Everything you need to know about council's Dec 13 meeting | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Here's what happened at HRM council's regular meeting of Tuesday Oct. 25, 2022.

Everything you need to know about council's Dec 13 meeting

Council voted to protect for land owner investments instead of easing the housing crisis

The city has a new chief administrative officer! Cathie O’Toole will take over for Jaques Dubé in the new year. She has been with Halifax Water for the past 10 years in a director role, but previously served the city’s finance director 10 years ago. Her time with the HRM ended due to the now infamous Commons concert scandal, but it should be noted that among all of the top bureaucrats who messed up, O’Toole did not. In fact, if her previous time with the city is any indication, she may be the champion Halifax’s switch to a service-based taxation model needs to become a reality.

This meeting, as most council meetings will for the next few months, started with public engagement. Martyn Williams, one of Halifax’s most dedicated transportation safety advocates, made a presentation to council about its budget priorities. He noticed the city is spending $25 million on roads every year, but believes that money could be better spent if roads were designed as a transportation tool for everyone, instead of just cars. This presentation deserves more consideration, and council agreed. Williams will be making the same pitch to the transportation standing committee in the near future, and it will decide if Williams’ plan for a road diet has merit. It’s also worth pointing out that if the city ever does realize its plan to make streets safe for pedestrians, it will be in large part due to the tireless advocacy of Williams and others like him. Thank you to everyone who cares deeply enough about the people of this city to engage in the process of democracy. It’s people like you who make this city a great place to live.

Now, on to the people who, at yesterday’s meeting, voted to make the city worse! Here’s what happened during council’s Tuesday Dec. 11 meeting.

Things that passed:

1460 Oxford Street is now a heritage property. It’s the Dalhousie president’s house, which Dal received as a donation from former Canadian prime minister R. B. Bennett in 1925.

1322 Robie Street is also now a heritage property. Dalhousie owns this building, too, and it used to belong to the McAlpine family, which was “instrumental in publishing business directories in Halifax during the late 19th century.”

Because community groups in Halifax are registering Dalhousie’s properties out from under them, Dal sent a spokesperson asking council not to do its democratic processes (i.e. public hearings and subsequent registration of the two above properties). Councillor Shawn Cleary asked city staff if not doing democracy was allowed, and the lawyers said no. This was a rhetorical flourish by Cleary to take a jab at Dalhousie. Dal has been promising to come to the city with a plan to register all the heritage properties both parties want registered to prevent community groups from doing it ad hoc, as is currently happening. Dal is being really slow to engage with the city, even though outwardly the school says it’s enthusiastic about this process. Hence, the jab.

Council deferred a vote on a planned subdivision on Youth Camp Road as the councillor for the area, Patty Cuttell, was out this week.

Cornwallis Street was renamed. The street will now be known as Nora Bernard Street. It’s about time the last vestiges of a seriously mediocre man were relegated to their proper place in the history books. This was also the most successful public engagement the city has ever done for a street renaming, and city staff have learned some good lessons from this process.

Nora Bernard was a residential school survivor. She believed residential schools were abusive and any government that funded them has a responsibility to the survivors of those schools. She filed the first class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government for the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples perpetrated through residential schools. Bernard is the reason 79,000 survivors of colonialism got some financial compensation from the government.

The Bay Community Centre is slowly but surely becoming a municipal facility. Council directed staff to acquire the land and lease it back to the community centre. The details of that lease will dictate the financial implications of the move. But in setting up this facility operating agreement, the city is giving the community a better community centre to be a community in.

How we pay for stormwater management is in the process of changing. This just passed the first reading, so stay tuned to see how this changes things. More details will be coming in your property tax package, but the fee Halifax Water used to charge for stormwater management is becoming a tax again. And in making it a tax, the city is planning on charging a management fee to everyone who benefits from stormwater management instead of just charging the people who are directly affected by the physical infrastructure.

Councillors are swapping committee roles, and will remain in their new ones until the election in two years; the full list of roster changes can be found here.

