Is­land’s chal­lenges re­quire fo­cused at­ten­tion in this pro­vin­cial elec­tion

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - Tom Ur­ba­niak Po­lit­i­cal In­sights Tom Ur­ba­niak is a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity. He wel­comes the ex­change of ideas and can be reached at tom_ur­ba­ .

Tom Ur­ba­niak thinks there should be a lead­er­ship de­bate in Cape Bre­ton. Find out more.

Cape Bre­ton’s me­dia out­lets should get to­gether and in­sist that the pro­vin­cial party lead­ers gather for a full de­bate in Cape Bre­ton about Cape Bre­ton.

Short one-on-one in­ter­views are not suf­fi­cient. Oc­ca­sional ques­tions about Cape Bre­ton do not give us real in­sight.

We need two solid hours of back-and-forth, prob­ing ques­tions and an­swers about the prov­ince’s role in turn­ing the is­land around. Our eco­nomic stag­na­tion and high level of poverty are not ac­cept­able. Pol­i­tics as usual is not work­ing for us. The long history of scat­tered grants and the usual flurry of pre-elec­tion an­nounce­ments have not yet given us a hope­ful strat­egy.

We need se­ri­ous de­tail about se­ri­ous strate­gies for Cape Bre­ton. We need to see pro­posed road maps. This is not a cri­tique of one party. It’s a con­struc­tive con­cern about a sys­tem that gives us laid-back gov­er­nance, of­ten at a dis­tance. A greater sense of ur­gency is called for.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, many se­nior pub­lic ser­vants in Hal­i­fax do not un­der­stand the scale, com­plex­ity and dis­tinc­tive­ness of Cape Bre­ton’s chal­lenges. We’re seen as quaint, scenic and, some­times, as com­plain­ing – al­beit a nice place to visit. “I’ll try to get down there for a meet­ing in the spring.”

For ex­am­ple, a $56-mil­lion pro­vin­cial in­vest­ment in a con­tro­ver­sial, mas­sive con­ven­tion cen­tre in Hal­i­fax, sup­ported by two suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments, is un­likely to have a spillover ef­fect here. We’re too far away from that, and that’s why we need some fo­cused de­bate here by the lead­ers.

Cutting through red tape and pi­lot­ing new things is hard. We have too many one-size-fits-all pro­grams.

Nova Sco­tia’s pop­u­la­tion has seen a mod­est in­crease, but Cape Bre­ton’s pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to de­cline. Un­em­ploy­ment re­mains in the dou­ble dig­its. Down­towns are strug­gling or dy­ing. Post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion is ex­pen­sive. Many roads are in lam­en­ta­ble con­di­tion.

How, specif­i­cally, will we de­cen­tral­ize pro­vin­cial govern­ment op­er­a­tions to get more pub­lic ser­vants to be based in Cape Bre­ton?

What spe­cial pow­ers or tax in­cen­tives will be tar­geted to Cape Bre­ton, which has still not re­cov­ered from in­dus­trial col­lapse and the hard­ship in the re­source in­dus­tries. If other ju­ris­dic­tions can set up spe­cial eco­nomic zones to spur en­trepreneurs, why can’t we?

Which crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture in Cape Bre­ton will be pri­or­i­tized for re­pair and why?

Which port de­vel­op­ments, if any, do the lead­ers see as hav­ing the great­est po­ten­tial?

Which ideas from the re­cent United Way of Cape Bre­ton child poverty sum­mit will be im­ple­mented and with what time­lines?

Will ser­vices that were lost in com­mu­ni­ties like Bad­deck and Port Hood be re­stored or re­placed by other func­tions?

How will we en­sure that ev­ery Cape Bre­toner has a fam­ily doc­tor? How can we greatly im­prove pal­lia­tive care ser­vices?

Will cuts to Gaelic Af­fairs be re­versed in a way that can spur sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, es­pe­cially in ru­ral Cape Bre­ton?

What role can hub schools play in turn­ing Cape Bre­ton com­mu­ni­ties around? How can we get more im­mi­grants to come here and stay here?

What spe­cific pro­vin­cial in­vest­ments will be made in turn­ing down­towns around? Can some post-sec­ondary ex­pan­sions be put in the Syd­ney core?

Will there be a char­ter for the CBRM?

By what bench­marks do the lead­ers want us to judge their suc­cess in four years?

An im­par­tial mod­er­a­tor and panel of ex­pe­ri­enced jour­nal­ists should shep­herd this de­bate. There should be op­por­tu­ni­ties for the lead­ers to cross-ex­am­ine each other and for the pan­elists to po­litely fol­low up with pre­scient sup­ple­men­tary ques­tions.

In other words, it should be pos­si­ble for a Cape Bre­ton lead­ers’ de­bate to help vot­ers grasp the depth with which the par­ties have thought an­a­lyt­i­cally about the is­land’s prob­lems, how they will work with lo­cal lead­ers and vol­un­teers, how they will iden­tify signs of life, and what re­ally are their in­gre­di­ents for a “Cape Bre­ton pol­icy.”

Such a de­bate is def­i­nitely doable. Nova Sco­tia is not so large that the lead­ers would lack time to con­vene in the prov­ince’s sec­ond-largest pop­u­la­tion cen­tre.

I hope it hap­pens. It would be help­ful to us.

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