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CBRM council can start with changing some of the ‘small things’
When New York City began its rebound more than 30 years ago, successes were brought about, at least initially, by doing what are inappropriately called the “small things.”
For example, instead of worrying about mega-urban renewal projects designed to revitalize destitute and depressed areas, the city’s municipal government tried something different. It reasoned that making the right choices could begin with such things as cleaning up the garbage situation, helping put windows in aging and decrepit buildings, and encouraging the police to get out of their cars and again walk a beat.
These incremental steps took hold and fostered a positive momentum, helping transform that city from its 1970s state of depression, burgeoning crime rates and despair to a situation where now it rightly reclaims its title as the world’s greatest city.
New York is a city of millions and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) is very small, by comparison. Yet, there are lessons to be learned.
The biggest one is that where municipalities have grown and prospered, the engine of growth has been the private sector - at all levels and in all aspects of a community’s life: economic, cultural, recreational, etc.
Unfortunately, in our region, we have developed a political culture which equates community development to an ever-expanding political class of politicians, bureaucrats and appointees of government-funded agencies. Beware of these false prophets promising you a gold-gilded future. Their mission is merely one of self-preservation and individual benefice. Their influence, and the type of political culture they champion has negatively impacted upon not only economic development but has had a regressive effect on community activities and vibrancy.
The best recent example of this regressive impact was in CBRM’s council’s intervention in further regulating parades. Had council merely stayed out of it and left things as they were, all would be better off. They could not do that, however. Instead, each side of the debate wanted it their way as opposed to simply letting separate communities do it the way they wanted.
But there are some very tangible things that our municipal government can do. Let’s start with some of those so-called “small things” that concern the CBRM.
The ball has been kicked down the road for too long.
Number one: no more trips on the public dime. Today we live in a very sophisticated communications world. There are a myriad of ways to stay connected and interacted with other governments, agencies and private interests that do not include travel to Vancouver, Shanghai or Geneva, all three being recent travel locations for certain celebrity members of our political class.
We are a poor municipality and sending councillors and government officials to conferences and other junkets makes no sense. In addition, as the record will reveal, such trips have contributed nothing to the general well-being of this community.
Next, no free meals at local meetings for elected officials, bureaucrats and the appointed agency types. When you go to work, you pay for your lunch. They can do it as well.
Clearly, some will say, come on now, these are merely small things. Nothing more than symbolic.
Fine, but sometimes symbolism is important. I can tell you it is important to most of the people I know who, on a daily basis, have to make hard decisions on when they can afford to get the car inspected, whether they can get the money together to see the dentist and choices very more basic and pressing.
Yet, in deference to those who want more than what they consider merely symbolic measures, let’s move on.
We can begin with a prohibition on municipal funding to any outside agency, examples including the Cape Breton Partnership, ACAP, any so-called business development agency and so forth. We cannot afford this and as for any good that these groups can do why not let municipal government do it with its established infrastructure as opposed to funding a superfluous additional one?
Next, let us undertake a major downsizing of municipal administrative staff. Enough of the pleadings that we have cut to the bone and run a very efficient municipal administration. We know the difference. We are in a continuing population decline yet have a bigger and more entitled and heavily compensated municipal bureaucracy. The message should be that the party’s over and it’s time to clean the house.
Afterward we can then move on to spending cuts in all departments, a mandated policy to end counterproductive regulations and by-laws and, yes, real and meaningful tax reform.
It can all start with ‘the small things.”
The ball has been kicked down the road for too long. It’s time for council to pick it up and score some points.
David Delaney lives in Albert Bridge and closely follows municipal council developments. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.