Sydney's container terminal quest behind proposed legislative changes

The changes will allow Cape Breton Regional Municipality to sell or lease land at below market value and to grant tax concessions to a commercial entity. Both changes are intended to help attract a container terminal to Sydney.

Changes will allow CBRM to sell or lease land at below market value and to grant tax concessions

Cape Breton Regional Municipality. (Warren Gordon photo)

Proposed changes to Nova Scotia legislation affecting municipal government powers are an important step in attracting a container terminal to Sydney, according to the mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Municipal Affairs Minister Derek Mombourquette brought forward the amendment to the Municipal Government Act in Halifax on Thursday.

Mombourquette, the MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier, said the changes will allow CBRM to sell or lease land at below market value and to grant tax concessions to a commercial entity. Both changes are intended to help attract a container terminal to Sydney.

Mayor Cecil Clarke said incentives are necessary to attract global investment. (CBC)

Right now, there is no container terminal, but CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke said the legislation "builds on the progress being made."

Similar enticements were used in Halifax to attract Irving Shipyard and in Richmond County for Port Hawkesbury Paper, he said.

"This is not unique to Sydney harbour and to our community. It's about being competitive on an international global stage."

The incentives are necessary to attract global investment to the area, and new projects need as few encumbrances as possible, he said.

Mombourquette agrees.

"CBRM has been aggressively pursuing this economic opportunity," he said. "This is going to give them some more flexibility to pursue that opportunity for home. I think there's some great potential for the community."

Municipal Affairs Minister Derek Mombourquette proposed changes to the province's Municipal Affairs Act. (CBC)

In 2015, CBRM signed an agreement with a company called Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, formerly known as Harbour Port Development Partners, to market the port as a location for a container terminal.

Thursday's amendment applies only to property designated by the municipality, in this case to a large parcel of land adjacent to Sydney harbour that would accommodate a container terminal.

CBRM would have to notify Municipal Affairs if it wants to add any other properties, said Shannon Bennett, the department's director of governance and advisory services.

"Any time there would be a use of this power by the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, we'd have to put the eligible properties and definitions, through regulations," she said.

Mombourquette said other municipalities across the province have expressed interest in having the same powers.

"They want more tools at their disposal, as social or economic opportunities come forward, that they can do a better job and have more flexibility to chart their own course," he said.