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N.S. premier to Halifax council on housing crisis: Stop ‘stomping your feet’ at us

Click to play video: 'Halifax mayor wants long-term plan to address affordable housing'
Halifax mayor wants long-term plan to address affordable housing
WATCH: Halifax’s mayor says the lack of affordable housing in the city needs to be treated as a “crisis.” He says the province has been making progress to help get people off the street but he wants to see a long-term plan to address the need for affordable housing. Skye Bryden-Blom reports – May 4, 2023

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston shot back at Halifax municipal councillors, who recently criticized the province over a lack of affordable housing and the growing number of tent encampments.

During a news conference after announcing his cabinet shuffle Thursday, Houston told reporters that municipalities should stop “pointing fingers” and instead “roll up your sleeves” and get to work on the issue.

Halifax Regional Municipality councillors took aim at the province Tuesday, during debate over the homelessness strategy update. 

Councillors had been asked to consider expanding designated tent encampments into Halifax Common — a recommendation they ultimately voted against.

Click to play video: 'Council rejects bid for tent encampments on Halifax Common'
Council rejects bid for tent encampments on Halifax Common

During the meeting, councillors accused the province of not doing its job on the housing file, and leaving the municipality to come up with “band-aid” solutions.

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The affordable housing stock is a provincial responsibility.

Coun. Waye Mason, who represents Halifax South Downtown, said the province has not built sufficient housing since taking over the role in the 1990s.

“The government seems to think the problem will solve itself. It will not,” he said.

Coun. Tony Mancini accused the province of not being focused on the crisis.

“How do you sleep at night, Premier?” he asked.

Others suggested the municipality had a humanitarian crisis on its hands.

“Maybe having the Red Cross come in will embarrass the province into doing their bloody job,” said Coun. Lisa Blackburn.

‘Roll up your sleeves and get to work’

When asked to respond to the criticism from HRM councillors on Thursday, the premier said, “It’s everyone’s problem,” and that all levels of government had a role to play.

“Pointing fingers and blaming somebody else, I mean that’s for other people to do. But what I would say is, it would be appropriate for the council to look in the mirror a little bit, too,” said Houston.

“This is a problem that’s been growing for over 10 years now. We’ve been here for two years. We’ve tried to set up some structures to work with them.”

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Houston went on to say he agreed with the prime minister and federal housing minister, Sean Fraser, who this week encouraged municipalities to “step up” with their housing plans. 

“We have lots of examples of council dragging their feet on approvals that could see housing builds,” Houston went on to say.

He then listed a number of fees, including permits and wastewater fees, that he called “hidden taxes” that council had been “jacking” up “through the roof.”

“We all have to work together on this. And the federal government has made that clear as well,” he said.

“We’re here to help. But, you know, look, stomping your feet and pointing at somebody else? No. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.”

Houston said his government plans to release its delayed housing strategy this fall, but that they had to go back and make some changes to the strategy “because of the failures of some of the municipalities.”

In addition to a cabinet shuffle, Houston announced the creation of an executive deputy team to “tackle the province’s most pressing challenges,” which includes housing.

Members of the executive deputy team are Kelliann Dean, Paul LaFleche, Tracey Taweel and Dana MacKenzie.

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