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DAVID DELANEY: What should Nova Scotia fall municipal elections be about?

David Delaney - Point of View
David Delaney - Point of View

The clock’s tick signalling the countdown to the Oct. 17 Nova Scotia municipal elections is now more loudly heard as that election date draws closer.

We, the voters, should consider using this opportunity to seek from our would-be mayors, wardens and councillors their respective positions on the relevant issues. I deliberately use the word “positions” as opposed to “answers” for a very good reason. Answers to political questions are never easily obtainable and policy choices amount to most acceptable options and not solutions. The later are illusory, the reality of politics being that whatever course an elected legislative body may take, the selected option has both benefits and drawbacks. Repair a road here and another location does without. Construct a facility in one region and the citizens of another cry foul.

For Cape Breton’s municipalities, the principal issue is in raising necessary revenue. What this comes down to is the ongoing matter of property tax problems. Be it to CAP or not to CAP, to raise this or that rate or not to, it seems we are stuck in a quagmire of fear, inaction and indecisiveness.

In large measure, this is understandable for nothing is scarier to politicians than the suggestion they engage in tax reform. When it comes to the CAP, this is all the more so. Politicians who dare broach the question do so at their peril. The citizen regards any such discussion as necessarily resulting in tax hikes and this view is not without merit. We have an attitude toward taxes, to paraphrase Mark Twain, similar to the fellow who compared the tax man to a taxidermist, concluding that the taxidermist at least leaves the skin.

As citizens, we listen to our politicians talk about the problem and, aside from finger pointing at other levels of government, offer little by way of suggestions. Fine, it’s unquestionably a formula that has helped career politicians win elections. However, this time around, let’s start pressing them on policy positions and approaches to the issues they enjoy feasting off for no more meaningful achievement than electoral success.

We, the voters, should consider using this opportunity to seek from our would-be mayors, wardens and councillors their respective positions on the relevant issues.

One area we could ask of our candidates is whether they believe it time to work toward a restructuring of the methods we fund municipal governments. Principally, can we find ways to lessen the reliance on property taxes and, in the process, work toward their overall reduction as a source of municipal revenue? Afterall, instead of merely listening to politicians whine about this problem, let’s ask them for their ideas and, maybe even, policy suggestions. If they have none, so be it; we can then properly regard them as little other than politically impotent careerists and treat them accordingly.

Ideas can include such already advanced proposals as allocating a portion of the income tax collected from citizens in municipalities to that municipality, fixed assignment of HST revenues to poor municipalities, using poor municipalities as test areas for a Basic Income and many others.

Clearly, this will necessarily include formulating a coordinated approach with other municipalities, provincial and federal governments and, most important, average citizens. Let’s disabuse ourselves of the false notion that good ideas come only from that sordid alliance of the political class and wealthy business interests.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) government could host a conference on finding new solutions to the existing revenue problems facing municipalities. Why not bring the interested people together here in Cape Breton and begin the process of putting sound concepts into action. Yes, it will take time, but should that be an excuse for not trying?

This is only one area. Other ones for immediate discussion include, in the case of the CBRM, for example, an examination of the waste disposal system, the situation in the police department concerning the extraordinarily high level of medical leave and the need to pressure our two MPs to secure federal financing for infrastructure development and other capital projects.

Let’s make these coming elections more than a series of horse races. Let’s make them a renewed effort to make municipal government more effective.

David Delaney has a keen interest in local government. He lives in Albert Bridge.

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