Budget 2021: Rolling Stock

Editor’s Note: I’m doing a deep dive into the CBRM’s 2021-22 budget and dragging you with me. Last week, I covered water, roads and facilities. This week, I pick up where I left off, starting with that generator for the police HQ. 


As the afternoon session of the April 29th budget discussions opened, councilors were still talking about a $400,000 generator the CBRM proposed to buy for its Grand Lake Road Police HQ, described as one of our “premier emergency buildings.”

District 12 Councilor Lorne Green was quizzing Wayne MacDonald, director of engineering & public works, and Bill Murphy, director of building, facilities, parks, grounds and recreation, about greener options for backup power. Or as Green (“The name says it all”) put it, shouldn’t the island be looking at going 100% green rather than investing in “1970s technology,” meaning a diesel generator?

CBRM Council Zoom Meeting 2021.04.29

Green asked that staff consider energy storage (read: battery) systems. He pointed to a company in Vancouver called Extreme Vehicle Battery Technologies, which proposes to both extend the life expectancy of and reuse batteries to cut into the growing problem of electronic waste and which lists “backup power systems” as one of its “battery solutions,” all of which sounds good, but there is little information about the company’s products — it seems to be early days for their technology — and their use of the buzzwords “AI” and “blockchain” is a little concerning.)

MacDonald suggested that battery backup systems make more sense in new builds than existing buildings (although Green didn’t feel this was necessarily the case). MacDonald said battery backups are in place “to a small degree” in other facilities, but that he doubted they could purchase a battery backup system for the police HQ. He said they’d seek advice from Efficiency Nova Scotia, but his bet would be that, for a system that would only be used occasionally, that advice would be to go for three to four hours of diesel backup.


Splash down

District 3 Councilor Cyril MacDonald wanted it noted that, had he known the Wentworth Park “fountain” in need of $150,000 worth of repairs was the one associated with the splash pad and not one of the decorative fountains in the actual duck pond, he would not have expressed any reservations about the expense.

Splash pads are something he can “fully support” and “fully endorse.”

MacDonald responded that time flies when you’re talking about infrastructure (or words to that effect, I’m taking some poetic license) and the Wentworth Park splash pad was installed “15 or 16 years ago.”


Centre 200

Discussion of upcoming repairs to Centre 200 gave me an idea: librarians and library patrons need to follow the example of the sports world and form a league that can issue decrees about necessary building repairs. The boards and glass at Centre 200 are being replaced with “flex” boards and glass by order of the Canadian Hockey League, which includes the Quebec Major Junior League (QMJHL) to which the Cape Breton Eagles belong. Arenas that don’t upgrade risk having their franchises suspended.

As for why the league is switching to flex glass and boards “similar” those used in the NHL, QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau told the CBC:

The main reason, the number one reason is player safety. The board and glass is what we call the flex board and glass so when there’s a body check, as you can see during an NHL game, the boards flex.

The Canadian Hockey League decided four years ago to make these changes to arena requirements, meeting which will cost the CBRM $600,000.

Some of the funding for this — $280,000 — will come from the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), the province will contribute $231,000 and the CBRM’s share will be $189,000. District 8 Councilor James Edwards asked if the QMJL would be providing any funding and the answer was no. (The owner of the team doesn’t seem to have been hit up for funding either.)

Murphy told council that the project had been approved and the “contract signed.” (And I can add my eye witness account, having been at Centre 200 for a COVID test on Sunday, that the boards and glass have indeed been removed.)

District 6 Councilor Glenn Paruch asked what would be done with the old boards and glass and Murphy said “all options” were on the table and no formal discussions had been held, but there was a facility interested in taking them.

Centre 200 revitalization CBRM 2021

If you’ve done the math and noticed those numbers add up to $700,000, that’s because the project includes $100,000 for a “facility expansion concept feasibility study,” which MacDonald said will help them determine if “it is feasible to attach something to Centre 200.”

He didn’t offer any suggestions as to what might be “attached” but during the regional council meeting last night, Murphy asked for permission to seek funding for a feasibility study for a “47,800,000 square ft. multi-purpose recreation facility” to be attached to Centre 200. Murphy said he hoped to secure provincial and federal funding, with each level providing a third. The CBRM’s contribution — to a maximum of $30,000 — is to come from the building, facilities, parks, grounds and recreation budget and the CAO’s professional services budget. Council approved this by a vote of 10 to 3, with Councilors Parsons, Bruckschwaiger and Green voting against the motion. (I am not sure why this demand for funding was presented to council last night when it seems already to have been approved in the capital budget, I will try to find out the answer to this and get back to you.)

