News

1. Housing

Housing Minister John Lohr, left, and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage at the housing announcement, March 25, 2022. Photo: Tim Bousquet

I reported Friday:

Housing Minister John Lohr has designated nine “special planning areas” in the Halifax Regional Municipality, with the potential for a total of 22,600 residential units. This designation gives Lohr the authority for development approvals in those areas.

The special planning areas are:

  • former Penhorn Mall lands, 950 units
  • Southdale/Mount Hope, 1,200 units
  • Bedford West 10, 1,300 units
  • Bedford West 1 and 12, 2,500 units
  • Port Wallace, up to 4,900 units
  • Indigo Shores, 150 building lots
  • Morris Lake expansion, 3,100 units
  • Dartmouth Crossing, 2,500 units
  • Sandy Lake, 6,000 units.

In addition, the province is spending $2.3 million to cover the costs of needed transportation and environmental planning before some of the sites can move forward.

Several of those areas are controversial — Sandy Lake, Port Wallace, and Southdale/Mount Hope have environmental concerns, and the councillor for the area argues that there aren’t enough schoolrooms to handle the Indigo Shores development.

I tried to get into the economic thinking behind this fast-tracking:

The premise of speeding up development is that an increased housing stock will lower housing cost. But, what if it doesn’t work? I asked. That is, what if the housing stock is in fact increased more than population increases, but housing prices continue to go up?

Well, again, this is our mandate, is to add units to the supply, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen,” replied Lohr.

So the belief is the free market will solve the housing problem? I pressed.

“I believe that we need more units and there’s a lot of developers looking to add 22,600 units right now, and that’s exactly what we need. We need a lot more.”

That foundational economic tenet you were taught in Econ 101 — prices are merely a reflection of supply and demand — is utterly wrong with regard to today’s housing market. Housing prices are going up mainly because there are trillions of dollars floating around the globe that are being parked in real estate rather than in the production of other goods and services.

A lot of that money is dirty money and real estate allows it to be laundered. But most of it is legitimate cash held by people and institutions that look for the biggest returns. There are a few big tech and tech-adjacent firms — Amazon, Apple, etc. — making trillions of dollars right now, but otherwise people aren’t spending on much of anything else. That leaves housing, where the average person can be squeezed and there’s nothing much they can do about it. A big real estate investment firm buys up your apartment complex and jacks the rent $400 a month, what are you going to do about it — move to the apartment complex across town where the rent was also jacked $400 a month?

If Lohr and company think removing a few bureaucratic steps for some favoured developers will bring down the cost of housing, they are completely delusional.

I’d argue what’s needed right now is indeed more housing, but of the non-market sort: government-owned social housing, government-backed cooperative housings, and housing in which sale prices are restricted to increases pegged to the overall consumer price index.

A large non-market housing stock could act as a check against market prices. If people had truly affordable options for decent housing, then the market housing would have to lower prices to compete.

As is, however, government assists some developers in their quests for high profits, and then tosses a few coins into non-profits that at best can attend to the needs of a handful of truly desperate people, leaving the broad middle section of society completely on their own against the rapacious market.

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2. Mass murder inquiry

The Portapique sign on Highway 2 was adorned with a Nova Scotia tartan sash following the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

The public proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission, the public inquiry into the mass murders of April 18/19, 2022, resume today with sworn testimony from the first three RCMP officers at the scene in Portapique — Cst. Stuart Beselt, Cst. Adam Merchant, and Cst. Aaron Patton.

Reading investigators’ interviews with the three, it appears to me that they acted bravely and to their training. The three were wearing body armour and carrying all their gear, and walking/running this way and that over the uneven ground in the woods, logging just under 10K in a couple of hours as they heard explosions and gunshots around them. It must have been frightening and exhausting.

It’s not to take away from their bravery, however, to say that their training may not have served the situation perfectly, or to recognize that there are still questions about why they made the decisions they did.

After the Moncton shootings, RCMP were trained to not bring a car into an active shooter situation, as the car becomes a “billboard” for the shooter. But perhaps the response should be more nuanced — in this situation, the three had information that the shooter was himself in a vehicle, and so pursuing him on foot may have put them at a disadvantage.

There are also questions about why they moved in the directions they did — first south on Portapique Beach Road and not east on Orchard Beach Drive where they had information that there were gunshot victims, and secondly, why after leaving the McCully house they went north even though they thought the shooter was to the south.

One thing that should be explored is what police thought the shooter was doing.

