‘THEY DON’T CARE’

Group seek­ing equal­iza­tion pay­ment re­form dis­ap­pointed with politi­cians who de­clined in­vi­ta­tion to dis­cuss is­sue

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID JALA david.jala@cb­post.com

Equal­iza­tion ad­vo­cates un­happy with MLA turnout at meet­ing.

As far as John R. MacDonald is con­cerned, the empty chairs said it all.

But as a mem­ber of the group that or­ga­nized a Thursday-af­ter­noon dis­cus­sion on the is­sue of equal­iza­tion pay­ment dis­tri­bu­tion, MacDonald said he was not sur­prised that Cape Bre­ton’s two pro­vin­cial cab­i­net min­is­ters were among the politi­cians who de­clined in­vi­ta­tions to take part in the dis­cus­sion at the Cedars Club in Syd­ney.

“We’re not go­ing away — I don’t think they can con­tinue to hide from the fact that this is a ma­jor is­sue and that our com­mu­nity is dy­ing,” he said. “It’s time we took care of our own com­mu­nity.”

The event was hosted by the Nova Sco­tians for Equal­iza­tion Fair­ness or­ga­ni­za­tion, which is­sued in­vi­ta­tions to Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Derek Mom­bour­quette, En­ergy Min­is­ter and Gov­ern­ment House Leader Ge­off MacLel­lan, the is­land’s five Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive MLAs, Cape Bre­ton Cen­tre New Demo­crat MLA Tammy Martin, Lib­eral MPs Mark Eyk­ing and Rodger Cuzner, CBRM Mayor Ce­cil Clarke and all 12 mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors.

But only Martin and nine mem­bers of the CBRM coun­cil showed up to meet with mem­bers of the ad­vo­cacy group’s board, prompt­ing Syd­ney coun­cil­lor Ray Paruch to de­clare that equal­iza­tion is most as­suredly a po­lit­i­cal is­sue that needs to be ad­dressed by the area’s elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“We have a ma­jor prob­lem with lead­er­ship here, I mean, look at the ta­ble, we had only one MLA here — they don’t care, we have two pro­vin­cial min­is­ters, but where are they?” said Paruch, who, not for the first time, sin­gled out Mom­bour­quette as a key player.

“As the min­is­ter of mu­nic­i­pal af­fairs, he is prob­a­bly the guy we need most — he has the ben­e­fit of be­ing a (CBRM) coun­cil­lor in the past and, given the in­for­ma­tion and re­ports we got on this is­sue, he has to be in­volved.”

De­spite the lack of MLAs and MPs, whose ab­sence was de­lib­er­ately high­lighted by the empty places marked with the names of those not in at­ten­dance, the meet­ing went on as a dis­cus­sion in­volv­ing the ad­vo­cacy group’s board, the CBRM coun­cil­lors and Martin. And, al­though the event was held be­hind closed doors, it was streamed in real-time on the ad­vo­cacy group’s Facebook page.

The dis­pute cen­tres around the an­nual $1.8 bil­lion equal­iza­tion trans­fer pay­ment that Nova Sco­tia re­ceives from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The prov­ince as­serts that the money goes di­rectly into its gen­eral rev­enues and is re­spon­si­bly used to fund ser­vices and ini­tia­tives across Nova Sco­tia. How­ever, that claim is dis­puted by many in the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, in­clud­ing the ad­vo­cacy group’s Rev. Al­bert Maroun, who has be­come the face of the fight to re­form the equal­iza­tion dis­tri­bu­tion process.

“We’re suf­fer­ing — we may not be dy­ing, but we’re fight­ing to the end — this is im­por­tant, equal­iza­tion is for you, your chil­dren, your chil­dren’s chil­dren, so we are do­ing this for them,” said the 87-year-old for­mer priest, uni­ver­sity physics pro­fes­sor and well-known phi­lan­thropist.

“It’s very im­por­tant that we have these meet­ings — no­body’s on trial here, but we can see who’s con­cerned about the com­mu­nity by their pres­ence here.”

If there was a theme that ran through Thursday’s meet­ing, it was that the prov­ince is not lis­ten­ing to the con­cerns of Cape Bre­ton and that the Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ment is not giv­ing the CBRM a fair por­tion of the fed­eral trans­fer pay­ments that were in­tro­duced in 1957 as a mea­sure to help­ing the At­lantic prov­inces, that were, and still are, suf­fer­ing from de­pressed economies and a high rate of em­i­gra­tion to Cen­tral and Western Canada.

But while many Cape Bre­ton res­i­dents are up in arms over the equal­iza­tion is­sue and are call­ing for a larger cash in­fu­sion into the lo­cal econ­omy, Mom­bour­quette has main­tained that the $15 mil­lion the CBRM re­ceives each year from the prov­ince is not a re­dis­tri­bu­tion of fed­eral trans­fer pay­ments and, in­stead, is a pro­vin­cial trans­fer op­er­at­ing grant funded by the Nova Sco­tia Power Inc. grant-in­lieu of prop­erty tax pro­gram and partly from the prov­ince’s gen­eral rev­enues.

Mean­while, Nova Sco­tians for Equal­iza­tion Fair­ness is ask­ing res­i­dents who are con­cerned about the equal­iza­tion is­sue to call and send let­ters to their MLAs and MPs.

DAVID JALA/CAPE BRE­TON POST

New Demo­crat MLA Tammy Martin, top left, was the only Cape Bre­ton MLA to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to meet with board mem­bers of the Nova Sco­tians for Equal­iza­tion Fair­ness ad­vo­cacy group on Thursday at the Cedars Club in Syd­ney. How­ever, a ma­jor­ity of the CBRM coun­cil, shown at the ta­ble to Martin’s left, showed up to dis­cuss the equal­iza­tion is­sue with the group’s board mem­bers, who sit in the fore­ground fac­ing the coun­cil­lors.

MacDonald

Maroun

Paruch

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