Equalization unfairness in Cape Breton and Rural Nova Scotia

The most important issue of why rural areas of NS are struggling to survive got barely a mention in this years provincial election. Equalization unfairness is an issue that has been brandied about for quite some time and no doubt a lot of people are tired of hearing about it. Yet at the same time there are a quite a number of people who are not aware of this injustice. But it’s an issue that should be continuously brought up and fought for until these payments are fairly distributed to every municipality of Nova Scotia.

The Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness in 2012/2013 gave a breakdown of 16 areas of Nova Scotia that have not received their fair share of payments from the provincial government. http://nsef.ca/ It ranges from a disparity of over 100 million to the CBRM to over 20 million for Pictou and over 3 million for Yarmouth. What we know is that this has lead to higher property taxes for all of these areas of Nova Scotia. If fairly distributed the tax savings would be considerable.

All NS political parties have been complicit in allowing this unfairness to continue as all three parties have had their kick at governing the province and have allowed this practice to carry on.

When John Morgan took this fight up with the province it was not dismissed because of the merits of the argument, but because the provincial supreme court determined that CBRM did not have standing. The merits of the transfer payment inequality has never been argued in an open court.

Why keep bringing this issue up? Well as my friends in Gabarus learned when fighting for a seawall for over 30 years and did not believe would happen until the trucks were actually coming into the village with the rocks for the new seawall – it’s never wrong to keep fighting for what is right and fair no matter how long it takes. It’s something we should be all asking our representatives and potential representatives when they knock on our doors and ask for our support.

Promises made and promises not kept, and no promise at all

There is basically no difference in our political parties and what they offer to Nova Scotians. And I've been around long enough to know that promises by politicians are not always kept. All parties are guilty of this. Recently the provincial NDP party introduced a motion on transfer payments. I even have the dead link for it here 

https://nsndp.ca/ns/ndp-introduces-legislation-to-study-cape-breton-fiscal-imbalance. Perhaps someone can do some digging as to where the motion ended up.
The Liberal party in 2010-2013 in their issue paper on Economy Resolutions for Nova Scotia ( https://www.liberal.ns.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Economy-Resolutions-2010-to-2013.pdf ) included this for Sydney Victoria and Equalization Payments:
I emailed the Premier and Zach Churchill the Minister of Municipal Affairs on how this was proceeding after reading a letter to the Editor in the Cape Breton Post on the matter. This is the response I received:

June 22, 2016

Mr. Bill Fiander

VIA E-MAIL:  b.fiander@

Dear Mr. Fiander:

As Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Premier has asked that I respond to your email of May 6, 2016, regarding a Letter to the Editor published in the Cape Breton Post on May 5, 2016.

As you may be aware, there are two equalization programs at play in Nova Scotia:  the Federal equalization program through which the Federal government allocates funds to provinces, and the Provincial equalization grant through which the Province of Nova Scotia allocates funds to municipalities. These two programs, and the funding, are unrelated.

At this time, Government is confident that the funds received through the Federal equalization payment to Nova Scotia is being used to support Nova Scotians in an appropriate manner.

The Department of Municipal Affairs is currently working with municipalities to review the Provincial equalization grant, which allocates $30.5 million to municipalities annually.


Original signed by:

Zach Churchill

Minister of Municipal Affairs

cc:  Honourable Stephen McNeil (051016002)

There was no mention of taking the issue of transfer payments to the auditor general.

I find no mention of the conservative party regarding this. But a lack of a promise or a broken promise ends up being the same thing in the end. 

Posted by on goCapeBreton.com where you can find and share everything about your local community.

