Houston chooses former Liberal cabinet minister to head housing task force

·3 min read
Former Liberal Geoff MacLellan, shown here in Halifax on Thursday, has been named to lead Nova Scotia's housing task force. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Former Liberal Geoff MacLellan, shown here in Halifax on Thursday, has been named to lead Nova Scotia's housing task force. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Geoff MacLellan's retirement from politics lasted only half as long as his time as Nova Scotia's minister of housing — three months.

On Thursday, Premier Tim Houston announced he had named MacLellan to chair the housing task force his government has set up to try to fast-track development in the Halifax area.

The premier is hoping the five-member task force can ease the city's affordable housing problem. Halifax has a hot housing market and a low availability of rental units, which means house prices and rents have risen.

Many individuals and families are paying more than they should to keep a roof over their heads, and others cannot even afford a safe and comfortable place to live.

MacLellan, a former Liberal cabinet minister, grinned broadly as he took his seat alongside Houston, who leads Nova Scotia's PC government, at a news conference in Halifax to announce the members of the task force.

Steve Lawrence/CBC
Steve Lawrence/CBC

Along with MacLellan, the panel members are senior provincial bureaucrats Paul Lafleche and Stephen MacIsaac, as well as Peter Duncan and Kelly Denty, senior planning department staffers at the Halifax Regional Municipality.

"They'll have their first meeting in December and I can't stress enough how excited we are about the quality of the task force," Houston said during his opening remarks. He said he had "great confidence in their ability to get things done, and start to tackle the issues in housing."

Houston said he chose MacLellan because of his many dealings with the former Liberal House Leader, who served in a number of cabinet portfolios before deciding not the run for re-election in August's provincial vote.

"I just know from personal experience in working with Geoff in situations that were sometimes adversarial, that he always has a focus on people and what's best for Nova Scotians," said Houston. "And we are very focused on people as a government.

"He's absolutely the right choice and we're going to do some good things together."

MacLellan offered an equally effusive assessment of his new relationship with Houston and his government.

"We've had a mutual respect and a shared understanding of getting things done," he said. "That's why I'm here. It's not political or any other reason.

"We've always worked together despite obviously being on different sides of the political fence," said MacLellan. "This is about helping people."

What will the task force do?

Last month, Halifax regional Coun. Waye Mason said he was concerned the task force could mean decision-making on development is taken away from the municipality.

On Thursday, neither MacLellan or Houston was able to say specifically what the task force would do to move along projects that were either stalled or had been rejected by the city.

"This is all about making sure that housing construction that should move ahead, moves ahead, that's all," said Houston.

At one point the premier even expressed frustration at not being able to properly lay that out for reporters.

"I apologise if I'm having trouble articulating exactly what the intent of the task force is," he said.

Complex portfolio

MacLellan stressed how complex and complicated the housing portfolio is and how the task force would not take a "cookie cutter" approach to its work. He also invited anyone dissatisfied or frustrated with a housing project before the city to reach out to the task force for help.

"It becomes the job of the task force to take those things one at a time and dissect where's the problem specifically, how do we fix it specifically and how do we get these things in motion," said Maclellan. "That's really the crux of it.

"That's a pretty general statement but there's a lot of details inside of that work."

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