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1. Ontario’s Greenbelt and Nova Scotia’s ‘Special Planning Areas’

A white man with grey hair wearing a black pinstriped suit, white shirt, yellow tie and glasses speaks at a podium. In the background are three Nova Scotia flags, coloured blue, yellow and red.
Cabinet Minister John Lohr speaks to reporters in Halifax on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has issued a scathing report on the Ford government’s changes to the Greenbelt. For an excellent explanation about what happened, read Fatima Syed, Denise Balkissoon, and Emma McIntosh’s reporting here, or listen to McIntosh on The Big Story podcast here.

The short of it: Using the housing crisis as cover, the fast-tracking of development in portions of the Greenbelt were dictated by political insiders and not by the bureaucratic staff responsible for such changes, and those changes benefitted a handful of politically connected developers friendly with Doug Ford to the tune of $8 billion. The process was obviously corrupt.

That’s Ontario. What about Nova Scotia?

Just as the Ford government used the housing crisis to justify extraordinary action in Ontario, so too did the Houston government use the housing crisis to justify extraordinary action in Nova Scotia.

And just as the Ford government’s changes benefitted just a handful of developers, so too did the Houston government’s changes benefit a handful of developers.

Most notably, the Houston government created a secretive Executive Panel on Housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality, headed by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr. In March 2022, that panel named nine “special planning areas,” for which the normal municipal planning procedures were set aside.

Six of the special planning areas are partially or fully owned by Clayton Developments.

The two largest special planning areas are both owned by Clayton, and include (at the #2 spot) Port Wallace, which is as we speak being flooded with arsenic from the abandoned Montague gold mine.

And for another of its six fast-tracked developments, Clayton was extended a $21.8 million forgivable loan.

The smallest of the fast-tracked developments, at just 150 units, is Indigo Shores. As I reported in March 2022:

Indigo Shores, in Upper Sackville, is an ongoing development that was limited to 25 new units a year. The developer, Armco Capital, had asked for an increase to that limit, but Halifax regional council voted against that proposal, saying there were not enough schools in the area to service the development. The new designation allows all 150 lots to be built upon immediately.

The municipal council’s concern about schools is debatable, but the real issue was fire risk. Just 14 months later, the Tantallon fire led to Indigo Shores being evacuated. Thankfully, the fire didn’t reach the neighbourhood, but had it, there may have been disaster: there is only one exit from the heavily wooded neighbourhood, and had that one road been blocked, there’s a very real possibility that people could have died.

But never mind that, Armco wants to build more houses immediately, so that’s what’s happening.

I don’t know how the special planning areas were decided upon. But it’s clear that they are owned by powerful, politically collected development companies that stand to profit immensely from the government’s extraordinary actions.

As was the case in Ontario, this is a good and indeed necessary process for the auditor general to look into. How were these areas and not other areas chosen? What lobbying occurred to name those areas? What’s the email and text chains? What are the financial and other relationships between the development companies and those making the political decisions?

Besides all that, the special planning areas aren’t a particularly good approach to building more housing for people who need it quickly. With the exception of the former Penhorn Mall and Eisner Cove lands, all of the projects are outside the Centre Plan area where housing is most needed. Most of the special planning areas will be built out with high-end housing, not housing approaching anything like affordability. And not one unit of housing in the special planning areas will be built on the peninsula, with the very highest need for affordable housing.

Moreover, the government is relying entirely on a market approach to getting more housing built, precisely when interest rates are climbing and private developers are having a harder time financing new projects and buyers are having a harder time securing mortgages. At least part of the solution — the primary approach, in my view — should be to build out the stock of public housing for people facing the most dire housing constraints.

That too is an issue the auditor general should explore.

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2. ‘Provided a statement’

A Halifax Regional Police officer in his vehicle
A Halifax Regional Police officer blocks a road during the School Strike for Climate Change in Halifax on Sept. 24, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Stephen Kimber notes that when the Halifax Regional Police Department finally agreed to provide discipline records to the CBC, the department refused to provide an interview with a reporter. Instead, the department “provided a statement.”

Continues Kimber:

Two days later, Globe and Mail reporter Lindsay Jones revealed that the Nova Scotia government had had “well-documented evidence that it was poorly prepared for extreme flooding, but officials didn’t take steps to correct those deficiencies before a catastrophic deluge last month that killed four people and damaged homes and infrastructure in the province.”

Again, you might have expected Timothy Halman, the minister of environment and climate change, or John Lohr, the minister in charge of municipal affairs, to call a press conference to refute these claims or, more refreshingly, acknowledge that mistakes had been made and explain, in specific detail, what the government was doing to correct them.

Not a chance.

You guess it: the pair “provided a joint statement.”


