Municipal officials decry 'undemocratic' effort by N.S. government to nullify bylaws

Workers stand near a construction site in downtown Halifax, one of many projects in the works right now in the city. (David Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
Workers stand near a construction site in downtown Halifax, one of many projects in the works right now in the city. (David Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage says a bill before the Nova Scotia Legislature that would empower the province to nullify HRM bylaws it considers impediments to construction is a blow to the relationship between the two levels of government and "out of step with modern democratic principles."

Savage was one of five councillors and municipal officials who spoke against Bill 225 at the legislature's law amendments committee Monday. When Housing Minister John Lohr introduced the bill earlier this month, he said it was aimed at a proposed Halifax Regional Municipality noise bylaw that would limit construction hours.

But Savage and others noted the change came without any consultation, and there are concerns about where it could lead. The HRM charter requires consultation before such changes happen.

"To be overruled without public consultation is distasteful in a democracy," said Savage.

"It leads to the question, 'Which bylaws will be nullified next?' Bill 225 is not about construction and blasting hours, it is about seizing new ministerial powers while striking a political pen through the charter's duty to consult the municipality it was designed to help govern."

'We just want to be at the table'

Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace said the requirement in the charter for consultation is intended to prevent situations such as this from occurring, and she worries about potential long-term implications.

"We just want to be at the table," said Lovelace. "Obviously if we're not at the table, you're not going to have a good piece of legislation."

Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall, who appeared Monday in her capacity as president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, said the bylaw process is a transparent one that requires widespread public consultation before councillors get the chance to vote on any changes.

The province owes municipalities a similar duty of respect, she said.

"What is being proposed in Bill 225 demeans the respect and autonomy of municipalities," said McDougall.

Leaving the ability to nullify a bylaw to a cabinet minister who may not be answerable to the residents of a municipality in question is "quite undemocratic," she said.

PCs defeat opposition motions

Tory MLAs used their majority on the committee to defeat a Liberal amendment that would have changed the bill so the minister could only suspend an amendment, rather than nullify it. They also defeated an NDP motion that would have sent the bill back to the department for more work.

The only presenter to speak in favour of the bill was developer Peter Polley, who detailed his frustrations working with the HRM planning office. Polley said the province should review other HRM bylaws that could be standing in the way of prompt development.

But Savage said the majority of applications that come before HRM are approved, and what's really standing in the way of development is a labour shortage and cost increases. He said the province's efforts would be better used focusing on those issues.