News

1. Northern Pulp confirms extension to April 30

News 95.7 has reported on a Northern Pulp announcement stating the company has received permission from Nova Scotia’s Minister of the Environment to be able to continue discharging into Boat Harbour until the end of April 2020. New pulp processing waste is still not allowed, but the company will be allowed to discharge “warm boiler water, water generated from hibernation activities, and site run-off from the general mill yard and its landfill,” according to a statement posted by News 95.7.

Jennifer Henderson and Joan Baxter reported on this likelihood last week in the Examiner. The article is for subscribers only; you can subscribe here.

2. Public accounts gives the QEII redevelopment the “once-over”

Jennifer Henderson sat in on the Nova Scotia legislature’s public accounts committee yesterday so that you didn’t have to, and filed this explainer, summarizing some of the key issues surrounding the QEII redevelopment.

The largest infrastructure project in the province’s history got the once-over from the legislature’s Public Accounts Committee yesterday.

It will be at least the end of 2026 before the patients putting up with what some doctors have described as “third world conditions” in the leaking Victoria General Hospital will be moved out. The bad news is even that date may prove wildly optimistic if the province and HRM cannot get their act together to find property to build a new seven-storey parking garage to replace an existing parkade on Robie Street beside the Halifax Infirmary. Concerns raised by HRM councillor Waye Mason over further encroachments by the Province over Common land threaten to derail the QE2 Redevelopment amid much finger-pointing.

Read the rest of “How the proposed Summer Street parking garage fits into the province’s plan to replace the Victoria General Hospital“. This article is for subscribers only. Subscribe here.

3. Council has unexpected budget options

Halifax City Hall. Photo: Zane Woodford

Thanks to larger than expected increases in property assessments, the city is expecting to bring in $4.5 million more in taxes for its 2020-21 fiscal year, reports Zane Woodford from city council’s budget committee Wednesday. On top of that, there’s a projected $16.2 million surplus due mostly to higher than expected deed transfer tax revenues in 2019-20.  

The extra cash means councillors have options coming into the final stretch of their budget deliberations.

They can now choose to reduce the residential and commercial tax rates, or keep them flat and pay for the growing list of unfunded items identified through the budget committee meetings — the budget parking lot.

The parking lot list sat at a total of $6.6 million Wednesday morning, with council expected to add to it through the day.

Read Zane’s full story here. (Subscribe to support local city hall coverage!)

4. All party committee looks into the CAP

Representatives of all three Nova Scotia’s sitting political parties are hearing presentations about the CAP, Nova Scotia’s 15-year-old Capped Assessment Program, which keeps housing assessments (used to calculate property tax levies) from growing faster than inflation. The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) is gunning to get rid of the CAP through a proposed 13-year-long phase out, along with spike protection, preventing assessments rising more than 10% in a given year. Individual municipalities would be responsible for running programs to protect people with low incomes from getting taxed out of their homes. Currently in Halifax, if your income is below $34,000 you can qualify for some level of rebate on your taxes.

The assessment on a residential property is just part of the formula that determines how much property tax people pay. The other part is the tax rate, which is set annually by municipal councils. The NSFM says that idea is to keep the CAP phase-out revenue neutral, meaning municipalities would adjust their rates up or down accordingly.

The Chronicle Herald’s Brett Bundale wrote a great explainer on the CAP last November. Here’s Bundale explaining how the program works:

Rather than taxing a home on its market value – widely considered the most equitable way to levy municipal taxes – municipalities can only tax assessments with increases capped to inflation. 

While the market value of a home may increase five per cent, for example, the increase in its taxable value is capped at a 1.67 per cent – the average annual change in the consumer price index in the province over the last decade. The only time the cap is lifted is when the property is sold. 

While it has protected homeowners from sudden and dramatic increases on their property tax bill, municipal officials warn that the cap is having “unintended consequences” and eroding tax fairness and housing affordability.

The quintessential example is two identical houses, side-by-side on the same street. One has been owned by the same family for decades, benefiting from the cap since its inception. 

But the house next door recently sold. The cap is lifted, and the new owners are facing a property tax bill nearly double their neighbours – despite living in a matching house, on the same street, receiving the same services.

