Apartment buildings in Halifax. -- Photo: Zane Woodford

Welcome to our new website!

The site is now cleaner and easier to navigate, and the subscription interface is simpler, as is account-management. It’s also pretty.

The new site is many months in the making, a project overseen on our end by Iris the Amazing, who has exceeded even her own well-earned reputation for amazingness. Our vendor is Newspack, which was created via the Google News Initiative in collaboration with WordPress, and the Newspack folk have already demonstrated an astonishing level of support, lightening the load on the Examiner staff in the future.

Casual readers shouldn’t have any problems, but it may take a few days to iron out some minor wrinkles. My email will be down for the next few hours, for example (this is my own stupid fault, not Iris’s or Newspack’s; I’ll spare you the details).

Iris asks that if readers see a subscription payment that doesn’t look right, please contact her using the billings/invoices email on the Contact Us page.

Otherwise, enjoy!


NEWS

1. Brenda Lucki recordings

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission on August 24, 2020

During the public proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission, much was made of a conference call RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and her team in Ottawa had with the “H” division RCMP commanders here in Nova Scotia. The call was made about ten days after the mass murders of April 2020; during the call, Lucki expressed her displeasure that the local team had not publicly identified the make and models of the weapons used by the killer.

You’ll recall that Supt. Darren Campbell asserted that Lucki said she had “promised” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair that the specifics of the weapons would be released in order to support their proposed gun control legislation. Campbell saw that as interference in the investigation into the murders.

This was a weak position. The claim was that it was possible that through the investigation an undercover officer would somehow be in a position to get a suspect to name the weapons, and this would be evidence of… I dunno, something. At the time, Campbell knew that with the exception of an old rifle once owned by a deceased man and Heidi Stevenson’s service revolver, the weapons used by the killer had come the United States. And if he is at all familiar with Americans’ sexual enthusiasm for all things weaponry, Campbell should have known that there would be no desire among American authorities to charge anyone with relation to the weapons — and in fact, no American has been charged. Keeping information about the weapons secret from the Canadian public served no purpose.

Still, Lucki’s call was characterized as unprofessional and inappropriate by H Division’s communication director Lia Scanlan, who a year later wrote Lucki a scathing letter, saying that in the call Lucki had “personally attacked me,” and castigating Lucki for using Stevenson’s sons as political chips in the gun control debate.

The problem was, the Mass Casualty Commission and the public had no way to assess Campbell and Scanlan’s claims, as there wasn’t a recording or transcript of the call. We learned in the final week of testimony that a person in the room in Ottawa had recorded the conversation on his cell phone, but that recording had been lost.

Yesterday, however, the commission announced that it has successfully obtained the recordings — there are three, apparently recorded one after the other on the phone’s app — and immediately made the recordings public, along with transcripts of them. You can listen yourself, here, here, and here.

The recordings aren’t complete, so some of the call is missing still.

I’m no fan of the commissioner — I’ve criticized Lucki for her ignorance of what happened in Nova Scotia, and called for her resignation. But at least so far as the recordings reveal, there was nothing out-of-line about the phone call. She was a boss criticizing the performance of her employees, and especially so because they declined a previous offer of help in the way of additional communications staff from Ottawa.

Specifically, she was correct about the need for the public to be informed:

And, to watch what happened last week, to watch the media chew us up, eat us up and spit us out, and to watch what, or to hear what the minister and the prime minister had to say about the RCMP’s inability to communicate, um, I will never forget it, because I know that we’re better than that, and I know that we c- we ought to have done better, so it was very saddening for me, because— I know that people on the ground are working tirelessly, but it didn’t get reflected to the outside world, it only stayed within the walls of the RCMP and a lot of what we do needs to be bigger than us, and when you’re dealing with the biggest mass shooting in the history of Canada, it’s about the country and it’s about the country getting information.

