Seems like Cape Breton Regional Municipality senior staff and council are looking for someone to blame for the deterioration of the municipality’s fiscal position.
All they need is a look in the mirror. A 10 per cent mock cut in the operating budget has revealed the grim reality of needed changes to balance the financial books.
Council wants us to believe Chuck Porter, Nova Scotia Minister of Municipal Affairs, is all to blame for CBRM’s fiscal challenges. And on and on the blame game goes. It is a stereotypical strategy by local politicians trying their level best to avoid making tough, unpopular decisions to improve CBRM’s fiscal viability, thereby each best preserving his/her chances for re-election in October. It is a strategy of “don’t do anything that may upset the voter” in a municipal election year that may cause them to vote against you. As a result, CBRM continues to decline without committed leadership.
I realize a number of factors have placed municipal leaders in a tough spot trying to balance the books. Some within their control and some not. Starting with the collapse of the steel and coal industries 20 years ago which ignited outmigration and was not their blame. But there has been weak municipal leadership going back decades on how to turn the economy around. And there has been shallow thinking leading to poorly researched council decisions like increasing commercial taxes so high that the municipality is uncompetitive for business development with the rest of Atlantic Canada.
Such is the mandate of organizations spending other people’s money. Simply avoid any tough decisions needed for change. No private business could survive if operating with this same mandate. Tough decisions would never get made, strategies would never change, employees would never get laid off. Without restructuring for a new economic reality, a private business would soon be bankrupt. Is this where CBRM is headed?
Suggesting cuts of 75 CBRM jobs out of 800 municipal employees, a reduction of less than 10 per cent, can’t be tolerated is an underwhelming position for council to adopt with the province. When the CAO suggests there is no fat left to cut in the municipal budget, that simply means all the easy, non-controversial cuts that won’t cause voter upset have been made.
Cuts to municipal programs will most certainly upset those citizens using these services but nevertheless will be required to restore fiscal sustainability. We must face the reality of living within our means. The problem we appear to have with this council is a lack of political will to do what is right for the long-term future of CBRM. The clear objective appears only be to try to optimize each councillor's chances for re-election.
It is a strategy of “don’t do anything that may upset the voter” in a municipal election year that may cause them to vote against you. As a result, CBRM continues to decline without committed leadership.
You may or may not be a fan of Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. However, he appears not to be daunted by making tough unpopular decisions. Using legislation, he has wrestled the Nova scotia public service unions, teachers and nurses into collective agreements the provincial taxpayer can afford. He recently made another tough decision shutting down Northern Pulp, cutting 300 direct and 900 indirect jobs. He did what was right for the province by not extending the Boat Harbour deadline and will allow the people of New Glasgow to decide his political fate for that decision when the next provincial election comes in 2021.
That is the type of vision and leadership missing with this mayor and council. A council that has deteriorated into a focus on personal re-election rather than making tough decisions for the greater good of the municipality.
Perhaps the suggestion by Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger in the Jan. 14 edition of the Cape Breton Post coverage deserves serious consideration. He was quoted as saying: “We got a set of keys to this building (Civic Centre), so if we’re not given the resources to operate the facility then take the keys and you (the province) operate it and give the citizens (of CBRM) the services they deserve.” However, his further suggestion that another level of government step in with an annual check for $10 million to lower the CBRM commercial tax rate by one-third is a ridiculous expectation.
We are not seeing a will or forward vision by council to make tough decisions regarding CBRM’s fiscal sustainability. There is a complete failure to recognize that we are the only ones who can solve our fiscal problems. There will be no knight in shining armour from Halifax. Nevertheless, CBRM council appear relentless in expecting others to bail them out of their financial mess.
Perhaps as Coun. Bruckschwaiger suggests, the day-to-day management of CBRM would be best in the hands of unelected provincial bureaucrats from the Nova Scotia Department of Municipal Affairs, who can make the tough decisions without fear of losing a council seat. Implementing his suggestion would mean all current council members submit their resignations from their taxpayer-supported jobs. That would save CBRM money and open the gates for a new slate of candidates with fresh ideas to come forward and run for municipal office in October. Now, that is one of the few suggestions from CBRM council that seems to make sense.
Adrian White is the CEO of NNF Inc, Business Consultants. He resides in Baddeck and Sydney, and can be contacted at email@example.com.