It may be simplistic to say so, but sharing is a two-way street — it’s something you learn in kindergarten.
In Monday’s meeting of St. John’s city council, Mayor Dennis O’Keefe took a moment or two to expound on sharing — or the lack of it — among communities on the Northeast Avalon.
“Half the population of this province will live in the St. John’s area,” O’Keefe said. “And if we don’t start changing our attitude toward sharing our road system, sharing our recreation system and doing more and more and more things together, then by 2036, we’re going to be in bad, bad shape.”
O’Keefe is right — to a point. As available space gets used up and costs inevitably rise (along with demands for services) municipalities are going to have to be able to squeeze every possible nickel for the most value. Competing with lower tax rates isn’t going to help, and nor is having overlapping services.
Then again, St. John’s could use a few lessons in not acting like a bull in a china shop.
Almost certainly, part of O’Keefe’s comments were meant to refer to the ongoing dispute between St. John’s and Mount Pearl over the maintenance and snowclearing costs for the extension to the Team Gushue Highway: St. John’s already has an agreement with the province to take over those costs once the extension is built, but Mount Pearl has steadfastly refused to sign on.
Even back in 2009, O’Keefe was grousing about that in a letter to the editor: “We also need to have an equitable sharing of the costs of the regional obligations which we have assumed, such as the operations and maintenance of the Team Gushue Highway.”
Mount Pearl, meanwhile, points out that St. John’s probably shouldn’t have agreed to take on the commitment, because the extension is a regional highway system, and the provincial government was shirking its legislative responsibility for that type of road.
Both cities have a point — but it’s critical to remember that St. John’s went ahead and accepted the responsibility, believing it could make the decision and have other municipalities just fall into line with its plan. That isn’t how sharing works.
And it’s not the first time.
In some ways, the city has been something of an architect of its own misfortune: in past years, other councils have grown leery of the provincial capital, which often has the biggest footprint — and number of seats — on joint Northeast Avalon boards. In the past, there have been disputes over regional 911 services, fire services and sanitation services, to name a few. There have also been successes, including the construction of water supply systems and waste treatment systems.
The question is really whether St. John’s wants to share, or whether it wants to dictate, and in the process, offload some of its own growing costs.
We all learned it in kindergarten: sharing doesn’t mean taking the toys you want from everyone else and offering nothing in return.