Council also voted to approve names for stuff. Barry’s Run, which has been the name of Barry’s Run since 1975, will now also be the city’s name for the place. The name Dr. Donald Skeir was approved for future use in one of the Preston Townships. The city also approved the Mi'kmaq words: Kesalul (pronounced: Ge-Sa-Lul), which means “I love you;” Kuowa'quamikt (pronounced: Goo-Oh-Aaah-Koo-Um-Icked), which means “Halifax Peninsula;” L’nu (pronounced: Ell-Nu), which is how Mi’kmaq people self-refer; Mi’kma’ki (pronounced: Mii-Ge-Maa-Gi), which is the land that my people (the British) stole (“legally”) that we all live on today. HRM also added Wabanaki (pronounced: Wah-buh-nah-kee), which was the larger Mi’kmaq city-state coalition that the British tried to, and mainly successfully assimilated out of existence through colonization. And finally, Wela’lin (pronounced: Well-law-lynn), which means “thank you.” So those will be on streets in the future when more need to be named or renamed.

Do you know what else was a loose collection of city-states when the British showed up to the Kuowa'quamikt? The geographic boot shape we know today as Italy. But unlike Wabanaki, Italy didn’t have to contend with British colonization and turned itself into a country in the mid-1800s. It turned into a really cool place, too. We could have been Italy, but instead we’re not quite Scotland. That’s the future British colonization stole from us. Are cool craft beers in not-quite-Scotland a worthy trade for how cool an Indigenous country could have been? We’ll never know.

Developer Joe Ramia wants to add 2,000 residential units next to the Dartmouth mall (which really should be called something else by now.) This plan is still in the very early stages, so there’s not much to report on at this point. But more reporting and details will emerge as the planning process started at this meeting rolls onward.

The federal government is giving the city $8,655,876 for “COVID-19 impacts on transit services.” This money is to be spent on “transit capital or operating shortfalls or housing.” Council has directed the CAO to put this money into a general transit revenue fund (budget line R631) and councillor Waye Mason openly mocked the province for being dumb. Why is that? There’s a field trip into the weeds in the notable debates section below.

Clayton Developments wants to make a subdivision off Daisy Drive. Friendly reminder that unless our municipal taxation system changes, subdivisions are not financially or environmentally sustainable. This passed first reading, so council has not committed to making this mistake. Yet.

In other development news, councillor Kathryn Morse pulled case 24378 off the consent agenda. She did so to tell staff to have less parking for the planned developments by Dutch Village Road because it’s a walkable community. It makes sense that a walkable community should have development that prioritizes walking.

The city is considering converting 120 acres of forest into an industrial park in the Goodwood community. City staff, in their report, say the applicant's proposal has “some merit” but it warns council not to change the land to an industrial zone without some contractual caveats. In the report, staff say the industry in the area is already negatively affecting the community of Goodwood, and this would only make it worse if proper precautions are not taken.

The city almost thought about regulating short-term rentals. But in the debate, Cleary said he wasn’t comfortable passing this legislation as it may affect “mom and pop” Airbnbs instead of just the companies operating ghost hotels. Councillor Lindell Smith argued that the city should just collect the data as it regulates Airbnbs because the data Cleary wants doesn’t exist and the housing crisis is hurting people right now. Smith, deputy mayor Sam Austin and fellow councillors Mason, Pam Lovelace, Morse and Lisa Blackburn voted to try and ease the housing crisis. Cleary, along with Cathy Deagle Gammon, David Hendsbee, Trish Purdy, Tony Mancini, Iona Stoddard, Tim Outhit and mayor Mike Savage voted to defer this legislation so people who own one or two houses in a housing crisis wouldn’t be unduly affected by the proper regulations on the use of their assets as a commercial enterprise. (Cuttell, Becky Kent and Paul Russell were absent.)

The Herring Cove water upgrades are stopping because the money ran out. Even with $5.7 million in federal funding, the cost of life going up meant the city couldn’t afford its share because the initial $7.8-million price tag jumped up to $11.6 million, so the city tapped out. Council will apply again for more money if the opportunity should present itself.

The city’s giving itself the power to stop funding events in an emergency. This policy is a direct result of lessons learned from COVID, during which the city was legally obligated to pay money to events that were cancelled. It had no clear mechanism to stop the funding from going out the door. This should fix that problem.

Council made its direction to the bean counters from the last budget meeting official, directing CFO Jerry Blackwood to stop saving $20 million for a stadium and cut $7 million from sidewalks, among other cuts. Now it’s just waiting to see what Blackwood comes back with in January.

The city is adopting a holistic plan for park development, maintenance and management in West Bedford.

