Halifax City hall through the memorial arch
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee

New five year economic plan coming

Workers fight back against their bosses
 | February 18, 2021

Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee, Feb. 18, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

In a relatively short meeting today the committee gave instructions to the CAO’s office to develop a new five year economic strategy. 

In a presentation to the committee, Ian Munro, Chief Economist at Halifax Partnership, said that the last plan was effective at meeting the targets they set out, like population growth. But he also noted that Halifax’s GDP is expected to contract by 3.5 per cent, which he said is the largest recession in Halifax’s history. He also pointed out that even though the HRM has added more jobs on aggregate since this time last year, it hasn’t been equal, with youth employment and the service industry lagging behind. 

Councillor Cuttell said that even though councillors and the Halifax Partnership like to congratulate each other on the GDP growth, the folks like you and I aren’t seeing the benefit. So she was happy to see things like attainable housing (not affordable, a distinction without a difference?) set out as a priority in the plan. 

The meeting started off with a presentation from Build Right Nova Scotia, which is an umbrella organization that represents 11,000 unionized workers (employees) in the construction industry and 350 contractors (employers/bosses). They voiced strong support for the city’s living wage policy.

They say the policy is a good first step, as are provincial efforts requiring 25 per cent of work to be done by apprentices, and 10 per cent of the work to be done by workers from underrepresented demographics, like women and people of colour. Even though the issues are systemic they see the living wage policy as an important first step because it’s about starting to change the system in which they operate. 

Councillor Purdy asked about paying a living wage hurting small businesses and Bob Shepherd, who was there on behalf of the contractors, said the only way this change would hurt small businesses is if the city changed the living wage requirement mid-contract. 

There is frequent concern expressed by business owners that if wages go up, it will put them out of business. While it’s worthwhile to explore that, it’s also worthwhile to ask those same business owners if your employees can’t live with dignity on the wages you’re offering, are you the type of employer the city wants? Poverty costs taxpayers in Nova Scotia $2.4 billion a year, surely asking owners to pay their workers an extra couple bucks an hour to prevent that isn’t too much to ask.  

The committee also got an update on the Green Networks Plan, this briefing was an update if you have the required background knowledge, which I do not. However, this is something that is on our radar, and we’ll be following and including it in our reporting as it comes up in various committees. It seems to be progressing well. 

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Blackburn: Any changes to the minutes? 

Cuttell: I moved the green network motion, not Purdy

Blackburn: Clerks are on it! Onto the presentation from Brad Smith, Executive Director of Mainland Building Trades, Robert ‘Bob’ Shepherd, President of Nova Scotia Construction Labour Relations Association, and Jack Wall, President of the Cape Breton Building Trades!

Brad Smith: We are from the organization Build Right Nova Scotia, which is a group that represents union workers in the construction industry. We build offices, schools and apartments. There’s roughly 350 contractors and 11,000 workers. The lowest bid isn’t always the best. Lower bids imply benefits to taxpayers, but it has costs. Income is the biggest determinant of health, if someone has to work two jobs to stay afloat what’s the healthcare cost of that? Here’s how procurement has changed:

B. Smith: Best practices in procurement have started to include social value to procurement. What you’re doing and the direction you are going is the right direction. There’s a business case for paying fair wages. Contractors who are paying a living wage will be able to bid on HRM projects now since they don’t have to cut their labour costs to compete with other companies. Living wages help draw people to the construction industry. The province is taking a leadership role in this, by doing things like requiring 10 per cent of trade work and the workforce must be done by underrepresented groups. It’s easier to criticize than create (I feel attacked), but you guys are creating, and we wanted to let you know that we support you in this, we recognize it’s important work to start to fix systemic issues. 

Shepherd: The CLRA, we’re the rep for the unionized workers in the sector, we are supportive of your living wage proposal. We want our workers to live good lives, be healthy and be able to support their families. 

Austin: We had the presentation from the management side in the last meeting and they said our policy would freeze out smaller businesses. Do you share those concerns? 