Perhaps it’s time we in the media stopped carrying official statements that intentionally don’t respond to our legitimate questions. Maybe we should simply report that the accountable official declined to answer our questions. “The department instead sent a statement that didn’t answer the following questions…” and then we should repeat the questions instead of the non-answers. While we should include a link to the official statement for transparency’s sake, we shouldn’t give it credence by including it in the story.

I’m on board.

Click here to read “Time to call out the ‘provided a statement’ scam from public officials.”

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3. Replica police car?

A white car scene through the windshield of another car.
A decommissioned police car with push bar drives on Highway 104 on June 28, 2023 Credit: Jacquie O'Brien

Retired RCMP cop Kevin O’Brien spotted what he says is a illegal replica police car driving on Highway 104 in June, reports Jennifer Henderson. And, says O’Brien, the RCMP took no obvious action on his complaint.

You can read all the details here: “Retired cop says the RCMP has taken no action on what he characterizes as an illegal replica police car.”

But is it an illegal replica police car?

The toll both attendant at Cobequid certainly thought it was “a real police car,” so that speaks to at least one person’s perception.

What does the law say?

At issue is the Police Identity Management Act enacted last year, which is designed:

…to prevent the use, possession, sale and fabrication of police articles, police uniforms, police-vehicle markings, and police-vehicle equipment to further unlawful activity. ‘Police-vehicle equipment’ includes prisoner partitions, police-vehicle computers and associated audiovisual components and other interior and exterior equipment used only by a police agency for its vehicles.

The problem is push bars are not specifically mentioned in the regulations. But that hasn’t stopped the RCMP from ordering another car owner to remove the push bar; “A Nova Scotia man has removed equipment, including a push bar, from his decommissioned police vehicle after the RCMP received a complaint about the car,” reported CTV last year.

There’s a murkiness and unclarity that’s introduced by police using commercially available cars (Ford Tauruses and Crown Victorias) and then selling the cars as surplus back to the public at the end of the cars’ policing lives. People like cop cars; this has been an issue for at least 40 years:

YouTube video

Those cars are all over the place. Moments after we pushed Henderson’s article on social media, we received this response:

The tweet reads: "I seen one in Bridgewater too with a spotlight on the drivers door and everything, grrrrr."

A couple of times, I’ve reported on cars that were, well, adjacent to being replica police cars.

In March 2020, just six weeks before the mass murders, I reported on a couple of bozos driving around in and threateningly waving a shotgun from a black and white Crown Vic, which one cop later saw “on Hammonds Plains Road parked in the parking lot of Alexandra’s Pizza on Hammonds Plains Road ‘as if it was conducting speed radar.’” 

I then quoted from several sources about how and why surplus police cars were being bought up by the public. It turns out this particular car was not a surplus police car, but the bozos tried to make it look like one.

Two cars painted to resemble official police vehicles.
Two vehicles belonging to Fivestar Bailiff and Civil Enforcement Services. Credit: LinkedIn

And in January, I mentioned in passing “Fivestar Bailiff and Civil Enforcement Services, which uses vehicles that are suggestive of official police vehicles (they are not).”

These vehicles are used by non-police security guards for patrolling Metro Housing properties in Halifax. That arrangement already blurs the line between private security and public policing considerably, and the use of the police-suggestive cars makes the distinction even murkier. The cars are used in, yes, policing vulnerable people who have every right to fear the actual police, and the use of colour schemes and graphics on the cars are clearly intentionally meant to intimidate those vulnerable people.

That said, I doubt the Fivestar cars violate the Police Identity Management Act.

Perhaps we’re approaching this backwards. What if instead of trying to parse out ever-finer distinctions of what is and is not allowed on civilian cars, whether surplus police cars or not, we instead made the actual police cars so distinctive that it’d be impossible to impersonate them without making clear that’s what’s being done?

A Barrie police vehicle with the Battenburg pattern is parked in front of the Peggy Hill Team Community Centre. Credit: Barrie Police

In May, Janis Ramsay with the Barrie Advance reported that the Barrie, Ontario Police Department has adopted a new colour scheme for its cars, a “Battenburg-style pattern of bright lime green/yellow checkered squares on the side… similar to emergency vehicles from the U.K. and Europe.”

The change seems to have been made for several reasons. It comes partly in response to citizens feeling that police aren’t patrolling their neighbourhoods enough as the cars using the former colour schemes weren’t distinguishable from all the other cars on the road.

Also, there was a sense that police were trying to fool people. “We don’t want stealth police looking for people, and then ‘got ya,'” Barrie police board member Robert Thomson told Ramsay.

It wasn’t mentioned in the article, but just as the new colour scheme makes it more difficult for police to stealthily impersonate civilian cars, the reverse is also true: the new colour scheme makes it more difficult for civilian cars to stealthily impersonate police cars.

Police cars should be painted a dog-awful colour scheme with a distinctive pattern, and then that colour scheme and pattern should be outlawed on all other cars.

