profit.” And he’s right, technically, profit is not evil. What people do chasing that profit can be, though. He mentioned that care homes are for profit—just Google “for profit care home pandemic Canada” to see how that turned out. Nothing wrong with their profits; a lot of problems with some basic stuff like “providing appropriate care for the elderly,” and “keeping people alive.” He also said non-profits “just drain the economy.”

Anyway, the point here is that, technically, Cleary is correct—profit is not evil. Allowing profit-motive housing in a space rife with exploitation, a space without regulations on standards for living conditions or any sort of rent regulations has a huge potential for evil.

Let them break rocks

The last major debate was about rock-breaking noise bylaws. Council got a report from the Community Planning and Economic Development committee that wanted to limit the hours construction companies could blast or break rocks, which would have to stop at 8pm. The “original recommendation based on 900—900—surveys was to go with 8 o’clock,” said councillor Tim Outhit during the debate. “Of course, the industry would want it kept the way it is. Just like the industry couldn’t possibly make a dollar unless they added one more storey to a building,” he scoffed. Outhit was concerned that the city just bent over backwards for the construction industry after hearing from so many residents. “The construction industry picks up the phone, calls staff and they backtrack?” He seemed at a loss for words. “It makes me scratch my head a little bit.”

Unofficial construction industry councillor Trish Purdy naturally supported the construction industry’s proposals.


Council power rankings

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

Mayor Mike Savage
Score this meeting: 6
Ran a tight meeting, and handled procedural issues with a veteran lawmaker’s confidence and poise. His witty one-liner game is a bit weaker since returning to in-person meetings.

District 1 - Cathy Deagle Gammon
Score this meeting: 7
Solid meeting from Deagle Gammon. In a marathon meeting, brevity counts for a lot. She only spoke when she had things to add, and what she added helped inform the debates, but otherwise let the debates flow.

District 2 - David Hendsbee
Score this meeting: 3
Although he wasn’t at the meeting he did manage to convince Trish Purdy to ask questions on his behalf. But detracting from a debate through a proxy, especially in a meeting as long as this one, is rude.

District 3 - Becky Kent
Score this meeting: 5
She stood up for her community on a long-standing issue, but was ultimately defeated by the majority. Afterwards, she appeared to be absent.

District 4 - Trish Purdy
Score this meeting: 4
Purdy seemed in this meeting, like most meetings, primarily concerned with how what council does would negatively affect developers instead of how it would impact her constituents.

District 5 - Sam Austin
Score this meeting: 7
Solid meeting, spoke when he needed to, maybe a bit more than he needed to, but provided extra oomph to a few debates to swing the vote.

District 6 - Tony Mancini
Score this meeting: 8
Excellent meeting by the veteran councillor. He found a problem in his district with rec program fees and put forward a motion to get it solved. Pushed back hard against the CAO to try and make sure the poor people in his district have access to city programs.

District 7 - Waye Mason
Score this meeting: 7
Solid meeting by Mason, spoke when needed, not much more than needed. He also finally got a six-year-old project over the line, The Elmwood renovation.

District 8 - Lindell Smith
Score this meeting: 6
Smith appears to be soft-spoken by nature, and this meeting was no different. He asked the questions he needed to and then voted. Solid day at the office for Smith.

District 9 - Shawn Cleary
Score this meeting: 4
Any meeting where you say: “The surplus you earn as an employee, that’s profit. In terms of value surplus. In economic terms.” is going to get a low score. If my boss is making a profit off of my labour, especially if my wage is low, that’s exploitation. And bosses who prioritize profits over employees do worse at business. In economic terms.

District 10 - Kathryn Morse
Score this meeting: 5
Average meeting for Morse, lost some marks for the casual NIMBYism in her objection to rooming houses. And lost additional marks for the unchallenged assumption that suburbs are in fact “making the most” of our residentially zoned areas.

District 11 - Patty Cuttell
Score this meeting: 5
On Tuesday, Cuttell strayed a little too close to the xenophobic side of the no-rooming-houses argument to score higher. Otherwise a solid meeting.

District 12 - Iona Stoddard
Score this meeting: 6
Low-key meeting from Stoddard, which is typical. Asking pointed questions about things relevant to her district or beliefs, but otherwise kept quiet to let the meeting flow.

District 13 - Pam Lovelace
Score this meeting: 6
Average meeting for Lovelace, did a good job stepping in for Savage in her role as deputy mayor and brought forward the Anti-Black Racism update.

District 14 - Lisa Blackburn
Score this meeting: 6
Another councillor of a rural-ish area, and another councillor with a solid meeting performance who didn’t feel the need to interject themselves into every debate.

District 15 - Paul Russell
Score this meeting: 3
Poor showing from Russell today, in large part due to the inadvertent racism in one of his questions. In the debate on the immigration strategy, Russell took a look at some of the numbers of immigrants hired by the city and asked: “I’m curious what that means with respect to balancing that to being promoted based on merit?” The racism of the question, if you don’t see it, is the assumption made by Russell that immigrants who are hired by the city are by default not as qualified as their non-immigrant co-workers. Or that the non-immigrant co-workers are by default more qualified for promotion. And why do I think the immigrants in question are assumed to be non-white? Because no one ever lumps me in with the immigrant category, even though I am one.

District 16 - Tim Outhit
Score this meeting: 8
Excellent meeting from Outhit today. Pushed back against staff capitulating to developers and managed to whip the vote in favour of his constituents on the rock breaking and blasting noise bylaw.

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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