Shepherd: The CLRA represents 350 employers in negotiations with unions. We have companies from big to small and they all pay living wages. We recognize that competition is important, but you have to pay a fair wage. 

Blackburn: And you rep 11,000 of 15,000 workers?

B. Smith: Yes, and our workers don’t work if contractors don’t win the bids. 

Lindell Smith: Austin asked my question, and thank you for the presentation. Don’t harp too much on the presentation last week, do you see the disconnect between your group and other groups that are against this? Why do you think it exists? 

B. Smith: I can only speak to us, we’re very community focused and want to support our communities. We see the same impacts that you do when people don’t earn a dignified wage and have to work two jobs. We just want to support you and let you know you have champions in this. 

Cuttell: I agree everyone should earn a living wage and not have to work two jobs. And I see that our procurement process has been part of the problem. The living wage is defined by the cost of living, and factors are driving up the cost of living; housing, food. What do you consider a living wage in dollars? 10 per cent of underrepresented groups, who do you consider these groups to be? What percentage of the current workforce is women? 

B. Smith: Living wage as we understand it is set by the CCPA, and they look at a family of two income earners with basic needs. We use their definition. Underrepresented groups in our industry includes women, right now we’re at 2-6 per cent when it should be up above 45 percent and we have a number of programs trying to change that. Similar issues with other diversity and inclusion. It’s a systemic issue that we’re trying to address. 

Cuttell: As you put it, we are creating, one of the things to keep top of mind is the industries that we are requiring a living wage are male dominated industries and we’re not doing the same push for female dominated industries. Which we should be. I applaud efforts to get women into trades, but we should be creating policies that do more. 

B. Smith: Speaking of systemic issues, most construction sites open at 7 a.m., how many daycares open at 6 a.m.? We’re not where we need to be. There are so many things in our society that have issues like this. 

Lovelace: I don’t think the timing of daycares has any relevance, both men and women can drop kids off at daycare. Just on provincial requirements, are the provincial requirements adequate? Should the HRM go above and beyond? Especially with apprenticeship?

Shepherd: What we’re doing, what we started within the hospitals in Cape Breton, 25% are apprentices and 10% of those need to be from underrepresented communities. We’ve set these metrics and there are penalties for missing them. These are small, but they’ve never been in place before on construction sites. It’s important so we can build a more inclusive workforce for tomorrow. Our industry is male dominated and white, and we’re getting older. We don’t reflect society and that needs to change. 

Purdy: I’ve been asking small business owners about this because I see both sides of this, the benefits of the risk. I’ve been there, struggling to make ends meet, no one wants that, but how does it impact the bottom line of business owners? (Which means business owners want that, or at least their bottom line is more important than their workers suffering like that) They’ve been saying the prices of their goods and services will have to go up and they’ll have to cut jobs. Is that a real risk and backfire? Will more people be out of work due to pay increase? 

Shepherd: We negotiate wages with unions. There are a lot of factors that go into wage negotiations. We look at cost of living and the marketplace and that gives us an idea of what we need to pay. What a living wage does is raise the floor for everyone, because the floor for the construction industry is very low. The risk when transitioning from less than living wage to a living wage means they’re locked into contracts. So if they have to switch pay from $16 to $21, they might struggle with that $5 change. 

Purdy: So we’d have to work with contractors? 

Shepherd: Yeah, you’d have to grandfather old contracts that are less than living wage, or set a start date for new contracts with that requirement. If you change the wage mid-contract you’d have to help them with that.   

Blackburn: Thank you for your presentation today, on to the information item, green network plan!

Cuttell: I’ve never brought something forward for information before, what do I have to do here, a motion? 

Clerks: Staff has a presentation, but there’s no motion since it’s an information item, but you could do a motion if one seems necessary. 

Blackburn: Start with the presentation then?

