1. The VG replacement report is finished, but you can’t see it

“On Friday, December 29, the final work day of 2017, the province received a consultant’s report containing some highly anticipated information,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

The report included a preliminary cost estimate, timeline, and master plan to replace services delivered out of the crumbling Victoria General (VG) hospital and Centennial building.

Great! So what does it say?

Not so fast, reports Henderson:

Kasian met the deadline in the tender awarded by the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Renewal (TIR). Yet it could be another six months — June of 2018, in fact — before anyone outside of government sees the recommendations to government contained in the report.

In the meanwhile, the various government departments and ministers will figure out how to massage the report for public consumption.

Click here to read “The VG replacement report is finished, but you can’t see it.”

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2. Willow Tree

The 29-storey version of the building proposed for Quinpool Road.

I asked Erica Butler to attend last night’s public hearing on the proposed Willow Tree development, and this morning she provides a rundown of arguments pro and con offered up.

Click here to read “Majority come out against a Willow Tree high-rise.”

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Council meets again this morning and will eventually get around to debating the project; I’ll try to get over and report, but I’m already running late.

3. Putting the city back in the housing industry

Waye Mason. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Tomorrow, Councillor Waye Mason will be asking the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee  to get the ball rolling in order to bring government housing authority back to the city.

Through most of the 20th century, the city was responsible for providing subsidized housing. In fact, the city still owns much of the land where affordable housing units, which are now administered by the province, sit. Back in the day, the old city of Halifax even had a Housing Office, and the city council would regularly debate where to build new housing, what rent levels should be, whether to forgive back rents, and the like. For instance, the sprawling Federal/Romans Avenue neighbourhood off Bayers Road (“the pubs”), was a former military housing project taken over by the city for social housing. Mulgrave Park and Uniacke Square were also city projects.

(The old city of Halifax also provided poor relief, and widows and other indigent people would have to appear in open council meetings to plead their case.)

But in the 1990s, when municipal governments were clamouring for more tax revenues and the provincial government responded by basically smacking those municipal governments down and redefining how government services were provided. The short of it is that the province took control of many services once provided by the cities, including housing. As the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities explains:

In the early 1990s, a Task Force on Local Government was established to look at local government reform. Many of the same issues reviewed by the Graham Commission years early were still relevant issues for municipalities. The Task Force concluded that there needed to be clear lines of authority for service provision to ensure each level of government could be held accountable for taxpayers. As such, the Task Force recommended that the Province take full responsibility for financing and administration of social services (services to people), while municipalities would be responsible for local services (services to property), including local roads. In addition, the concept of an equalization grant was discussed.

(We’ll leave the equalization discussion for another day.)

But the problem with taking social services away from cities was two-fold. First, it removed social services as a responsibility at the level of government closest to the community. There were both pluses and minuses to that (see the above widows publicly begging for help from councillors), but the minuses are beginning to pile up as the province seems to have lost its mission in the haze of an unwieldy bureaucracy. Exhibit A is Housing Nova Scotia’s failure on the Bloomfield development.

Second, the city has a stake in social issues that connect with the city’s role in planning and land-use regulation. This is particularly the case with affordable housing. The city has a direct interest in having affordable housing on the peninsula — if for no other reason than to support downtown businesses, which require low-wage workers to function. The Nova Centre or the convention centre or the banks or other corporate offices couldn’t stay open for even a day without an underpaid army of janitors, cooks, couriers, secretaries, and the like. (There are plenty of other good reasons to have affordable housing on the peninsula, but wage depression is what gets business people with political clout on board.) But the province has a one-policy-fits-all approach to subsidized housing, paying the same amount for a subsidized unit in high-priced Halifax as it does in, say, Kentville, where land prices are relatively inexpensive. Were the city to control housing policy, however, it could be more flexible with how and especially where it provides housing.

