1. Disaster capitalism meets Halifax’s housing crisis

A man in a suit wearing glasses speaks in front of a microphone.
Nova Scotia Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr speaks at a housing announcement in Halifax on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

On Thursday, the province announced it is proceeding with sweeping legislative changes that, in essence, take meaningful regulatory control of development away from the Halifax Regional Municipality and leave decision-making in the sole and arbitrary hands of Housing Minister John Lohr.

This is a recipe for backroom deals and corruption.

The changes are codified in Bill 329, which will be presented to the legislature’s Law Amendments Committee today at noon. The public is allowed to speak to bills at Law Amendments, but public notification of the hearing wasn’t issued until 3:45pm on Friday.

Even with that very late — ridiculously late — notification, as of 9am this morning 13 people had signed up to speak (presumably, at least one of those will be a representative from HRM). It’s still possible to get on the speakers list by calling the clerk’s office at 902-424-8941 and leaving a message.

But getting on the speakers list isn’t a guarantee of being able to speak. The duration of the meeting is entirely up to Brad Johns, the PC MLA and minister of justice, who is the chair of the committee. In the past, some bills have been up for discussion at Law Amendments for as long as two days, but Johns can cut the hearing short any time he wants.

The Houston government continues to argue that the housing crisis is caused by impediments to the market caused by over-regulation, and so is doing away with regulation. This is classic disaster capitalism in action.

Whatever the regulatory constraints on development, it is inarguable that in HRM there are development companies refusing to build on former public properties — as discussed below (#3), on the former Bloomfield and St. Pat’s High School school sites, as well as on the former St. Pat’s-Alexandra school site. Additionally, the Shannon Park land is slated for development by the federal Canada Lands, but not until 2034.

Moreover, monetary policy intending to reduce wages has caused the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates, decreasing access of financing to builders and increasing their costs.

If the province truly wanted to address the housing crisis in a manner that both works and doesn’t invite corruption, it would simply build housing itself. A few hundred million dollars spent annually on new social housing and cooperative housing would relieve pressure on the lower ends of the market where housing is needed most, and would lower prices in the private sector.

With files from Jennifer Henderson.

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2. Wildfires

A man in a red uniform and blue baseball hat walks a playground set in a forested area burned by fires.
A firefighter walks past a home destroyed by a wildfire in Hammond’s Plains, N.S., during a media tour, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/POOL, Tim Krochak

“Halifax Regional Municipality’s emergency management systems have been ‘underfunded and under-resourced’ as the municipality has grown, a new report has found,” reports Suzanne Rent:

The new report titled Upper Tantallon Wildfire: Lessons Learned, which will be presented to Halifax regional council on Tuesday, also found a scarcity of evacuation routes and poor communication contributed to residents’ confusion and frustration after the wildfires in May.

Click or tap here to read “Halifax’s emergency system caused confusion, frustration, wildfire report finds.”

This part of the report stood out for me:

Throughout the wildfire incident, HRM staff were deployed to the EOC [Emergency Operations Centre]. These staff members represented essential services related to the wildfire response, with roles shifting as the response transitioned into the recovery phase. Coordination of staff and resources did not operate in a pure ICS [Incident Command System]. Components of the ICS structure were utilized; however, the system was not fully adhered to. This led to inconsistent lines of communication, responsibilities, quality assurance, and approval processes, which caused lengthened timelines for responding to tasks, duplicate or contradicting directions, and confusion.

During the fires, Mayor Mike Savage tweeted out his praise for Erica Fleck, the municipality’s Director of Emergency Management:

The tweet from Mayor Mike Savage reads: "Folks I want you to meet Erica Fleck. She is our Director of Emergency Management. I also want you to meet her cot, here at our EOC. I have been here for many crises along other exceptional people..I go home at night. She doesn’t, hence the cot. Amazing person #LuvErica"
Credit: X/Twitter

This worried me.

Fleck is without a doubt a talented public servant, and her willingness to stay at the EMO 24/7 speaks to her dedication.

