CBRM takes funding fight to Court of Appeal

Lawyers representing the Cape Breton Regional Municipality are trying to convince the Court of Appeal to allow its lawsuit against the province to proceed.

'Bury' this case, province counters

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality is trying to convince the Court of Appeal to allow its lawsuit against the province to proceed.

Lawyers for the CBRM were in court Monday, the latest step in the municipality's attempt to get millions of dollars more from the province to provide services to its residents.

Mayor John Morgan began the fight five years ago, claiming the CBRM hasn't been getting its fair share of funds from the province since amalgamation in 1995.

"The residents have higher property tax rates than virtually anywhere else in the province," Morgan said. "They have lower service rates than virtually every urban centre in Nova Scotia and in the country. In effect, you have circumstances that are not survivable."

He estimates the CBRM has been shortchanged as much as $50 million a year.

A lower court ruled last spring that the dispute is a political issue and it had no jurisdiction to hear the case.

The CBRM argued that under Sec. 36 of the Constitution Act, the province has an obligation to provide a reasonably comparable level of service to residents for comparable taxation, but it hasn't received enough money to meet that requirement.

The province claimed the CBRM's complaint is about economic policy, and therefore not a legal matter for the court.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice John D. Murphy concluded there was no "sufficient legal component to warrant court intervention," and said the municipality's claim was "absolutely unsustainable."

At the time, the CBRM had spent nearly $300,000 on its court case.

"The cost of the lawsuit really pales in comparison, because the future of the whole region is at stake," Morgan said Monday.

As the case moved to the Nova Court of Appeal, the province continued to argue that it has no merit and the court should not allow it to proceed.

Alex Cameron, a lawyer for the province, made an impassioned plea for the court to dismiss the case.

"The lower court struck it down," Cameron said. "I urge this court to bury it."

The three-judge panel has reserved its decision.