1. Housing

Last week, during the news conference to announce the cabinet shuffle, Premier Tim Houston was asked about the HRM council’s criticism of the province for not acting quickly on the affordable housing file. Houston responded:

The housing issue, it’s everyone’s problem. It’s a problem nationally. It’s it’s a municipal issue. They have some ownership. It’s a provincial issue, we clearly we have some — and the federal government. This is everyone’s problem. So pointing fingers and blaming somebody else, I mean, that’s for other people to do.

Pointing fingers and blaming somebody else is for other people to do, but then Houston pointed his own fingers:

But what I would say is, you know, it would be appropriate for the HRM council to look in the mirror a little bit, too. This is a problem that’s been growing for over 10 years now. We’ve been here for two years. We’ve tried to set up some structures to work with them. But I agree with the prime minister and I agree with Minister Fraser when they say that it’s time for municipal councils to step up. Here in Halifax, we have lots of examples of council dragging their feet on approvals that could could see housing built. We want to work with them on kind of the fee structure.

I mean, that’s a council that has sent fees for construction through the roof. They’ve made it, you know, development permit fees, grading fees, building permit, post-bonus incentive fee — these are huge. Plumbing fees, solid waste charge. Waste water redevelopment charge, blasting permits, culvert fees, demolition fees. Some of these fees have gone up by seven and eight times. And every one of those fees lands on the cost of housing. And so to ask the question now, why is there not more affordable housing when as a council they have been just jacking these what I would call hidden taxes up through the roof. So nobody should be surprised that there’s an affordability crisis. And you know, we’ve even seen the UARB step in and tell the HRM council, ‘you got to get some of these things approved,’ right? 

So we’re here. We want to work with them. We’ve set up some structures to try and help move some of this stuff through. But it’s everyone’s issue. We all have to work together on this. And the federal government has made that clear as well. We’re here to help. But, you know, look, stomping your feet and pointing at somebody else, no. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. 

We have a housing strategy coming. I expect it’ll be released this fall. But look, in all honesty, we’ve had to go back. We’ve had to go back and make some changes to some of that strategy because of the failures of some of the municipalities. So we’re trying to make it more fulsome and it’ll come this fall.

There’s a lot to unpack there.

Halifax councillor Shawn Cleary responded to the premier, saying council has made great progress in reducing development approval times, and:

“Halifax actually has the lowest development charges of any major, or other city, across Canada and we’re well below the national average when it comes to development charges,” Cleary said.

But for the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that Houston is correct, and that higher building fees translate into higher costs for renters and buyers. (I’m not convinced, however, an argument I’ll save for another day.)

So what are we to do with that?

The various fee structures are established to recoup the city’s actual costs for providing the various service — there are costs to provide planning services, building permit inspectors, handle runoff from grading and so forth. If those fees exceed the city’s costs for providing the service, then builders could get the UARB to lower the fees. And if the costs reflect a bloated, too-expensive bureaucracy, then the builders should demonstrate that. But if, as Cleary says, Halifax’s fees are less than other municipalities’ fees, that’s going to be a difficult case to make.

At heart, I think Houston’s argument is this: the city should cover some, or even most of the real costs of development through the general tax fund. Translation: all of us should subsidize new housing.

This is where it gets complicated. I agree, that all of us should be subsidizing affordable housing — not through lower fees for builders but rather through government-owned affordable housing projects.

As Jill Grant pointed out in her excellent op-ed, “10 reasons affordable housing is hard to deliver,” the private sector simply cannot provide enough housing to meet the affordability crisis.

The Houston government has refused to grapple with that reality, and keeps saying that the magical market will free-hand us into orgasmic affordability.

However, last week the very same Houston government announced a government-owned housing project, but specific to health care workers:

[T]he Province announced it has purchased the former Wheelhouse Motel in Lunenburg to be converted into mixed-income housing for healthcare workers.

The site will include 10 to 12 one-bedroom units plus six townhouses suitable for families. This is the first site under the $20-million housing for healthcare investment announced earlier this year.

The total investment for the first phase of this project is $4.7 million – $1.5 million for purchase, $1.4 million for renovations and $1.8 million for six modular townhouses.

That’s just over $260,000 for each of 18 units, on average.

It’s a start.

The province is evidently proceeding with the Wheelhouse project because the magical market simply can’t achieve the fantasized end, so to speak.