In his interview with investigators, Beselt said he heard a series of bangs and couldn’t know if they were explosions or gunshots; in retrospect, we know that the killer owned as many as 30 motorcycles in the burning warehouse, so the fuel tanks were exploding one after another just as the killer was nearby shooting. Then Beselt said he heard a single gunshot, so he thought the shooter “did himself, right… like he knows the gig’s up now and did [killed] himself.” When Beselt woke up on Sunday morning, “I was surprised when all this shit started rolling.” It’s uncertain, but that single gunshot may have been the killer shooting Corrie Ellison.

It appears that some, maybe all, police on the scene and in command positions assumed Portapique was a murder/suicide situation, which perhaps led to an almost performative and very slow rollout of establishing containment points around Portapique.

There will be much questioning about the three officers’ interaction with the four children at McCully house — what was their understanding of their training in such situations, were they trained to deal with children, and so forth.

No doubt there will be entire areas of questioning I haven’t thought about.

Again, the point isn’t necessarily to fault the officers but rather to understand why they did what they did, and how police can be better prepared in these horrible situations.

Today’s session started at 9:30am, and I’m live-tweeting it via my Twitter account. The testimony will likely last all day today, and possibly into tomorrow.

On Wednesday, commission staff will detail what they believe happened on Hunter Road (where Alanna Jenkins, Sean McLeod, and Tom Bagley were killed) and in Wentworth (where Lillian Hyslop was killed) on April 19. On Thursday, staff will detail what they believe happened on Plains Road (where Heather O’Brien and Kristen Beaton were killed) that day.

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3.COVID notifications for legislature but for nobody else

A COVID notification sent by the Speaker of the House on Saturday.

“Politicians in Nova Scotia are facing a bit of a backlash after a warning was issued on the weekend about a potential COVID-19 exposure last week at the provincial legislature,” reports the Canadian Press:

Social media lit up with complaints pointing to a double standard because the province no longer provides COVID-19 exposure notices when infections are detected in schools or other places frequented by the public.

“Oh but don’t let a teacher inform students or parents about a case in the class,” said one post on Twitter. “The worst of this is that they still keep protections in place for themselves, basically admitting that they know the extent of the risk they deem OK for you and me to be exposed to.”

The controversy started when the Speaker of the house of assembly issued a statement Saturday saying that a person infected with the virus had visited the downtown building on Thursday and Friday.

The letter advised those working at the legislature on those days to get tested for the virus.

 4. Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society

rightswatch.ca

“A word of advice,” writes Stephen Kimber:

You should avoid standing in front of the exit door at the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society office. Otherwise, you might get run over by the latest lawyer on their way out.

Kimber goes on to detail those leaving through the revolving board, and the Society’s mishandling of race issues. Then leaves us with this:

All of which raises what is a different — and larger — question…: Should Nova Scotia lawyers continue to be privileged to regulate themselves?

In a 2015 paper for the Canadian Bar Foundation, John Pearson, then general counsel for the Attorney General of Ontario and formerly Nova Scotia’s first independent director of public prosecutions, made the case that “the only justification” for legislators to hand regulation of the legal profession over to its practitioners “is the public interest.” But Canada’s self-regulating legal profession, he argued, “was born out of professional self-interest.”

Thanks to a growing consensus among lawmakers in England and most Commonwealth countries that legal regulators had “abandoned their public interest mandate in favour of acting as lobbying organizations for lawyers,” lawyers there have been “stripped of their exclusive authority to govern themselves and a legislated co-regulatory regime was imposed.”

Canada, in fact, is a “last bastion of self-regulation.” Even the Canadian Bar Association mused in a 2013 report that public demands for us to follow the rest of the Commonwealth “may only be a matter of time.”

That time, based on the recent record of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, is past.

Click here to read “Should Nova Scotia lawyers really be allowed to regulate themselves?”

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5. Another shooting death

Another man has been shot dead in Halifax.

At 2:35am on Friday, March 18, 25-year-old Treyvhon Alrick Bradshaw was shot outside The Den nightclub on Gottingen Street and died in hospital soon after.

And at 3:49am on Saturday, March 26, police were called to a shooting in the 1600 block of Hollis Street — it’s not in the police release, but I’m told a man was shot in a hotel room at the DoubleTree Suites — and a man in his 20s was taken to hospital, where he died.

The rumour mill has it that there is a drug war underway, and there may be yet more violence.

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6. Drivers doing horrible stuff

At about 1am Sunday morning on the Grafton Street side of the Dome complex, a driver struck a pedestrian and then sped away. Witnesses gave police a description of the car, and the driver was soon arrested and charged with running a stop sign, leaving the scene, and being a newly licensed driver operating outside the conditions of the licence.

