1. Bus drivers agree to new contract

Halifax Transit drivers turn left off Wyse Road toward the Macdonald Bridge on Friday, May 7, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

“The union representing Halifax Transit operators has signed a new four-year collective agreement with the municipality, including 3% annual wage increases,” reports Zane Woodford:

The new wages bring drivers up to at least a living wage for Halifax after training.

The wage for operators in training is currently $21.45, and will increase to $27.37 by the end of the contract. For operators who’ve completed training, the wage was $22.88. It will now be $24.28, moving to $27.37 on Sept. 1, 2024.

Click here to read “Halifax Transit union signs new four-year contract with 3% annual wage increases.”

The driver shortage put the union in a reasonably good bargaining position, but that’s still not a lot of money for a very stressful job with lots of responsibility.

Thank your bus driver.

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2. Housing forum

A man with a sports jackte and dark pants stands at a podium while three people sit at a table covered with a white tablecloth. The setting is a church and there is a red carpet leading up to the table and the altar. Behind the table are the white pipes of an organ. There are a few tall windows with colourful stained glass designs.
Rev. Kyle Wagner was the moderator of the Housing First forum, which was held at Christ Church in downtown Dartmouth on Thursday, May 11, 2023. Credit: Suzanne Rent

“A few dozen people attended a housing forum in a downtown Dartmouth church on Thursday night where experts who work in housing support talked about the housing crisis in Nova Scotia,” reports Suzanne Rent:

And while all the panelists painted a picture of how the crisis looks in HRM and across the province, the one message they all shared was that Nova Scotia needs more permanent affordable housing. 

“Realistically, what’s driving [the crisis] right now are renovictions or residential tenancy laws on both sides,” [Leigh MacLean, with Welcome Housing said. “It’s not fair for the landlords or the tenants. There’s the rising cost of renting right now. 

MacLean added that in Dartmouth North where Welcome Housing offers housing for its clients, rents have gone up 13.9% in the last year. 

“I know none of us have got a 13.9% raise at work this year,” MacLean said.

Click here to read “‘We need affordable, permanent housing’: Advocates talk about housing crisis at forum in Dartmouth.”

The forum participants are people dealing with the very bottom of the housing crisis, those who are homeless or about to be homeless. It’s understandable that the support workers think reactively: they’ve trying to help people stay alive. And for sure, decency demands that at the very least we provide for those in the most dire situations.

The housing crisis, however, goes far beyond those living rough or couch-surfing; they are the canaries in the coal mine, the most obvious indicator that our system of housing is failing. Let’s look at how governments are pretending to address housing…

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3. ‘The market’ won’t solve the housing crisis; governments need to build housing directly

The Bloomfield Centre site in March 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

“Halifax councillors are calling on a developer to address safety concerns at the site of a former north-end school while it continues to sit vacant,” reports Haley Ryan for the CBC:

Alex Halef of BANC Investments Ltd. has owned the old Bloomfield school site on Agricola Street since January 2021.

He told CBC at the time “we’ll have a design at some point this year without question.”

But two years later, Halef told the city’s appeals committee on Thursday that he has “no timeline” for demolishing the old buildings.

While Halef said he still plans to develop the site eventually, “it’s a difficult environment right now” because of high interest rates.

Wait, I thought the free market was going to solve the housing crisis? Give developers everything they want, and housing manna will fall from heaven, just as the prophet Ayn Rand foretold.

Back in November, I commented:

The higher interest rates didn’t just drop from the sky. They are a conscious policy decision to induce a recession, specifically in order to cut wages to working people…

Besides depressing wages, higher interest rates make it more expensive for people to get home loans, so we can expect a further downturn in new home construction. And higher interest rates make it harder for builders to finance new construction of residential buildings, so new housing supply will decrease. Together, these factors are setting up an even tighter housing crunch in the years ahead.

And here we are hearing directly from a builder that higher interest rates are making it so difficult to finance a project that he can’t construct a new residential building.

The unquestionable religious faith in “the market” as the solution to the housing crisis makes it impossible for governments to do the obvious thing: build housing themselves on public land.

