Using tax money to kill jobs

CBRM Mayor John Morgan, facing serious opposition* for the first time in 12 years, is scrambling to justify his cash-strapped municipality’s snap decision to spend $6 million in tax money to block a private sector development that promised immediate jobs.

On just two days’ notice last month, CBRM outbid a private sector developer to buy the Greenfield Site, a 400-acre parcel on Sydney’s freshly dredged harbour.

At the time, Morgan said the so-called mystery developer planned to use the site for a bulk terminal that would permanently preclude its use as a container pier, the Great Big Project Morgan continually upholds as post-industrial Sydney’s only hope for a viable economic future.

In fact, Morgan knew who the bidder was. Prior to submitting CBRM’s own bid, he had received a letter from Atlantic Gateway Shipping Terminals Ltd. outlining the consortium’s previous efforts to promote a Sydney container pier, promising continued efforts in that regard, and offering to meet with CBRM to detail its plans for a bulk transshipment terminal as a stepping stone toward the shared goal of a container pier.

Morgan is best known outside CBRM for having launched a showy constitutional lawsuit to demand higher provincial equalization. The suit was an early and expensive flop in court, but it reinforced the mayor’s reputation at home as a scrapper, albeit a spectacularly ineffective one.

In fact, CBRM receives more than half of all the municipal equalization handed out by the province, but Morgan claims its anemic tax base can’t support essential services without a massive increase. So how could his cash-strapped government, already nearly $100 million in debt, whistle up another $6 million on two days’ notice?

No problem, said the mayor. CBRM will transfer the Greenfield Site to the Sydney Ports Corporation, which operates the city’s cruise pavilion and has the wherewithal to support the $6 million loan.

Not so, it now appears. The Ports Corp. is already $1.5 million in arrears on lease payments for its own facility, and has neither the inclination nor the financial capacity to take on a $6 million loan.

So CBRM taxpayers will be stuck with the $6 million tab after all, they will lose the tax revenue a $6 million property would have produced, and they may face a lawsuit from the rival bidder, angry at the city’s handling of the matter. They will not get the jobs required to build and operate a bulk transshipment facility, and the faint dream of a container pier has grown just a little fainter. More workers will move to Alberta, and more Cape Breton families will be torn apart.

En route to this triumph, Morgan has routinely vilified CBRM’s private business community, government agencies, politicians, the courts, and the other two levels of government — in short, everyone needed to help the struggling Cape Breton economy recover from the loss of two major industries.

This is Morgan’s schtick: he portrays Cape Bretoners as helpless victims and demands continual handouts, then throws rocks at anyone who might actually lend a hand. He is the single biggest impediment to Cape Breton’s economic stability.

* [Disclosure: I provided some early assistance to Owen Fitzgerald’s mayoralty bid, and may do so again, although I have no formal ongoing role in the campaign.]

Cape Breton Post editorial takes on Mayor John Morgan

In a rare instance of a local voice taking on Sydney’s popular but incessantly negative mayor, a Cape Breton Post editorial criticized two recent tweets by His Worship:  It was typical Morgan stuff:

… there is no evidence that our region can survive under the current governance structure in Nova Scotia


It’s not survivable for businesses and it’s not even survivable for families impacted to have that level of taxation burden with less than half the service levels. It is corrosive to the entire community.

In a leader titled “The Eternal Pessimist,” the Post nailed the destructive impact of the mayor’s  constant whining:

[T]he picture he’s painting is not only negative, it’s untrue. Many local businesses and families are not only surviving, they’re thriving, despite paying higher taxes and having access to fewer services than residents of the provincial capital.

Morgan calls that putting “a positive spin on what is unfolding.” But it’s not spin, it’s the truth.

Undoubtedly, some businesses and families are struggling. Would it help if more government jobs were located in Cape Breton? Yes. Would it help if the province distributed more equalization money to the municipalities? Arguably, but that would mean less money in the provincial coffers, so something would likely be cut.

What Morgan doesn’t seem to understand — or chooses to ignore — is that a mayor can pursue more equalization money and government jobs without alienating others and without the perpetual public pessimism. His version of equalization fundamentalism might help get him re-elected, but it’s not helping the region. His attitude is “corrosive.”

This is a mayor whose administration has not lured a single job-producing enterprise to Cape Breton, and who squandered at least half a million civic dollars on a doomed legal challenge that never had any hope at success—except the “success” of  persuading gullible voters that the mayor was a scrapper in their corner.

Some scrapper. Some corner.

CBRM’s war on young people — a different view

Grad student, cultural activist, and entrepreneur Mike Targett writes:

I appreciate a lot of Jay Macneil’s general complaint. I’ve made similar ones about decision-makers not trying hard enough to make this place more livable, and even actively trying to make it less livable. I can even be pretty cynical about council at times. Maybe that cynicism is what made me think twice about this vote, since Morgan the populist voted with Kim Deveaux the radical. Curious.