Kathleen Frolic: I’m not going to speak to all of the action items because there’s a lot, but I do have the highlights. This is city wide, so I have some associated staff here for questions, but we may need to get back to you depending on the questions. This is what the Halifax Green Network Plan does:

Frolic: It’s not a regulatory framework, it’s more of a policy guidance tool. The four tools we use are land use planning, park management, project work and partnerships. The land use planning, we’ve started a regional plan review and we’re working on simplifying our plans and by-laws. HalifACT has also been adopted. Sharing our Stories program is ongoing and it’s designed to help protect culturally important lands. Our park network management highlights are these:

Frolic: Parks have become really popular since the pandemic. Here’s the project work we’ve been doing:

Frolic: Here are our partnerships:

Cuttell: I like this initiative and I’ve been following it for years now. It’s a really important initiative. What I’m struggling to understand is how they’re all coming together and how priorities are being set in terms of action. Some of the work requires the province to make changes. The Western common masterplan is 60km of gravel trail that can support a dump truck, and it boggles the mind the impact that’ll have on the environment. Things are rolling, and I’m not understanding how things are connecting to make sure the things we are doing today aren’t based on outdated ideas. That’s why I asked for this update, what staff is dedicated to making sure we are moving forward and how are they prioritizing the stuff that needs to be done? 

Frolic: The easiest answer is all of the priority plans that have been completed are going to be implemented into our staff recommendations moving forward. There’s still work to be done, we’re taking the bigger picture guidance and figuring out how it works at site level planning. The regional plan review is where they’re going to be implemented, mostly. 

Lovelace: I’m still trying to figure out the priorities, we’ve established a park master plan for Viscount Run, but established subdivisions don’t have one. District 13 has a lot of parks that aren’t in the urban service area so it seems to be a little bit ‘wild west.’ The wildlife corridor is going to be important when the 103 highway plans come to fruition. How many of these action items are dependent on other levels of government. Parks Canada isn’t a partner, why not? They’re an excellent resource. Where are we when it comes to creating a larger vision for the wildlife corridor? How do you decide who gets a park master plan and who doesn’t? 

Frolic: We are aware that some of the plans require other levels of government and we are dependant on their priorities. It’s part of my job to communicate with the provincial gov’t. It’s an ongoing conversation. Larger vision, a lot of the work of the green network plan will be reviewed in the regional plan review. It’s pretty high level, so we need to bring it down to site level, which will require significant research. 

Richard Harvey: Wherever there are crossovers with other governments we’re engaged. When it comes to wilderness it’s usually the province, we’d work with Parks Canada if we were dealing with any of their holdings. As to how the parks masterplans come to be, we have a lot of consultation with communities, but the priorities come from the budget priorities and the business plan. 

Smith: We received a lot of correspondence on this, we’re seeing a lot of concerns about the lack of implementation of this process. Can you speak to that? 

Frolic: Looking over the comments we’ve received there are reasonable requests we can look into. There’s some concern about how the green network plan is developed currently. It’s not a regulatory document, but it’s considered in development applications. There are impacts that it does have on current applications. We need to continue our conversations with the energy and environment groups so we can be more clear about how the GNP has impacted things. As we move forward most of the action items are part of larger projects, so when they are impacted so are the action items in the GNP. 

Smith: Are there any budget asks coming to us related to the GNP? Or initiatives that support the GNP? Anything to deal with timelines we’ve missed? 

Frolic: I’m going to defer to my manager.

Kate Green: Frolic is our dedicated resource to the GNP. It’s organized a little differently than other plans since we rely on other business units. With more resources we can do more (the police spend a quarter million dollars on polygraph testing).

Smith: So no specific asks?

Green: No.

Cuttell: Folic, you’re the dedicated person to this, do you have support in other business units though? How does this work? How do you make this happen?

Frolic: There is a lot in the GNP that is part of other department’s responsibility, so my job is to make sure that those departments are still working on the GNP. It depends on the department as to what the specific action looks like. 

Cuttell: I just wanted to make sure it was a priority in other business units, if you need something more let us know. For watershed protection, setbacks for watersheds, will that be impacted? 

Frolic: It’s something we’re working on with the regional plan review. 