And as Bundale reports, the CAP program has worked wonders for wealthy owners of expensive properties:

The owner of a waterfront home on the Northwest Arm in Halifax, for example, is saving nearly $15,000 a year, while a mansion on Young Avenue is saving more than $13,000. A 9,000-square-foot home overlooking Chester Harbour is saving roughly $7,000 a year, while a 30-hectare Cape Breton estate is saving more than $5,000 in taxes with the cap. 

“It’s absolutely clear that freezing the assessments has the biggest cash benefits for the people with the most expensive properties,” says Dalhousie University economics professor Lars Osberg.

“It’s a badly-designed tax break with very inequitable implications.” 

The CBC’s Pam Berman reports that NDP leader Gary Burrill and Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston, who attended Wednesday’s committee meeting, were “cautious” and “nervous”, respectfully, of the NSFM’s CAP phase-out proposal.  The Liberal MLA in attendance, Keith Irving, was also noncommittal. The committee reconvenes Thursday and Monday to hear more presentations.

5. Lionel Desmond inquiry

Lionel Desmond (far right corner) was part of the 2nd battalion, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown. Photo: Trevor Bungay/Facebook

The CBC’s Laura Fraser is continuing her reporting from the inquiry into the 2017 deaths of the Desmond family at the hand of Lionel Desmond, a veteran of the Afghanistan war suffering from PTSD. The RCMP’s lead investigator into the deaths testified it was likely a relatively minor incident that triggered Lionel Desmond and eventually led to the terrible tragedy leaving four people dead. Reports Fraser,

Desmond slid his wife’s new truck into a ditch on a snowy highway after a happy New Year’s Eve spent with friends and family at a cabin, RCMP Cpl. Jerry Rose-Berthiaume testified.

But although Shanna Desmond laughed off the small accident, her husband could not.

That moment was the catalyst — the one that led a former soldier with PTSD to kill his wife, his daughter Aaliyah, 10, and his mother Brenda and then himself, the officer said.

6. Shelburne may be too broke to follow through on well project

Louise Delisle and Ellen Page (still from film “There’s Something In The Water” courtesy Ellen Page)

Despite an offer from Ellen Page to cover the cost of drilling a new well, the town of Shelburne says it can’t afford the project, and is proposing to get its South End residents access to town water through far-less-costly renovations to an existing shed owned by the town, according to a report by the CBC’s Michael Gorman.

But Louise Delisle, who has helped spearhead the well proposal, said the shed the town is considering is next to the sewage treatment plant and not a location she expects would sit well with people.

“Nobody is going to want to go down there and get water,” she said. “It’s almost like a slap in the face.”

Delisle’s group wanted the well installed at the nearby Roger Grovestine Memorial Recreation Complex. She said having a new source of water independent of anything that already exists is the best option so there would be help even if the town’s own water source faced challenges, something the staff report notes could be a future consideration.

“This would be a source of water if that happened for everybody to use,” said Delisle.

She and her group aren’t prepared to abandon their idea yet. She said she’s hoping to persuade the province to work with them and Page’s offered donation to build a well large enough to serve the community.

7. Colchester council looking to protect Tatamagouche water supply

Historic mining sites at Montague in Dartmouth have been closed to the public because of high arsenic in the tailings from more than 150 years ago. Photo: Joan Baxter

Colchester council is considering a pre-emptive move to prevent mining operations from compromising the water supply for the town of Tatamagouche. Council is looking to protect the French River watershed, reports Paul Palmeter for the CBC.

The French River watershed is located along the Northumberland Strait and begins in the Cobequid Mountains. It is near the headlands of the river in a vast site near Central New Annan, an area the province may soon open to mining following recent exploration.

The municipality is trying to beat the Nova Scotia government to the punch before any mining proposal comes out. For over a year now the municipality’s watershed protections committee has been working on getting those lands protected.

But even if the proposal to protect the lands is passed, it will still have to be approved by the Nova Scotia government because the province has jurisdiction in the matter.

Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette was not available for an interview, but said in an email statement the mining sector is important to the province’s economy and creates jobs in rural areas. He also said a balance must be struck.

