Everything you need to know about HRM council’s Sept. 26 meeting | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
“A child is a child is a child,” says councillor Pam Lovelace. Also, “we're not a city.”

Everything you need to know about HRM council’s Sept. 26 meeting

In which the federal government wants to reduce Halifax’s housing crisis, and some of Halifax’s councillors can’t accept it.

There are now 21 tents in Grand Parade; this is an increase of four tents from the last council meeting.

Speaking of the housing crisis, it dominated most of Tuesday’s council meeting since the federal Liberals, finally, decided to start using their power. What this looks like for the HRM is an increased amount of money for the Rapid Housing Initiative. All the city has to do to get access to this money is change zoning in the HRM in ways that are in line with all of councillors’ stated goals: Ending the housing crisis, fighting climate change, building complete walkable communities, etc.

So as you can expect, HRM city councillors tried really hard not to take that money, with councillors Paul Russell and Pam Lovelace having absolutely brutal meeting performances. Ultimately council decided that they should change zoning to take the federal money, but before doing so made some very, very short-sighted arguments against doing so. But before getting to that in the notable debates, here are the…

Things that passed

Mill Cove library/ferry terminal is going to be in contention for capital money this year. Councillor Patty Cuttell pulled this item off the consent agenda because she wanted a discussion about it. She wanted to know that if this passed today, the estimated $24-per-property tax bill increase would be baked into this budget, committing council to a tax raise by voting it through here. This vote passing means that CFO Jerry Blackwood now has to figure out how to pay for it this year. Councillor Tim Outhit pointed out that this library has been needed since 1996 and now, finally, the city is making money available for it. The federal government still needs to fund their part of this, and council could still balk at spending this money later on in the budget process. A lowlight of this debate was when councillor Russell said that if this proposed ferry terminal didn’t have enough parking, people would have to take the bus to the ferry terminal—so it needs more parking. Making this change (which likely won’t happen) would actively undermine the city’s Integrated Mobility Plan.

Mayor Mike Savage wants to give up to $20,000 to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness Conference coming to Halifax in November. This was amended to $25,000 and was passed.

Councillor Lovelace wants an emergency preparedness plan for schools in the HRM to see how efficiently they could be evacuated in an emergency. Anyone who drops their kid off to school in a car knows that traffic is bad. If everyone in the school needs to leave the school and takes their own cars, there is no way for everyone to leave school properties, which would result in a lot of needless confusion and danger. While this is a good idea and good planning exercise, it’s also one the city has no jurisdiction to implement. Russell and Becky Kent were the only votes against this plan, as everyone else seemed to want this information, even if they couldn’t directly do anything about it.

Fun fact: Did you know that most mass evacuation plans have the use of city or school busses to move a lot of people, and that’s kind of a big issue? So this plan is likely worth doing, even if the city can’t implement it.

In 2006 and 2022, the province offloaded water infrastructure to the HRM, but didn’t give the city enough of the surrounding land to effectively manage stormwater. Lovelace wants the provincial government to do maintenance, or give the city the lands so the city can do it. This will get a staff report.

People on Glory Avenue, Hope Avenue, Lake Eagle Drive, Lake Mist Drive, Nobel Court, Joel Crescent and Queens Road will likely start paying an area rate for some road maintenance. Councillor David Hendsbee said that in his district area rates are done on a per lot basis, so this was deferred to change it to per lot.

In 2021, the city passed a car-immobilization (AKA booting) bylaw that required boot clickers to register as special constables, but there wasn’t really a way to check if the companies were actually registering their staff. This bylaw is changing and now companies would have to prove to cities that their boot clickers are constables “within two days” of the city requesting it. Staff are also recommending the fine be increased to $115, and that the bylaw’s wording gets changed from “ticket dispenser” to “payment system(s)” to keep up with the times. Halifax Transit would like a word. Councillor Lovelace was the lone vote no on this one.

Staff are proposing the city borrow a whole bunch of money ($191,823,182 and $80,489,549) to pay for a whole slew of capital projects the city wants to build or has already started building, which can be found on pages 6 and 8 of this report. Two things worth noting: The city should get most of this back when the projects are completed, but interest spikes make this a bit risky. And of the money that we’re borrowing, a lot more of it is going to street recaps than active transportation. This passed on the consent agenda, but will most likely be debated during the budget process somewhere.

They city’s going to fund the HRM’s various search and rescue volunteer operations and look at consistent funding instead of making the organizations apply for grants every year. This passed

The Graham’s Grove Building will be leased to the Dartmouth Dragon Boat Association and Kiwanis Club of Dartmouth on the cheap.

The special events advisory committee asked council to give $25,000 to Soccer Nova Scotia to host a tournament that’s sponsored by a car company that made $51 billion in profits in the last year. That committee also wants a way to evaluate if its grants actually produce good, so it’s asking for a report on that. Both of these motions passed.

