Cleanup In Limbo
Cabinet Representative Declines To Reaffirm Federal Commitment
The Issue: It's a question of what and when
Unless he was more forthcoming in private than in public,
Geoff Regan did nothing on his visit to Sydney this week
to reaffirm federal commitment to cleanup of the tar
ponds. It's early days for him as the new minister of fisheries
and oceans, but Regan has to understand that his role as
Nova Scotia's representative in the Paul Martin cabinet work's two
ways: he speaks for the province's interests within that sanctum,
but he is also expected to represent federal positions when stumping in the province.
A statement about the importance of cleaning up the Muggah
Creek watershed - consistent with federal statements, bureaucratic
involvement and 'funding going back to the mid-'90s and earlier - was not too much to expect.
Regan demurred, noting only
that the cleanup file belongs to Environment Minister David
Anderson. True, but it's also Regan's file as Nova Scotia's man in
cabinet, which is the hat he was wearing in Sydney.
John Nash, president of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce,
and Cliff Murphy, president of the Cape Breton Island
Building and Construction Trades Council, raised valid concern
before Christmas over what the new administration's stance will
be on the cleanup. There was some hope in the dying weeks of Jean
Chretien's tenure as prime minister that there might be an
announcement on the heavy cleanup phase, since governments
have had months to ponder the outcome of lengthy study and public
consultations. Nothing came, which is perhaps just as well.
Last-minute pronouncements on a cleanup would have looked like
more-Chretien legacy stuff, easily shelved by the Martin crew.
Five days after being sworn in as prime minister, Martin
ordered a freeze on major capital spending. There's been no definitive
word since on what this means for Nova Scotia, or for the Sydney cleanup in particular.
Sydney-Victoria Liberal MP Mark Eyking has said he's seen no
signal that the cleanup will be affected, but he expresses this more
as his own opinion than as word from on high. Regan had an opportunity
to clarify the question Monday, and didn't.
Earlier, Regan had said he expected Martin's capital project
review would look mostly at projects not yet announced. That's a
category that could easily include the next phase of the Sydney
Eyking counts it as a plus that David Anderson continues in the
environment portfolio under Martin, at least for now. He's held the
job for a political eternity of 4 1/2 years, is familiar with the cleanup
file, and visited the tar ponds as recently as October, 2002. Anderson
referred then to the necessity of "making sure that the worst
contaminated site in Canada is, in fact, cleaned up."
Parker Donham, spokesman for the provincial Sydney Tar
Ponds Agency, took advantage of Regan's puzzling equivocation
Monday to declare that the provincial government is "unequivocally
committed" to the cleanup and ready to start negotiating a
cost-sharing deal. Of course, the province's starting bid would be
a 70-30 federal-provincial split, which is an equivocation in itself
since Ottawa has been suggesting 50-50.
Murphy, after a private chat with Regan, had the impression
that Ottawa was waiting for the province to take the lead in negotiating
an agreement. If both governments are so ready to go, all
we can suggest is that someone pick up the phone.
Commitments of the sort required, and repeatedly made, on the
Sydney cleanup overarch changes in ministers, government leaders,
and even governments. Federal and provincial governments
are either committed to seeing this cleanup through or their word
is worthless. What we want to know is the how and when.