News

1. Woodford Report, Province House edition: fixed election dates, rent control, inclusionary zoning

Province House and statue of freedom of the press defender Joseph Howe. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

“Like the Olympic Games for political nerds, Nova Scotians can now count on an election every four summers,” writes Zane Woodford in his report from Province House Wednesday.

In the first session of the 64th general assembly of the Nova Scotia legislature on Wednesday, the new Progressive Conservative government introduced its first bill, amending the Elections Act to make Nova Scotia the last province to adopt fixed election dates.

The bill moves to have all future elections take place on the third Tuesday of July every four years, with the next election slated for July 15, 2025. Early elections could still be called under the lieutenant governor’s authority should the premier request it, or should there be a vote of non-confidence during a minority government. The province’s chief electoral officer will also be able to move the date if it lands on a holiday or comes into conflict with a federal or municipal election.

In a news release from the province, the current chief electoral officer said, This change will bring certainty to Elections Nova Scotia’s planning and budgetary cycles and improve the efficiency of our election readiness efforts.

Although the new bill would bring Nova Scotia in step with the other nine provinces, bringing certainty on the timing of future elections, the middle of July does seem like a strange date to pick. It’s a time when many people take their summer vacations and are less likely to be politically engaged, something that became a topic of discussion during the recent provincial election in August.

Opposition parties also introduce bills

MLAs from the province’s two opposition parties proposed their own legislation Wednesday, with a major focus on housing — a combined six private members bills were introduced by MLAs from the NDP and Liberal parties yesterday. These bills would legislate on everything from rent control to tenant compensation for renovictions to allowing municipalities to use inclusionary zoning — the practice of requiring affordable housing in new developments. NDP leader Gary Burill also introduced a bill he’d tabled at the last general assembly in the spring, which would simply recognize housing as a human right.

It’s an issue that the PC government only briefly referenced in Tuesday’s speech to the throne. Premier Tim Houston did say his government would commit to more support for unhoused people and those at risk of losing their homes, but his government has been light on details so far. Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr, responding to a question from NDP MLA Suzy Hansen, said the government would make plans for the housing crisis public in the “coming days.” (Tim Bousquet wrote about Lohr last month, questioning his understanding of the housing crisis in a Morning File you can read here).

Dive into the details of what’s in the bills introduced yesterday, and see which ones are more likely to pass into law, by reading Woodford’s full report from Province House right here.

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2. Utility and Review Board sides with Halifax Water in one woman’s dispute over paying large stormwater charge.

Halifax Water applied to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to change its rates, rules and regulations. Photo: Zane Woodford

We’ve got one more article from Zane Woodford today. It involves a woman named Joanne Pullin who lives on Holland Road in Fletchers Lake.

In 2018, Pullin’s Halifax Water bill for stormwater rose from $73.35 to $820.51. The next year it was over a thousand dollars.

Why such a steep increase? Halifax Water had started billing her as a non-residential property owner. As Woodford reports, “That became the utility’s practice for all properties with mixed commercial and residential assessments after the UARB [Utility and Review Board] approved its amended regulations in 2017.”

Pullin’s property is 94% residential, but she leases the remaining portion to Eastlink for a cellphone tower.

Pullin fought to have Halifax Water split her bill, so that she’d pay the residential rate for 94% of her property, and the non-residential rate for the other 4%.

But Halifax Water appealed, and now the Utility and Review Board has sided with them. Read about the full decision and see how they came to it in Woodford’s full article here.

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3. COVID update

Photo: Ivan Diaz/Unsplash

The Examiner is providing all COVID-19 related coverage for free through the pandemic. If you’d like to support our reporting, you can help by donating or subscribing.

Twenty-four new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Nova Scotia Wednesday. There are now 187 known active cases in the province, with 32 people considered recovered yesterday.

Half of yesterday’s new cases involved children too young to be eligible for vaccination. If you are eligible to be vaccinated, and haven’t done so yet, you can book an appointment here.

The Department of Health continues to note that “there are signs of community spread among those in Central Zone aged 20 to 40 who are unvaccinated and participating in social activities.”

Although we’re in the middle of the fourth wave, there are some good signs. First, 76.4% of all Nova Scotians have been fully vaccinated. And second: this graph tells the story.

We’ve come a long way since the spring. And we’ve come a LONG way since March 2020. Hang in there.

For everything else you need to know about numbers, case demographics, potential exposure sites (there were five schools listed yesterday) and testing, head to Tim Bousquet’s full COVID news roundup from Wednesday.