The Centre 200 expansion is one of three projects council had previously agreed would be put forward for the federal government’s upcoming “green and inclusive” community buildings fund — the others being the new central library and “general efficiency upgrades” to various CBRM buildings. MacDonald said this application is due by July 6. District 7 Councilor Steve Parsons, who is also preparing an application for this fund (presumably as part of his day job as general manager of Eskasoni First Nation and not because he’s going rogue), said it was his understanding that C-Class project estimates would be necessary at this stage, but after some back and forth, Mayor Amanda McDougall basically said staff could be trusted to include what was necessary in the application and council moved to the next agenda item.



Council’s discussion about transit expenditures in 2021 fell into two distinct categories, let’s call them Old School and New School.

Under Old School is the plan to spend $1.35 million in 2021 on traditional, diesel buses. MacDonald said that typically, in the last few years, they have bought at least one new bus, one to two new Handi-Trans buses, and a number of “good quality used buses.”  Most of the money for these expenditures — $875,000 — will come from the municipality, with the province kicking in the remaining $475,000.

TTC electric bus

Under New School is the plan, now in its very early stages, to electrify the municipal transit system.

Last year, CBRM submitted an application through the Green Energy Stream for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) for a CBRM Transit EV [Electric Vehicle] Maintenance Facility and Community Transit Hub.

MacDonald said the first phase of this project will involve a number of things, including determining which routes would be the best options for EV buses and concept design work for the maintenance facility/transit hub — note, please, this step includes “COMMUNITY CONSULTATION.” The price tag for these early steps is $450,000 — federal $180,000, provincial $150,000 and municipal $120,000.

The discussion of electric buses was really interesting (and made me think, as I often have before, that CBRM should do more to facilitate communication between its staff and the public because it’s interesting listening to people talk about their areas of expertise). MacDonald said the technology is changing “every six months” and this is a good thing, because the first EV buses, with a range of 100 to 150 km, wouldn’t have worked here in CBRM. MacDonald said we need buses with a 500 to 600 km range and “they’re coming.”

District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie expressed concern about the “huge amount of money” that will have to be invested in things like charging stations and mechanic and driver training and new hires and asked if MacDonald had discussed such issues with other municipalities. MacDonald said he has, but added that there aren’t too many Canadian cities operating EV buses right now.


Side bar

(If that header still just says “side bar” it means I was unable to come up with a catchier title — sorry about that.)

MacDonald referenced Montreal and Vancouver as cities experimenting with electric buses but the Canadian city leading the way in this area is Toronto — in fact, Toronto’s fleet of 60 purely electric buses is the biggest of any city in North America and in April it announced plans to purchase an additional 300 electric buses at a cost of $300 million.

The TTC started out by buying buses from three different vendors so it could monitor their performance in a head-to-head evaluation, the preliminary results of which were recently released and might be of some value to CBRM.


Okay, back to Councilor Gillespie’s concerns. MacDonald said while it was true the electrification process will be expensive and there are lots of considerations yet to be worked out (the biggest, perhaps, being the source of the electricity — as more than one wag has remarked, running an electric bus in Nova Scotia right now would be like running a coal-fueled bus), the bottom line is that the shift is inevitable because “there won’t be funding for diesel buses going ahead.” So while diesel buses are cheaper than electric buses, the CBRM’s choice will be between paying the full freight for diesel buses or “accessing 3/4 funding” for EV buses.


Yellow Gear

“Yellow gear” is not my term — Wayne MacDonald used it — but I am hereby making it my own and will employ it whenever I reference the loaders and sidewalk plows and tandems and graders and backhoes and small trucks that make up the CBRM Public Works fleet.

Yearly fleet replacement is funded partly by CBRM and partly by the CBRM Water Utility. CBRM fleet and transit manager Cathy Donovan and fleet supervisor James Lyons consult with department managers each year to draft the list of purchases. MacDonald says the $1.5 million budgeted is what they can afford, although “in a perfect world,” they’d have $4 or $5 million to spend. Here are the items on this year’s shopping list:

CBRM Proposed Fleet Replacement 2021

MacDonald said CBRM’s objective “moving forward” is to lease rather than purchase most equipment. With no older equipment to tend to, he said, repairs would be for maintenance rather than for “large fundamental breakdowns.” But leasing would come under the operating rather than the capital budget, and the operating budget is “strained” at the moment.

