Nova Scotia

NDP takes up Cape Breton equalization cause

Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party is taking up the equalization cause on behalf of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, with plans to introduce legislation addressing economic disparities between CBRM and Halifax.

Party will introduce 2 bills in legislature calling for study, funding

From left, NDP Leader Gary Burrill, Cape Breton Regional Coun. Kendra Coombes and Cape Breton Centre NDP MLA Tammy Martin. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party is taking up the equalization funding cause on behalf of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill joined Cape Breton Centre MLA Tammy Martin in Sydney, N.S., Monday to announce plans to introduce legislation aimed at addressing the economic disparities between CBRM and Halifax.

"We are in desperate, desperate shape," said Martin, who cited the relatively high child poverty rate, high unemployment rate, and long wait time for mental health support in CBRM compared with the rest of the province.

The NDP caucus will introduce two pieces of legislation Tuesday.

Calls for a new formula

The first will require the province to commission a wide-ranging economic viability study for the CBRM, which was recommended by the steering committee of Provincial-Municipal Fiscal Review's Fall 2014 report, but was never carried out.

"One very important thing in that study was the CBRM situation is particularly dramatic, and the present means of funding services for municipalities does not work there in a striking way," said Burrill, "and this has got to be figured out."

The NDP wants what it calls bridging money while that study is conducted.

A second bill would give CBRM annual stimulus funding of $50 million each year for three years.

"A new formula, a new system needs to be developed," said Burrill in an interview with CBC Cape Breton's Mainstreet, "but we need to make sure that the fiscal imbalance shortfall in the period between now and when this new system is developed, that it doesn't leave the CBRM's hands tied."

Reinvigorate the fight

Cape Breton Regional Coun. Kendra Coombes joined Burrill and Martin for the announcement, which was attended by four other regional councillors curious about the event.

The issue of equalization has come up several times during recent municipal budget workshops, and will likely be prominent during budget deliberations this week, Coombes said.

While Coombes acknowledged the proposed legislation will likely go nowhere, she's hopeful it will reinvigorate the fight for equalization fairness.

"If it doesn't do anything at the provincial level with regards to the other parties' support, what it will do is get people talking," she said, "and hopefully put pressure on the government to say, 'We need help here.… We're not receiving our fair payments in equalization, and we haven't for a long time, and that needs to come to the forefront.'"

With files from Mainstreet Cape Breton