Here’s Mason’s motion:

That the Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee recommend that Halifax Regional Council request a staff report to assess options for requesting the transfer of the responsibility to operate and deliver housing programs and services within the boundaries of Halifax on behalf of the Province, including but not limited to the following considerations:

1. Transferring of the responsibilities of Housing Nova Scotia in the Halifax region, including Metro Regional Housing Authority (MRHA) to the municipality;
2. Fund this transfer through property tax, by redirecting property tax points from the mandatory education funding collected by the municipality for the province, to ensure the core housing program operations would be funded by property tax revenue, rather than provincial grants;
3. Require provincial participation and cost sharing in Federal housing and regionally significant housing programs with equitable per-capita distribution of funds based on population;
4. Require the housing allowance paid to clients living in MRHA is the same as the program provides to other private and not for profit land lords.
5. Make recommendations regarding management structure as either an arms length agency, a department of the municipality, or combination of options.

That proposal fits with Mayor Mike Savage’s desire to see the city play a bigger role in housing, but it’s anyone’s guess if the province will go along with giving up its turf. Despite spending millions of dollars on the Bloomfield project for naught, Housing Nova Scotia is an entrenched bureaucracy and isn’t going to give up its plum Halifax operations easily.

There will also be considerable debate around the tax issues, as there should be. But it’ll be interesting to see how this proceeds.

4. Tidal energy is going to make us all rich

Tugboats pull a barge containing the OpenHydro turbine into position near Parrsboro Nova Scotia on Thursday 12th November 2009. Cape Split is in the background. (CNS/Len Wagg)

“As Nova Scotia pushes ahead with its bid to become a world leader in tidal energy, significant knowledge gaps remain — particularly when it comes to environmental monitoring of test turbines in the Bay of Fundy, the head of an independent research group says,” reports the Canadian Press:

“We don’t know enough about the environmental impacts of those devices,” Stephen Dempsey, executive director of the Offshore Energy Research Association, told a news conference Tuesday at Dalhousie University.

Dempsey, whose non-profit organization dispenses funding from the Nova Scotia Energy Department, made the comments after the province announced a new competition for research funding.

In all, $150,000 is being offered to support five projects that will involve the use of Dalhousie’s Aquatron — one of Canada’s largest aquatic research facilities.

Um… I don’t know if tidal energy is a realistic pursuit or not — I have my doubts that it will ever be able to compete pricewise with other kinds of renewable electricity generation — but $150,000 spread between five projects ain’t squat. By the time you pay the employees on the projects, the janitors and administration at Dal, the transportation…. you’re left with maybe one dip in the machine for each of the five projects.

If we really want to pursue tidal energy, it’s going to take millions upon millions of dollars in research money. Like, raid the education budget and let highway bridges collapse kinds of money.

By the way, how did Stephen Dempsey end up at the Offshore Energy Research Association? Last I heard, he was running PR for DDI, the Chinese firm that was going to build Crystal City, a city of four million people on the St. Mary’s River. Some people just have that bureaucratic mojo — before pimping the Chinese, Dempsey was the prez of the Greater Halifax Partnership, which made us all rich back in the aughts (did you miss that?). Knowing the economic development bullshit lingo helps you move up the career ladder, I guess.

Anyway, like any good sales job, with tidal energy you’ve got to promise absurd levels of future wealth, and Energy Minister Geoff MacLellan doesn’t disappoint:

MacLellan said the tidal energy industry has the potential to create 22,000 jobs and generate $1.7 billion for the Nova Scotia economy.

And how did Geoff MacLellan…. ah, never mind. But between the convention centre riches and the tidal energy riches coming my way, I may have to open one of those off-shore accounts.

Where are you going to spend all your sweet, sweet tidal money?

5. Welcome to our new robot overlords

One of the EY robots (left).

Yesterday, Nova Scotia Business Inc. announced up to $2,488,500 in payroll rebates over five years for the multinational professional services firm Ernst and Young, which is now calling itself simply EY because the kids are all into the acronyms, dyk.

In order to get the tax refunds, EY must “create up to a maximum of 150 jobs with the opening in Halifax of its first Canadian-based Global Centre of Excellence for Robotic Process Automation Service.”

Total payroll over the five years is to be $34,650,000, which works out to about $46,000 and change in pay per employee annually. Unfortunately, all the employees will be robots.

(That photo is from the promo for Teresa Heffernan’s talk at King’s tonight; see “on campus” for deets.)




Budget Committee – 18-19 Budget and Business Plan (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — deliberations continue.


Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — see news, above.