So, why is that the case in Lunenburg but not in Halifax?

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2. Houston’s new ministers

The open wrought iron entrance gate to the courtyard of Province House in June 2021. On the stone wall is a bronze plaque reading 1726 Hollis St, and above that a copper plaque, completely green with patina, designating the building a provincial heritage property.
Province House in June 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Stephen Kimber uses my unanswered questions of the three newly minted Nova Scotia ministers to make a broader point:

…that meant planning for the cabinet shuffle was locked in as of August 9, more than five weeks ago, more than time enough to prepare new ministers for their new responsibilities.

But what did Premier Houston do to help his new ministers prepare for their first day in the media spotlight?

Not much.

Did the premier prepare mandate letters for each of his new ministers? Did he pass along the latest versions of the previous minister’s timeline updates? If not, why not? 

Click or tap here to read “Houston’s new ministers, all dressed up with nothing much to say.”

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A metal model of the coronavirus.
Photo: by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

Nova Scotia released the monthly [August] COVID report on Friday.

There’s a mistake in the very first sentence, as someone just copied and pasted the first sentence from the July report to the August report without changing “July” to “August.” So, that’s the care given to preparing the report.

The actual, real July report reported zero COVID deaths in the month of July. That’s been revised upward to four deaths in July. Another seven previously unreported deaths from earlier months have also been newly added to the death count. And there are two deaths reported for the month of August, although that will likely be revised upwards in future reports. So, a total of 13 newly recorded COVID deaths are reported.

Of the 13 newly recorded deaths, three were people 50-69 years old, and 10 were 70 years old or over.

Hospitalizations have increased slightly, from 36 in July to 38 in August.

Because no one much gets PCR tested anymore, I don’t find “new cases” as a very reliable indicator, but that said, there was a dramatic 64% monthly increase in new cases, from 268 in July to 440 in August.

Four graphs showing in green lines the amount of COVID in wastewater in various cities and areas, including Haines Junction, Yukon, Halifax Dartmouth, Halifax, and Halifax Millcove.

For what it’s worth, and I don’t know what it’s worth, there’s been no noticeable increase in COVID detected in the sewage plants (above).

In general, we haven’t seen the large increase in COVID hospitalizations and deaths that have been seen in other jurisdictions. There may be a slight increase — there’s really not enough data to say with certainty — and that could increase as we move into colder weather and people are indoors more, but who knows?

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4. Riley trial

A black man seated next to a potted plant leans forward.
Randy Riley Credit:

I’m off again early today to report on the murder trial of Randy Riley.

Witness Paul Smith testified on Friday in front of the jury, and I could’ve reported on that, but it would’ve been impossible for the reader to understand what was going on without context that I couldn’t report on.

Since I’m the only reporter in the courtroom, I decided to hold off on reporting what happened Friday with the anticipation that what happens today (which will also be reportable) will provide that context. If that makes sense.

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1. Beauty and screams

A colourful painting of a bald person with their hands on their face and mouth wide opening, screaming.
Edvard Munch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The nightmares kept waking me up last night. That used to happen with some regularity, but it’s been a while. I’m beginning to think they’re weather-related, resulting from low pressure.

Besides the obvious issue of lack of sleep and the effects from that, I’m not otherwise terribly worried about this; I’m not one to psychoanalyze my dreams for deeper meanings or anything like. As they say, it is what it is.

At least I’m mostly quiet during my nightmares. Very infrequently, I’ll let out a single yelp or throttled scream, and that can be annoying for those around me.

I remember once, in my university days, going on a hike through the redwoods with a student group, me and my girlfriend and about a dozen people I didn’t know. It was pouring rain the first day of the hike, but no one seemed to mind: we were, after all, in the rainforest, and the majesty of the trees and landscape overwhelmed whatever inconvenience we experienced with muddy hiking boots and the like. After a full day of hiking we landed at the campsite and pitched tents, but it was too dark and wet to stay up around a campfire, so we all just went to bed.

One of the fellows on the hike was a night screamer. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since — he screamed for hours, using the most foul and obscene language, almost continuously through nightmares that lasted most of the night. One of the hike leaders later told me that happened to the poor soul every night, and I wondered what horrors tortured this man who in his waking hours was a friendly, welcoming sort.