The Bloomfield example is illustrative. The old school was closed in 1982, but the buildings on the site were repurposed for a variety of uses by non-profit organizations. In 2009, The Bloomfield Master Plan was approved, reported Zane Woodford:

[The plan] called for the demolition of one of three buildings, the former school, and the renovation of the other two. Along with community space in the renovated buildings, there were to be two new residential towers — 20% of which would be affordable housing.

Following a tendering process, [municipal] council agreed in 2012 to sell it to the provincial government for $15 million with a plan for Housing Nova Scotia to build affordable housing there. That sale was never finalized and the two levels of government wasted four years, with Housing Nova Scotia officially pulling out in 2016.

A few more years of indecision led to the hiring of a real estate consultant who rebranded the site as “the streetcar district” because we live in a world of bullshit and marketing, and in 2021 Halef bought it up with promises to build something. But now the federal government is more committed to depressing workers’ wages than to building workers’ housing, so here we are, with still no construction.

The Bloomfield site, however, is hardly unique. There have been plenty of other publicly owned sites where the governments could have built housing but instead those governments were so committed to the theology of the market that they sold them off to developers, who have done nothing.

Do I need to mention the St. Patrick’s–Alexandra school site? I won’t rehash that story here, but the school was sold to a developer a decade ago, and there’s been no hint that it will ever be developed into housing.

On a grey winter day, the MacKay Bridge is seen in the background with the vacant lands known as Shannon Park in the foreground. On the right, there are parked cars and children playing in a field.
Shannon Park in Dartmouth on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

The largest chunk of land in HRM where it would be easy to build lots of housing quickly is the publicly owned Shannon Park. Everyone agrees housing should be built there. There’s no opposition. But the city thought building housing wasn’t as important as its stadium dreams or its Amazon delusions, so the site has sat empty for decades.

Only recently has Canada Lands approved a development concept for the site, but instead of governments simply building the damn housing themselves, the idea is to parcel it out to private developers, who will (pinky promise) get around to building stuff by 2034.

I wonder how many tents social service agencies will buy for homeless people over the next 11 years.

I’ve been condemned to repeating myself over and over again:

If either level of government truly had a goal of more affordable housing, it would simply build it.

Give up on the developer fluffing, and build some damn housing. Stop playing PR games with tiny non-profits that can’t build or manage anywhere near the number of existing affordable units that are torn down each year to make room for new high-end housing, and build some damn housing directly: social housing, co-op housing, off-market housing — massive housing construction paid for and managed by government itself, and either rented or sold to people without the huge profits demanded from private developers. Build some damn housing.

Government-built housing is not a new concept, but unfortunately, in Halifax there’s a long history of aversion to public housing.

As early as 1936, the Nova Scotia Housing Commission decided that instead of building housing directly, it was better to kneel before the market and so offered developers low-interest loans to build housing for low-income people.

“This proposal did bring a flood of applicants,” wrote historian John Bacher. “However, to its regret, the Commission found that none of the projects submitted met the goal of furnishing ‘decent homes with a rental low enough to meet the requirements of those living under unsatisfactory conditions.’ To lend to such developers would simply supply ‘cheap credit for speculative building.'”

Sound familiar?

Even in the midst of World War 2, when housing for those working in war industries was critical, the local powers that be resisted public housing, but eventually the federal government forced it on Halifax. During the war, housing was built by government for shipbuilders and others, and after the war housing was built by government for returning veterans and war widows.

Two people walk on a sidewalk between two buildings.
Mulgrave Park in about 1962. Credit: McGill University Libraries' Special Collections

In 1950, most of those units were sold, but by the latter 1950s and into the 1960s, building public housing was commonplace, with such large projects as The Pubs, Mulgrave Park, and Uniacke Square, among others, constructed. (Unfortunately, much of this housing was the result of “slum clearing” — like the razing of Africville.)

But publicly built housing came to a screeching halt in 1973, and ever since, governments have relied on a haphazard system of rent subsidies and incentives to private developers that now, 50 years down the road, is clearly not up to the task.