Councillors Lindell Smith, Russell and Sam Austin are heading to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities as the HRM’s reps.

Councillor Waye Mason got a wonky motion passed to ask if things from in-camera sessions that don’t require a debate can be put on the consent agenda. This is mainly a quality of life change for staff, as well as slightly streamlining the city’s bureaucracy without undermining public accountability. Wonk away Waye.

Council approved a six-storey development on the Bedford Highway. During the debate, Cuttell said that there needs to be more parking for a development that’s on the Bedford Highway which has a bike lane and a lot of bus service. In the public debate, the first resident said that where the underground parking is currently located will cause “accidents” as cars turn out to the highway. But if the resident is correct and this does cause collisions, they won’t be accidental, those will be collisions caused by bad design.

And finally the hot topic item of the day, the added item about the federal housing accelerator fund. This got added to the agenda because last week, a letter from federal housing minister Sean Fraser to the city was made public. Broadly speaking, the feds liked what the city was doing, but wanted to see four specific things from council:

  1. Legalizing four-unit developments as-of-right city wide;
  2. Legalizing dwellings up to four storeys high for all residential areas in the Centre Plan;
  3. Creating a non-market affordable housing strategy with staff dedicated to it; and
  4. Increasing density and student rentals within walking distance of the city’s first-rate post-secondary institutions.

But the first two items took the majority of the debate on this motion. Councillor Mason said that if the city let four storeys in the Centre Plan area, instead of encouraging a bunch of small apartment building, it might inadvertently enable rich jerks (not Mason’s words) to build overgrown McMansions, so he got an amendment passed changing the max height allowed in the Centre Plan from 11m to 12m, which should both appease the Federales and get more density without accidentally allowing McMansions. And after what may have been one of the worst debates council has had, councillors decided to try their luck and see if the change to building height will allow us access to the housing money, and passed the amended motion.

Part of this motion included asking the CAO to write a letter to the province asking for the power to rescind development agreements that don’t comply with new, denser, bylaws. Councillor Russell wanted to know what the justification was for rescinding development agreements (where work hasn’t started) that don’t comply with this new bylaw proposal. The very short version of a wildly complex answer is that this maintains more of the city’s power over land use and may streamline some bureaucratic processes. Russell said he was against this, and could not support the telling the CAO to write a letter to the province. He was the sole vote against this letter, which was split off the main motion by Russell so he could vote no.

Notable Debates

Councillors Russell and Lovelace had absolutely brutal debate performances last night in a way that should make people exisentially worried about the future of the city.

For example, Russell opened the meeting by saying the city should build more parking at the new ferry terminal in Mill Cove to encourage driving, because otherwise people might be expected to take the bus to the ferry. Making or encouraging people to take public transit has been official government policy since Dec 5, 2017. If Russell wants more driving in this city, he should be working harder to get the Integrated Mobility Plan rescinded, instead of trying to do it piecemeal in every capital debate that includes parking lots. Just in case you’re wondering why Halifax’s Integrated Mobility plan still isn’t really being implemented six years after it was ratified. That and his no vote on housing is why Russell had a bad debate.

One of the criticisms levelled against professional athletes who have a bad game, especially a bad championship game, is that they let the enormity of the day affect their play. The same thing seems to have happened to Lovelace at yesterday’s debate.

During the school emergency planning part of the debate Lovelace was very concerned about the safety of children in her district. If there is another fire in Tantallon, but this time on a weekday, will children be able to all leave the school safely? Likely not. Every parent driving to get their kid in an emergency where everyone needs to evacuate will almost definitely cause congestion leading to a massive amount of casualties. Which is why Lovelace said things like “A child is a child is a child,” and “Children should not have to be fearful,” and “This is a serious issue people need to know we’re taking seriously.” So municipal and provincial jurisdiction be damned, this is the right thing to do.

Speaking of municipal jurisdiction, one of the only things the city has explicitly within its control—and that is really municipal government’s main reason for existing—is to regulate land use. Which is why the federal government asked for different land use (taller buildings and more units) throughout the city. Lovelace initially said this change wasn’t good because “we’re not a city,” before arguing that due to the HRM’s development patterns (regulated by council) and sloppy amalgamation, the HRM often feels like disjointed communities instead of a solid municipal unit. And therefore, she argued, adding more units to increase density would just increase congestion for the disjoined communities in her district.

“I wonder if he really gets it,” Lovelace mused about federal housing minister Fraser and his density demands. It’s worth musing the same about our councillors. Land use is the explicit jurisdiction of municipal government and we need housing. Badly. If adding more housing will add congestion, and councillors don’t want congestion, then they need to seriously start changing how we use our land for transportation. There is simply no way for council to add denser housing without increased congestion if everyone also needs their own couple-hundred-square-foot metal box to move around in.

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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