senators’ statements — Halifax Harbour Infill

June 16, 2021


[14:16]

Honourable senators, the infilling of Halifax Harbour has produced new land for shopping areas, condominium complexes and container terminals. Unfortunately, the current process is not serving all Nova Scotians. Let me provide two examples.

In 2010, the municipality apologized for the mass evictions from and demolition of the predominantly Black community of Africville in the late 1960s. The municipality, with the province and federal support, also helped establish and fund the Africville Heritage Trust and rebuilt Africville’s church. Unfortunately, the descendants’ fight for justice continued with the decision to build a half-kilometre of infill directly in front of Africville. The current process is described as infill first, consult second.

The large infill now blocking Africville’s historic view of the Bedford Basin has recently become the focus of a land swap discussion involving the municipality, Halifax Port Authority and the Africville Heritage Trust. I’m very hopeful that an amicable resolution will be found.

But increasingly, single-family homeowners have noted that they too can obtain a permit to infill the harbour in front of their water lots simply by applying to Transport Canada under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act. In an effort to control this and other activities, in 2019 the province passed the Coastal Protection Act. However, the legislation and regulations are not expected to come into force for another year. It’s not clear yet whether the act will apply to all water lots as well.

As a result, there is currently no way for either the municipality or the province to stop an infill project once Transport Canada issues a permit, and that permission seems to be rarely withheld.

Another area of Halifax Harbour at risk is the beautiful and historic Northwest Arm, a narrow inlet that is 4.5 kilometres long. On a sunny day, the arm is teeming with Nova Scotians in kayaks and sailboats. There are both recreational and commercial fishing, with half of one lobster fisher’s catch coming from traps in front of the arm’s water lots.

If infilling of the arm’s private water lots begins, it could result in a cascade of activity that could permanently reduce the water area of the arm by one third and the width of its entrance by half, introducing worrisome navigation risks. This loophole in governance currently allows some of Nova Scotia’s wealthiest and most powerful landowners to appropriate public waters for private use. It’s happened before and it’s happening again.

These are among the reasons why Senators Coyle, Kutcher and I wrote to the Minister of Transport to ask that he pause his department’s approval of applications for coastal water infill projects, except for those with both municipal and provincial support. This will provide the opportunity — and arguably the responsibility — to engage all stakeholders under an appropriate process.

We are hopeful that Minister Alghabra will prioritize this request. Thank you, colleagues.