But one thing that became evident during the mass murders of 2020 was that many of the top RCMP commanders were exhausted. Many of them had already worked 12-hour shifts that ended in the early evening of Saturday, April 18, but then were called back in at around and just past midnight, staying in charge until the killer was finally killed at around just before noon Sunday.

They too were dedicated and took it as their duty to stay in charge of the response and hunt for the killer, but their lack of sleep led to bad decision-making. It would have been better had they transitioned to other, fresh commanders, and in fact there was a process for them to do so, but it wasn’t followed.

Getting sleep and distance from an unfolding emergency is counter-intuitive but it is necessary for the best response.

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3. Fire inspector: Bloomfield is a fire trap

A black banner hangs on posts and reads "this derelict site is what happens when we leave housing to private developer." Four people holding signs stand next to the large banner. In the background is an abandoned school site surrounded by chain link fence. A man standing next to the banner is wearing a ball cap, a blue-and-white striped shirt, black shorts, and he's holding a sign that says Running away from the housing problem only increases the distance from a solution."
Demonstrators Suzanne MacNeil, left, Linda Roberts, and Ken Malay in front of the former Bloomfield school site at Almon and Robie streets, on Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: Suzanne Rent

The abandoned Bloomfield Centre is a threat to firefighters, says Halifax Regional Municipality Fire Inspector Dustin Garnett.

“This vacant building’s structural integrity is in question which is preventing safe entry of fire department personnel,” reads a Order to Take Action issued to property owner Banc Investments Limited issued on Oct. 5. Banc is co-owned by Alex Halef and his father, Besim Halef.

Garnett ordered Banc to submit a a structural integrity assessment report for the building by Oct. 20, with the following details:

• The report shall include analysis of all structural systems of the building including the exterior facade.
• The report shall be based on a comprehensive structural analysis of the entire building and not based on selective areas or obvious structural deficiencies.
• The analysis and report must be completed by a registered Nova Scotia engineer that is proficient in structural design and review.

Garnett cited a section of the Fire Safety Act that allows the fire marshal or a fire inspector to issue orders to a property owners that “do anything respecting arrangements for fire
safety, including but not limited to, fire prevention, the containment of a possible fire, egress, the operation of a fire-protection system, containment of, and adequate protection from, hazardous materials in the event of a fire, and the behaviour, training and informing of persons in relation to any of these matters.”

On Oct. 13, Banc filed an appeal with the Utility and Review Board written by lawyer Richard Norman with Cox & Palmer. The appeal is based on the following grounds:

1. the Fire Inspector did not have a reasonable belief, based on all of the circumstances, that there has been a contravention of the Fire Safety Act at the property located at 2786 Agricola Street (the “Property”);
2. the Order fails to identify the alleged statutory or regulatory contravention; and
3. in the event that the Order is upheld on appeal, the deadline to comply with the Order is unreasonable given the size of the Property and the vagueness of what is required.

Banc requests that the UARB quash the order. The UARB has yet to schedule a hearing on the matter.

The Bloomfield site has sat empty since 2014.

In 2012, Halifax council agreed to a $15 million deal with Housing Nova Scotia to build affordable housing on the site, but the two levels of government wasted four years before Housing Nova Scotia scuttled the deal in 2016.

In 2017, there was an aborted attempt to locate a French school at Bloomfield, but the site was ultimately considered too small. In 2018, council decided to put Bloomfield back on the market, but only after the Centre Plan was adopted.

Bank bought the property in January 2021 for $22 million. As Zane Woodford reported:

Included in the conditions is below-market-value housing, but less than the original Bloomfield Master Plan called for: 10% of the units will have to be affordable. Halef said that means they’ll rent for 40% below market value for 50 years.

The developer will also have to dedicate 20% of the site to open space, and the new building must include 20,000 square feet of affordable community space and 10,000 square feet “targeted for creative industries.”

Since then, Banc has done nothing with the property and it has fallen into further disrepair.

Last month, demonstrators rallied outside the abandoned school, urging the municipality to expropriate the property back from Banc. “Shame on Banc Developments, this could be affordable housing,” read one of the demonstrator’s sign. “Hey Banc Developments, Use It for affordable housing, or Lose It,” read another.