And this happened Saturday, according to an RCMP release:

On March 26, 2022, at approximately 11:20 a.m., Halifax District RCMP was dispatched to a report of a near head-on collision on Prospect Rd. where a grey Honda Civic had run a blue Volkswagen Jetta off the road. The Civic then fled the area and did not stop.

An RCMP officer was near the location of the incident and arrived within moments of the report. RCMP learned that the Jetta had been travelling northeast on Prospect Rd. when the Civic, which was travelling in the opposite direction, crossed the centre line and nearly struck the Jetta head-on. The driver of the Jetta managed to swerve out of the way, however the Civic did sideswipe the Jetta causing extensive damage. The Jetta ended up leaving the roadway and the Civic fled the scene. Both occupants of the Jetta, a 34-year-old Timberlea woman who was driving, and a 30-year-old Timberlea man who was a passenger, were uninjured.

RCMP determined that the Civic had fled the scene and gone down Shady Vista Rd. The Civic was located abandoned on an ATV trail off of Shady Vista Rd. RCMP seized the Civic and continued to search for the driver of the vehicle.

While investigating this incident, RCMP learned that a second Volkswagen Jetta, similar in colour to the first, had been rammed and run off the road by the same Civic. This collision occurred on Prospect Rd. just before the collision with the other Jetta. The driver and lone occupant of this Jetta, a 22-year-old Terrence Bay woman, was uninjured.

RCMP continued to look for the driver of the Civic and at approximately 1:20 p.m., he was located near a liquor store on Prospect Bay Rd. The 28-year-old Prospect Bay man was safely taken into custody by RCMP. The man had not suffered any injuries as a result of the collisions.

The man was later released on conditions and will be facing charges of Assault with a Weapon, Dangerous Operation of a Conveyance, Operation of a Conveyance While Prohibited and Obstructing a Peace Officer. The man will appear in Halifax Provincial Court on May 19, 2022 at 9:30 a.m.

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7. Zephyr the dog

On December 28, Zephyr went missing.

Zephyr is a silver and white male Husky mix owned by Jason Sharpe, who lives with his girlfriend Melissa Akin and his 17-year-old daughter at the end of a road next to Highway 101 in New Minas.

On New Year’s Eve, Sharpe found Zephyr in a roadside ditch, and immediately took him to the Annapolis Animal Hospital. The vet, Dr. Rachel Robinson, found that Zephyr probably had a pelvic fracture. She prescribed pain medication and told Sharpe that Zephyr should not bear weight on the hind legs and needed a sling for toileting.

What happened next is up for debate. Sharpe and his household say they kept in touch with the vet about medication, but the vet has no record of such.

On January 8, Robinson, called the SPCA to report that Zephyr’s pain medication had run out and Sharpe had not returned for more. There was the “potential for patient suffering,” said Robinson.

The SPCA say they arranged with Sharpe for a wellness check, and came by a couple of times. One time, two compliance officers arrived at Sharpe’s house when his daughter was there with a friend, and the daughter didn’t feel comfortable letting them in without Sharpe’s approval; the officers say the left contact info for Sharpe. Sharpe says he never received that info.

Eventually, the compliance officers obtained a search warrant to conduct a compliance check, and on February 23, four people — Sp. Cst. Mark Rushton, compliance officers Rob Shulman and Dana Brown, and trainee Sarah Young — showed up at Sharpe’s house. No one was home. Well, besides Zephyr.

“I knocked on the main entrance to the residence,” wrote Rushton. “Upon the initial knock, I observed the storm door and main inside door to be ajar. A husky mix breed dog, positively identified by Shulman and Young as Zephyr, used his snout to open both the main door and storm door and exit the premise without assistance.”

Zephyr was taken to the Dartmouth Animal Hospital where he was found to have “flea dirt, a noticeable lack of muscle in hind end and his obvious dislocation of hips.”

Sharpe appealed the seizure of Zephyr to the Animal Welfare Appeal Board, and won.

The Board found that the compliance officers’ notes were incompatible with each other, and so there was an incomplete document trail leading up to the seizure. It was plausible that Sharpe had not been properly notified.

In addition, the Board didn’t believe the officers’ seizure narrative. It wrote in its decision:

The Board is not convinced that the dog, who was claimed to be in medical distress, could be able to open two doors and exit the home without assistance. It was claimed by homeowner Melissa Akin that both doors were closed.

Zephyr was returned to Sharpe.

But now, the SPCA is appealing the Board’s decision to the Supreme Court. The SPCA wants the dog back. Representatives will appear in court on May 30 to establish a later hearing date. Who knows, but by that time Zephyr’s condition may have changed for better or worse.