It looks to me that Campbell and Scanlan attempted to point at the supposedly improper call as a way to deflect criticism of their own shortcomings.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


2. Green-washing with hydrogen

Brenna Walsh, energy coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. Photo: Contributed

“Yesterday, the Law Amendments Committee passed Bill 207, Electricity Act amendments. The amendments are to support plans by Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservative government for a new ‘hydrogen innovation program‘ as it leaps aboard the hydrogen bandwagon,” reports Joan Baxter:

Perhaps the committee members weren’t listening very closely to what Brenna Walsh, energy coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, had to say in her presentation to the committee.

Or perhaps they were listening because they’ve been caught up in what one leading analyst says looks like a hydrogen “economic bubble,” which the Halifax Examiner reported on earlier this week when it looked at how the provincial government is amending its laws and going all-in on “green hydrogen.”

Except that it looks as if Tim Houston’s government may be getting confused about what constitutes “green” hydrogen and what doesn’t, as Walsh, who has a PhD in physical chemistry, suggested in her presentation to Law Amendments.

Click here to read “Green-washing hydrogen with amendments to Nova Scotia’s Electricity Act.”

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


3. Covid

Weekly COVID death counts in Nova Scotia since January.

Nova Scotia has reported 17 new deaths from COVID, recorded through the most recent reporting period, Oct. 11-17.

Reporting of deaths lags, meaning they did not necessarily occur during the period covered by the weekly report. I suspect that this week’s high death count reflects a too-low death count in the month of September.

Also for the Oct. 11-17 reporting period, 53 people were hospitalized because of COVID.

Nova Scotia Health reports today’s COVID hospitalization status:
• in hospital for COVID-19: 44 (5 of whom are in ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID-19: 149
• in hospital who contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 134
The above figures do not include any (if any) children hospitalized in the IWK.

The weekly new case count since January. The gap reflects a temporary change in testing protocol that makes weekly comparisons meaningless.

Additionally, there were 1,172 new lab-confirmed (PCR tests) new cases during the reporting period. Given that many people either can’t or don’t bother to get PCR tests, this isn’t a great metric.

The age of the deceased and hospitalized is released monthly. As I reported here, over 90% of the deceased are people 70 and over, and about half of them are residents of nursing homes.

The very quick takeaway is that “we” as a society have decided that a weekly COVID death toll of 10+ mostly older people is an acceptable cost, or perhaps more charitably, unavoidable cost, of ending almost all public health measures to control COVID.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


4. Long COVID

A positive COVID-19 test. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

“A  group of scientists, experts, and advocates are calling for “urgent” action to help the estimated 1.4 million Canadians living with “debilitating” symptoms that linger long after their COVID-19 infections,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

In a media release Thursday, the group’s members said they want the federal government to take the lead in developing and funding “an equitable, national action plan” to address Long COVID. The term describes the range of new, returning, or ongoing symptoms following a COVID infection that persist for 12 weeks or longer after an initial — or a suspected — COVID-19 diagnosis. 

Those dealing with prolonged symptoms are often called long-haulers. 

“Canada has been so lackadaisical about their approach to even acknowledging Long COVID as an issue,” Susie Goulding, founder of the 17,600-strong COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada, said in an interview Thursday.

Click here to read “Scientists, experts, advocates call on feds to create action plan to address Long COVID.”

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


5. Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang joins the movement. Photo: Wes Booth

When the Examiner needed another writer for Morning File, Yvette d’Entremont suggested one of her former students, Ethan Lycan-Lang. On Yvette’s recommendation, I brought Ethan on board the Examiner ship, and could not have been more pleased. Ethan brought a fresh and intelligent perspective, and his professionalism and abilities exceeded all my expectations.

Good news! Ethan has landed his first full-time journalism job. He is now reporting on the Yukon legislature for the Whitehorse Star. This is the perfect job for a young reporter, and I could not be more happy for him. I’m certain he will excel both in life and career.