The next morning, we awoke to the sun, and a glorious day trekking to the ocean. We made our way to Fern Canyon, which is beyond stunningly beautiful. Hiking through that canyon was a singular moment in my life in nature, a kind of coalescing of ancient flora, geology, and my own ultimate inconsequence. Fern Canyon is the very definition of awe-inspiring, and I think of it often.

That evening, we camped again, but this time dryly, and beneath the wilderness sky. We were kids, so talked in front of the campfire, loving being kids with each other, taking in night air, the stars, revelling in the unparalleled beauty we just experienced. Eventually our exhaustion caught up with us, and we all went to sleep.

And my newfound friend screamed through the night again.

The hike to the trailhead the next day was back through the majestic trees, this time without the rain, but there was a bittersweetness to the realization that we’d soon be back to the drudgery of classes and studying and mundane humanness.

It was just a weekend hike, but it left an indelible association of unparalleled beauty with demonic terror just below the surface.

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2. Calling out Rob Batherson

A smiling white man with short dak hair and wearing a pinstripe navy suit, white shirt, and pale blue printed tie.
Rob Batherson Credit: Conservative Party of Canada

“One of many unsettling things about Pierre Poilievre is that he doesn’t like nosy reporters… Instead Canadians looking for enlightenment were fed a steady stream of surrogates and spinners,” writes Richard Starr, in the first instalment of what he promises will be a series of analysis:

And in the lead-up to the weekend spectacle I caught the out-going party president Rob Batherson on the endangered CBC’s Power and Politics. 

An affable party loyalist with a red tory pedigree, Batherson assured viewers that although the party expected the “usual fear and scare tactics” from its opponents in the run-up to the next election, he expected Canadians would “see through those tactics and they’ll focus on the fact that everything has gotten appreciably worse over the last eight years.” (My italics)

“Appreciably worse” is a milder variation on the “everything is broken” refrain, but coming from Rob Batherson instead of Poilievre (aptly described recently by cabinet minister Marc Miller as a serial bullshitter) let’s allow that Batherson honestly believes that to be the case. It would also be fair to grant him some rhetorical leeway on “everything.” Even in the worst case scenario you could presumably find something that hasn’t “gotten appreciably worse.” 

 “Appreciably worse” certainly would apply to some big items – climate change, housing affordability, access to health care and, recently, inflation. And there are other important “things” – for instance defence, reconciliation, the economy, infrastructure – where the jury’s still out. But there are other areas where things are definitely not worse – day care, kids’ dental care and child poverty for example. 

Starr then takes one issue — the federal budget — and dives into it:

But that voter may be shocked to learn that over the last eight years government finances in Canada have improved “appreciably”. Moreover, based on current policies, the financial picture for governments is projected to be even better in the years ahead.

This analysis comes from the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO). The independent agency was recently much quoted by the opposition and the media when its analysis of the carbon tax complicated the Liberal claim that for 80 per cent of Canadians rebates would more than offset the tax. But when the PBO’s annual Fiscal Sustainability Report (FSR) presented data that undermines their scare-mongering on debt and deficit the opposition and the media ignored it.

As for the future, the PBO report provides absolutely no rationale for cutting spending in quest of a balanced budget. 

“From the perspective of the total general government sector, that is federal and subnational governments and public pension plans combined, current fiscal policy in Canada is sustainable over the long term. Relative to the size of the Canadian economy, total general government net debt is projected to decline steadily over the long term due to fiscal room at the federal level and to rising net asset positions in the public pension plans.” 

In fact, the the PBO calculates that the federal government can maintain its current debt level while increasing spending and/or reducing taxes by nearly $50 billion a year….

But when Poilievre declares, as he did in his big convention speech, that he wants to balance the budget “to protect future funding of schools, hospitals and roads” he’s just living down to the rude label pinned on him by Marc Miller. As for Rob Batherson, he may want to stay tuned for more examples of things that haven’t gotten worse over the last eight years.