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4. Mass Casualty Commission’s public hearings are moved back four months

A memorial on Plains Road is dedicated to Kristen Beaton, one of the 22 people killed on April 18/19, 2020. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“The long-awaited public hearing portion of the public inquiry into the mass shootings and fires that claimed 22 lives in April 2020 will now begin in February, 2022, instead of at the end of this month,” reports Jennifer Henderson.

The Mass Casualty Commission’s Investigation Director Barbara McLean told journalists and family members of the gunman’s victims a month ago at a meet-and-greet session in Debert (one of four open houses held by commission staff in the Truro and Wentworth areas) that hearings would begin in late October. But the commission issued a news release yesterday to announce changes in the timing of the public disclosure of facts related to the 13-hour rampage. This is the portion involving testimony from witnesses and written documents.

There are a few reasons for the delay, according to a news release from the investigation’s three commissioners. New leads, witnesses, and information have come forward, extending the investigation. Extra time is also needed to allow the 60-person commission staff to read the documents created by the commission before those documents are entered as evidence in a public hearing, the hope being these people will be able to fill in any holes in the story, and raise any questions they might have.

The commission still expects to fulfill its mandate and deliver an interim report by the end of May this year. A final report is due in November 2022. It will ultimately include information on the broader context and circumstances that contributed to tragedy, as well as include non-binding recommendations going forward.

You can read the full article for an update on the inquiry here.

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5. Black News File

We’ve got another news roundup for you this morning.

Matthew Byard is back with his weekly Black News File, this one covering stories from the Black community in the Maritimes from Oct. 6 to 13.

There’s a great variety of stories in this week’s installment; here’s what you can find inside:

  • You might remember some negative reaction to last month’s announcement that Pat Dunn (who is white) had been appointed minister of both African Nova Scotian Affairs and the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives. Following a meeting last week between Dunn, Premier Tim Houston, and a team of prominent organizers within the Black community, it was announced Tuesday that Dwayne Provo, who is Black, has been appointed as the new Associate Deputy Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.
  • An East Preston family made some serious money in a successful run on the new Canadian edition of Family Feud. (Their episode aired last Wednesday). Included in that family: team captain and former Trailer Park Boys guest star Garry James. See how the family fared in the final round when asked, fittingly for the Canadian edition, to “Name something you associate with the word ‘maple.’” Hint: syrup was somehow only one of the four most popular answers.
  • The CBC drama Diggstown returned last week for its third season. See how COVID and the tragic events of last year’s mass shooting affected the writers’ original plans for the show by reading Byard’s breakdown, or listen to the latest episode of Tideline with Tara Thorne where she interviews show creator Floyd Kane and lead actress Vinessa Antoine.
  • Two stories from Springhill: one of a Black doctor acquitted of a single count of sexual assault last week, and the other of a family who were evicted from their home before seven of their nine children were apprehended into the care of Child Protective Services/Community Services.
  • And finally, read about a Hali-famous hot dog vendor’s $240,000 lawsuit against the province and a Halifax sheriff deputy regarding an altercation in October 2019.

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6. USA says fully vaccinated Canadians will be allowed back across the border in November

Photo: Oleksii Liskonih/unsplash.com

“The United States will lift restrictions at its land borders with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals in early November, ending historic curbs on non-essential travelers in place since March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic,” reports David Shepardson and Steve Holland at Reuters.

Canada already reopened its borders to fully vaccinated Americans back in August. Unvaccinated Canadians will still be barred from entering the United States.

The actual date of the November reopening will be determined in the near future.

So why not take the Cat to Maine this fall, Nova Scotia?! Oh, right…

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Views

What does the word crisis even mean anymore?

Protesters at the police eviction of a homeless encampment at the former Memorial Library in Halifax, Aug. 18, 2021. Photo: Tim Bousquet / Halifax Examiner

I have to admit, the word crisis is losing a bit of its potency for me these days. It seems to be attached to a lot of issues right now. We almost need a new scale to measure crises. A range from mini-crisis to ultra-crisis to differentiate them.

We’re in the middle of a public health crisis — an ongoing pandemic, a shortage of doctors, ridiculous wait times…

We’re in the middle of a biodiversity crisis in this province. And of course there’s an all-encompassing climate crisis threatening the whole world.

Even the global supply chain is in “crisis,” according to some headlines.

Crisis, crisis, crisis. Semantic satiation sets in, followed by a paralyzing numbness. It can be a lot to take in when you look at it all at once.

