There are six contenders for mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality in next month’s election. While it is encouraging to see such a competitive slate of candidates in this campaign it is important for the next mayor to take a savvy and open-minded approach to manageing and governing this unique municipality.
The job of CBRM's mayor is different from most, if not all, other mayors in Canada. The job is not typical because of our location and the composition of the CBRM. The remnants of an amalgamated municipality such as the CBRM created a different set of challenges for any of its current and future mayors. The municipality itself is not a unified community and never really was. And that's a problem!
Eight self-governing and historically competitive municipalities on the island, such as Sydney and North Sydney, were reluctantly amalgamated in the 1990s to form an unidentifiable community called the "CBRM."
The lack of identification — even as basic as having a name — has been a disadvantage for enabling all of our amalgamated communities to move forward. No name, no brand and no identification puts us nowhere on the map of viable communities seeking people and investments from around the world.
Geographically, the communities within the CBRM are separate places that spread widely over an entire county without much need to associate in any way beyond passing by or passing through. No one claims to be from the "CBRM," especially when asked by strangers. Ask anyone where they were born and the CBRM won't come up in the answer.
In fact, the old community identifications are still strong and deeply embedded in the folklore of the region. Past competition lingers as between Glace Bay and Sydney, and Sydney and North Sydney. There are of course still uncomfortable memories and hard feelings within most of these communities.
It's socially rewarding to self-identify as someone from Sydney Mines or Dominion rather than to remind everyone that the CBRM itself has little identification to residents. The CBRM is said to be the second largest "urban community" in the province. But in fact, the only "urban" community in Cape Breton is Sydney which was incorporated as a city in 1904. On leaving the city boundaries of Sydney one quickly observes town life at a much slower pace. The urban mentality is simply not there.
All of the other seven communities are "rural" by municipal standards in Canada and Nova Scotia: They make up the majority of places within the CBRM.
Someone living in Catalone can barely identify with the urban reality of someone living in Sydney. So, it may be a bit of a stretch to call the CBRM an "urban" community when the majority of its community components are still quite rural in makeup as former towns.
The lack of a fully urban character within the CBRM is significant as it affects taxation, planning, municipal services, real estate and economic development. The current mayoralty candidates might want to consider drafting a unifying framework for the large community they want to govern.
Jim Guy, Ph.D, is an author and professor emeritus of political science at Cape Breton University.