Blackburn: Thank you for the update, on to staff reports. Development of economic strategy, presentation

Clerks: We have one.

Wendy Luther, Halifax Partnership: I’m the CEO of Halifax Partnership, which is the HRM’s P3 organization. The growth plan is being developed under the direction of our board of directors chaired by the CEO of Lindsay Construction. Savage, Dube, Mason and Russell are also on the board. 

Ian Munro: Our 2016 plan had two headline plans, population growth and GDP growth. We’ve had good population growth, but it’s seasonal, and we expect our numbers to be down due to COVID. The numbers aren’t published yet, but we’ve gotten some data on Halifax, our GDP is expected to contract by 3.5 per cent in 2020, the worst recession in history, but expected to rebound by 4.6 per cent this year and 3.9 per cent next year. Even though our labour market tanked in the spring, but has recovered on aggregate. We have 4600 more jobs now than last year, but it’s aggregate, youth and service employment is down. 

Luther:  Here’s the overview of our plan for the next five years:

Luther: We’ve developed the plan in light of COVID. There are multiple levels of responsibility in this plan. Here’s who does what in this plan: 

Luther: The four themes that need to be addressed, attainable housing (why not affordable?), transportation and logistics, green economy, and inclusive growth. 

Munro: This slide provides an initial conceptual foundation of our building blocks:

Munro: The issues of the 2016-2021 plan are still relevant today, like demographic growth. We’ve been successful there, so we don’t need to start from scratch. But more people are here now, but it means we have more congestions and less housing. The world has changed since 2016, we need to make sure we identify and adapt to the new reality. 

Luther: Here’s our key components (She’s more or less just reading the slides so here they are):

Cuttell: *Reads the motion from the slide right above this* Good to see the progress being made. When we talk to each other we’re congratulating ourselves on our economic growth, but our constituents aren’t seeing the benefits, they’re just seeing the bad things like congestion, raised cost of living, raised taxes. I’m happy to see attainable housing in your plan. I’m also happy to see you’ve recognized related policies like HalifACT. I’d like to see more recognition of Halifax as a coastal municipality and our success as a city will be tied to our response to sea-level rise and climate change. I didn’t see the regional plan review on your list, did I miss it? I think the current regional plan review, and the major one in 2026, they really need to be tied to our economic strategy. I’d like to see a focus on our local economies, and how our growth patterns can support local economic development in creating a livable city. 

Luther: Noted with a big asterisk on including the regional plan review. I agree with you on the interconnectedness of city planning and economic prosperity. How are we using our green economy to our advantage? Thank you for making that point. 

Lovelace: With regard to industry, and development. In St. Margarets Bay Road, it used to be a fishing industry, but now tourism has taken over as the fishing industry ebbs and flows. I just want to highlight the importance of fishing.  The fishing industry is quite important to the number of small communities, and it adds value to tourism, people want to eat fresh fish. I also have to leave ‘cause the mayor is about to call, but can you speak to that? 

Luther: We work with a wide variety of sectors. We also do R&D and tie in research to the fishing industry. We connected the NSCC sea cucumber study with the fishing industry. I’m looking forward to speaking with you more on this. And your point about authentic tourism is important. The balance of urban and rural in this city is something that’s just not seen in other cities. 

Lovelace: Yes, but also the infrastructure, like the warfs, which are changing from industrial to parks. If they can’t be used for fishing where are the fishers supposed to park their boats? 

M/S/C VoteAyeUnanimous 

*Meeting adjourned

Present:

Councillor Lisa Blackburn, Chair (District 14)

Councillor Sam Austin, Vice Chair (District 5)

Councillor Trish Purdy (District 4)

Councillor Lindell Smith (District 8)

Councillor Patty Cuttell (District 11)

Councillor Pam Lovelace (District 13)

Absent: 

Councillor Paul Russell (District 15)

Interviews:

N/A – COVID

Previous meeting and current agenda:

Previous meeting

Current agenda


A former Naval Officer turned journalist, Matt Stickland is committed to empowering his community to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make their city a better place.

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