1. The VG replacement report is finished, but you can’t see it
“On Friday, December 29, the final work day of 2017, the province received a consultant’s report containing some highly anticipated information,” reports Jennifer Henderson:
The report included a preliminary cost estimate, timeline, and master plan to replace services delivered out of the crumbling Victoria General (VG) hospital and Centennial building.
Great! So what does it say?
Not so fast, reports Henderson:
Kasian met the deadline in the tender awarded by the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Renewal (TIR). Yet it could be another six months — June of 2018, in fact — before anyone outside of government sees the recommendations to government contained in the report.
In the meanwhile, the various government departments and ministers will figure out how to massage the report for public consumption.
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2. Willow Tree
I asked Erica Butler to attend last night’s public hearing on the proposed Willow Tree development, and this morning she provides a rundown of arguments pro and con offered up.
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Council meets again this morning and will eventually get around to debating the project; I’ll try to get over and report, but I’m already running late.
3. Putting the city back in the housing industry
Tomorrow, Councillor Waye Mason will be asking the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee to get the ball rolling in order to bring government housing authority back to the city.
Through most of the 20th century, the city was responsible for providing subsidized housing. In fact, the city still owns much of the land where affordable housing units, which are now administered by the province, sit. Back in the day, the old city of Halifax even had a Housing Office, and the city council would regularly debate where to build new housing, what rent levels should be, whether to forgive back rents, and the like. For instance, the sprawling Federal/Romans Avenue neighbourhood off Bayers Road (“the pubs”), was a former military housing project taken over by the city for social housing. Mulgrave Park and Uniacke Square were also city projects.
(The old city of Halifax also provided poor relief, and widows and other indigent people would have to appear in open council meetings to plead their case.)
But in the 1990s, when municipal governments were clamouring for more tax revenues and the provincial government responded by basically smacking those municipal governments down and redefining how government services were provided. The short of it is that the province took control of many services once provided by the cities, including housing. As the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities explains:
In the early 1990s, a Task Force on Local Government was established to look at local government reform. Many of the same issues reviewed by the Graham Commission years early were still relevant issues for municipalities. The Task Force concluded that there needed to be clear lines of authority for service provision to ensure each level of government could be held accountable for taxpayers. As such, the Task Force recommended that the Province take full responsibility for financing and administration of social services (services to people), while municipalities would be responsible for local services (services to property), including local roads. In addition, the concept of an equalization grant was discussed.
(We’ll leave the equalization discussion for another day.)
But the problem with taking social services away from cities was two-fold. First, it removed social services as a responsibility at the level of government closest to the community. There were both pluses and minuses to that (see the above widows publicly begging for help from councillors), but the minuses are beginning to pile up as the province seems to have lost its mission in the haze of an unwieldy bureaucracy. Exhibit A is Housing Nova Scotia’s failure on the Bloomfield development.
Second, the city has a stake in social issues that connect with the city’s role in planning and land-use regulation. This is particularly the case with affordable housing. The city has a direct interest in having affordable housing on the peninsula — if for no other reason than to support downtown businesses, which require low-wage workers to function. The Nova Centre or the convention centre or the banks or other corporate offices couldn’t stay open for even a day without an underpaid army of janitors, cooks, couriers, secretaries, and the like. (There are plenty of other good reasons to have affordable housing on the peninsula, but wage depression is what gets business people with political clout on board.) But the province has a one-policy-fits-all approach to subsidized housing, paying the same amount for a subsidized unit in high-priced Halifax as it does in, say, Kentville, where land prices are relatively inexpensive. Were the city to control housing policy, however, it could be more flexible with how and especially where it provides housing.
That the Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee recommend that Halifax Regional Council request a staff report to assess options for requesting the transfer of the responsibility to operate and deliver housing programs and services within the boundaries of Halifax on behalf of the Province, including but not limited to the following considerations:
1. Transferring of the responsibilities of Housing Nova Scotia in the Halifax region, including Metro Regional Housing Authority (MRHA) to the municipality;
2. Fund this transfer through property tax, by redirecting property tax points from the mandatory education funding collected by the municipality for the province, to ensure the core housing program operations would be funded by property tax revenue, rather than provincial grants;
3. Require provincial participation and cost sharing in Federal housing and regionally significant housing programs with equitable per-capita distribution of funds based on population;
4. Require the housing allowance paid to clients living in MRHA is the same as the program provides to other private and not for profit land lords.
5. Make recommendations regarding management structure as either an arms length agency, a department of the municipality, or combination of options.
That proposal fits with Mayor Mike Savage’s desire to see the city play a bigger role in housing, but it’s anyone’s guess if the province will go along with giving up its turf. Despite spending millions of dollars on the Bloomfield project for naught, Housing Nova Scotia is an entrenched bureaucracy and isn’t going to give up its plum Halifax operations easily.
There will also be considerable debate around the tax issues, as there should be. But it’ll be interesting to see how this proceeds.