The SPCA’s lawyer is Michael Scott, who is also representing victims’ families before the Mass Casualty Commission.

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Government

City

Monday

Executive Standing Committee (Monday, 10am, City Hall) — also via video

Grants Committee (Monday, 10am) — via video

Tuesday

Public Information meeting – Case 23805 (Tuesday, Woodlawn Library Auditorium — also virtual; application by Fathom Studio for a Rezoning and Development Agreement to allow a 7-storey multi-unit residential building with a small commercial space fronting Portland Street at 663 Portland Street and 16 Carver Street, Dartmouth.

Province

Monday

Law Amendments (Monday, 10am, Province House) — live broadcast:

Bill No. 96 – Dismantling Racism and Hate Act (with representation)

Bill No. 99 – Quality-improvement Information Protection Act (amended) (no representation)

Bill No. 101 – Marine Renewable-energy Act (amended) (no representation)

Bill No. 102 – Wildlife Act (amended) (no representation)

Bill No. 104 – Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act (amended) (no representation)

Tuesday

Human Resources (Tuesday, 10am) — location TBA; appointments to agencies, boards, and commissions

Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm)


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

Animal movement in support of the ocean’s grand challenges (Monday, 10am, 5th Floor Lounge, Life Science Centre) — also online; first of two seminars by Robert Lennox, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, candidate for the position of Professor of Biology and Scientific Director of the Ocean Tracking Network

Tuesday

The next generation of the Ocean Tracking Network – Aquatic animal movement on the world stage (Tuesday, 10am, 5th Floor Lounge, Life Science Centre) — also online; second seminar by Robert Lennox, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research; candidate for Scientific Director of the Ocean Tracking Network

PhD Defence, Psychology and Neuroscience (Tuesday, 2pm) — online; Matthew Orr will present “A User-Centered Approach to the Development of an E-Learning Program for Classroom Teachers of Students with Disruptive Classroom Behaviour”

Board of Governors meeting (Tuesday, 3pm, Theatre A, Tupper Building) — attend a livestream of the open session portion, masks required

The Crucible (Tuesday, 7:30pm, Dunn theatre, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — directed by Nigel Shawn Williams; masks required, $10/$15, info here


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: MSC Cristiana, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Valencia, Spain
06:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
11:00: Hyundai Force, container ship, arrives at Pier 9 from Colombo, Sria Lanka
14:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, arrives at Berth TBD from Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania
16:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Liverpool, England
16:30: MSC Cristiana, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
19:30: 06:30: Atlantic Star sails for Hamburg, Germany

Cape Breton
02:00: SFL Trinity, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for New York
03:00: Everbright, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Prof. John Evans Atta (offshore terminal), Bahamas
03:15: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Coal Pier (Point Tupper) from Puerto Nuevo, Colombia


Footnotes

Right now, more people I know personally have COVID than at any previous moment in the pandemic.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. the alternative to building on ‘urban wetlands’ is that the frustrated families instead will settle in low density homes 30 miles from town and consume huge amounts of gasoline for the rest of their days simply getting to and from work. A geographic historian can explain better than I why urban areas have ALWAYS been built on wetlands, but I do not know of many urban centres built on mountain tops or deserts rather than on the low flat wet land around estuaries….

  2. I politely disagree. Although housing can be a speculative asset, rental agreements are not assets. We know that as we have added four people per housing start in HRM in the last four years, vacancy rates have hovered near zero. I think it is reasonable to say that rents are genuinely “market price” – you cannot get a loan to pay your rent and as you gain no equity renting, rent is just a service like a taxi ride. Rents help support housing prices, as speculation on housing is a lot less risky when rents will cover most or all of the mortgage.

  3. Definitely there needs to be some form of public housing. A few years ago I was enchantred by the idea of cohousing, but it turns out it takes at least ten years from start to finish to finance and jump through all the bureaucratic hoops and build a cohousing neighbourhood. We felt were already too old to face such a time lag, and as it turns out, now many years past the ten mentioned, as far as I know no such facility has hever made it past the idea stage in HRM.
    I’ve been reading lots of books about cities lately and among other things which have struck me is the claim that nowadays homes are built to a very complete standard, so instead of a neighbourhood developing slowly as smaller houses are replaced with larger ones as the population becomes more able to afford them (I will not use the word wealthier), homes and neighbourhoods (such as they are in developments) are built to their final high end state. So you wouldn’t have a neighbourhood now, like the one where we raised our children, where the simple boxes of the Veterans Land Act were gradually being upgraded and renovated as the neighbourhood became increasingly more desirable. Instead you’d have a self-contained development where all the houses were built for a higher end market, and theoretically there is no way for this new neighbourhood to go but down, as the houses age.