As Suzanne Rent reported:

The Examiner contacted HRM and spokesperson Klara Needler said “municipality has not yet received any permit applications.”

As for the current state of the property, the municipality has received more than a dozen complaints. The municipality or the developer fixed nine of those issues, while councillors voted in May to give the developer more time to fix others.

Bloomfield isn’t the only former school site owned by Banc. In February 2020, Banc purchased the former St. Pat’s High School property on Quinpool Road for $37.61 million. There’s been no action on that property either.

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4. No shame: Maclean’s Magazine publishes propaganda for the extractive forestry industry

The landing page for Maclean’s Magazine forest industry propaganda series. Credit: Maclean's Magazine

The state of media is, well, shitty.

How shitty? Consider: the once-respected Maclean’s Magazine is now unapologetically shilling for the extractive forest industry, uncritically publishing industry propaganda.

SJC Media, a division of St. Joseph Communications, started in 2001 with the purchase of the Entertainment monthly Toronto Life and a couple regional wedding ad sheets like Mariage Québec and Wedding Bells. In 2019, the company bought a number of Rogers publications, including Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Hello! Canada, and Canadian Business, among others.

SJC pitches itself to advertisers as follows:

As a brand, how do you reach your audience to inform and inspire?

At St. Joseph Communications (SJC), we believe that you need a unique mix of elevated content tailored to the right channels and shared through trusted media platforms – digital and print. 

Partnering with SJC, you leverage the passion and talent of Canada’s largest privately owned communications company and premier magazine publisher. Our turnkey marketing solutions are flexible, scalable and executed in our full-service multi-studio facility. We also integrate content with physical connections (in print, in store or at an event) that are important to create meaningful connections with your audience.

Together, we’ll define a multi-platform content strategy authentic to your brand. We focus on long-term partnerships, so as the marketing landscape continues to evolve, we’ll help to evolve your brand story and strategy, too.

And so we get “What it Takes to Build a Net-Zero Future: Canadian forestry is playing a critical role in growing much-needed sustainability initiatives. Read on to discover what’s happening, from our forests to our cities.”

The landing page for the series explains that it is “created for Forestry for the Future, but doesn’t explain who Forestry for the Future is.

For the record, Forestry for the Future is a creation of the Forest Products Association of Canada, which represents Canada’s largest extractive forestry corporations, including Paper Excellence, which is the subject of the Deforestation Inc series produced by the Halifax Examiner in association with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The propaganda series so far includes four pieces, published in Maclean’s, Toronto Life, Chatelaine (English), and Châtelaine (French). The pieces are not journalism. There is no fact-checking, no contrary view from industry critics.

The Maclean’s Twitter account unabashedly tweets “Read our collection of stories, told in partnership with @ForestryFTF, on the critical role that Canadian forestry is playing on the world stage to combat climate change,” uncritically asserting that the forest industry is combatting, rather than accelerating, climate change.

Perhaps most troublesome is the propaganda piece published in Maclean’s, “How Indigenous participation in forest management is changing resource development in Canada.” Remember that the Forest Products Association of Canada represents Paper Excellence, whose Northern Pulp Mill has a checkered (to put it mildly) relationship with the Pictou Landing First Nation.

Moreover, the Deforestation Inc series looks at the relationship between Paper Excellence and Asia Pulp & Paper, suggesting that if the two don’t actually have the same ownership, they at the very least work in consort such that there is no meaningful ownership distinction between them. And Asia Pulp & Paper is notorious for trampling upon the rights of Indigenous people in Indonesia and elsewhere.

All media outlets are struggling financially. I know the Halifax Examiner is. But publishing propaganda is not the route to success. It only serves to undermine trust and credibility.