It’s time to return to government-built housing.

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Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Nova Scotia yesterday announced eight more deaths from COVID.

As the reporting of COVID deaths evidently takes a while, all eight of the deaths occurred before the most recent May 2-8 reporting period. There likely were deaths in the reporting period, but they won’t be recorded until future reporting periods.

In total, through the pandemic, 861 Nova Scotians have died from COVID, 374 of whom have died since July 1, 2022.

The monthly (April) report should come out Monday and will have more detail, but in general, 90%+ of the deceased have been 70 years old or older, and completely unvaccinated people are dying at twice the rate of fully vaccinated people.

Additionally, during the May 2-8 reporting period, 16 people in Nova Scotia were hospitalized because of COVID.

Nova Scotia Health reported the COVID hospitalization status as of yesterday (not including the IWK):
• in hospital for COVID: 14 (seven of whom are in the ICU)
• in hospital for something else but have COVID: 65
• in hospital who contracted COVID after admission: 19

The ICU number (seven) is the highest it’s been in a while. But the number of people contracting COVID in hospital is continuing to decline, and this is the lowest number I can remember.

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5. Mormons sued

A brick church building is seen on a sunny day, with a green lawn in front and big trees to the right.
The Bridgewater ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Credit: Google Street View

“A man who says he was sexually assaulted by a priest as a child is suing the Bridgewater ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” reports Zane Woodford.

The man says he was sexually abused as a child by John Nauss at the Bridgewater Ward Meetinghouse in 1980 or 1981.

Last year, Nauss was criminally charged, reports Woodford:

In June 2022, Bridgewater police announced 19 charges against John Nathaniel Nauss. Those are nine counts of gross indecency and 10 counts of indecently assaulting a victim. In a news release, they said they’d received a report from a victim of historical sexual assault.

“Police began a months-long investigation and subsequently identified five more victims who reported being sexually assaulted as young children by one individual, with the offences spanning a time frame from 1978 to 1981,” police said.

Nauss is scheduled to appear in court on the criminal charges next week.

Click here to read “Alberta man sues Mormons over alleged historical sexual assault by Bridgewater priest.”

The allegations have not been tested in court, but they include the suggestion that church officials “re-assigned Nauss to a position of trust at the Toronto Ontario Temple, and thus recklessly in the face of knowledge of Nauss’s abuses, or negligently through inadequate investigation, continued to shelter and empower Nauss.”

Such “pass the trash” responses to sexual abusers have been common. The organization decides protecting its own reputation is more important than protecting children, so instead of addressing the situation directly and involving police, the abuser is allowed to quietly resign or is transferred within the organization, where of course he continues abusing children.

This appears to have been the case with serial predator Michael McNutt. McNutt taught at Sir Robert Borden Junior High in Dartmouth from 1977 through 1983, but “as a result of parental complaints regarding his behaviour with students, he was given the opportunity to resign in 1983, which he did,” reads the Agreed Statement of Facts in his court file.

Two years later, he was hired as a substitute teacher in Halifax, and continued his abuse of children for another decade at numerous schools and sports teams.

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No meetings

On campus


Studies on Ligand Binding and Catalysis by Isoleucine Epimerase and CTP Synthase (Friday, 4pm, location unknown) — Amanda K. A. Black from the University of Toronto will talk

In the harbour

01:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for Saint John
07:15: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 41/42 from Saint-Pierre
11:00: MSC Tianping, container ship, arrives at anchorage from Baltimore
12:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
12:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, moves from anchorage to Gold Bond
12:30: IT Integrity, supply vessel, arrives at Pier 9 from Nordenham, Germany
15:30: MSC Rosaria, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Sines, Portugal
17:00: Nolhanava sails for Saint-Pierre
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 41 for St. John’s
04:30 (Saturday): CMA CGM Marco Polo, container ship (176,546 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Tanger Med, Morocco
Cruise ship this weekend:
Sunday: Seven Seas Navigator (550 passengers)

Cape Breton
11:00: Front Shanghai, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from John Agyekum Kufuour offshore terminal, Singapore  
12:00: Seafriend, oil tanker, arrives at EverWind from Tarragona, Spain
14:00: Algoma Value, bulker, arrives at Coal Pier (Sydney) from Coal Pier (Point Tupper)


Friday the 12th ain’t so great either.