  4. Excellent article on housing! Economics also says the suppliers should be providing what the market needs. Does our market really need more hi-end units? I say no. Unfortunately, my voice, loud though it is, cannot drown out those saying yes.

    There’s a new building in my area – just outside my backdoor – here in north-end Dartmouth. The sign went up just the other day and included a website address (emeraldrentals.ca), so I had to check it out. The units may be brand new, but I cannot afford the rents, nor do I know many who can. A one bedroom starting at $1,495 is *WAY* over my budget. I’ll be watching to see if they get rented and wondering how long tenants paying that amount will be happy when they realize there is a vermin (rat, mouse, fire ants, roaches, etc) problem in the area. The building isn’t on a major bus route, although there are stops nearby, so it is not likely that they will be among the first priority to get plowed out when winter returns. Units that are being fixed up in my building, as tenants leave, are also being advertised for higher rents, increasing my worries that I may (eventually) be renovicted so that my unit can also go for a higher rent. I won’t go willingly, but I know it may eventually happen and where will I go?

    1. The difference between high and low end is 10-20k a unit in flooring and furnishings. Killam reported a 13% annual return on “unit repositionings”, which means redoing the floor and the kitchen and raising rent 400 dollars.

      1. I know – but that isn’t necessarily what everyone wants. Yes, there are people who want higher end appliances, all the luxuries in their own unit, granite counters, hardwood floors, etc and are prepared to pay higher prices to have them. There are also, I contend, many people who just want a safe, secure, affordable (to them!) place that is within a reasonable commute (whether by car, bus, or more active forms of transportation) from where they spend their waking hours. Go ahead and build the more expensive units, but make sure the less expensive are also being built, preferably in the same developments..

        1. The point is that a unit might cost $250,000 to build to a basic level, or $275,000 to build to a “luxury” standard. Putting a washer/dryer in only costs the landlord $2400 with modern ductless units but easily gets an extra $100 a month in rent. There is no incentive to build anything other than “luxury” because the costs are almost the same. The building I am in was one of the most expensive buildings in Halifax when it was new, now not so much. I agree that truly affordable units should be a requirement but building is not cheap.

          1. Agree that the actual building cost is definitely not cheap. One problem with always building higher cost units, and renting them for ever higher amounts, is that the figure used to determine what should be an affordable rent also increases. Government officials love to use “census median rent” to determine what an affordable rent should be. If one increases, so does the other, often to the detriment of those who just cannot afford such rents.

            If the HRM (and the province itself) doesn’t want more and more people living in parks, something needs to be done. I still say, as I think you did earlier in this thread, that all levels of government need to work together. Shouldn’t decent housing for all be a basic human right?

  5. This situation with asset prices has been decades in the making – the money supplies and asset prices in Western countries have been rising exponentially since the ’80s at least. This cannot go on forever so the scramble is on for hard goods.

  6. Two of the “special planning areas”, one in South End Dartmouth and one in Sandy Lake are destroying ecologically sensitive areas, all so rich developers can get richer. None of this will solve the housing crisis but it will remove irreplaceable natural areas and replace with pavement and chemical dependant landscaping. This government has just handed developers a licence to print money.

    1. The environmental issue is really distressing..At one time the Eisner wetland was declared unfit for development. There is no reason why this particular parcel of land should be turned into anything else. It performs a useful function for flood mitigation, but even if it didn’t the creatures and plants that live there also have a right to a safe habitat. And a further benefit to humans is the importance of nature – nature in its “natural” state – for our mental health.

  7. “””Right now, more people I know personally have COVID than at any previous moment in the pandemic.””” TIM .. that sums it up nicely .. thanks

  8. A solution to the housing crisis is SO OBVIOUSLY non market housing constructed with tripartite funding from the 3 levels of government.

    The HUGE roadblock is the obvious collusion between developers and their enablers in government who dogmatically believe in the magic of the marketplace. Government ministers and bureaucrats who themselves in no small degree may be private rent seeking landlords who benefit greatly from a tight housing market, high rents and desperate renters.

  9. The task force, the selection of “special planning areas,” the appearance that Province is needed to step in to fast-track development… it’s all for show. It’s meant to look like the Province is doing something on housing in HRM – something they can do, which is over-ride HRM processes. But really it’s to avoid directly funding non-market housing, as the Province (and the feds) used to to. Throwing $2.3M at studies towards development is a distraction. And this approach comes at the costs of paving over some of the last ecological-intact areas in urban Halifax, and extending city services where they aren’t now (aka urban sprawl).