Rapid Med Schools But Not Housing

We’re supposed to be celebrating yesterday’s announcement that Cape Breton University has received $58.9 million from the provincial government to establish a medical school that will solve Nova Scotia’s healthcare crisis but I can’t drag my eyes away from the spectacle of CBRM council refusing the $5 million it was granted under the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) to build housing for its most vulnerable citizens. That it was doing so on the same day (at the same time, even) that the premier was throwing money around like confetti at CBU makes it all the more jaw-dropping.

A still photo taken from the video of a special CBRM council meeting on Tuesday 7 March 2023.

I say “spectacle” although there actually wasn’t much to see, as the democracy-challenged individuals who make up our municipal government chose to deliberate for hours behind closed doors before coming into public for 11 minutes and nine seconds to vote on the matter. (You can watch the whole thing now, the clerk’s office has already posted the video. Don’t blink, though.)

To recap: CBRM was one of 41 Canadian municipalities guaranteed funding under the Cities stream of the RHI. This funding was announced on November 10, but council didn’t get around to discussing it until December 9 and when it did, it did so in camera, using Section 22 (2)(e) of the Municipal Government Act (MGA)—”contract negotiations”— as the excuse.

The municipality put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) on 29 December 2022 with a closing date of 26 January 2023:



Rather than present all the proposals received to council during a public session, staff vetted them, chose a winner and presented it to council during an in camera meeting yesterday afternoon.

As noted, after deliberating for hours, council came into open session to vote.

Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill kicked things off by stressing how “incredibly fast” the rapid housing process was, with strict criteria to follow and a timeline of 18 months from approval to completion. She then called on Planning Director Michael Ruus who explained that an application by New Dawn and the Ally Centre of Cape Breton to build 20 units of affordable housing was the only one they’d received that had secured operating funds, so staff recommended that council not only approve this project but give the organizations the CBRM’s full $5 million RHI allotment and increase the number of units to 24. Ruus said the CBRM should negotiate a funding agreement that would relieve the CBRM of any liability for funding shortfalls, capital over-runs or operational short falls.

Canada's Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) logo

District 7 Councilor Steve Parsons, seconded by Deputy Mayor James Edwards, moved that council accept staff’s recommendation and council proceeded to vote, defeating the motion 6-4:



Councilors Darren Bruckschwaiger, Cyril MacDonald and Ken Tracey were not present. Bruckschwaiger is absent on extended medical leave. No explanation was given for the absence of MacDonald and Tracey, although even if they’d been there and supported the recommendation, it wouldn’t have helped—a tie vote is considered a lost vote.

Mayor McDougall-Merrill ended by noting what a difficult process this had been for council and staff to “endure” (surely not as difficult as being homeless and struggling with addictions and mental health issues), how other communities were better prepared to receive such funding and what short notice the CBRM had been given, then declared the meeting adjourned.

To add insult to injury, a public hearing that was supposed to have been held at 6:00 PM last night on a plan to transfer surplus municipal property to New Dawn for a separate RHI development under the “projects” stream was canceled without explanation (it may simply have been that the in camera ran so late they had to postpone it):

Cancelled Public Hearing March 7 2023

New Dawn subsequently issued a press release asking that council hold a public meeting to explain Tuesday’s decision and pointing out that having failed to pick a project, the municipality must return the RHI money to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which administers the program, by March 15. (I’ve asked the CBRM to verify this and my question has been forwarded to its communications department which, as of press time, had not responded.)

Council, just to be totally clear, determined that citizens were not allowed to know anything about the RHI proposals it had received, were not permitted to hear staff’s arguments in favor of the proposal it recommended and were not allowed to hear any of the debate that led to the recommendation being rejected.

This is not democratic. We are not simply entitled to know how our representatives voted, we’re entitled to know why they voted that way.

So, the way I see it, we have two choices: we can wait 10 years for the minutes from Tuesday’s in camera session to be made public or we can join New Dawn in demanding explanations now, because we are most certainly owed them.

Oh, and in other news, Halifax council met yesterday too. It agreed to spend the $11 million it had received in the third round of RHI funding on a 38-unit affordable housing development on Brunswick street.

(I realize the mention of the CBU Med School in the opening paragraph was kind of a red herring but, at the risk of being labeled a “naysayer” by the premier, I will pull my thoughts on that subject together for Friday.)