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Advisory Committee on Accessibility in HRM (Monday, 4pm, online) — agenda

North West Community Council (Monday, 7pm, online) — agenda


Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 1pm, City Hall and online) — agenda



Law Amendments (Monday, 12pm, One Government Place and online) — agenda


Legislature sits (Tuesday, 1pm)

On campus



Strings Noon Hour (Monday, 11:45am, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — free performance by students of the Fountain School of Performing Arts

YouTube video

Denise Djokic (Monday, 2pm, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — Cello Masterclass with featuring FSPA cello students of Shimon Walt. From the event listing:

Instantly recognized by her “arrestingly beautiful tone colour” (The Strad), cellist Denise Djokic captivates audiences with her natural musical instinct and remarkable combination of strength and sensitivity. Acclaim for her powerful interpretations, bold command of her instrument and insightful playing has earned her world-wide recognition and appearances in some of the most venerable halls. Denise burst onto the international music scene when millions of television viewers watched her performance of Bach at the 2002 Grammy Awards following the lauded release of her self-titled debut recording on SONY Classical.

Denise comes from a large musical family and began her early training in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia with Olive Shaw and Shimon Walt. She moved to Cleveland, Ohio, during her high school years to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Richard Aaron and is a graduate of its Young Artist Program. Denise furthered her training at the New England Conservatory, where she completed her Undergraduate Diploma with Laurence Lesser and Paul Katz.

Metabolic programming of developmental pathways: ​A central role of epigenetic mechanisms (Monday, 2:30pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building) — Presented by Dr. Alejandro Lomniczi, Dept. of Physiology and Biophysics, Dalhousie University. Bring your own epigenetic mechanism.


Middletown (Tuesday, 7:30pm) —The Fountain School of Performing Arts presents DalTheatre’s Middletown by Will Eno.


Becoming Kin (Tuesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall, New Academic Building) — a discussion with Patty Krawec, author of Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future who will be interviewed by Trina Roache and introductions by Tiffany Morris, an L’nu’skw (Mi’kmaw) writer More info

Universities Studying Slavery Conference — (Tuesday to Saturday, all day) — more info

In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from St. Croix, Virgin Islands
06:00: Contship Leo, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
07:00: Ocean Navigator, cruise ship with up to 220 passengers, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to Pier 24, arriving yesterday from Charlottetown, on an eight-day cruise from Montreal to Portland
07:15: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Charlottetown
07:15: Contship Leo sails for Kingston, Jamaica
08:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for Wilmington, North Carolina
09:00: ROKS Hansando, Korean Navy helicopter training ship, arrives at Dockyard from Baltimore
10:00: ROKS Hwacheon, Korean Navy combat support ship, arrives at Baltimore from Baltimore
11:00: MSC Melissa, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Baltimore
12:30: Seaborne Quest, cruise ship with up to 540 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Bar Harbor, on a 12-day cruise from New York to Montreal
15:30: ZIM Asia, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Valencia, Spain
15:30: Atlantic Star sails for New York
16:30: Tropic Hope sails for West Palm Beach, Florida
17:00: Crystal Serenity, cruise ship with up to 1,070 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Boston, on an eight-day cruise from New York to Quebec City
18:00: SLNC Magothy, cargo ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
19:30: Ocean Navigator sails for Portland
02:30 (Tuesday): ZIM Asia sails for New York

Cape Breton
07:00: Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Charlottetown, on a seven-day roundtrip cruise out of Boston
15:00: Alpine Marina, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
15:00: Algoma Value, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
15:00: Algoma Integrity, bulker, moves from Pirate Harbour anchorage to Aulds Cove quarry
16:30: Norwegian Pearl sails for Halifax
17:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, moves from anchorage to Government Wharf (Sydney)


I’ll have more to say about the Riley trial very soon.

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

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  1. Some of us see the forestry industry differently. It has been here in NS long before we showed up and continues to provide prosperity to huge numbers of households. Yes, our government could have managed the Pictou mess much better but Port Hawkesbury has a huge pulp mill and it doesn’t seem to smell or pollute the water. As a diehard environmentalist, I see forestry as a sustainable industry that creates value primarily by taking CO2 from the air and creating wood fiber. Canada has 8,000 trees per person, how are we not the poster child of ‘doing our part’?