Obviously, Ethan has moved away from Nova Scotia, so will no longer be writing for the Examiner. His gain is our loss, but I feel this is a success; if the Examiner played any role in springboarding his career, then we’ve done our job.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


VIEWS

1. Housing prices and inflation

Apartment buildings in Halifax. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“On a summer day last year, a group of real estate tech executives gathered at a conference hall in Nashville to boast about one of their company’s signature products: software that uses a mysterious algorithm to help landlords push the highest possible rents on tenants,” reports Heather Vogell a reporter with ProPublica, with data analysis by Haru Coryne, ProPublica, and Ryan Little:

“Never before have we seen these numbers,” said Jay Parsons, a vice president of RealPage, as conventiongoers wandered by. Apartment rents had recently shot up by as much as 14.5%, he said in a video touting the company’s services. Turning to his colleague, Parsons asked: What role had the software played?

“I think it’s driving it, quite honestly,” answered Andrew Bowen, another RealPage executive. “As a property manager, very few of us would be willing to actually raise rents double digits within a single month by doing it manually.”

In one neighborhood in Seattle, ProPublica found, 70% of apartments were overseen by just 10 property managers, every single one of which used pricing software sold by RealPage.

To arrive at a recommended rent, the software deploys an algorithm — a set of mathematical rules — to analyze a trove of data RealPage gathers from clients, including private information on what nearby competitors charge.

For tenants, the system upends the practice of negotiating with apartment building staff. RealPage discourages bargaining with renters and has even recommended that landlords in some cases accept a lower occupancy rate in order to raise rents and make more money.

One of the algorithm’s developers told ProPublica that leasing agents had “too much empathy” compared to computer generated pricing.

The use of the algorithm reminds me of when junk bond king Charles Hurwitz decided that the forests of the Pacific Northwest were “under-valued” and so they were all cut down to bring increased return to investors — all social, environmental, and other intangible value is ignored when setting a price in the marketplace. Who cares that renters are squeezed when there’s the potential to squeeze still more from them?

Of course the rental industry is denying the algorithm is impacting the cost of housing. And I don’t know if the algorithm, called YieldStar, has been adopted by Canadian REITs like Killam, which has a large and potentially market-driving presence in the Halifax area.

And Vogell notes that aside from the algorithm, “inadequate new construction and the tight market for homebuyers have exacerbated an existing housing shortage.” Hold that thought.

We’re all worried about inflation, and the rising cost of housing, including rents, is a big part of the overall inflation picture: “The problem was underscored last week when the government reported that the CPI surged 7.9 percent in the last year, the sharpest rise since 1982,” reported Katy O’Donnell in Politico in the spring. “The shelter index rose 0.5 percent in February and accounted for more than 40 percent of the jump in so-called core inflation, which excludes food and energy, making it ‘by far the biggest factor in the increase,’ according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Around the same time, Matt Lundy reported for the Globe & Mail that in Canada:

Statscan publishes its next inflation report on Wednesday. The median estimate from economists is that annual inflation hit 7.3 per cent in May – rising from 6.8 per cent in April – which would be the highest in nearly four decades.

Shelter, the largest component of CPI, with a weighting of 30 per cent, will play an outsized role in the trajectory of inflation, which the Bank of Canada is trying to tamp down through its quickest pace of monetary policy tightening in decades. Already, the central bank’s rate hikes have led to lower sales volumes and falling prices in some large housing markets.

And ever since, central banks have been raising interest rates with the aim of “cooling the market” — making it harder to borrow will make it harder to buy, so prices will have to come down to match the lower demand.

None of this makes sense to me. I think the rise in housing prices is more complex than is presented, and is in no small part driven by the laundering of illegally gained profits and tax-sheltered capital taking advantage of an under-regulated housing market. But leave that aside, and let’s just go with the prevailing understanding that the housing crisis is a supply-and-demand problem. That’s certainly what we hear time and again in our local market, and it’s what the Houston government has been clamouring about as it removes regulatory burdens in the HRM so developers can fast-track construction.

These two policy decisions contradict each other: The central bank is tightening credit in order to slow markets, just as local governments are attempting to increase supply by fluffing the market.