4. Tidal energy is going to make us all rich
“As Nova Scotia pushes ahead with its bid to become a world leader in tidal energy, significant knowledge gaps remain — particularly when it comes to environmental monitoring of test turbines in the Bay of Fundy, the head of an independent research group says,” reports the Canadian Press:
“We don’t know enough about the environmental impacts of those devices,” Stephen Dempsey, executive director of the Offshore Energy Research Association, told a news conference Tuesday at Dalhousie University.
Dempsey, whose non-profit organization dispenses funding from the Nova Scotia Energy Department, made the comments after the province announced a new competition for research funding.
In all, $150,000 is being offered to support five projects that will involve the use of Dalhousie’s Aquatron — one of Canada’s largest aquatic research facilities.
Um… I don’t know if tidal energy is a realistic pursuit or not — I have my doubts that it will ever be able to compete pricewise with other kinds of renewable electricity generation — but $150,000 spread between five projects ain’t squat. By the time you pay the employees on the projects, the janitors and administration at Dal, the transportation…. you’re left with maybe one dip in the machine for each of the five projects.
If we really want to pursue tidal energy, it’s going to take millions upon millions of dollars in research money. Like, raid the education budget and let highway bridges collapse kinds of money.
By the way, how did Stephen Dempsey end up at the Offshore Energy Research Association? Last I heard, he was running PR for DDI, the Chinese firm that was going to build Crystal City, a city of four million people on the St. Mary’s River. Some people just have that bureaucratic mojo — before pimping the Chinese, Dempsey was the prez of the Greater Halifax Partnership, which made us all rich back in the aughts (did you miss that?). Knowing the economic development bullshit lingo helps you move up the career ladder, I guess.
Anyway, like any good sales job, with tidal energy you’ve got to promise absurd levels of future wealth, and Energy Minister Geoff MacLellan doesn’t disappoint:
MacLellan said the tidal energy industry has the potential to create 22,000 jobs and generate $1.7 billion for the Nova Scotia economy.
And how did Geoff MacLellan…. ah, never mind. But between the convention centre riches and the tidal energy riches coming my way, I may have to open one of those off-shore accounts.
Where are you going to spend all your sweet, sweet tidal money?
5. Welcome to our new robot overlords
Yesterday, Nova Scotia Business Inc. announced up to $2,488,500 in payroll rebates over five years for the multinational professional services firm Ernst and Young, which is now calling itself simply EY because the kids are all into the acronyms, dyk.
In order to get the tax refunds, EY must “create up to a maximum of 150 jobs with the opening in Halifax of its first Canadian-based Global Centre of Excellence for Robotic Process Automation Service.”
Total payroll over the five years is to be $34,650,000, which works out to about $46,000 and change in pay per employee annually. Unfortunately, all the employees will be robots.
(That photo is from the promo for Teresa Heffernan’s talk at King’s tonight; see “on campus” for deets.)
Budget Committee – 18-19 Budget and Business Plan (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — deliberations continue.
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — see news, above.
Public Information Meeting – Case 20160 (Thursday, 7pm, Harrietsfield Elementary School) — James, Leo, and Ann Hallal and Mike Faddou want to turn the old satellite station in Harrietsfield into a commercial building, and then develop the land around it as a residential neighbourhood.
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Paul LaFleche, the deputy minister at Transportation and Infrastructural Renewal, will be asked about the Highway 104 Western Alignment Corporation.
Resources (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — Julie Towers, the deputy minister at the Department of Natural Resources, will be asked about the Canada Trail.
Architecture Lecture (Wednesday, 9am, Theatre 4, Park Lane Mall) — Matthew Kennedy and Mark Erickson will speak on connecting innovative design with hands-on construction through their design + build practice, Studio North.
Architecture Lecture (Wednesday, 6pm, Room B225, B Building [Engineering], Sexton Campus — after hours, enter via the link west of the Sexton Gymnasium) — Nuno Grande, from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, will speak on understanding the relationship between culture, city, and architecture, and the role of cultural facilities within the urban regeneration process.
Countering Hate in the Digital Age: The Power of the Human Story (Wednesday, 7pm, Potter Auditorium, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — Stephen D. Smith, UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education, will speak.
Architecture Lecture (Thursday, 9am, Theatre 4, Park Lane Mall) — Sasa Radulovic explores the influence of contemporary identity and architectural culture on design.
Architecture Lecture (Thursday, 6pm, Room B225, B Building [Engineering], Sexton Campus — after-hours, enter via the link west of the Sexton Gymnasium) — Jeanette Hansen will investigate how buildings reflect and inform human behavior and the environment.
Gender Dynamics of Food Security (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — Somed Shahadu Bitamsimli, PhD candidate from the School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, will speak.
Under the Sun: A Chilling Glimpse Into North Korea (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1020, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — Vitaly Mansky’s documentary of life in Pyongyang.
Imagining Automatons (Wednesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall) — Teresa Heffernan from Saint Mary’s University, director of the “Social Robots Futures” project, speaks on the past and future of robots.
In the harbour
3am: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for Saint John
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11:30am: Hollandia, general cargo, sails from Pier 31 for sea
1pm: Jona, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
4pm: ZIM Alabama, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
11:30pm: Fourni, oil tanker, arrives at Tufts Cove from Freeport, Bahamas
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.