  2. While I have thoughts and feelings re today’s Examiner’s articles, I do not trust myself to say all of that. Suffice it to say I am not signing up to speak at law Amendments re Bill 329 even though I am concerned re one person having so much “power and control”. I do shake my head when I go by Bloomfield.
    I did share the video, Denise Djokic, and am grateful for her music.

  3. Bloomfield was the centrepiece of the NDP government’s affordable housing strategy that would start with 1,000 units across the province, then expand. A North End Halifax site was important since the shipbuilding contract would mean much higher demand for housing near the shipyard. To reassure voters, the Stephen McNeil Liberals endorsed the strategy as it got underway but after they defeated the NDP in the 2013 election, they strangled it. Now when delay has contributed to a much worse crisis, the Conservatives say no plan or strategy is needed. Forty percent of the housing market is not served by the private sector, yet the provincial government still proceeds without plans or goals while slavishly serving the premier’s developer friends.

  4. The province’s housing move is obviously a lesson learned from Doug Ford’s Tories. Attacking the city to entice support from the suburbs and counties. It worked extremely well in Ontario and I see no reason why it will be any different here. People who only ever interact with the city through the windows of their car while driving back and forth from the office to their SFH in the suburbs will see it as a good move.

    HRM is hardly blameless but as a governing body it is also extremely constricted by the acts that forced amalgamation on Halifax county. This is just a continuation of a deliberate provincial policy to take power away from the city itself and give it to the more conservative periphery.

  5. The Bloomfield mess is the perfect example of what should NOT happen when publicly owned property is no longer required. It should always be subject to redevelopment for the highest and best possible public purpose, which is obviously affordable, off-market housing. Instead, HRM continues to follow its long-standing policy of finding ways for already rich people to make themselves richer by buying up formerly public land and making McBuildings to make obscene profit. This is true for the former St. Pat’s property as well. That could have/ should have been a mixed use community development bringing community values rather than the makes as much money as possible development going there.

  6. Re Bill 239: It’s hard to understate how disturbing this legislation is for the many individuals and groups – embodied in the Our HRM Alliance – that have worked over many years to help make Halifax what it is today: a rapidly growing municipality in which, figuratively speaking, everybody wants to live. It is especially disturbing that the housing legislation is peculiarly targeted at HRM, and not the whole province which would include much most of the PC base, as is catering to divisiveness. Its Trusted Partners Program is eerily reminiscent of the attitudes the Ford Government of Ontario held for the Greenbelt and their manipulations on behalf of developers… until recently. Will the developer who clearcut the uplands around Eisner wetland leading to massive siltation this summer and into the fall now be amongst the “trusted partners” who will be given free reign to override environmental concerns anywhere? What happened to this version of Lohr on the initial HRM-targeted housing legislation “…the vision of the city for where construction happens and where construction doesn’t happen won’t change at all. I think this is about applications that are in process that have just been delayed by various things.” Good for Savage for speaking up about it all, ‘waiting for the whole Regional Council to do so and take every step they can to challenge this legislation.

  7. As someone who has seen the abjectly useless regulatory procedures of HRM, it is quite hilarious to have the mayor and council cry foul on the province.

    They also have done next to nothing regarding housing so they shouldn’t be surprised when an even more reactionary, right wing province takes over with an even more private sector bias.

    Neither the province nor the city want poor people. That is crystal clear. Yet they are unwilling to do the obvious. BUILD PUBLIC HOUSING.

    Instead the poor are banished to tent encampments hidden in the woods or renovicted and one step away from them.

    Next time the mayor or the premier speak of diversity ask them about economic diversity. They want the rich to come here, not poor refugees.

    What happens when the poor refugees are native born Nova Scotians? Disaster capitalism indeed.

  8. I will buy both a McLeans and Chatelaine to read this piece. I hope it is clearly labelled ‘advertising content’ rather than editorial material?

    1. Buying copies of the magazines rewards them for their behavior. The one thing they want in the world is magazine sales. The way to send a message to them is to not buy either. If possible get them from the library if you want to check them for a label without rewarding their poor behavior.