Council Update: Dartmouth Cove, Windsor Exchange

Harbour Trail in Dartmouth Cove

Agenda June 18

Dartmouth Cove:
Infill in Dartmouth Cove was back before Council. I put forward a three-part motion to do the following:

  1. Write Transport Canada expressing HRM’s concern that the department approved infilling in Dartmouth Cove without consulting HRM and requesting that the Minister pause or suspend the approval until after HRM can bring in a bylaw controlling infill
  2. Write the Minister of DFO to thank her for taking more time in considering the application under the fisheries act and request that she hold off on any approvals until after HRM can bring in a bylaw
  3. Direct staff to prepare amendments to the Centre Plan to prohibit infilling in Dartmouth Cove similar to those already enacted in the Northwest Arm

There has been a lot of jurisdictional noise around Dartmouth Cove. The federal government has legal jurisdiction in the Harbour, but the feds only consider federal interests in approving infill (boats and fish). The feds don’t do land-use planning and so there is no place in their existing process for broader community concerns. Dartmouth’s MP, Darren Fisher, has been suggesting for a while now that the whole issue could be solved if HRM would just bring in a bylaw to control infill. That’s a politically expedient response, but, unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that simple.

HRM can only regulate harbour infill if the federal government agrees to cooperate with HRM. That’s what happened to enable HRM to regulate infill in the Northwest Arm. The feds agreed to make permits in the Northwest Arm conditional on applicants following HRM’s rules. With the Northwest Arm, the feds were an enthusiastic partner with close engagement between federal and HRM staff. In the Northwest Arm, the feds led consultation and timed permit approvals to allow HRM to bring in a bylaw. Unfortunately, so far, we’ve not had the same interest and consideration from the federal government in Dartmouth Cove.

Staff describe the situation in the Northwest Arm report as follows:

To date, staff of the department (federal) have only committed to a conditional approval process under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act applying with respect to water lot infilling activities over the Northwest Arm


However, Transport Canada has made no commitments to extend this limited jurisdiction recognition to the rest of the Halifax Harbour, including the Bedford Basin. The reason being that, unlike the Northwest Arm, the rest of the Halifax Harbour has commercial, industrial, port, and military activity, and is also a recognized receiving body for pyritic slate disposal. These activities and uses are consistent with the nature and purposes for the designation of Halifax by Canada as one of the five leading National Ports

In discussions around my latest motion, HRM’s head of Legal Services, John Traves, actually described some of HRM’s staff engagement with the federal government and the lack of commitment and interest by Transport Canada. It’s illuminating to hear the details of what’s been going on at the staff level since that behind the scenes stuff, particularly in Provincial and Federal bureaucracies, rarely makes it out into the open in any other format other than second-hand retelling by politicians. The youtube clip is available below

What it comes down to is HRM can’t protect Dartmouth Cove without the federal government’s support. Without federal support, any HRM bylaw is less likely to stand up in court and the Province might not even approve it. Federal support has been offered here very late, and after Transport’s approval had already occurred. Favourable political words really haven’t translated down to the staff level and whatever HRM does will be more vulnerable to challenge if it comes after approvals have been issued rather than before. As Traves described it yesterday, the feds seem interested in having a dance after the dance is over.

So my main reason to bring this back to Council was to direct that HRM formally write the federal ministers to request more time to allow HRM to bring in a bylaw and to request that the feds pause or rescind the Transport Canada approval that was already given. The feds worked closely with HRM on the Northwest Arm and I’m hoping that they’ll provide Dartmouth Cove with the same consideration.

As I sit here writing this, the surprising news has just come out that Transport apparently is actually rescinding their previous Dartmouth Cove approval! My suspicion is this has a lot to do with COVE’s legal challenge of Transport’s decision, but regardless of how it’s come about it’s very good news as it offers up the possibility of a do over. If Transport is indeed taking a second look and they’re willing to come to the table and work with HRM for real, this would be a major step forward in getting the same sort of protections that are in place in the Northwest Arm to apply to Dartmouth Cove. It will require the feds to commit though like they did in the Northwest Arm. This could be a real turning point, but I’m trying not to get too excited until we know more about what their intent is and the details of the rescission. Hope springs eternal though.

Windsor Street Exchange:
The other major item before Council was design changes to the Windsor Street Exchange in Halifax. This is a major project that has been in the works now for a few years. The Federal and Provincial governments committed to helping pay for the project back in 2019. The problem with funding commitments from other orders of government is that they don’t take into account any inflationary or scope changes. All of that risk falls to municipalities and so what started out as a project that HRM would contribute 23% of the cost to in 2019 is now, with revised higher numbers, a project that is 65% municipally funded! HRM will have to contribute $67,000,000 instead of the originally budgeted $11,000,000. Free federal and provincial money can be awfully expensive!

Council has concerns about the Windsor Street Exchange project as proposed. The project would create free flowing traffic from the Mackay Bridge to the Bedford Highway, which would facilitate truck access to the Fairview Container Terminal (improving truck access is a condition of the federal funding under Transport Canada’s National Trade Corridors Fund). That free flow will facilitate truck access, however, it will also provide up to 12% more capacity for all vehicles. Adding vehicle capacity, will spur more people to drive through induced demand, meaning predictions of reduced congestion should be taken with a lot of skepticism. New drivers will fill that space soon enough! The staff report didn’t acknowledge the reality of induced demand and when I questioned staff it was basically a response of “yes it’s real, but we really didn’t take it into account for this project since the goal is primarily to improve truck access to the container terminal.” This project will definitely put more cars on the road.

Council also questioned whether the project is doing enough to create demand for sustainable alternatives (the good kind of induced demand): transit and active transportation. The only transit priority would be from the Joesph Howe ramp over to the intersection with Windsor Street. There would be no outbound transit priority and this section of road is proposed to be part of HRM’s future bus rapid transit green line. The bike route through the project would be a multi-use trail on the south side rather than a bike lane that would separate pedestrians and cyclists and it’s on the wrong side given future plans to add cycling infrastructure on the Harbour side of the Bedford Highway and Africville Road. Cyclists would have to cross, share space with pedestrians and then cross back again.

Unfortunately, this project has dragged on for a long time and HRM is up against the clock in terms of federal funding deadlines. The deadline to have the project done is 2027. Rather than defer the whole thing, Council gave a qualified approval that requires staff to:

  1. Prioritize all ages and abilities active transportation connections between the Bedford Highway and Africville Road
  2. Include bus lanes to support the planned Green Line thorough the Exchange to Massachusetts Avenue
  3. Demonstrate future proofing to take into account the potential for future bike and pedestrian connections to a new MacKay Bridge
  4. Provide an analysis of what increased capacity would mean to transportation mode share given induced demand
  5. Write the federal ministers requesting a deadline extension to be able to accommodate design change

The amended motion passed unanimously and will come back to Council in Phase 2 of the project. We’ll see what staff can do with the adjusted requirements.


  • Registered 1735 Henry Street as a heritage building
  • Initiated a planning process to allow industrial uses at 1540 Prospect Road by development agreement
  • Appointed development and heritage officials
  • Adopted changes to the Corporate Asset Management Policy
  • Approved a major potential active transportation project to provide a safe connection across Highway 102 from the Sackville Manor Mobile Home Park to Old Sackville Road
  • Directed the CAO to advance to the next stage of the Locview High School All Weather Field project
  • Received an updated on illegal dumping enforcement
  • Requested a staff report on managing vegetation on paths and walkways
  • Asked the CAO to return to Council with options to alleviate challenges regarding sewage disposal that have arise in HRM