Off and Actually Running

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Cecil Clarke (Source: http://www.cecilclarke.ca/)

Cecil Clarke (Source: http://www.cecilclarke.ca/)

One of the great advantages of citing I.F. Stone as an influence when you launch a news publication is that you never have to attend a political event — no press conferences, no port announcements, no chamber of commerce luncheons, no public meetings. Stone’s journalism was based entirely on the close reading of government documents and it’s the kind of journalism I favor — as I’ve said many times, people spin, documents generally don’t.

All by way of explaining why I wasn’t at Cecil Clarke’s announcement on Saturday. I figured the mainstream media would have it covered and, judging by the front page of Monday’s Cape Breton Post, I was right.

No offense to Clarke or the provincial Tories — I would have been equally happy to avoid the announcement were he a Liberal or a New Democrat. I don’t think political rhetoric is ever more vapid than at this stage of a leadership race.

I did, however, watch the speech after the fact and I listened to Clarke’s interview with Steve Sutherland on CBC Information Morning Cape Breton on Tuesday (I feel like I’ve cited CBC Information Morning Cape Breton so often this week I should give them a by-line) and I have some thoughts.

 

Accomplishments

In running for mayor in 2012 and again in 2016, Cecil Clarke promised no fewer than 200 — 200! —  “positive changes” for this community, including a charter and a new central library.

He also claimed (during that CBC interview mentioned above) that his efforts to turn the Port of Sydney into an international transshipment hub for ultra-large container vessels occupied fully “half” of his working life as mayor (and certainly, his travel and expense reports back that up). Anyone who attended one of his (many) port-related press conferences at the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion (and I admit, I attended a number of them — I’m not always a very good I.F. Stone) would expect him to at least mention the container port on his CV, but he doesn’t. Here’s the only reference to his time as mayor on his own campaign website:

As Mayor, Cecil has run a fiscally conservative administration that slashed CBRM’s heavy debt and attracted new private-sector investment.

It’s as bare bones a resume as ever I’ve seen and it’s still padded, if by “new private-sector investment” he means Canadian Maritime Engineering (CME), which he “attracted” to the CBRM by selling them a waterfront recreation property at a bargain basement price; and McKeil Marine, which he “attracted” by paying $1.2 million for a bunch of rotten docks in Sydport to rent to them (and which McKeil is now subletting to a shipbreaking outfit.)

As for his “fiscal conservative” credentials, they may be real, but by the time the next provincial election rolls around, we’ll have had about 10 years of fiscally conservative government under our Liberal premier; is it not just possible voters might be ready for something, you know, different by then? (I told you I had “thoughts.”)

 

Mandatory payments

But I don’t like being predictable, so I’m going to end with a twist: Clarke raised a point in his CBC interview that actually would qualify as a “positive change” for the CBRM — and for most non-HRM communities in Nova Scotia.

He told Sutherland:

Well, here’s an example that I’ll be bringing forward for discussion during the campaign…When I was part of the Rodney MacDonald government, we started to take off mandatory costs to municipalities, like for corrections and education costs and there was a phasing in so the municipality was doing better with getting more resources.

This is a reference to the property taxes collected by the provincial government, in the form of “mandatory” payments by municipalities, to fund education, corrections, public housing and the Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC). I could not find any reference online to the MacDonald government’s efforts to reduce these for municipalities, but I will (for now) take Clarke’s word for it.

The next administration stopped doing that and the current administration stopped doing that, at least, they froze the amount of money that was being taken away. So we’re paying, last year I think it was about $12.5 million in our community alone…I’d like to reverse that and put those resources from that fee into a Communities Fund and that Communities Fund would be dollars from within their community for other community priorities, for community development and have those departments that currently were taking up the $12.5 million assume those costs within their departmental budgets…So, you could imagine if we had $12.5 million more every year to leverage. And so the $12.5 [million] would go into a joint fund, a Communities Fund. That Communities Fund then, could produce outcomes…When federal government dollars aren’t there for a program, it could help fill that in. When a group, like the Savoy [Theatre], needs $340,000 for to meet the other requirements, that could fill that in, on the request of the municipality for the Communities Fund.

This starts out as an excellent idea. I mean that sincerely. It would basically follow up on recommendations regarding mandatory payments that were made by Dalhousie economics prof John Graham in the Graham Report, a Royal Commission on education, public services and provincial-municipal relations established in 1970 by then-Premier Gerald Regan’s Liberal government. Graham recommended a strict division of responsibilities between the province and the municipalities, with the province absorbing any costs offloaded by the municipalities. Graham’s ideas were dusted off by NS Premier Donnie Cameron in 1991, but by making his “services exchange” between the municipalities and the province “revenue neutral” (and by not including education), he ensured they did nothing to improve municipal finances (and actually made them worse).

So, hearing Clarke raise the possibility of relieving the CBRM of these onerous mandatory payments made me very happy.

But why send the money to a “joint” Communities Fund? Why not simply leave it with the CBRM which, surely, is the best judge of its priorities? This is one of those situations where CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke and would-be Nova Scotia Premier Cecil Clarke seem to be uneasily occupying the same body — like Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in All of Me.

What he seems to be recommending is that we continue to pay $12.5 million to the province each year, but then “request” it back on a project-by-project basis.

I can see how this would benefit would-be Premier Cecil Clarke  — it would allow the province to retain control over the municipality’s activities while also allowing it to decide how much of the $12.5 million actually found its way back to the CBRM each year.

But I can’t see why CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke would prefer this to simply retaining the $12.5 million which would, indeed, be a great boon to the community. (It’s a new central library, it’s arts funding, it’s improved roads and sewers, it’s a great idea).

Really, I mean that.

You didn’t see that coming, did you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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