The idea would be to purchase only those pieces of machinery that last a long time (loaders for winter maintenance was the example given by MacDonald) and have “either leased or payment programs” for those pieces that don’t last long (like streetsweepers which apparently last only five to six years).

MacDonald said the municipality currently leases its garbage trucks, which are very expensive pieces of equipment. He said they “rotate every four years, with a new tender for garbage trucks” and “once they get to eight years, we get rid of them.”

District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald asked about “universal equipment” — machines with seasonal attachments. MacDonald said that last year Public Works purchased a piece of equipment that works as a sidewalk plow in winter and a bush hog in summer and noted that other sidewalk plows have brush attachments for sidewalk cleaning.


Fire Services

I learned a lot of things during this portion of the discussion, but that’s honestly just because my base knowledge of emergency vehicles is so limited.

I learned, for example, that the CBRM’s Fire Services Department has something in common with the international container shipping industry; namely, that their fleets are both subject to the “cascade” effect.

The difference, of course, is that fire trucks haven’t been growing exponentially larger each year to the point where they no longer fit in some fire stations. No, in the case of Fire Services, the “cascade” effect just means that when one station gets a new (or new-to-it) piece of equipment the old piece — if not at end-of-life — goes somewhere else in the system.

In 2021, the department intends to spend $1.3 million on equipment, including a new (2021) 1,000 gallon pumper for Sydney. The 2017 pumper from Sydney will go to Sydney River and the 900 gallon-pumper from Sydney River (a 2001 model) will go to New Waterford. The truck in New Waterford, according to Deputy Fire Chief Chris March, is at the end of its emergency life but can be used in the department’s training division.

Here’s the full list of planned purchases. (The air compressor, by the way, is for filling the cannisters firefighters use for breathing.)

CBRM Fire Services 2021

Among the other things I learned during this discussion: the lifespan of a fire truck is measured according to years, not usage —  as March explained, some 25-year-old trucks have under 100 km on them — and a new truck, if well maintained, can last 25 years in regular service and another five as a spare.

Also, fire trucks can win awards, and apparently, the 2001 pumper now in Sydney River won one for its layout and housing of equipment. I also learned that this truck has an issue in that it “throws a lot of black, heavy exhaust” and that the New Waterford station has a “direct capture exhaust system” that will allow it to deal with this.

March said Fire Services now has three spare engines — one for each division — that are stored and maintained and taken out for the occasional drive by volunteer departments. Fire Services also has one spare tanker, hopes eventually to have more and one day, maybe, a spare ladder truck.

District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger raised the issue of the municipality’s shortage of volunteer fire fighters, but as these can be neither purchased nor leased, there was no answer to the problem in the proposed 2021 capital budget.


Five-Year Plan

The slides outlining planned project spending over the next five years weren’t included in the “media package” for the budget discussions, but they were in the councilors’ binders and MacDonald used them during his presentation, so I screen-captured them and will reproduce them now for your viewing pleasure.

My biggest takeaway from them was that the Charlotte Street redevelopment plan, which I last wrote about in 2017, and which I’d kind of thought had been shelved, is actually scheduled to begin in Year 2 (2022/23) and end in Year 4 (2025/26).

As MacDonald explained, there are a lot of blanks to be filled in — particularly concerning the projects the municipality will fund under the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings Fund and the Transit Electrification Program — but staff have made educated guesses as to what CBRM’s contributions to these projects would be and “tried to fit them in with the borrowing allotment.” (There is $16 million allotted under Green and Inclusive Community Buildings between Year 3 and Year 5, which sounds to me like funding for one project, not three, but I will have to verify this.)

Year 1 (2021/22)


Year 2 (2022/23)


Year 3


Year 4


Year 5


Capital Funding 2021-22

One of the final slides in MacDonald’s presentation was this one, which shows where the money for this year’s capital budget will come from:

Capital Funding 2021-22 CBRMCouncil approved the capital plan and passed separate motions authorizing the use of reserves and the borrowing. CBRM CFO Jennifer Campbell said the borrowing, at $8.8 million, falls “just slightly below anticipated principal debt repayments,” which is where municipal borrowing must fall.

Campbell said the money will be borrowed from the Municipal Finance Corporation at “fantastic rates,” which she said may be under 2%.

Discussion ended with the Mayor offering “kudos” to staff for pulling the capital budget together and while council then went on to discuss the operating budget for 2021-2022, I think my work here is done.