So, where to begin?

Winter is on its way. Considering the number of people seeking shelter as the days get colder, housing might be a good start. Or at least a good place to start looking at immediate emergency solutions.

But Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr said yesterday, in response to a question from NDP MLA Suzy Hansen, that plans for addressing the housing crisis will be public in a few days.

That general answer came a day after “housing” received only a small paragraph mention in the government’s speech to the throne. Here’s that entire passage from the speech:

There is a housing crisis in Nova Scotia. We have a plan to address this crisis — and attracting and training more trades people is critical to its success.

Attracting and training more people who can build and increase our housing stock is a reasonable part of the solution. But where will they be housed when they come here? Not that I’m against population growth — it’s in our best interest — but people from out of province are already having difficulties finding housing here.

It’s no secret that people from other provinces have been buying up Nova Scotian real estate over the past year and a half as work from home and a successful handling of the pandemic made the move east more enticing. According to Statistics Canada’s most recent report published last month, Nova Scotia’s population increased by about 15,000 since the start of the pandemic. And just shy of 10,000 people moved here from Ontario alone. Aside from those who have moved here, there are many others still looking. One realtor I spoke with at Remax says he’s been polling colleagues at his brokerage and believes that before the pandemic, 15-20% of their clients were from out of province, but that’s now doubled. And a SaltWire article from July reports that about half of listings sold for over $1 million at Engel & Völkers Nova Scotia are being bought by people from other provinces, many of them sight unseen.

It’s a cruel irony that Nova Scotia has so long looked for ways to retain young people, bring back professionals who left, and draw in newcomers. Now we’re finally getting people coming in, and we’re running out of places to put them. Just like we’re running out of places to put people who already live here.

Building housing stock isn’t going to happen overnight. Neither are most long-term solutions to creating more affordable housing.

But there is a need to deal with those in the most dire situations: those experiencing homelessness. Surely that’s a crisis that needs an immediate response as the frost begins to set in. We still have people living in tents. And in rural areas, where homelessness isn’t as evident to the naked eye, we also have people living in tents, people living in trailers on public lands, and couch surfers who might lose their spot any day. One coordinator at the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia told me she believes that homelessness and finding housing in many rural areas has become comparable to Halifax in terms of urgency and severity. There are two-income families and senior citizens who could technically be defined as homeless right now because they cannot find any reasonably priced housing. Think about that for a second.

I’m not all that interested in bashing the new government for their lack of a detailed plan on housing so far; the opposition parties can do that. But I am interested in drawing attention to the fact that housing is an issue for all Nova Scotians, not just those in HRM —  though the Examiner’s covered many housing stories from the urban region. It truly is a provincial issue, and it deserves as much attention as healthcare or the environment.

Also, if the current government is especially concerned about health care right now, as evidenced in the speech to the throne, then ensuring all Nova Scotians have protection from the elements for the time being, while working toward making that a permanent reality, will surely go a long way toward keeping people healthy both mentally and physically.

We need to take immediate measures to get a small portion of the population, one that’s spread across the province, some shelter in the coming winter months. “Details to come” won’t be acceptable for long.

And more foundational fixes can begin to take shape after that.

A crisis doesn’t have to be dealt with all at once. It’s doubtful it even can be in most cases. Certainly not here. One step at a time is the way to go. And the first steps need to be taken very soon, preferably right away.

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Noticed

One of my fondest memories of my time living in the Rockies is watching the Perseid meteor shower from the shore of Lake Louise, where the land is so elevated it feels like the sky is just out of reach. It’s the clearest I’ve ever seen the stars, and even the memory of it is fresh enough to remind me of how vast the universe is, how majestic it is, and how small I am in it.

For another woman last week, a meteor shower was a reminder of how fragile and finite life is.

Last week in Golden, BC — that’s two years after I watched the stars in Lake Louise, one town over — a woman woke up to a meteorite crashing through her ceiling and landing right next to her head.

There’s not much to this one. I just think it’s so bizarre. And there’s something about a rock hurtling from the heights of space, burning through the atmosphere, and tearing through layers of “tin, asphalt shingles, plywood, and drywall,” only to land softly on a pillow, that I find very amusing. Had it landed a few inches one way or the other, it might not have been so amusing. I think I’ll wear a helmet the next time I stargaze.

And if you’re looking for a local “falling from the sky connection” today, apparently a UFO was spotted on the 101 this morning!

