IT’S TIME TO TALK
Island’s challenges require focused attention in this provincial election
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.