8. Westmount residents unhappy with turn restrictions part of Bayers Road transit lanes

Elizabeth McSheffrey of Global News reports from the open house consultation for the Bayers Road bus lane project, which will eventually see dedicated transit lanes along Bayers Road between Windsor Street and Romans Avenue. The realities of the trade-off between dedicated transit lanes and private vehicle convenience are finally hitting home after years of planning for the project. McSheffrey reports:

More than 200 people attended the meeting at the Halifax Forum, which saw some heated exchanges between residents, regional councillors and city planners.

While the removal of buses from general traffic lanes on Bayers Road is expected to improve vehicle flow, the municipality says the project will result in the loss of an outbound traffic lane on Bayers between Connaught Avenue and Windsor Street, which could increase congestion during rush hour.

On-street parking will also be prohibited during hours when the dedicated prioritized bus lanes are in effect, although a final decision hasn’t been made on that time period.

McSheffrey spoke with residents of Westmount, who were concerned about a restriction on right turns heading into their neighbourhood, which has a unique, suburban-style street design with limited access points, and the quiet, traffic-calm streets to prove it. Drivers will no longer be able to turn right from Bayer’s Road onto George Dauphinee Ave, and instead would need to use Almon Street or Chebucto to access the neighbourhood. Another right turn restriction would go into place across the street from Bayers Road on to MicMac Street.


Views

Saying goodbye to the “Sobeys bag”

Will this be the end of bags in trees? Image from blog.epa.gov

Friday is the last day you can safely forget to bring your reusable bags with you to shop at Sobeys, as the grocery giant follows through on its promise to stop providing single use plastic bags to shoppers after January 31st, 2020. The move preempts a province-wide ban, passed in October 2019 with a year for retailers to comply. If you know anyone worried about how they’ll get their groceries home as of February 1st, encourage them to go talk to people coming out of the Quinpool Road Superstore, who have been figuring it out since 2007.

Of course it’s possible your concern is more cultural. Like, say, what will happen to the classic Atlantic Canadian term “Sobeys bag”, used to refer to just about any old plastic bag, as Margaret MacQuarrie writes in the Globe and Mail?

It matters not one whit which store they actually came from or which logo they sport. Whether it’s a classic Sobeys white bag with the orange and green circles, Walmart’s grey sack, Superstore’s pale-green pouch, or No Frills’ yellow tote, they’re all Sobeys bags, to us.

After acknowledging some of the harms that ubiquitous plastic bags have unleashed on the world, Macquarrie also cites some of the 1001 uses that the Sobeys bag has come to serve, including one that, thankfully, I’ve neither heard of nor experienced:

Kids up to mischief? Pull out that old Maritime threat: “I’ll have you all chopped up in a Sobeys bag if you don’t do as you’re told!”


Noticed


Government

City

Thursday

Heritage Advisory Committee (Thursday, 3pm, City Hall) — Here’s the agenda.

Friday

Budget Committee – Contingency (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall) — Here’s the agenda.

Province

No public meetings today or Friday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

Dalhousie Reading Circle — Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Thursday, 9:30am, Indigenous Student Centre Community Room, 1321 Edward Street) — the first of 10 reading sessions in which participants explore the final report and make a plan of action on the Calls for Justice for Dalhousie University. More info here and here.

This is What Freedom Sounds Like: Black Women, Agency, and Jazz in Black Power Era America (Thursday, 12pm, Room 406, Dal Arts Centre) — with Tammy L. Kernodle from Miami University, Ohio, President of the Society for American Music.

Chair in Population Cancer Research Candidate Academic Presentation (Thursday, 12pm, Theatre C, Tupper Link) — In “​New epidemiologic approaches and insights on the link between excess body weight and colorectal cancer” Peter Campbell from the American Cancer Society will

discuss his research group’s work on innovative and transdisciplinary approaches to understanding the implications of excess body weight with colorectal cancer risk and prognosis. This work integrates a variety of academic disciplines, including epidemiology, molecular pathology, biostatistics and genomics. He will provide updated information on colorectal cancer risk factors, including results from recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and give examples of how GWAS data can be integrated with lifestyle data to investigate Gene-Environment interactions and risk prediction for colorectal cancer. He will also present recent prospective data on associations of circulating diabetes-biomarkers and colorectal cancer risk that may underlie some of the obesity-diabetes-colorectal cancer associations observed in questionnaire-based epidemiologic studies. Using recently generated data from targeted tumor sequencing and clinically-useful molecular markers, he will also show examples of etiologic heterogeneity for associations of BMI and colorectal cancer. He’ll also present data on the prognostic implications of pre- and post-diagnosis adiposity on colorectal cancer survival. Last, he’ll discuss recent international efforts he’s leading on understanding the causes of early onset colorectal cancer.