Raising interest rates means that construction material becomes more expensive for builders, making it harder to build new housing, and loans become more expensive for consumers, making it harder to buy new housing.

On top of that, despite dreams of a “soft landing,” the monetary policy will drive the economy into recession, increase the unemployment rate, and drive down wages (which is really the primary goal), leaving less money for renters to spend. It seems to me this all these factors will necessarily mean fewer — not more — new housing units will be built.

Maybe the apartment market will be saved by the algorithm squeezing still more out of renters.

In any event, I think that in fact, “inadequate new construction” has played a role in the increase costs of housing, but it’s not that the private developers aren’t building enough. Rather, it’s that the construction of non-market housing by governments has plummeted to zero.

Wrote Greg Suttor in 2017:

As I describe in my book Still Renovating: A History of Canadian Social Housing Policy (McGill-Queen’s), federal leadership created and sustained Canada’s affordable housing system at key points in our history. Federal programs built a lot of war-worker housing in the 1940s and some social housing in the 1950s, but the serious effort started in 1964. The same Pearson Liberal government that gave Canadians universal medicare and the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan funded and created a serious social housing program. In the 1970s, the federal government led again, shifting to a sustainable, mixed-income and community-based approach. And affordable housing was not a partisan matter: the key partner in the 1960s was Conservative-ruled Ontario; the 1970s programs had support across the spectrum; and the Mulroney Conservatives’ flexible federalism sustained this system in the 1980s. Federal retrenchment and devolution in the 1990s created the challenges we face today, and federally led housing initiatives between 2002 and 2015 softened the impact without reversing it.

It’s important to approach housing as a system. Affordable housing is not about intrepid local groups doing a project here or there, with disjointed layers of public funding at different periods. It’s about implementing policies to sustain a system of capital funding, mortgages, and rent subsidies (plus support services for people with disabilities) on a scale that makes a difference. In the heyday of Canadian social housing from 1965 to 1990, 10 percent of total housing production was non-profit, public or co-operative. This magnitude was sufficient to house half the lowest-income segment of the roughly 170,000 households added in Canada each year, give people with low incomes decent options in the same neighbourhoods as middle-class Canadians lived in, and (by the 1980s) house many homeless people. The program initiatives that the federal government has now signalled for its National Housing Strategy fall far short of a return to the heyday, but they nudge Canada back in that direction.

In Nova Scotia, there is essentially no construction of public housing. And the meagre financing the provincial government provides to a handful of non-profits focused on housing for the most desperate among us is far outstripped by the razing of existing affordable units by developers building new units for the higher end of the market.

This has been going on for three decades, and social housing has switched from being a vehicle to help people move into the market by providing affordable starter homes, to being solely the housing of last resort for the extremely poor.

What’s needed is a sustained program of public housing, with increased investment as the private market cools, so the supply doesn’t constrict still further years into the future.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


Government

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Acting Masterclass with Sherry J. Yoon (Friday, 1pm, Studio 2, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — From the listing:

Sherry J. Yoon is Artistic Director of Boca del Lupo in Vancouver BC… During Sherry’s tenure the company has received numerous awards including the Alcan Performing Arts Award, Jessie Richardson awards, and the Critics Choice Award for Innovation. Sherry sits on several Arts and Theatre advisory committees and has launched the 3.7% Initiative – an advocacy group supporting emerging and established BIPOC women and non-binary artists in leadership. She’s also rallied the Canada-wide movement Stop Asian Hate, an initiative that has galvanized Asian Canadian Leadership in the performing arts.

Soundscapes and Silences: Women’s Institutions, Gender, and Sonic Regulation in Late Renaissance Florence (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) and online — Julia Rombough from Acadia University will talk 


In the harbour

Halifax
03:30: Seaspan Loncomilla, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
5:45: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Pier 41
06:30: CMA CGM Panama, container ship (149,314 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
10:00: Norwegian Breakaway, cruise ship with up to 4,819 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Saint John, on a seven-day round trip cruise out of New York
13:00: IT Infinity, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from Rognan, Norway
16:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling sails for St. John’s
20:00: Norwegian Breakaway sails for New York
22:30: Seaborne Quest, cruise ship, sails from Pier 23 for Charlottetown

Cape Breton

00:01: Nordbay, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from New York


Footnotes

I have no comment.