Public Information Meeting – Case 20160 (Thursday, 7pm, Harrietsfield Elementary School) — James, Leo, and Ann Hallal and Mike Faddou want to turn the old satellite station in Harrietsfield into a commercial building, and then develop the land around it as a residential neighbourhood.



Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — Paul LaFleche, the deputy minister at Transportation and Infrastructural Renewal, will be asked about the Highway 104 Western Alignment Corporation.


Resources (Thursday, 10am, One Government Place) — Julie Towers, the deputy minister at the Department of Natural Resources, will be asked about the Canada Trail.

On campus



Architecture Lecture (Wednesday, 9am, Theatre 4, Park Lane Mall) — Matthew Kennedy and Mark Erickson will speak on connecting innovative design with hands-on construction through their design + build practice, Studio North.

Architecture Lecture (Wednesday, 6pm, Room B225, B Building [Engineering], Sexton Campus — after hours, enter via the link west of the Sexton Gymnasium) — Nuno Grande, from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, will speak on understanding the relationship between culture, city, and architecture, and the role of cultural facilities within the urban regeneration process.

Countering Hate in the Digital Age: The Power of the Human Story (Wednesday, 7pm, Potter Auditorium, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — Stephen D. Smith, UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education, will speak.


Architecture Lecture (Thursday, 9am, Theatre 4, Park Lane Mall) — Sasa Radulovic explores the influence of contemporary identity and architectural culture on design.

Jeanette Hansen   Photo:

Architecture Lecture (Thursday, 6pm, Room B225, B Building [Engineering], Sexton Campus  — after-hours, enter via the link west of the Sexton Gymnasium) — Jeanette Hansen will investigate how buildings reflect and inform human behavior and the environment.

Gender Dynamics of Food Security (Thursday, 7pm, Ondaatje Theatre, Marion McCain Building) — Somed Shahadu Bitamsimli, PhD candidate from the School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, will speak.

YouTube video

Under the Sun: A Chilling Glimpse Into North Korea (Thursday, 7pm, Room 1020, Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building) — Vitaly Mansky’s documentary of life in Pyongyang.



Imagining Automatons (Wednesday, 7pm, Alumni Hall) — Teresa Heffernan from Saint Mary’s University, director of the “Social Robots Futures” project, speaks on the past and future of robots.

In the harbour

Acadian. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Acadian. Photo: Halifax Examiner Credit: Halifax Examiner

3am: Acadian, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for Saint John
6am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
11:30am: Hollandia, general cargo, sails from Pier 31 for sea
1pm: Jona, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
4pm: ZIM Alabama, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Valencia, Spain
11:30pm: Fourni, oil tanker, arrives at Tufts Cove from Freeport, Bahamas


I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm.

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

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  1. Parker, your points re: climate change are important and valid. We have to take changing, and changing drastically as a reality if we want to live on this planet. We have no other choice. However, I do not think people are effectively NIMBYing or unsupportive of a technology that could help. Tim is correct, what’s been invested is a drop in the bucket, and the massive investiture we would need to do so, we we don’t have that money unless it’s diverted from other core essentials. Also it still is mostly theoretical, at least here. What we have been able to generate is nothing compared to what would be needed, that’s a fact. And no, depending on how many animals it did harm (and you’d need to quote real statistics, not just say a few. Do you know what they are, I’d like to check them out.) it would be enough to give the community pause. You cannot do something positive on one hand, but harm numerous animals on the other, that’s not a good trade off either., but you’d have to know either way. I think I’m with Tim on this one. No, we cannot see the future but I think it won’t be huge, centralized projects, it will be small, local, and neutral. The big things belong to the past and a very damaging past. Relocalization and harm reduction are the only ways ensure a future we can all live in.

  2. Waye’s motion, if you read it carefully, is worded in such a way that if approved it guarantees the provincial government (of any political stripe) would turn the request down. So you have to then wonder what the actual goal of the motion is. Also if I recall correctly one issue back in the day was each municipality had different social services rates and covered different things. This created a lot of problems as you can imagine.

  3. Bravo to Mason on the affordable housing front. Unfortunately it will not do a shit load of difference if the gentrifying, free marketeers on council and society are allowed to plunder real estate for strictly financial gain.

    Government MUST have a hand in making the peninsula and other high value real estate locations in HRM places where ALL people, no matter income can live and enjoy their lives.