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Halifax explosions

Black and white photo of decimated buildings aftermath of the Halifax Explosion (Wikimedia Commons)
Aftermath of the Halifax Explosion Photo: Wikimedia Commons / aaihs.org/black-perspectives

Because I’m old, when the rain started falling around 2:30am, it made me want to pee. So, after some time trying to deny the imperative, I went to the toilet. There hadn’t yet been lightning, or at least I didn’t see it, so when I was in the bathroom and heard a rolling thunder, I wasn’t sure what it was — before this year, we’ve had so few lightning storms that I’ve forgotten how they act, and even this year’s storms haven’t included the kind of rolling thunder that lasts three or four seconds.

For a moment, I thought something had exploded in the harbour, maybe a chain reaction of oil tanks at the Imperial yard in Dartmouth, or a ship on fire, with various compartments blowing up one after the other.

When I returned to bed, I saw lightening and heard more rolling thunder, so understood what was going on. But checking Twitter, I saw I wasn’t the only one who feared an explosion. “I have an irrational fear of a Halifax Explosion repeat,” tweeted Katy Jean.

I’m not so sure the fear is so irrational. Shit blows up all the time. Ask people in Beirut. Ask people in Lac-Mégantic. Ask people in San Bruno. Heck, ask people in Halifax.

We’ve got all sorts of toxic and explosive stuff both on the harbour and on our railways and roadways. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of that ever goes wayward, but a tiny, tiny fraction is, well, something.

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No meetings


North West Community Council (Tuesday, 7pm, online) — Special meeting


No meetings this week

On campus


K.R.Byggdin in conversation (Monday, 7pm, Glitter Bean Café) — Luke Hathaway talks with the 2023 winner of the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award for their book Wonder World, a novel that explores the possibilities of queer belonging



No events


Nora Loreto on Politics (Tuesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall) — Jeff Douglas talks with the author, podcast host, activist, and journalist

In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
05:00: NYK Demeter, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
05:30: Morning Claire, car carrier, arrives at Pier 9 from Bremerhaven, Germany
07:15: Lagrafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
09:00: Coral Princess, cruise ship with up to 2,390 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Sydney, on a 108-day round-the-world cruise from Aukland, New Zealand
11:00: Lagrafoss sails for Portland
11:00: Morning Claire moves to Autoport
15:30: One Hawk, container ship (145,407 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Colombo, Sri Lanka
15:30: Atlantic Sky sails for New York
16:30: Morning Claire sails for sea
16:30: NYK Demeter sails for Fort Lauderdale, Florida
18:00: Coral Princess sails for New York

Cape Breton
11:00: Blue Moon, horse racing magnate Dick Duchossois died last year, but his yacht arrives today at St. Peter’s lock from Cape Cod
17:00: Blue Moon arrives at Bras D’Or anchorage
18:00: Pacific Zircon, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper anchorage from Rotterdam


The good news: no hurricanes on the horizon.

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

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  1. Remember when RCMP cars were purple? They changed to white – I was told – because purple was too expensive.

  2. The Battenberg pattern is a well established visibility measure in all conditions, and makes emergency vehicles unmistakable (yellow-blue for police, yellow-red for fire, yellow-green for EMS).

    Not only would adopting the scheme achieve the goals mentioned viz mistaken identity, it would improve safety for all involved when the vehicle is parked roadside.

  3. There is far to much money sloshing around the city and the province for politicians and bureaucrats to resist.

    How many councillors, ministers and petty bureaucrats have a hand in the development honey jar?

    How much money have developers set aside? Oh that’s right they are partners now. No corruption here. They are pillars of society, just wringing out every possible dollar from a housing crisis that appears to be just another form of disaster capitalism.

  4. “Perhaps it’s time we in the media stopped carrying official statements that intentionally don’t respond to our legitimate questions. Maybe we should simply report that the accountable official declined to answer our questions. “The department instead sent a statement that didn’t answer the following questions…” and then we should repeat the questions instead of the non-answers. While we should include a link to the official statement for transparency’s sake, we shouldn’t give it credence by including it in the story.”

    1. Me too.
      Maybe reporter’s questions should that the form of…

      Reporter’s question…

      Official Response…

      Reporter’s evaluation of the response
      to what extent did the answer address the question?
      was it a disguised

      attempt to change the subject?
      was it simply regurgitation of official talking points?
      was it misleading or an effort to diffuse the issue into so much fog?

      I appreciate that this will not make news media feel like friends of government, who may respond the way Harper did by rarely giving interviews, only reading official ‘talking points’, only giving interviews to reporters or news outfits they considered ‘friendly’.

      Still the government is our not theirs. Those who sought elected office should be held responsible for what they do on our behalf especially in light of promises made at election time.

      I would love to see journalists calling it what it is when they dissemble.

      Journalists are our eyes and ears to prepare those of us who can be bothered to vote at the next election. The Examiner is the perfect news source to do it, too.