The start of the HRM council meeting was delayed Tuesday morning because of the city’s reliance on car infrastructure (a driver hit another driver on one of the bridges). Since we all need cars due to lack of transit, and a lot of us need to go across one of three choke points in the city every morning at the same time, Halifax is uniquely prone to very bad rush hours where nothing moves. This could be solved by a lot of things: More active transit, complete walkable communities, more public transportation and more working from home. If the city built another bridge (which is unlikely due to cost), it would just add another choke point and wouldn’t prevent this problem from happening—just delay it until the city grew enough for it to happen again.
It’s fun sometimes to think about all the ways cars make our lives worse. Some people don’t like that drivers and their cars hit poles, taking out power for large chunks of the city for hours at a time. But it’s really a good time. It allows us to practice for the increasingly frequent times when minor weather events meet the extremely “reliable” Nova Scotia power grid.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. City council decided to pass first reading on two huge pieces of rental legislation: A landlord registry and a short-term rental registry. Kudos have to go to the city, and specifically councillor Patty Cuttell, for the short-term rental regulation. In December, council faced criticism that it was delaying the decision to get information that didn’t exist. Cuttell forced the issue again today, and council corrected the mistake it made in December. For more details, keep reading!
Things that passed
5812-5814 North Street became a heritage property. This two-storey late Victorian eclectic style house combines the Second Empire and Queen Anne Revival styles. This building was also the base of operations for Dr. Clement Ligoure’s Amanda Private Hospital, where Ligoure worked as one of Halifax’s first Black doctors. After the Halifax Explosion, he helped care for the wounded at his clinic for free. The Halifax Relief Commission gave Ligoure a “modest stipend” for his help during the explosion’s aftermath. In 1921, he gave the property back to Mary Rathburn DeWolf, widow of John W. DeWolf.
John W. DeWolf is the namesake of one of Canada’s newest “warships,” which are back in the shop, again, already. Friendly reminder that the Canadian government has so far spent $6.5 billion of your money on these ships. The Canadian government has justified that price tag by saying things like #shipsstarthere and promising that good middle-class jobs would be created by this “investment.” Irving has taken our money and, instead of hiring local workers, is hiring foreign labourers. Our money has paid $6.5 billion dollars for “warships” that can’t fight wars, and warships that provided the local economic benefits promised, but only to the Irvings. Good job, prime ministers Harper and Trudeau, ya botched it.
6221 Coburg Road is now a heritage building. Based on purchasing records, this land was bought for 15 pounds in 1790 (15 pounds is roughly equivalent to 2,893.50 pounds of today’s money) and 150 pounds in 1796 (28,935.03 pounds today), suggesting the house was built within those six years. This house used to belong to Lawrence Hartshorne, who was a staunch abolitionist and helped Black Loyalists emigrate to Sierra Leone. This is something the white governor of Nova Scotia and the rest of the white population of Nova Scotia didn’t want, as the “white Nova Scotians had grown reliant on the Black Loyalists’ continued exploitation for cheap labour, and so the white populace launched a propaganda campaign against the project and bribed loyalists to stay, and some even forged fake debts and indentures to disqualify them from emigrating.”
Council reopened the debate into regulating short-term rentals, deciding to go against its decision from December and move forward with regulating short-term rentals. This move came from Cuttell, who pointed out that the vote in December was close enough that the absence of three councillors could have affected the outcome. And since she missed the meeting due to COVID and not something of her own volition, she should be allowed to bring the motion back up for debate to see whether her vote would sway things. Council agreed, save for Shawn Cleary, who voted against the motion due to procedural fears that may or may not have been grounded in reality. Once the regulation legislation was back on the floor, council gave it first reading and will schedule a public hearing for a second reading and pass it into (by)law.
Council approved a suburb for Beaver Bank. Staff recommended council allow this suburb to go ahead because the lots are smaller than normal, which will allow more density. This application is on it's second round approval. Clayton Development's first application was sent away because they wanted to change the zoning for the whole area to allow for smaller lots. That was unpopular, so Clayton Development came back and proposed the smaller lots for just their subdivision instead. Friendly reminder that at the current rate of taxation and service delivery, suburbs with big ole lots aren’t sustainable. Ones with smaller lots might be? We'll find out.
The city isn’t changing how damage from snow clearing is handled. Currently, if a contractor damages something, the contractor is supposed to fix it. Citizens of Halifax expect that if city-contracted snow plows damage their property, the city will make sure it’s fixed. In recent years, councillor Sam Austin has noticed damage isn’t getting fixed and wanted to know why. Turns out third-party contractors assess and fix their own damage. When third-party contractors do pay for and fix their damage, they are then accountable to their insurance company and the affected property owner instead of the city, thanks to Section 119 of the Insurance Act. And the city legally can’t interject itself into the process to increase public accountability of the private snow-clearing contracts. As with most government tenders, we’re paying more for less. If a city contractor damages your property, you are on the hook to get your property fixed. If there is a dispute, you have to sue the contractor, and you have to sue their insurance company to get your property fixed. Behold, in all its glory, the efficiency, cost savings and good governance provided by selling off public accountability to the lowest bidder.
