HRM mayor worried provincial input will delay federally funded housing projects

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage told the provincial legislature’s law amendments committee Tuesday that a proposed bill to create a new fast-track system to deal with housing shortages “unnecessary and harmful.”   (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage told the provincial legislature’s law amendments committee Tuesday that a proposed bill to create a new fast-track system to deal with housing shortages “unnecessary and harmful.” (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Premier Tim Houston wants a seat at the table when Nova Scotia municipalities negotiate with the federal government to get money for local housing projects, but the mayor of Halifax says that is likely to slow construction of urgently needed new homes.

Mike Savage told CBC News delays were a problem when Ottawa offered the Halifax Regional Municipality money, nearly a year ago, to help finance some of the costs of operating Halifax Transit.

"The agreement that was negotiated was that the feds would provide money, a total of $750 million across the country, $11-million for Nova Scotia," said Savage in the foyer at city hall. "The condition was that the province would match that money."

"The province didn't match the money, and it took them eight months or so just to pass through the money from the federal government. So does it slow things down if you go through the province? Of course it does."

The provincial and territorial premiers met in Halifax on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 to discuss health care.
The provincial and territorial premiers met in Halifax on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 to discuss health care.

The provincial and territorial premiers met in Halifax on Sunday and Monday to discuss a range of issues. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

The housing crisis was one of the issues Houston and the other Canadian premiers discussed Sunday and Monday when they met in Halifax. In the meeting's closing statement, the premiers agreed "to explore legislative frameworks similar to Quebec that require provincial authorization before municipalities or public agencies enter into any agreements with the federal government."

Quebec law states, "No municipal body may, without prior authorization of the government, enter into any agreement with another government in Canada." Any deal reached without the blessing of the Quebec government would simply be nullified.

'Circumventing the provinces'

During a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe suggested Ottawa wanted to deal directly with municipalities rather than go through provincial governments to ensure maximum political benefit.

"There is a federal government that is increasingly looking at the potential benefit, for lack of a better term, of circumventing the provinces and landing in Toronto or Vancouver and dropping a housing program strictly for political gain," Moe told reporters in Halifax.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe attend a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday, Nov.7, 2023. The premiers are emphasizing the need for province’s to be at the table when Ottawa strikes housing deals directly with municipalities.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe attend a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday, Nov.7, 2023. The premiers are emphasizing the need for province’s to be at the table when Ottawa strikes housing deals directly with municipalities.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe attend a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday. The premiers say provinces must be at the table when Ottawa strikes housing deals directly with municipalities. (Keith Doucette/The Canadian Press)

Houston later agreed with that sentiment, but rejected the suggestion the premiers wanted to be involved in the process to ensure the federal money would be spent in a way that would be politically advantageous to the sitting provincial governments.

"It's working well in Quebec," said Houston. "Other provinces are taking note of that and we just want to make sure that we're doing what's best for our citizens."

But the federal cabinet minister responsible for the housing file, Sean Fraser, told reporters in Ottawa he saw no need to change the current process for allocating funds from the federal government's $4-billion housing accelerator fund.

"My indication from the early experience of the rollout of this fund is that it's working," said Fraser. "It's working more effectively than I think most people expected it would.

"When we have a useful tool that's proving itself as an effective way to get more homes built, there is no good argument, in my view, to take that tool off the table."

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