City Dreamers (Thursday, 6pm, Room HA-19, Medjuck Building) — screening presented by Equality in Architecture (EiA) in conjunction with Dalhousie Architecture Film Series.

Regional Forum on Closing the Gender Gap in Digital Workplaces: Building the Talent Pipeline for Women (Thursday, 6pm, Auditorium, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — one of three regional summits funded by the Department of Women and Gender Equality.​ $28.75, more info and registration here.

Friday

Scale-Appropriateness in Food Law: Solution for Community Health Disparities? (Friday, 12:30pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Katherine L Mah and Jamie Baxter will talk.

The Portuguese Immigrants of British Guiana and the Wider Caribbean in the 19th Century (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) — Joanne Collins-Gonsalves will talk.

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

No public events.

Friday

Cathy Conrad. Photo: smu.ca

Back to the Classroom: Climate Change Crisis (Friday, 12pm, Loyola 298) — Cathy Conrad “will bring her research from the front lines of climate change in rural West Africa home to SMU with the stories of how people’s lives are being gravely impacted by the climate crisis.” Bring your lunch; coffee and tea provided.

More info here.

King’s

Thursday

King’s Infringement Festival (Thursday, 8:30pm, The Pit, Arts and Administration Building) — a week-long festival of student-written and -created theatre and art. Tickets $2 at the door. More info here and  here.

Friday

King’s Infringement Festival (Friday, 8:30pm) — ends Saturday. More info above.


In the harbour

Thursday
06:00: RHL Agilitas, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
06:00: Siem Commander, offshore supply ship, arrives at Pier 9 from St. John’s
8:30: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Quebec City
12:00: Atlantic Action II, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 42 from St. Petersburg, Russia
15:30: Atlantic Action II sails for sea
16:30: RHL Agilitas sails for Kingston, Jamaica

Friday
07:30: HMCS Harry DeWolf, Arctic patrol ship, sails from Halifax Shipyard for sea for sea trials
15:30: Torino, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England


Footnotes

I kinda wish Haligonians played more harmless but meaningful pranks like closing the sidewalk at City Hall.

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  1. “Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette was not available for an interview, but said in an email statement the mining sector is important to the province’s economy”

    Clean water on the other hand we can take or leave. I mean, sure it’s important to property values, the tourist industry and many businesses in Tatamagouche (although maybe Tata Brew could start marketing an arsenic ale?) but it’s not like our very lives depend on it. Oh, wait a minute…

    Many thanks to Mayor Blair and the Colchester Municipal Council for passing the motion to protect the French River watershed!

    Berta Gaulke
    Tatamagouche

  2. The naive headline ignores the very real inequity that led to the push to impose an assessment cap. Rural residents were suffering punishing tax increases merely because — in most cases — their properties had oceanside or lakeside shorelines, or even if they had nice views.Since all country properties receive equal (next to non-existent) services it was unfair to penalize properties for their proximity to water, which the munucipality certainly did not provide. Under these circumstances, I think it was fair to allow an assessment reset when the property changed hands. There was no reason to make this an urban or suburban program.

    1. I agree with most of your comment.
      This issue/problem could have been dealt with through provincial legislation whereby an owner would apply for the tax relief and the relief would then be an interest free debt to be paid when the owner/s died.That was the case in Dartmouth before amalgamation. If relatives wanted the property they could help pay a portion of the taxes if parents/relatives were unable to pay the taxes.
      Do Sobey family members really need a break on their residential properties ?

