Nova Scotia's Housing Minister John Lohr has proposed minor changes to a controversial bill he introduced two weeks ago.
Once passed, the amendments to the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter and the Housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality Act will give the province greater power over development in the capital city.
Municipal councillors denounced the proposed law known as Bill 329 as an "autocratic intrusion into municipal affairs."
Although the amendments proposed on Friday do not change the thrust of the bill, one of the changes could mean a lot to three businesses that suffered damages in last spring's wildfire.
The owners of Moulding Warehouse, Giant Steps Children's Centre and Forestkids Early Learning in the Tantallon area have been lobbying the city for a property tax break because their businesses were either heavily damaged or destroyed by the fires.
"We lost everything," said Donna Buckland, the owner of the Giant Steps. "We lost a spot for 68 children."
Donna Buckland, co-owner of Giant Steps Children’s Centre, stands in front of where the Wyndham Drive location once was in Westwood Hills, Upper Tantallon. The daycare burned down in the May wildfire, but the playground mostly remains. (CBC)
"Every child in that area has some kind of memory of being in the building."
About two weeks ago, HRM staff recommended against tax concessions for the three businesses because the city's charter did not allow for it.
Friday's amendment, agreed to by all three parties in the House, clarifies the charter to give the municipality the green light to offer a tax break to businesses that have suffered major fire damage.
Lohr said the amendment gets rid of contradictory sections in the bill and added "greater certainty" surrounding commercial property tax breaks.
"We all care about those businesses that have been impacted and if there's something that we can do, then we want to do that to help them."
The Liberal MLA for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville, Ben Jessome, proposed the change.
"I think it's wonderful," Jessome told reporters after his amendment passed. "Even a little bit helps with respect to their pocketbooks and trying to rebuild."
Ben Jessome is MLA for Hammonds Plains-Lucasville. (CBC)
Buckland said she was excited to hear the House had cleared the way for a possible tax break.
"Oh, it's huge," Buckland told CBC News during a phone interview. "You know we're paycheque to paycheque."
She said her business owed the city about $9,000 in commercial property taxes on a building that no longer existed.
"I'm excited that we may not have to pay all of it," said Buckland. "You know we're paying commercial tax there, so it's quite a bit different than residential tax, It's quite a bit heftier with very few services."
It's unclear when the bill will become law. The Liberal caucus is slowing down passage of the proposed law because of the objections raised by HRM council.
It's one of two bills opposition parties are unhappy with this fall. The other involves funding agreements with the other 48 municipalities in the province. Although the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities supports the proposal known as Bill 340, the Cape Breton Regional Council does not.
CBRM councillors are expected to travel to Halifax on Monday to explain their objections when the bill is before the law amendments committee.
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