    Lord knows the free market ain’t doing it.

    1. I agree. Government should play a role. But not the municipal government. That’s a recipe for disaster. The province is the best hope for an adequate program.

      1. I’m cool with all levels of government involvement.

        Imagine our housing situation if all levels contributed as much to social housing success as they contributed to the profitability of the Irvings and their shipbuilding boondoggle.

  4. The days when municipal governments administered social welfare were, as you hint, a Dickensian nightmare, rife with humiliation, abuse, inadequate services, and it is not unreasonable to speculate, sexual exploitation.

    A succession of government studies — the Finnis Report, the Graham Commission, the Task Force on Local Government — looked at the appropriate balance between provincial and municipal services in the late 20th Century. All arrived a common principle: property taxes should support property services (fire, sewer, water, local roads, snow removal, etc.) while provincial revenue from income and sales taxes should support other government services.

    Although much progress has been made toward this goal, it was never fully achieved, because the province has never been willing to assume the full cost of education. We should be wary of backsliding. Whatever their frustrations with the current system, Waye Mason’s fellow councillors should think long and hard before getting the municipality back into social services, including social housing.

    1. Coun. Mason has not experienced the problems of being a councillor in a city which provides social services. If he had such experience he would not embark on this new crusade.
      Under the old way the municipalities provided monthly ‘comfort allowances’ to seniors in nursing homes. The goal of more affordable housing can be met through changes in planning policies.

    2. I’m with you, Mr. Donham. I get the frustration with the inadequacies of the Province on social services, but the answer is not for municipalities to get back into that business; the answer is to start demanding the Province do better. Municipalities have a huge to-do list already.

      In many ways I think it’s actually extremely irresponsible for HRM to go down this route, because it sends the message to the Province that if they don’t do anything someone else will pick up the slack. And that may result in a passable situation in HRM, most other municipalities have zero capacity to pick up the slack. Places like Mulgrave, Annapolis Royal, Guysborough (really, pretty much any non-HRM municipality) are stretched to the limits just with their current responsibilities. So do we end up with a two-tier system where there are adequate social services in HRM, and bully to you if you’re anywhere else? That cannot be allowed to happen.

  5. Climate change is the existential environmental threat of our time. It requires a massive restructuring of our economy, and it is anyone’s guess whether we will make the necessary changes in time to avert planetary disaster.

    It would be criminally irresponsible for Nova Scotia and Canada not to invest in tidal power. Ralph Surrette is a wonderful man whom I count as a friend, but his piece dismissing tidal power because some fish might die is as recklessly irresponsible as those NIMBYists who try to block wind turbines because they sometimes kill birds (while letting their precious tabby roam freely outside to kill hundreds). Climate change will kill — indeed, already has, killed — orders of magnitude more fish than Fundy tidal power.

    On this topic, Ralph, Tim, and Bruce are no better than the climate change deniers of the US alt-right. Get your heads out of the sand and start making this problem a priority in your journalism.

  6. We’ve invested a lot of public $ in the tidal industry so far. As of November 2017, the tally looked like this:

    More than $11 million for infrastructure at FORCE from the N.S. gov’t which operates a tidal centre near Parrsboro and about $5 million for the Offshore Energy Research Association where Stephen Dempsey is exec. director. This provincial funding is complemented by contributions from the federal government including $32 million to construct and operate the FORCE site and enable monitoring and research.

    I started following tidal stories when I moved to Parrsboro in 2011. It seems that so far, the upside for Nova Scotia has been the investment in university research, especially at Dal and Acadia with its Tidal Energy Institute that proudly says “Acadia has been researching the effects of tidal energy for over 100 years!”

    In November, Ralph Surette wrote an excellent column for the Herald that puts the whole tidal thing in perspective:

    1. In the bad old days Parker before you got out of the journalism racket, I used to say to anyone who would listen that you were Nova Scotia’s best journalist (bushels of awards testify to that) while Ralph was its wisest. It’s painful to see you dissing him now from your lofty aerie in C.B.

