Cities made of government glass shouldn’t cast stones

Like many Cape Bretoners, I cringe when fellow islanders, egged on by CBRM’s outgoing mayor, blame all our problems on Halifax. It’s unbecoming, it’s untrue, and it’s a lazy excuse for avoiding the hard work of re-imagining Cape Breton’s economy.

Just for the moment, however, I’m more annoyed by the volley of stones hurled these last 24 hours from the glass mansions of our capital city at the Dexter Government’s on-again, off-again, on-again rescue of the paper mill in Point Tupper, Richmond County.

There’s no question Dexter made a huge gamble on this bailout.* It’s natural for taxpayers to be nervous. No doubt Dexter himself harbours private doubts. How it all turns out only time will tell.

But the kneejerk assumption that any economic development spending outside HRM is by its nature a boondoggle, and the snide, supercillious tone of the spearchuckers—well, it’s beyond galling.

Forgive us for reminding you that Halifax swims in government cash. It is home to the head offices of every provincial department and most provincial agencies; to the Canadian military; to the regional headquarters of countless federal departments; to the province’s major hospitals; to a fistful of tax-supported universities. Government teats hang from every lamppost on the peninsula.

So why is it reckless and foolhardy to spend $125 million preserving the 1,600 jobs that depend on one of the most advanced paper machines in the world, but an act of statesmanlike foresight to spend $25 billion on warships for a country that hasn’t fought a naval battle in 67 years?

That’s $40 on Halifax ships for every one dollar to preserve a paper mill four counties depend on.

Last October, I didn’t hear a single resident of Antigonish, Guysborough, Richmond, or Inverness Counties complain about the use of their tax dollars to build those Halifax ships. Maybe the good burghers of HRM (where I reside part time) could have the grace to attenuate their pieholes for a brief interlude.

* Disclosure: I played a small, peripheral role in the paper mill saga, helping Richmond County communicate its position on municipal taxes over the last few weeks. The views expressed here are mine.