Smaller coun­cil might do noth­ing for CBRM ex­cept fur­ther thin the ice

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT - Jim Guy Jim Guy is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Cape Bre­ton Uni­ver­sity. We wel­come your com­ments on Po­lit­i­cal In­sights or any other ma­te­rial ap­pear­ing in the Post. Write to Let­ters to the Ed­i­tor, Cape Bre­ton Post, 255 Ge­orge St., Box 1500, Syd­ney,

We’ve been here be­fore. In June 2007 the Nova Sco­tia Util­ity and Re­view Board opened hear­ings to con­sider the size of the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity coun­cil.

But the an­tics of then coun­cil­lor Vince Hall, who chaired the bound­ary re­view com­mit­tee, led to wide­spread crit­i­cism of the process that Hall favoured for re­view­ing the size of coun­cil.

Hall and his com­mit­tee re­fused to hold a plebiscite, which scuttled pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion on the im­por­tant ques­tion of whether the coun­cil should be made smaller or kept about its cur­rent size of 16 mem­bers.

The UARB de­cided Hall’s ap­proach lacked cred­i­bil­ity and called for us­ing a bet­ter process which would di­rectly con­sult lo­cal pub­lic opin­ion on this im­por­tant ques­tion. There­fore, pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion will have to take place as part of coun­cil’s ap­pli­ca­tion be­fore the UARB, which has set its dead­line for Dec. 31, 2010.

Re­vised dis­tricts and size rec­om­men­da­tions for coun­cil should be in place by Oc­to­ber 2012, the date of the next mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions. But we can ex­pect to know what CBRM will de­cide in its rec­om­men­da­tions to the UARB by late April of this year.

There is likely to be an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of res­i­dents and ex­perts struck to re­view the vi­a­bil­ity of our cur­rent bound­aries and rec­om­mend the pre­ferred size of the coun­cil.

This ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee will have much to con­sider. There are some groups (and Mayor John Mor­gan was among them three years ago) who want to re­duce the size of the 16-seat coun­cil by as much as half.

Most po­lit­i­cal con­ser­va­tives are in­clined to cut the size of all gov­ern­ments. This con­sul­ta­tion process on the size of coun­cil gives them an op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply their logic to CBRM. They see the leg­isla­tive char­ac­ter of coun­cil some­what like cor­po­rate gov­er­nance – for ex­am­ple, a board of gov­er­nors leg­isla­tive model and a mayor, used in other Cana­dian cities.

But is CBRM a city like oth­ers? Can it be gov­erned like a so-called city with a small, cor­po­rate de­ci­sion-mak­ing body as its leg­is­la­ture?

In all of this, the rea­sons for cut­ting the size of coun­cil and thus the bound­aries in CBRM are not clearly stated by those who take this po­si­tion. So what is the mo­ti­va­tion to cut? Who ben­e­fits from a smaller coun­cil? Would a smaller coun­cil sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the cost of gov­ern­ing CBRM?

Other ques­tions need to be asked. Are we to be­lieve that a smaller coun­cil will be less di­vided? Are smaller mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils more eth­i­cal, more pro­duc­tive, more re­spon­si­ble and more rep­re­sen­ta­tive? Should we be­lieve that a smaller coun­cil would bet­ter fit the size of our lo­cal econ­omy?

More than 10 years af­ter amal­ga­ma­tion of our eight mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, should we ask: Has the cur­rent size of our coun­cil been the rea­son that we are los­ing our pop­u­la­tion, that our taxes are higher than in Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, that CBRM is car­ry­ing a debt of more than $100 mil­lion?

In my view, re­duc­ing the size of the coun­cil will be as sig­nif­i­cant an ad­just­ment as amal­ga­ma­tion it­self was. Be­fore amal­ga­ma­tion, the more than 100 mostly ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties that now com­prise CBRM had suf­fi­cient rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Peo­ple in the var­i­ous towns around in­dus­trial Cape Bre­ton could con­tact their may­ors, al­der­men or coun­cil­lors to have their is­sues at least heard.

While it is true that there were in­ef­fi­cien­cies in hav­ing a large num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties pro­vid­ing the same ser­vices, peo­ple liv­ing within the bound­aries of their towns could and did get their is­sues on the mu­nic­i­pal agenda. How­ever, it be­came a lot more dif­fi­cult to do this when the size of the re­gional coun­cil was struck, even at the cur­rent 16 mem­bers.

At the time of amal­ga­ma­tion, CBRM was newly organized as an ur­ban de­ci­sion-mak­ing sys­tem, even though there are well over 100 ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties seek­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the 16 bound­aries carved out in our coun­cil.

Peo­ple who live in Leitches Creek, Lit­tle Bras d’Or and Cas­tle Bay re­gard their lifestyles and the prob­lems they face to be ru­ral, not ur­ban. They want a coun­cil that un­der­stands en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems in a ru­ral com­mu­nity and one that can grap­ple with is­sues like snow re­moval in Boularderie or North­side East Bay. Those of us liv­ing in Syd­ney may not be fully aware of the com­plex­i­ties of liv­ing in the many more ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties across CBRM.

For us to as­sume that we can su­per­im­pose a tighter mu­nic­i­pal leg­isla­tive struc­ture on CBRM be­cause it may func­tion as in Cana­dian cities may fail to un­der­stand the unique char­ac­ter of our many com­mu­ni­ties. CBRM is far from be­ing a city in the Cana­dian tra­di­tional ur­ban def­i­ni­tion.

If any­thing, we lack an ur­ban iden­tity. We are not greater than the sum of our parts. And we can barely gov­ern our­selves with the fledg­ling struc­tures im­posed on us by the prov­ince.

A smaller coun­cil will thin the ice we are walk­ing on and give us even less abil­ity to solve our own prob­lems.

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