      The main point of his column is that Maritimers are addicted to costly mega projects that fail to live up to grandiose expectations. Now, it’s well known that the Annapolis tidal station is a fish killing machine. We’ll have to see whether Ralph is right about the demo project near Parrsboro, which by the way, I’m not against. I’ve done more reporting on the tidal scene there than anyone else. So far, Cape Sharp Tidal Inc. has not been able to generate much electricity and other developers are still holding off on their projects. The jury is still out on the prospects for tidal power in the Bay of Fundy,

      One issue that has not received much, if any attention, is Bob Fournier’s recommendation for a neutral “trusted regulator” in his 2011 report, a recommendation that the NDP government of the day ignored. I’ll paste that recommendation below. If it had been implemented, conflicts between the tidal industry and fishers could have been worked out without a costly court battle.

      It is recommended that the Department of Energy legislate the creation of a position or office imbued with administrative, decision‐making responsibilities for the Marine Renewable Energy sector. This office should be created using transparent criteria, visible lines of authority, identified responsibilities, decision making capacity, as well as recourses available for unfavorable rulings. This office should conform to the definition of “trusted regulator”, that is, free in fact and perception of conflicting interests or bias.

      1. I’m not against tidal power in principle. I just doubt it will bring the kinds of returns being sold. As I wrote, “I have my doubts that it will ever be able to compete pricewise with other kinds of renewable electricity generation” — my suspicion is that even if a large tidal project gets up and running, people will be able to purchase power from the local wind farm or use their own stored power from solar panels or other renewables for a far lower price. The future, I think is away from the large central power plant, and to low-wattage power consumption, efficiency, and stored power, with electricity distributed from renewable generators in their own neighbourhoods.

        Maybe I’m wrong about this. But if so, even the $11 million Bruce says has been spent so far is peanuts. It will take a massive, government-financed research and development project to get tidal up and running and ramped up to make significant contributions to the grid. Seriously, like Manhattan Project kind of money. (And if we’re spending that kind of money, I don’t see why some private interloper should get the bulk of the profits, but that’s another story.)

        Parker’s right: climate change is the existential issue of our time. And resources are scarce. We should use them wisely. Chasing a tidal dream seems like not the best use of limited resources, imo.

        1. I agree about the household solar. I think the appeal of tidal is its theoretical potential. I seriously doubt what’s been done so far has had a 0.1% negative impact compared with the fishery and its bycatch, black market, lost gear and use of fossil fuels. The right whale deaths at the hands of fishing gear should have all those outspoken members clambering to shut down the fisheries. All I hear are crickets.

          1. I’ve not commented on the fish issue. I don’t know how to assess it. I’ve merely reported what others have said. I have no opinion.

            To be clear, tho, the fishing gear entangling whales is from fishers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, while the fishers upset about the tidal turbine are in the Minas Basin. At least one of those doesn’t use fishing lines at all — he uses the low- to no-impact tidal weir. So far as I know, he’s never caught a whale, heh.

        2. Of course politicians promote the potential economic and employment benefits of things their governments are investing in. That’s what they do. Surprise, surprise. Sometimes this is bullshit, as you rightly point out, Tim. But your continued carping against any public investment in tidal power, and your refusal to let the peril of climate change impinge on your tiresome sarcastic barbs, is a journalistic failure that ill-serves your readers. Someday, people will ask, why was this progressive voice a know-nothing opponent of efforts to face this problem?

  7. Agreed, research and development of tidal energy in any significant way will require a major investment in funds and personal resources… it will require a significant commitment from the government and private industry.

  8. Are they inventing robots, or using robots, at this “Global Centre of Excellence for Robotic Process Automation Service”? Maybe they are employing robots to invent robots, which, in their time, will invent still more robots?

    “Centre of Excellence” is a term that should get everyone’s suspicion up right away. It’s another bullshit phrase that seems to have caught on with political and corporate bullshitters. it isn’t Joe’s Garage any more, it is Joe’s Centre of Automotive Excellence.

    Where I live, they announced a “Provincial Centre of Excellence for Youth”. What the hell does that mean, I asked, a place to make youth excellent, or a place youth would find excellent? Turns out it is a youth psychiatric treatment facility, but Provincial Centre of Excellence for Youth sounds better I guess, even if it tells you nothing about the purpose of the building. I first heard “Centre of Excellence” as long ago as the 90s, in Ontario, but it has really caught on in the last five years or so.