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Joe Ward Follow Me
This seems like it might be a fairly good fit with the NDP platform. Councillors Bruckschwaiger and Eldon MacDonald have mentioned it a few times during council, but it hasn't been raised very often.
Bill Fiander My Post Follow Me
A few of many references made regarding the unfair practice of transfer payments to Cape Breton and rural areas of Nova Scotia. http://www.capebretonpost.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/2016/11/1/political-reps-mute-regarding-transfer-p-4676699.html http://www.capebretonpost.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/2016/3/10/equalization-payments-anything-but-equal-4462156.html http://nsef.ca/?cat=1
Joe Ward Follow Me
It definitely needs more public awareness.
Bill Fiander My Post Follow Me
I've made some additions to the additional text regarding where both the NDP and Liberal Party in particular were going to pursue this issue.
Bill Fiander My Post Follow Me
Charles Sampson's letter to the editor in today's CB Post on equalization unfairness: http://www.capebretonpost.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/2017/5/13/equalization-payment-scam-needs-overhaul--says-sydney-forks-read.html
P Sheehan Follow Me
Every municipality is being mistreated by the way the province manages "Equalization" . It is supposed to make all things equal as equal as possible , but it does not. Why not ? Well, it is simple . There is no measurement taking place in NS of what a government department does or what a municipality does , their assets or liabilities . None ,let alone CBRM, have made any attempt to be more transparent to the taxpayers either . Go looking for the number of staff , the salary levels, how many clients are signed up for what , how much is spent on what .Why do they not post things like road inspection reports?. Why do they not deal with the underground tourism rentals?Why are assessments not public . Population history , student enrolment history, average income history etc .You need a way to compare municipalities before you can equalize .
Bill Fiander My Post Follow Me
Today's letter to the editor in the CB Post on Equalization. The only way for this unfairness to change is for people to be informed and get this message out there. We need to see more letters like this and in various media formats. http://www.capebretonpost.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor.html
Joe Ward Follow Me
I would love to see the 2-minute version explaining equalization and the unfair distribution in a way that our entire community could fully understand, without being left with questions. Target audience: Everyone who doesn't care whatsoever (or follow) political topics, and aren't interested in lobbying. I find all too often the discussion requires a prerequisite understanding that most don't have. Equalization or transfer payments are probably highly recognizable terms that people recall hearing quite often, and maybe even associate with an unfair deal for Cape Breton. However, I'm not sure how well people would do if you asked them to describe how it should work, why we're not following that proposed method, and how much we should be getting if we were, etc. Geoff MacLellan also made reference to another interesting aspect (in his election time address to the CBRM council). Specifically: how are equalization payments balanced with other forms of investment injected into our municipalities?
Bill Fiander My Post Follow Me
I'm certainly not an expert on equalization payments but from the gut all I see is the unfairness of how these payments are distributed. Now I've read articles regarding this and I'm speaking as a layman. I think a lot of people may know about Mayor Morgan fighting this case all the way to the supreme court of NS, and being denied a hearing with the Cdn supreme court - and people think he failed based on the merits of this case, when in fact it failed based on standing. As for getting grants and other funding money from the provincial gov't - these are given out piecemeal and never guaranteed so rural communities throughout NS have to 'hope' they get some of this money and perhaps elect a representative whose party holds power. If equalization payments were fairly distributed than rural areas would be free to distribute. You're right, a lot of people kind of get that glazed over feeling when they hear about equalization payments, and it is a hard thing to put together in a 2 minute version so that everyone can understand. Perhaps this might be an issue where it might be one person at a time you might have to explain it to and hope they can spread the word. Something I did recently with a friend of mine who wondered why everyone is jealous of Halifax booming. Well, perhaps the whole province would feel like Halifax if it took in the Majority of the transfer payments divvied out. I've also pointed out that the political parties have recognized the unfairness of this practice while not in power - specifically the liberal party in this case to then turn an about face while in power. So Mr MacLellan, who seems to have been an asset to this area as a politician, is also one voice, and to go against the party could be political suicide. Tom Urbaniak also had a very interesting article this past week regarding how our 2 liberal MLAs hold the balance of power (all theoretical unless acted upon) and how they could make a significant difference in Cape Breton.
Joe Ward Follow Me
Neither MLA will use the position of power Urbaniak talked about. Both have smarts, and both care. However, one gets by on charisma, the other flies under the radar in the safe zone with generic positive talking points and party loyalty.
Mike Johnson Follow Me
And both just barely survived the Election. People are looking for Leadership and neither has a reputation for supplying that. I'd like to think that they were sent a message that the Voters expect more than photo ops and doling out money.
Joe Ward Follow Me
I think both received the message loud and clear; however, I'm not sure how long before that message received will dissipate. They have four years of runway to be comfortable with. I'd like to see their challengers start their campaigns now, providing the official response to all actions taken all the way up until the next election. Doucette and White could have an amplified voice if they chose to take on that role. All it really requires is a little writing on issues along with availability to media.
Bill Fiander My Post Follow Me
A simple google search will bring up a number of articles on equalization fairness including Mary Campbell's well researched piece on the matter from May of this year. https://capebretonspectator.com/2017/05/17/equalization-cbrm-election-issue/ http://www.capebretonpost.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/2017/2/14/cape-breton-deserves-more-transfer-cash.html http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/cape-breton-regional-council-first-meeting-2016-1.3852326
Joe Ward Follow Me
Mary's article is the best I've read. We still need a Vox-style explainer if the lobby wants greater public support, aka squawking, come election time(s).
Bill Fiander My Post Follow Me
From David Young's letter to the editor in March of 2016 "This $100 million annual shortfall to CBRM coffers grows to a billion in the decade since the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) gabfest agreed that they had identified a systemic fault in the provincial treasury. Pretty soon we're talking serious dollars here, eh? How many port and/or rail improvements could be budgeted with that sort of coin?" http://www.capebretonpost.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/2016/3/10/equalization-payments-anything-but-equal-4462156.html
Bill Fiander My Post Follow Me
Letter to the editor in today's CB Post from Charles Sampson regarding the recent announcement that Cape Breton's 2 MLAs have been made cabinet ministers. He reflects that this has not been unusual for Cape Breton and he expects that the status quo will remain. http://www.capebretonpost.com/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/2017/6/21/letters--memories-short-concerning-cape-breton-cabinet-represent.html
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