The Atlantic Momentum Newsletter, Nov. 15, 2023: This week: Housing battles and a great big boat
Earlier this year, 17 former Atlantic premiers and deputy premiers endorsed the PPF’s Atlantic Momentum Index. This landmark report put convincing data behind something that many Atlantic Canadians were already feeling: the region is on the upswing, outpacing the rest of Canada by some key measures. This weekly newsletter looks at news and events in the region through the lens of the Index: Where and how is Atlantic Canada growing? What policies are standing in the way of momentum? Where are the opportunities, the failures, the successes?
Here’s what we’re following this week:
🏠 Housing spats
The full-on assault on Canada’s housing shortage hit a minor political pot-hole last week, as the premiers ended their Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax threatening to pass legislation forcing the federal government to get provincial approval before sending money to municipalities for housing projects.
Ottawa has been using its $4-billion “housing accelerator fund” to send cheques to cities, including Halifax, who agree to cut red tape or end restrictive zoning policies. Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said a “lack of collaboration” would mean duplicating efforts, and P.E.I. Premier Dennis King insisted the crisis needed collective action. “We need to all be pulling at the same end of the rope here,” he said.
Unity was not exactly the result, however. Federal housing Minister Sean Fraser, the MP for Central Nova, said the fund was proving useful and he “would hate to take a tool off the table in the middle of a crisis.” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, meanwhile, said adding another voice in funding negotiations would only cause delays.
One thing both sides agree on, it would seem, is the need to make more land available for housing. Canada Lands Co., the Crown corporation that manages federal land, said last week it will make six surplus properties across Canada available to developers, including one in St. John’s. Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, is opening 23 parcels of vacant government-owned land, mostly in St. John’s, for housing while P.E.I. said it will amend its Planning Act so only an “aggrieved person” — a term with a strict definition — can appeal a development decision by the province. Previously, anyone could object.
❄️ Winter is coming
Halifax is taking some immediate action to ease the worst of the crisis. With more than 1,000 homeless in the city, it has decided to keep a city-owned campground open all winter, with funding help from the province. The city will provide basic services, such as snow removal and garbage collection, but people will need to bring in their own water and propane. It will also open up a vacant church in Dartmouth as an emergency overnight shelter that could hold up to 100 people.
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🏠 A small start
A tiny home development in Fredericton has nearly doubled in size over the last year, to 77 residents. The 12 Neighbours Community, founded by Marcel LeBrun nearly two years ago, offers rent for as little as $275 a month, with an aim of providing affordable permanent housing to the underserved. The community also offers access to health counseling and employment opportunities. It now has a waitlist of 700 people. LeBrun was an honouree in 2022 at the Atlantic Dinner and Frank McKenna Awards, PPF’s annual recognition of Atlantic Canadian leaders. (Watch his acceptance speech.)
A similar project is also gaining steam in Stephenville, Nfld., where developer Sean Hickey has built 12 tiny homes, with rent as low as $375 per month.
🩺 The war for talent
One idea that found strong support at the premiers’ meeting was the suggestion from Nova Scotia’s Premier Tim Houston that provinces stop poaching health care professionals who are already working in other provinces. In the past, Nova Scotia has recruited from other parts of Canada — though mostly, the province says, in an effort to lure those studying elsewhere back home to work.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said his province had gone “tit for tat” against Saskatchewan in trying to recruit a few months ago but had come to an agreement to stop. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul does not help advance [quality health care] in any way, shape or form,” he said. “So I think there was a significant unity amongst ourselves to prevent an aggressive act of recruitment campaign in other people’s backyards.”
To help ease pressures, Newfound and Labrador announced a three-year pilot project last week to hire physicians’ assistants — health care workers who can perform initial patient assessments, assist in surgery, and do follow up reports and many other tasks, helping lighten and focus a doctor’s workload.
🔌 Caution, technology ahead
Halifax traffic control company Site 20/20 has cracked the Technology Fast 50, Deloitte’s prestigious annual ranking of early-stage tech companies based on revenue growth. It’s the only Atlantic Canadian company to make the list this year, and its sixth-place finish is the best ever from the region.
The company specializes in “smart” devices that control traffic, a field that could use as much technological help as it can get. Its main product is the Guardian SmartFlagger — a barrier that includes a stoplight and can be raised and lowered to block traffic, replacing human flaggers at construction sites. It also makes traffic cones that can measure vehicle speed and warn workers of cars or trucks speeding their way.
It’s the first company from the region to make the list since Introhive, a maker of customer relationship software for sales teams, scored a three-peat from 2019-2021. Verafin, the St. John’s-based anti-fraud software maker, is perhaps the region’s most prominent name from lists past; it was sold to Nasdaq in 2020 for US$2.75 billion.
🧓 Basic income for seniors
Newfoundland and Labrador last week announced a wide-ranging plan to fight poverty that includes a kind of basic income program for seniors. In essence, the province will streamline benefits for those between age 64 and 69 who are receiving income support — programs that currently have more than 30 different monthly rates depending on household composition — and reduce their number to six. “When you look at a basic income, that’s generally what happens,” said Premier Andrew Furey. “You collapse these programs so that they are able to be provided through a basic income, to eliminate the complexity altogether, so people can get the support that they need.”
The income would match the basic federal seniors’ benefit Canadians get starting at age 65. Furey claimed the program could mean those eligible would see a 15 to 100 percent increase in their income support over the next two to three years.
🚢 We’re gonna need a bigger boat
Canada’s biggest fishing vessel slid into the water this month at the Tersan Shipyard in Turkey.
At 80 metres long and 18 metres wide, the $72-million Inuksuk II will be able to carry 1,320 tonnes of frozen-at-sea turbot or 930 tonnes of shrimp when it goes into operation next year. Known as a factory freezer trawler, it will ply the waters of Canada’s arctic making regular stops at Newfoundland harbours like St. Anthony, Harbour Grace and Bay Roberts.
The Inuksuk II is owned by Baffin Fisheries Inc., based in Iqaluit, which is in turn owned by a coalition of five Inuit hunter and trapper associations in Nunavut. The company has 78 Inuit employees, with most of them serving on the company’s two existing vessels. The new boat has room for a 34-person crew, but the company hopes to operate with 30 workers and keep four spots on board for mentorship and training.
On the horizon
Reports and releases:
Wednesday, Nov. 15, MLS home sales (Oct.)
Thursday, Nov. 16, Housing starts (Oct.)
Tuesday, Nov. 21, Consumer Price Index
Halifax International Security Forum, Nov. 17-19
Nova Scotia Tourism Summit, Nov. 28
Marine Renewables Canada 2023 Conference, Dec. 4-6 (Ottawa)
Atlantic Canada Solar Summit, Dec. 6