A lot of people who ought to know better have been whistling past the graveyard in response to the Harper government’s plan to scrap Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation and assign responsibility for federal development assistance to the remote and largely indifferent Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Make no mistake: this marks the end of a direct federal pipeline Cape Breton has enjoyed since the Donald Commission Report in the Pearson Administration. Anyone who claims it’s not grim news for the island is either naive or disingenuous.
ACOA minister Rob Moore managed the spin with adroitness we have rarely seen from the Harper government. He swathed his devastating announcement in treacle. Everything will be “business as usual.” No office will close. No civil servant will lose her job, or see pay reduced, or lose seniority or benefits. It’s merely a cosmetic change, intended only to bring greater accountability and a more congenial administrative model to the operation. Federal money will continue to flow.
This is the first step in the elimination of directed assistance to Cape Breton. Future federal budgets will have no line item for the island. Reducing or eliminating economic aid here will be child’s play. No future journalist, academic, or politician will enjoy the access to information or forensic skills needed to figure out how much of ACOA’s money is spent here versus the South Shore, the Miramichi, or the Northern Peninsula.
Without a separate line item for Cape Breton Island, the money will evaporate faster than shine on a hot August evening in N-Dub.
After the billions spent nursing Cape Breton’s moribund steel and coal industries, you may well think that’s a good thing. Fine. But any honest accounting of federal spending in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and B.C. would show a fiscal playing field tipped sharply westward from the Maritimes.
The sad thing was to see the the parade of whipsawed Cape Bretoners who rushed to reassure the populace that all was well. The Mayors of CBRM and Port Hawkesbury, pundits from Cape Breton University, and a former head of ECBC may all have had plausible strategic reasons for not railing against the inevitable. But couldn’t they have held their tongues instead of lending Harper’s loathsome spin doctors a helping hand?