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Government

City

Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am) — virtual meeting

Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm) — virtual meeting

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Thursday

The Repair of Moral Injury (Thursday, 2:30pm) — session five of the Moral Courage: Dallaire Cleveringa Critical Conversation Series

The Dog in the Manger (Thursday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — to October 16, tickets $10/$15

Friday

A Seat at the Table: Making Space for Indigenous Epistemologies in the Academy (Friday, 2pm) — Sheila Cote-Meek will talk:

Weaving personal lived experiences with her research and academic writing, Dr. Sheila Cote-Meek speaks about her experience moving through the post-secondary education system. She, like many Indigenous scholars, researchers and students faced/face many challenges in navigating the academy. Strategies are shared on how we can mobilize and facilitate real change that extends beyond good intentions. Post-secondary educators across the Atlantic Region are invited to attend Dr. Cote-Meek’s talk and are encouraged to attend the book club that will follow. Presented by Dalhousie University, Saint Mary’s University and Mount Saint Vincent University.

More info here.

Codifying Blasphemy: ‘Religious Feelings’ Between Colony and metropole (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, McCain Building and online) — Barton Scott from the University of Toronto will talk; Teams link here

Saint Mary’s

Thursday

“To hell with the people in Preston”: A History of Space and Race at Graham Creighton High School, Cherry Brook, Nova Scotia (Thursday, 2:30pm) — Stephanie Slaunwhite will talk:

Her talk is based on some of the research conducted for her M.A. thesis, entitled “The Intricacies of Integration: The Case of Graham Creighton High School.” The school, located in Cherry Brook, served as the integrating space where students from the surrounding Black and adjacent white communities were brought together to adhere to “a policy of school integration” established by the Municipal School Board. The interrelationships between space and race, as well as history and geography are highlighted in this exploration of spatial inequality.

On the Corruption of Academic Freedom in Hong Kong: Comparisons and Contrasts with the Western University Experience (Thursday, 6pm, in the conference theatre named after a bank) — Peter Baehr will talk

Friday

Sobey Women In Business: Women In Entrepreneurship | LEADING CHANGE (Friday, 9am) — online event, tickets $10

King’s

Thursday

Jungle Flower Workshop (Thursday, 6pm) — online workshop where people who have experienced abuse and sexual violence can share their stories


In the harbour

Halifax
05:00: Conti Contessa, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk, Virginia
06:00: Tulane, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Santander, Spain
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
11:45: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
12:00: MSC Susanna, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Sines, Portugal
16:45: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41
18:00: Tulane moves to Autoport

Cape Breton
06:00: Arctic Lift, barge, and Western Tugger, tug, move through the causeway and arrive at Aulds Cove quarry from Cap-aux-Meules (Magdalen Islands)
18:00: Arctic Lift and Western Tugger sail for sea


Footnotes

  • Tara’s taking the week off from Tideline this week, so no new episode today.
  • Will Terry’s Chocolate Oranges and scented candles be affected by a backed up global supply chain? If not, I can still do 90% of my Christmas shopping on December 24.
  • I hear Captain Kirk went into space for real. I didn’t hear whether he tried to impregnate a beautiful alien life-form while he was up there, but I think it’s safe to assume he did.
  • If I know the average Leafs fans, that one win last night should be enough to blur the sins of the past and keep them in that relationship for at least another year. Welcome back, hockey.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. The problem is that there is no way to make housing affordable again unless houses become less valuable. Right now land is incredibly expensive because the bank will give people loans with excellent terms. There is no way the bank would lend me 400,000 dollars based on 20K down at 1% interest so I could invest it in a productive business or buy stocks or something. But they will do that to let me buy a house or five. Combined with the easily gamed primary residence tax exemption, housing is an incredible investment – so far – for people with the means to buy more housing than they need.

    Maybe it is time to tax wealth, not work?

  2. I didn’t realize that we didn’t have inclusionary zoning as an option for municipalities!?

    I think we really need to separate out the real estate issue versus affordable housing versus the urgent needs of people without access to stable housing (the “homeless”).

    Real estate — let the market sort that out. If people have money and want to live here they will get something built. Trades people will help with that, so good, I guess?

    People needing to retain their affordable housing need govt interventions like rent caps and universal basic income and child care and zoning on their side.

    The urgent needs of the precariously housed or unhoused need direct govt interventions of the “build affordable housing and run it” variety, along with emergency shelters, and other supports like mental health, addictions counselling, food banks, transportation subsidies (bus tickets, etc), and so on.

    So more tradespeople is a good, if barely foundational step. Now let’s hear the rest of the vision.