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

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  1. A reminder from the less densely populated parts of the province. There are thousands upon thousands of houses in rural Nova Scotia that are livable, vacant and not for sale or rent for various reasons.
    People who bought houses from afar and never followed through with a move. People who inherited houses and don’t want to get rid of them for one reason or another. People who have moved to another province for work but left their rural house empty. People from other countries that bought houses and either don’t visit them anymore or for a week at a time each year. In all cases there is no incentive or not enough of an incentive for them to put the house on the market or up for rent. This kind of house hoarding should be discouraged through tax/other policies.

    The rural housing market is currently experiencing the same ridiculous price inflation as the rest of the province while at the same time these houses remain vacant.

  2. Putting “the market” in quotes is a bit silly. The Market certainly exists, although the claim that The Market will do what’s right is of course, absurd. The Market is a zero sum competition for goods, mediated mostly by money. Right now the market is responding to a housing shortage by forcing women to stay with abusive partners, adults to live with their parents and people to have roommates they don’t want. This is a completely predictable result of immigration levels that are mismatched with our actual ability to build new homes. Most children could figure this out, that if 5 cookies are baked every day, and 25 cookie enjoyers come to the cookie store every day, the cost of cookies is going to go up.

    Advocating for “affordable cookies” under these conditions is like wishing for cigarette trees and lemonade springs – it ain’t going to happen, even if cookie investors don’t buy up the available cookies and flip them, the cookie shortage is going to guarantee high prices. Demands for artificially cheap cookies are just ways for the government to buy votes by taking from most people and giving free cookies to a few people.

    I’ll note that the person who wrote this article has a cookie oven (a house), while I have to buy a new cookie every month. Perhaps people with cookie privilege should not comment on housing matters and leave it up to the uncookied to recommend solutions to the cookie emergency, like limiting immigration and changing zoning laws.

  3. The notions that the market will supply cheap rental housing simply because there is a demand for cheap rental housing, or that supply and demand can limit rent increases, are based on simplistic economic models. But a lot of people make money under the current housing system and see government housing as a threat to their income.

  4. “It’s time to return to government-built housing.”  I’m sympathetic to this sentiment, given  the extreme housing shortage being experienced.  For that reason, I also support rent control on a temporary basis, where temporary would mean until rents have stabilized and vacancy rates are back to a more normal level.  

    Still, I can’t  help but to think that  the bigger problem pertains to inadequate household income and think that our society should put greater emphasis on requiring employers to pay a living wage.  If a family can’t afford to eat nutritious meals after paying the rent, does the problem then become “food insecurity”.

  5. You re damn right Mr Bousquet. The provincial government should damn well build, maintain and manage affordable housing for all who desperately need it. Time to staff up the Department with planners, architects, engineers, building inspectors, etc. Just imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have a Dept of Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal. There would be hell to pay.

  6. Maybe it should be legal to live in quasi-permanent structures like yurts on public land.

    One challenge with “affordable housing” is that there are those that will always “rent down”. I had to move a while back, and rented the cheapest place I was willing to live in, not the place I would have rather lived in.

  7. How many well paid politicians and bureaucrats also have investment properties for rent, who lick their lips at the current insane rental prices?

    They could never conceive a world in which the government provides the most basic of rights to its citizens.

    1. Expensive housing helps with inflation too – money spent on rents, mortgages and saved for down payments is money that does not leave Canada’s borders seeking stuff.

  8. Sam Austin sends out a newsletter with what council has been up to every month. The most recent one included a paragraph lambasting the provincial government for not considering public housing. Which is totally fair, they should be, but my first thought was: why can’t the city do it?

    To be fair, knowing how stupid the HRM charter is, it’s entirely possible that the city actually lost the right to build housing during amalgamation, I guess. But something tells me that’s not the case and it has more to do with developers getting the open door treatment at City Hall.