Upcoming election offers hope for some fresh new faces, new ideas and a needed new direction
Another term for the CBRM municipal government has elapsed and the electorate are preparing to vote on Oct 15 on the past performance of our mayor and his council. While it is often difficult to grab the attention of our elected officials while they are in office, Election Day provides voters the once-in-four-year opportunity to pass judgement on promises kept or not kept during the term of this municipal council and an opportunity to make a change if warranted.
This year there are four open council seats with the unfortunate deaths of Charlie Keagan and Darrell Flynn and the resignations of Mae Rowe and Claire Detheridge. So there is hope for some fresh new faces, new ideas and a needed new direction for our council after Oct 15.
The departure of Rowe and Detheridge leaves CBRM council with the potential for no female representation, a major concerning in this day and age. The federal cabinet achieved gender parity back in 2015 and I am hopeful more female candidates will come forward and voters will do their best to move closer to that objective here in the CBRM on Oct. 25.
The remaining eight councillors, most of whom have served multiple terms, have all indicated their intention to reoffer and let the voters pass judgement on their performance in true democratic fashion. Don’t get me wrong. These senior folks are all nice people but after several tries in political office voters have to decide if they are the right choice for our community going forward. For the most part CBRM’s economy is in worse shape than it was four years ago. Do voters want more of the same?
The Sydney Area Chamber of Commerce members are deeply concerned about the future of our CBRM municipality. Our population continues its decline, our unemployment rate is stuck at 15 per cent, young families move away, our average resident age continues to increase, our schools continue to close, long-term store front vacancies exist in our downtowns, the municipal tax burden continues to climb for those of us that remain, and it is deeply disturbing to admit the largest employer in our community is the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, an agency funded wholly by taxpayers.
Last May a group of concerned physicians held a public meeting at the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion in Sydney to express their concerns over a lack of doctors in the CBRM. Nearly 1,000 people showed up to this Sunday afternoon event to hear both the doctors and the Nova Scotia Health Authority administrators publically debate the state of health care in the CBRM.
As I listened to the many speakers that day the common theme was there is simply not enough tax money to pay for the services our aging population is demanding of the health-care system. You hear of the need for cuts, reduced budgets and service but very little is happening (except more studies) to grow our economic base to create more jobs that will pay the needed taxes to afford the services we all deserve.
To be frank, all levels of government and our economic development agencies have done an inadequate job of growing Cape Breton’s economy. Yet we keep voting the same people back into elected office time and again. It defies logic that voters keep repeating the same mistake thinking they will get a different outcome.
Let’s get back to the pending municipal election here in the CBRM. Our municipality has the third highest commercial tax rates in Canada and the highest in all of Atlantic Canada. Our residential tax rates have reached the level of unaffordability with many new home buyers prohibited from entering the housing market.
Just think, the very people we want to attract to our area – new immigrants, young families, new entrepreneurs, prospective doctors – can’t get into a new home without paying the highest tax rates in Canada. Is this a recipe for attracting new people and growing our CBRM economy? More likely it is a recipe for our continued economic decline and reduced services. Worrisome to say the least!
Despite the pending economic crisis in which CBRM finds itself, it concerns our Chamber members the electorate could consider re-electing CBRM council members who have had years, and in some cases decades, to make positive economic change in our municipality yet have done little to move our economy forward. Irrespective of these continued disappointing results voter action sometimes defies logic.
CBRM is in need of a new direction to stem our steep economic decline and our chance for change only comes every four years. Too often our councillors are focused on potholes and snow removal service in their respective districts rather than the big picture of developing strategic initiatives to revive our downtowns and the CBRM economy in general.
Only the private sector can create the meaningful long-term employment needed to attract badly needed new jobs to our community. Yet our governments fail to create the environment to stimulate the much-needed economic expansion of the CBRM private sector along with will come new jobs and new tax revenues to support the services government provides.
The Oct. 15 municipal election is your chance as a voter to make a positive change in the community in which you and your family live. Let’s put some fresh young faces (and more female) on our council with fresh, bold, modern ideas and a new vision for our community. After all, our youth are our future and they deserve a strong voice on our path forward. They pay the badly needed taxes to support our retirees yet currently have a limited voice in municipal policy.
Four years ago nearly 900 CBRM residents came out to C200 to witness a lively debate between the mayoralty candidates. On Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. an opportunity again exists at C200 for CBRM residents to witness the candidate’s debate the issues important to voters and ask questions of the candidates in what will prove to be an interesting exchange of ideas and governing philosophies.
You will hear a long list of promises kept, not kept, and yet to come. Ensure you plan to attend this energized event to get an opportunity to ask the questions important to you so you can decide how best to vote on Oct 15.
For certain our future will not look like our past. If you vote to keep things the same as they are then you have no right to complain about the outcome and the impact on you. Please exercise your right to vote on Oct. 15. Our future depends on you.
Adrian White is the chief executive officer of the Sydney Area Chamber of Commerce.