The city’s polling districts are changing slightly due to the census; that process is rolling along and, statistically, it is unlikely to affect you in any meaningful way unless you live on a changing border. The maps from Phase 2 of this process can be found here.

The fees to get and maintain a taxi license are going down. More details can be found from the committee meeting here.

The community grants program is being changed to make it more equitable. The program has been around for decades, but staff found that the system was designed in such a way that folks who needed money weren’t getting it. And if people who needed the money weren’t getting it, that meant folks who didn’t need money but could game the system were getting it instead. Lo and behold, examining the program through a more equitable lens exposed these flaws, which the city is now trying to fix. Kudos, city.

5812 North Street, 6221 Coburg Street, 1308, and 1390 Robie Street will all, at some point in the future, come back to council to be considered for heritage status. Until then, staff are going to write some reports.

And finally, Austin is looking to expand the Street Navigator program. It will cost the city $100,000 to hire someone to help the beleaguered and overworked Eric Jonsson. There are a lot of city councillors who have done ride-alongs with cops. Have any of them done a ride-along with Jonsson? They never mention it in meetings. Would the city look different if councillors and MLAs had to do ride-alongs with Jonsson instead of choosing to do ride-alongs with cops? Probably. Even just verifying the city’s claims on the proposed camping sites had a profound impact on me.

Notable debates:

There was an interesting debate around the stormwater fee changes. This was pulled off the consent agenda for council to discuss, and it’s worth talking about again here. But real nerdy-like. Hendsbee was advocating on behalf of his residents (but it’s most of the HRM—if you’re affected you’ll get an insert with your tax bill), who will now have to pay for stormwater management. It used to be that unless the physical infrastructure was on your property you didn’t have to pay. But that also meant there wasn’t enough money paying for that infrastructure. The suburban funding model, as it were. People are also being charged a fee to sign up to be a customer of Halifax Water, even though signing up was mandatory. Lovelace told Hendsbee (paraphrased) that the fee thing is just a quirk of capitalism in our politics. She explained that it’s a customer fee because we’ve set up a public good like a company for ease of integration into our resource management system (capitalism), but it is a tax as it’s legislated by the province. Deputy mayor Austin chimed in that these fee increases were the “public good” part of the public good that is water service. If it feels unfair to residents who have not yet been forced to pay their fair share towards the public good, that’s because it is. It’s unfair that our geographic forebears were selfish and left us holding their bag. Council needs to decide whether to repeat the same mistake, or fix it. And it seems like it’s going to fix it.

The other notable debate was about the big ole development proposed for the Dartmouth mall. Halifax Examiner wrote about it and so, too, did Jen Taplin at SaltWire. And the big takeaway here is that two prominent City Hall covering papers disagree on a major plan for Dartmouth, and they’re both 100% correct. It’s too early to tell, really, how this plan will work out. If the city leans into walkability and puts its development policy where its mouth is, this could be a huge, very cool development. But it’s also true that a mall is a piece of car-centric infrastructure, so the development may exacerbate our car reliance. It’s too early to tell how this development will turn out because it still has a long way to go before anything gets built, if it gets built at all. The only thing council knows for sure is that if the province disagrees with what it’s doing, premier Tim Houston can just make the city do what he wants it to do.

And now, the promised nerd excursion into the weeds: Let’s talk federal transit money. This money is the federal government giving money to Halifax. However, the province interjected itself into the process to attach some strings in an attempt to produce good PR for Houston on the back of federal money for the city. The money is supposed to come with matching funding from the province. The province told the feds that it didn’t have any money and instead asked if it could count money it already spent as matching the federal money. The feds said yes. So the province has not matched federal money and tried to piggyback on the federal spending for some public relations wins. The strings the province attached were for housing. Cleary said it was a trap because this is federal money for transit, and the province just put the housing clause in there so it could then claim the city spent “housing money” on “transit,” even though transit is the whole point of the federal money for transit. Also, Mason pointed out that the province quite literally cut and pasted Doug Ford’s policies into this motion. He believes this because if this were a policy written for Nova Scotia or the HRM “reforming municipal development charges or equivalent for new builds” should not mention the Ontario municipal government practice of development charges, and should instead bemoan development or permitting fees. But all of this hand wringing was for naught—astute political cynics will point out that the words on the page don’t matter because the point is the strings. And the strings are for Houston to pull when he wants to justify vetoing municipal planning in the future with the power he gave himself in the fall. Dance, puppets, dance.

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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