Tim Bousquet

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

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
Cancel reply
  1. Thumbs up for the website! Easy to read, less busy, makes it more accessible to readerships from all different backgrounds.

  2. I think it’s crucial to think of the housing crisis as two problems: 1) high prices and 2) scarce supply. The two are related. We are growing quickly and various sources have put the shortage of housing as somewhere above 10,000 units (including HRM staff). Supply-demand suggests that prices will rise when things are scarce. Your preferred policy approach depends on your political leanings.

    I broadly agree that there are tools we can and should use that could bring down or hold the price of rent. I also think that interest rate increases could tip things into a real estate price meltdown. BUT even if we drove rents down NOW to affordable levels, there is still a big shortage of housing. People who can afford housing are scrambling to find AVAILABLE housing. This is a very new problem in Nova Scotia.

    I describe my political views as socialist. Long term (and short term) we need to build more housing, using public funding, co-ops, etc. We need to address real estate speculation, markets cornered by small numbers of investors, etc. and the overall concentration of wealth and political power. But right now, the group with the capacity to build housing is mostly the private sector. That is where we are, whatever one’s political views. We desperately need supply. The private sector is the group that can most quickly build that supply at scale.

    Private developers have broadly done a good job (until recently) at adding market rate housing that meets the demand of many working people, even those with modest wages. That is no longer the case, but it does not mean that private sector construction is bad. It means the current model is skewed, for many reasons that we SHOULD fix. But to have affordable, decent housing we need an abundance of housing. That doesn’t mean every single development or developer is good, or that we should throw out all the planning rules, but we need more housing and I don’t see why we should stop people (private or public) from building it. Will they make a profit – most of them. Will we lose some buildings – yep. Tradeoffs are made in tough situations.

    I would suggest the viewpoint in this article is a good way to look at things. More housing is good! This is from Jacobin – a socialist magazine. It’s not an either/ or, government or private question – it’s both and how best to do this.
    https://jacobin.com/2022/10/yimby-movement-social-public-housing-bill-california-darrell-owens-left

  3. Stunning how obvious the answer to the housing crisis. Unfortunately all levels of government’s fealty to private interests seems to always trump the obvious.

    Public housing. of course, would be perceived as a threat to private developers’ profits.

    Apparently the city now has development industry “partners”. It was always presumed that council and the city were in bed with developers. No doubt now.

    Legislation? Enforcement? All hail our development overlords.

  4. Excellent article! It’s really valuable to be promoting public housing again. I would have changed the last line to read “a sustained program of non-market housing, including public, non profit and co-op housing”. The key is that it must be non-market so it remains affordable permanently. The housing built from the 70’s to the 90’s was mostly non profit as the quote from Suttor says. The other key as the article states is that it must be sustained and at a scale that has a real impact on the overall housing market. I hadn’t heard of the algorithm driving rent increases in some places – what a frankenstein monster! Thanks for making these arguments!

  5. I am listening to the recording of the People’s School the Coady Institute recently hosted on the Role of Municipalities on Affordable Housing. One thing that stood out for me is how small rural municipalities do not want to, and usually don’t have the capacity to, be the responsible organization in applying for funding for affordable housing and managing the project of building and maintaining. At the same time, they often don’t have sufficiently large social organizations on hand to take on that role. With the provincial government creating a Crown corp, I first thought that would resolve the issue but… no, Houston says that corp won’t be building, it will be supporting and coordinating. If everyone is ‘supporting’ and no one is ‘doing’ there is little left to support.

    New housing is needed. We need to seriously double down on the cooperative model and learn to make it work, or figure out how municipalities can work together to co-fund an organization to create new public social housing, since it’s clear the province won’t help.