      1. No, the Sobeys don’t deserve a break. But your solution doesn’t fix the problem that was created when Sobeys, McCains and their ilk would erect shorefront mansions near people living in a 110-year-old farmhouse their great-grandfather built near the water. That family’s assessment would skyrocket, with no improvement in their paltry municipal services, just because some plutocrats had moved into the neighbourhood. Delaying an unfair tax hike by sticking surviving family members with it is still unfair. Is there a simple answer? Probably not but the old way was no good either.

  3. Oh the wicked TAX CAP…it would seem to me at least that a good number of homes would have changed hands, perhaps a few times over the 15 years since the CAP was instituted. Even those “rich” homes will inevitably need to change owners sooner or later. In essence, the need for a CAP will naturally disappear, with houses being sold and consequently taxed at market rates. I suspect this is already the case for a good number of NS homes. This great need to get rid of the CAP and institute some new TAX model will no doubt end up being a further TAX grab at both the provincial and municipal levels.

    1. All good points but why should the legislation allow a person to own an unlimited number of residential and resource properties and have each one capped; and when the property is passed to a relative the capped value is not altered.
      The intent was good but the legislation is nonsensical.

      The so called tax grab is dealt with in the proposed changes, all municipalities would be required to set a tax rate that raised the same amount of taxes as the prior year. Obviously some people would see a rise in taxes and some would see a decline in taxes.

      It is ludicrous that young couples with a mortgage on their first home purchase will be paying higher taxes than the older couple who have just sold the home. In our case the couple would be paying at least 40% more in property taxes – and that is generational inequity.

  4. The assessment cap has lots of unforeseen, inequitable consequences, but the original motivation was well intentioned: to prevent longtime residents of rural properties they had lived in all their lives, and which had undergone exponential increases in value, from being taxed out of their homes.

  5. As I recall, there was media coverage of a few seniors and others of limited means who saw their taxes skyrocket as a result of reassessments that over-valued oceanfront views.The problem of people being potentially forced out of their homes by a spike in some assessments should have been dealt with by increasing the income-based property tax rebate and extending it beyond seniors. Instead politicians of the day came up with the inequitable cap, which was supposed to be only a temporary fix. The same inequity exists with the home heating rebate, brought in around the same time in response to a spike in energy costs. Some of the aforementioned tax capped mansions use a lot of energy to heat so their well-heeled residents benefit disproportionately from the rebate. Not only that,for the most part the rebate represents a fossil fuel subsidy. If a provincial rebate of sales taxes on home heating is still desirable – climate change notwithstanding – it should also be provided through the tax system and be based on income.

  6. Is any body REALLY surprised that the assessment cap favours the elite in this province? I suspect there are some, particularly on the South Shore who are justly protected, but I doubt there are a lot.

  7. “All chopped up in a Sobeys bag” originated in Another World, the insanely popular soap opera that ran forever. When Sven murdered Rocky, he hid the body by chopping it up and putting it in various grocery bags under the dock. So when people discussed the plot of what happened to Rocky, the answer was “he was all chopped up in a Sobeys bag under the dock.” This eventually got turned into a threat along the lines of “I brought you into this world; I can take you out.” More popular in Cape Breton, I think.
    -Margaret

  8. The Herald article on property taxes also noted that renters, the least wealthy people, are essentially subsidizing homeowners – and that the city has known this for years:

    ‘The cap is also having an insidious impact on housing affordability, in particular with a group not normally associated with property taxes: Renters.

    While a renter doesn’t directly pay property tax to the city, they could be indirectly paying more in higher rent.

    According to a 2017 Halifax staff report, the majority of low-income individuals in Halifax reside in apartments, which are not eligible for the cap. “The cap has shifted higher taxes towards apartment buildings while also making it more difficult for renters to purchase their first home.”’

    1. Brett Bundale interviewed me for her article and I gave her a lot of information. The cap locks in inequity and the proposal is to continue the inequity for another 15 years !!
      If any reporter wants all the hundreds of pages of information and calculations that I assembled first in 2016 and then again in 2019 she/he is welcome to it. The real scandal is the two siblings who with their spouses and children children and together own 30 properties subject to the cap.

      The two mansions adjacent to each other on Young Avenue have the same owners and are assessed for tax purposes at $1.6 million under the assessed values – annual tax savings in excess of $16,000.