CBRM district 5 candidates panel

CBC Information Morning held a debate with the candidates for district 5. Listen here:

Municipal Candidates’ Panel – District 5

Here are some of the issues that we discussed:

Creating a vibrant downtown core

Marketing our world-class artistic talent

Debt and equalization

Port development

Community Engagement

Kids and their families

Who Owns Sydney’s Port?

The Cape Breton Post’s assessment of yesterday’s events (“Greenfield Gold”) doesn’t say much for its opinion of this community. CBRM council voted 17-0 to put in an offer on the Greenfield site. The Post believes this unanimous decision was the result of council’s impressionability, as if they were simply charmed by Rankin MacSween.

When in fact, as reported by CBC, councillors based their decision on the volume of phone calls and emails they received from constituents following Tuesday’s council meeting. Council’s decision was the direct result of a community acting together to achieve a common goal. This was neither a coup by council nor by MacSween; it was a win for the community, by the community.

And what exactly was it that the community won? Again, the Post misses the point. This was not the triumph of a container terminal over a coal field, or the triumph of councillors over a consortium. The decision to purchase the greenfield site shouldn’t be seen as an investment in whatever future development takes place there, container terminal or otherwise. Rather, it should be understood as a securing of this community’s right to determine its own future. It’s not about what gets built on the site; it’s about who decides. And ultimately about who benefits.

The Post would prefer we “let the chips fall where they may”, as if the rights of every Henry Melville Whitney should always and everywhere trump the long-term interests of a community. Indeed the editorial seemed quite concerned with the message yesterday’s decision sends to the private sector. But what message does this send to members of this community, who spoke out in favour of shared ownership of a vital community asset, and had their elected representatives listen? This was truly a triumph for democracy.

It’s too bad the Post editorial missed all this, with its simplistic reduction of a complex issue, and its shameful dismissal not only of this community’s leaders but of the multitude who supported them.

What we witnessed was a community realizing its power, and demanding its right, to determine its future. It was an act of courage. It came from a place of hope. And it displayed a profound commitment to each other and to this island. May this letter serve as a corrective: We noticed. And we celebrated.

Who Owns This Town? Responses to New Dawn’s Public Meeting

When the money was announced for the harbour dredge I tweeted the following:

1965. (Today is the beginning of the closure of the container terminal.)

Referring of course to the year that marked the beginning of the end for the steel plant. I figure forty-odd years from now we’ll look back on the container terminal as just another relic from the fossil-fuel age. (A friend replied that since we’re living in a more environmentally friendly era, we’re bound not to make the same mistakes. I refer you to Alberta’s tar sands.)

I’ve already stated my ambivalence about the actual form any port development will take. But here’s the thing: however the port gets developed, the community should have the final say, and the community should be the primary beneficiary. For better or for worse, the community will have to deal with the consequences.

New Dawn — at an open community meeting last night — just goes that one step further and reminds us that self-determination is not a gift. It is a responsibility. If our right to self-determination is withheld, it must be taken back. But this is not to repeat the familiar refrain of victimhood. What we truly lack is not self-determination, but self-confidence.

For anyone who continues to doubt the community’s ability to determine its own future, have some faith: capacity, if and where it’s lacking, will come. But it requires us owning our resources — rather than having them liquidated — and then reinvesting the capital. In what? How about a diversified local economy? Imagine Creative Economies in arts & culture; Knowledge Economies in innovation and technology; Green-Collar Economies in agriculture and energy. Now we’re talking capacity.

No matter what happens, some of us won’t be happy with the results. That’s life. But we’re adults. We’ll deal. The distinguishing feature of an adult conversation is not that it resolves every contradiction, but that it contains them.

Below are some commentaries from friends who attended last night’s meeting.

Port Development: We Contain Multitudes

As read on CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton and published at whatsgoinon.ca

I’m skeptical about the potential environmental impact of dredging the harbour, to say nothing of a container terminal itself. I’m apprehensive about the potential economic spin-off of the container terminal, namely the crime associated with this sort of infrastructure. I’m cynical about the political motivations and maneuverings surrounding the funding announcement.

That said, I acknowledge the work that has gone into raising the funds and building the consensus needed to bring this vision closer to fruition. It is a hallmark of environmental movements of the past to be only against something, while not bringing forward an alternative – or at least no alternative that the community is willing to get behind. Whether or not the current consensus around port development has been arrived at wholesale simply for lack of alternatives is irrelevant. Building consensus takes time and effort, and while work has and is being done with respect to economic and environmental alternatives, it has not gained popular support. (Yet?)

We’ve heard a lot about how a container terminal will be game changing. A real game changer would be a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment in a creative economy, a knowledge economy, and a green energy economy. It would spur innovation, make Cape Breton an even more attractive place to live, and – in these times of instability and uncertainty – make the island more resilient and adaptive to change: both of the climate and global economic varieties. (See my talk on resilient and adaptive communities.)

But such investment would require the bigger game to change first – thinking outside the current socio-economic box to provide well-paying, meaningful, fulfilling, and sustainable livelihoods for people.

I’m not against the terminal. I am for something else. But alongside my ambivalence is the belief – the knowledge – that Cape Breton and Cape Bretoners themselves contain multitudes. And so despite my cynicism, I’m hopeful about the possibility – and the possibilities – of community ownership of the project. Despite my apprehensiveness, I’m excited about the surprises that lay ahead. And despite my skepticism, I’m optimistic about the potential for creative, knowledge and “green-collar” economies to sprout up, if not instead of, then alongside the things to come.