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No meetings


Drop in Open House, Case 22257, Phase 4 (Tuesday, 2pm and 5:30pm, Acadia Hall, Lower Sackville) — learn more about the Draft Regional Plan and the Suburban Plan process; more info here

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall and online) — agenda



No meetings


Veterans Affairs (Tuesday, 2pm, One Government Place and online) — agenda TBD

On campus


Violin Masterclass (Monday, 2pm, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — with Addison Teng from DePaul University and Music Institute of Chicago; followed by free duo recital with Paul Hauer, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Biochemistry & Molecular Biology seminar (Monday, 2:30pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — Lara Virgilio will present “Investigating the dual role of an antifreeze protein: Winter flounder AFP6;” Neda Miandashti will present “The Role of SWI/SNF Chromatin Remodeling Complexes in Cognitive Function”


Exhibitions this week (Anna Leonowens Gallery Systems) — Indigenous Groups Education Poster Series; palimpsēstos; Hello NSCAD New Faculty Exhibition; more info and schedule here

In the harbour

04:30: Em Kea, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
04:30: CMA CGM Mexico, container ship (149,314 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Tanger Med, Morocco
05:20: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
07:00: Norwegian Pearl, cruise ship with up to 2,873 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from Boston, on a cruise from Boston to Quebec City (abbreviated because of Lee)
07:00: Norwegian Joy, cruise ship with up to 4,622 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney, on a seven-day cruise from Quebec City to New York
14:00: Onego Trader, bulker, arrives at Sheet Harbour from Norfolk, Virginia
15:30: Atlantic Sky sails for New York
16:30: Norwegian Joy sails for New York
17:45: Norwegian Pearl sails for Sydney
07:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Philipsburg, St. Croix

Cape Breton
17:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at Government Wharf (Sydney) from Corner Brook


A few power outages and downed trees and the like, but Lee seems to have been much less furious than feared.

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  1. It does seem this provincial government would rather destroy a wetland and build “affordable” housing on it than build that same housing on Robie Street. Regardless of the party in power there are profitable relationships to be maintained that do not include those citizens who need deeply affordable housing. The three levels of government have lost their moral compass when they can walk past the tent community in the Parade Square. I wonder if the new Minister of Community Services has taken the elevator to the 17th floor of the Barrington Tower to take in the view of the Parade Square.

  2. I keep saying it, over and over and over. It is the responsibility of the Nova Scotia Government to provide housing for its citizens. It can draw on federal funding and collaborate with municipalities re land use & zoning by-laws, etc. It MUST build, manage and maintain affordable public housing where people don’t pay more than 30% of their income on housing. This would be housing of all types in different parts of the province for families (single parent families, too), seniors, individuals (including those with abilities issues, workers earning minumum wage, and just about everyone who cannot afford the exorbitant rents being charged by private companies.

  3. What do you expect from Houston whose caucus includes very limited representation from HRM? On the other hand, what can be said for HRM? Check out the empty lots along Robie. The empty decaying structures that were Blumfield School and St Pat’s Alexandria. The inavailability of moderately-priced accommodation on the peninsula means that the people needed to work in the health-care system downtown have to travel from well outside the area, as do students attending downtown universities. And public transportation?
    Just to whom does HRM Council answer, anyway?

    1. The Bloomfield school site you cite is a glaring example of this municipal governments failure to respond to needs of the broader community while helping rich developers get richer. This would have been a great site to develop off-market housing following existing and demonstrated models of such housing here and in other jurisdictions. No publicly owned land should simply be sold to the highest bidder. When such properties do become surplus to existing needs, the highest possible public use should be the priority. Million dollar condos and apartments with $3k monthly rents is far from that. All evidence indicates that the answer to your question about just to whom the Council answers is obviously NOT the electorate.

  4. So I’ve never voted Liberal in my life. Likely never will. But you know what’s the greatest government we will ever have? Kinda the one we have now. A minority Liberal government with the NDP holding the balance of power. Sure this current government is doing little or nothing about the housing crisis. Which to be fair, is one that’s been coming for a few decades based on continuous Liberal and Conservative governments. And this current government is sitting back watching their friends in the grocery business run a pricing scam that is blatanting robbing Canadians every single day. But remember what this minority government did do that no other government in my lifetime ever would? They created a national affordable childcare program. A (slow to roll out) incorporation of dental care into the national healthcare program. Legislation coming for a national Pharamacare program. And they’ve ended interest on student loans. They’ve shown not only is it politically possible to create these programs, but they are affordable. As well as being incredibly valuable to ordinary canadians in a real financial sense. This is the kind of stuff that will never ever never never ever never ever happen with a majority Conservative government. Or a majority Liberal one for that matter. So if the planet hasn’t been burnt to the ground or covered entirely in water, or an impossible combination of both, next election every single canadian needs to vote strategically for another minority government. Any politician telling you something different is a serial bullshitter.