Cole Habour Place’s governing body is getting a new name. Community Builders Inc. will now become CHP Recreation Society. The name change also comes with a legal change to modernize the management of the facility. The group that runs CHP will now be a society instead of a limited-by-guarantee entity.
The city is taking strides on its journey of self-sustainability. New CAO Cathie O’Toole sent a staff-generated report to council for consideration. The city’s new parking technology has allowed staff to analyze how drivers use the “valuable and highly sought-after section of the municipal right of way,” AKA the humble curb lane. Commuter parking permits are going up for districts 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11, and down for everywhere else. Parking will be an interesting space to watch in the coming year or two. Currently, paid parking rates are priced well below the value of using the land, and parking ticket prices and inconsistency in enforcement encourage people not to pay for parking. Both fees and fines are prime candidates to be raised to help with the city’s fiscal sustainability.
The city approved spending the $11,028,394 of federal money on housing. This money has to be spent on affordable housing. And in this contract, affordable is defined as a household that’s “paying less than 30% of gross income on housing costs or the shelter component of any provincial or territorial income assistance program as an equivalent.” Not the 30% below market rate bullshit the city uses—real affordability. These units have to stay affordable for the next 20 years.
The city of Halifax is considering selling 1940 Gottingen Street to the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre. This community group has been in need of a new building since the early 2000s, and this land sale may finally help it get the new space it needs. The next step in this process is a public hearing.
Council gave first reading to a piece of legislation taking aim at slum lords. This legislation, if passed, would aim to make sure people who rent are guaranteed places to live that are fit for human habitation. This just passed first reading, so will come back with more details in a future meeting.
Councillor Cathy Deagle Gammon put forward a motion to try and get a registry of vulnerable people in the HRM. Deagle Gammon wants this registry so people who are alone can be checked in on after storms or other catastrophic events. Government checking in on vulnerable people will become more necessary in future years as we continue to isolate ourselves in suburbs and commit to making climate change worse. In the past, this used to be the role of vibrant human communities, but we don’t have those anymore. We instead have siloed-off properties that accumulate wealth and contribute to a loneliness endemic. Isn’t capitalism great? This passed, so more details will be coming in the coming weeks.
And, councillor Pam Lovelace added the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Action Plan to the budget adjustment list. Lovelace has developed a habit over the years of jamming budget debates into weird places to see if she can sneak them in. In previous years it’s been called The Lovelace Gambit. This passed, with councillors Becky Kent and Paul Russell voting against.
One of the more interesting debates of the day happened around snow-clearing damage reimbursements. Snow clearing is a public good, so it’s something government should provide, which is why the city funds it. When council was first debating contracting out snow clearing (the city used to do it), the conservative argument that won the day was that the city was paying too much in salaries, benefits and overtime, and the private sector would be able to do that more efficiently. They did pay people more efficiently, meaning less, so the city instituted a living wage policy for city contracts, negating some of that initial savings. On top of that, the city is realizing that any cost savings have been achieved at the expense of public accountability. When the city used to plow, and when those plows did damage, the city was on the hook to fix it. But now, when a plow damages something, it’s on individual property owners to chase the plow companies and the plow companies’ insurance to make sure the repairs are done.
In the report, staff said there were no other alternatives to this setup—but there is one, in theory: The city could bring snow clearing in-house again. But the reason it’s only a theory is that when a public body unloads something to the private sector, the public body also gets rid of all of the infrastructure it needed to run the public service. So if a government wants to start up a public good again, it has to do so from scratch, which costs more, which means it’s much easier for conservative critics to block the additional spending under the guise of “fiscal responsibility.” But this over-reliance on public-private partnerships (P3s) is slowly but surely eroding the capacity of governments to govern. At the federal level, the public service is so hollowed out of expertise it needs to contract out everything, including public oversight. Spoiler alert: that went poorly. (Seriously, though, private contracting normally doubles the cost of things. And “industry essentially "games" the guidance provided (which is understandable) and is not incentivized to invest in value and lower prices,” according to the Canadian government). Anyway, because a past city council decided to save some money, that’s now artificially hamstrung the present city council’s ability to protect the public.
Finally, there was a lot of consternation from the more centrist or right-of-centre council members about what a landlord registry would do to “small” or “mom-and-pop” landlords. They were concerned that a small landlord might get treated negatively if their place turns up on a city list of properties with orders for things to be fixed. Staff tried to explain to the concerned councillors that just because someone is a small landlord they can still be a bad landlord, but made very little headway. Councillor Waye Mason pointed out that landlords that do follow the rules want slum lords to follow the rules because they can’t compete with rental prices for places that don’t charge for (or do) maintenance. But most importantly, those concerned councillors missed the fundamental point. Landlords have power over tenants. Tenants need to be protected at the expense of landlords. The worst-case scenario for landlords is a hit to their investment. The worst-case scenario for tenants is homelessness.
Some councillors do not.