Coun­cil size a good hook to get into a deeper gov­er­nance dis­cus­sion

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT - Dar­rell Kyte Dar­rell Kyte is an in­struc­tor in 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 15

A cou­ple of weeks ago my col­league, Jim Guy, wrote a thought-pro­vok­ing col­umn sug­gest­ing that a smaller re­gional mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil may give us less abil­ity to solve our own prob­lems (Smaller Coun­cil Might Do Noth­ing for CBRM Ex­cept Fur­ther Thin the Ice, Feb. 3). While this could be de­bated, I ul­ti­mately be­lieve Guy’s skep­ti­cism about a smaller coun­cil is un­war­ranted.

It is in­creas­ingly clear that cit­i­zens of the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity are ill-served by the cur­rent struc­ture of coun­cil.

A smaller coun­cil elected by district may not be the way to pro­ceed; how­ever, a smaller coun­cil elected at large, rather than by district, would be a bold move for­ward that has the po­ten­tial to lead to bet­ter de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

For in­stance, 10 coun­cil­lors elected at large would en­able coun­cil to take a truly re­gional per­spec­tive – a good first step in help­ing the re­gion solve its ul­ti­mate prob­lem. That ul­ti­mate prob­lem is per­pet­ual re­gional de­cline.

It must be said, how­ever, that a smaller coun­cil with a re­gional per­spec­tive could not ac­com­plish much without the proper re­sources. It is safe to say that the de­bate about the size of coun­cil is re­ally the beginning of a de­bate about more sub­stan­tial gov­er­nance re­form.

CBRM, and in fact the whole is­land of Cape Bre­ton, lacks the nec­es­sary gov­er­nance struc­ture con­ducive to de­vel­op­ing a vi­brant re­gion. Gov­er­nance can be de­fined as the abil­ity to make and im­ple­ment the de­ci­sions to truly es­tab­lish, in the words of New Dawn En­ter­prises, a self-re­liant peo­ple in a vi­brant com­mu­nity.

The de­cline of the re­gion has been so steady that it seems al­most nat­u­ral. CBRM has not ex­pe­ri­enced pop­u­la­tion growth in my life­time and the un­yield­ing de­cline is pro­jected to con­tinue. The sta­tis­ti­cal re­al­ity is so sober­ing and the bad news so un­re­lent­ing that it of­ten loses the power to shock. Each cen­sus pe­riod, the re­gion is once again re­minded of the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble dream of es­tab­lish­ing a vi­brant com­mu­nity.

It does seem for that dream to be­come a re­al­ity the gov­er­nance op­tions avail­able to the com­mu­nity will have to be vet­ted. It was nearly seven years ago that Wade Locke and Stephen Tomblin re­leased their dis­cus­sion pa­per: Good Gov­er­nance, a Nec­es­sary But Not Suf­fi­cient Con­di­tion for Fa­cil­i­tat­ing Eco­nomic Vi­brancy in a Pe­riph­eral Re­gion: Cape Bre­ton as a Case Study. We as a com­mu­nity have still not had a full de­bate about gov­er­nance.

In the con­clu­sion to that study, the au­thors noted that “ this re­port will have been suc­cess­ful if it stim­u­lates in­formed and co­op­er­a­tive dis­cus­sions on the pros and cons of var­i­ous gov­er­nance is­sues, which, in turn evolve into a new vi­sion for Cape Bre­ton that was not even con­sid­ered in this study.”

While CBRM staff seems to re­al­ize the need for an in­formed and co-op­er­a­tive dis­cus­sion on gov­er­nance is­sues, coun­cil as a body has seemed in­ca­pable of grasp­ing that re­al­ity. Coun­cil­lors shy away from the de­bate each time they have an op­por­tu­nity to em­brace it. Coun­cil had a golden op­por­tu­nity to have that dis­cus­sion last Septem­ber when staff pre­sented a dis­cus­sion pa­per on the In­te­grated Com­mu­nity Sus­tain­abil­ity Plan. That pa­per dis­cussed gov­er­nance is­sues but coun­cil re­jected it without any dis­cus­sion.

That re­jec­tion was hasty, and it re­mains un­clear whether coun­cil be­lieves gov­er­nance is­sues need to be dis­cussed.

If we are not ready at least to de­bate gov­er­nance re­form openly, let us have the courage to plan for and ad­mit the even­tual re­al­ity. If the present course con­tin­ues, the com­mu­nity should at least be aware of where the “nat­u­ral bot- tom” is.

Many will ad­mit that it is likely the pop­u­la­tion of CBRM will have fallen be­low 100,000 when the next cen­sus is re­ported. Thus the ques­tion that must be asked is: Where will the pop­u­la­tion stand in 20 years if the present course is con­tin­ued? Con­tin­ued de­cline is not in­evitable, but growth and gov­er­nance re­form are in­ex­orably linked.

Un­til our com­mu­nity em­braces co-op­er­a­tive dis­cus­sions on gov­er­nance is­sues we will con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence de­cline. Dis­cus­sions on new mod­els of gov­er­nance will lead to a new vi­sion for CBRM. De­bat­ing coun­cil size is but the tip of the gov­er­nance ice­berg, but is seems as good a place as any to start.

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