Did Morgan vote for what he knew would be the popular sentiment (“All he wanted to do was dance!”) despite testimony from the Chief of Police that the dances were phenomenally unsafe? But that’s not all council voted on. There were two motions put forward on Tuesday, and it’s the second one that MacNeil ignores in his rant:

  1. Councillor Derek Mombourquette brought the motion to council to ban the dances, not because he hates young people (he practically is one), but because the Chief of Police told him the dances were a danger to the kids who attend and the police could no longer ensure their safety. I suspect that, after this police testimony, council probably couldn’t continue to allow the dances at municipally-owned buildings, as such, without being liable for what goes on. (Maybe why the schools stopped holding the dances in the first place.)
  2. Council then agreed to put resources into a committee made up of police, schools, decision-makers, and kids themselves, to come up with a way to create a safe environment for kids to have fun. (Or, I suppose, more realistically: ways to provide a reasonably safe environment.)

So if you take [1] and [2] together, council didn’t really ‘ban’ dances at this venue, they only suspended the dances until those dances can be made safe(r) for the kids who attend.

The schools, on the other hand, seem to believe the dances themselves were the problem… rather than alcohol, drugs, and violence being the problem. The schools seem to have said, ‘Ban dances, problem solved.’

All the schools solved was their own problem of liability. Whereas, if we give council the benefit of the doubt (I can’t believe I’m saying that), what they’re really saying is that the problem goes beyond the dances themselves, and that creating a safe and fun atmosphere for kids is the responsibility of the community (and should be a priority of the community).

So the community — especially the “people in this community who spend their entire day trying to find ways to inspire and engage the youth of their community” — should get behind the new committee [2] instead of blaming council for doing what they (likely) had to [1].

What no one dares say about Sydney’s harbor dredging project

In a call to CBC-Cape Breton last week, North Shore resident David Papazian spoke a widely held but rarely voiced opinion about the $38 million project to dredge Sydney Harbor in hopes that someone will build container terminal here:

The money could be much better spent fostering small business here in Cape Breton which is a much better engine of growth than these sort of mega-projects that require huge amounts of capital at the taxpayers’ expense, with a whole lot of expectations and dreams and hopes that — maybe not, but very likely — will become another chapter in the probably fairly long history of frustrated economic development here in Cape Breton.

Here’s the whole call:


Papazian mixes up his geography a bit — the alternative terminal is at Melford, not Guysborough Town — but his broad strokes echo private assessments I’ve heard in Halifax and Ottawa: The Halifax terminals are loping along well below capacity, and the proposed Melford terminal is well ahead of Sydney’s in the planning pipeline.

But support from CBRM Mayor John Morgan, CPC candidate Cecil Clarke, and various business and community development interests gave the project sacred cow status that no one wants to buck.

Odd couple: AllNovaScotia & John Morgan

What’s up with AllNovaScotia’s curious blind spot for Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor John Morgan?

Like many others, AllNS’s editorialists took umbrage when the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society charged lawyer Morgan with professional misconduct for accusing Supreme Justice John Murphy, and Nova Scotia judges in general, of political bias in the performance of their duties. An AllNS editorial argued that it was dangerous and wrong to muzzle political speech by a politician who also happens to be a lawyer. So far, so reasonable.

The odd thing is that the usually reliable news service seems to be letting its editorial passion slop over into its news columns. AllNS news stories have persistently misrepresented the comments that got Morgan in trouble. Instead of quoting or characterizing Morgan’s original words, AllNS quotes only the sanitized version Morgan came up with after he got in hot water.

The background is here, but in short, Morgan pretends he merely said Nova Scotia judges were not tree-shakers; in reality, he went on for paragraphs alleging political bias by the judge who first rejected his grandstanding constitutional claim for higher equalization payments — a lawsuit that was ultimately rejected by every judge who reviewed it, up to and including the Supreme Court of Canada.

Continue reading Odd couple: AllNovaScotia & John Morgan

The real CBRM stands up

At long last, someone on the Cape Breton Regional Municipal Council has delivered a stinging rebuke to Mayor John Morgan’s portrayal of Cape Bretoners as helpless victims of Halifax.

Council is scrambling to meet a March 31 deadline for producing a sustainability plan, without which it stands to lose $7 million per year in federal gas tax rebates for four years. It has to scramble because senior governments rightly rejected an earlier grandiose plan proposing virtual provincehood for CBRM, with Comintern-like powers for its  “legislature.”

That nutty document, cobbled together with mayoral encouragement by CBRM’s Gyro Gearloose development director, was submitted to the provincial government without council discussion or approval. Submitted, and rejected, putting $28 million at risk for the revenue-strapped municipality.

Speaking at the start of hastily convened public consultations in support of a new, rational sustainability plan, Councilor Ray Paruch detailed Council’s rejection of the Mayor’s blame-everything-on-Halifax approach. [Audio from CBC-Cape Breton’s Mainstreet program.]


Fifteen councilors in the CBRM said no to that document… They said no to the idea that our region should become a province in virtually all but name. Council rejected a separate legislature. Council rejected taking over the school board. Council rejected taking over the health board. Council rejected the idea of taking over the board of directors of Cape Breton University…

How arrogant and bold are we to even contemplate doing these things? Who do we think we are?

Saying this took courage. Mayor Morgan is famously popular in CBRM, having won re-election by 80 percent. But the unequivocal rejection of his absurd lawsuit by three courts has eroded his support. More and more residents are questioning his caricature of Cape Bretoners as pathetic supplicants.

The Cape Bretoners I know and admire are self-reliant and resourceful. High time someone gave them a voice.