Hamm says CBRM getting its share of money

By Wes Stewart
Cape Breton Post
Thursday, Mar. 2, 2004

SYDNEY - The province spends $73 million more in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality than it receives in revenues, Premier John Hamm told a meeting of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce Monday.

Total revenue from the CBRM, including its share of transfers, amounts to $688 million, compared to the $761 million the province spends, the premier said. "The CBRM receives almost half of all provincial equalization funding, allowing the CBRM to provide comparable service with comparable taxation."

About 150 business and community leaders attended the meeting at the Delta Sydney. Coun. Vince Hall offered greetings on behalf of Mayor John Morgan, who was unable to attend. The municipality is threatening to sue the province for what it believes is its share of federal equalization payments.

Hamm said the province will provide a detailed response to the CBRMís request for financial information.

The municipality should have that information within the month, he added. "We will provide it all; you wonít have to go through (the) Freedom of Information (Act)."

University College of Cape Breton president John Harker said information on equalization should not be for the exclusive use of the CBRM, but should be available to the public. He also suggested that, in light of the areaís interest in environmental health, consideration should be given to forming a new public health agency in Cape Breton.

Hamm believes there is a strong case for a regional health centre to be located in Nova Scotia. "We donít anticipate we will become a central agency, but there will be an opportunity in Atlantic Canada for a regional centre."

The region needs to start working on its image, Hamm said. "The tar ponds put Sydney on the map for all the wrong reasons, that is why it is so important to clean up the mess as soon as possible."

He is calling on the community to support the cleanup plan as it unfolds. He said the province has already committed funding for the cleanup and expects the federal government to live up to its original commitment of a 70/30 split. "We must be far more conscious of what we are doing and what we are saying particularly when it can be interpreted negatively off island."

Retired businessman Bruce MacDonald questioned the premier on designating the municipality a provincial growth centre similar to Halifax as well as decentralization of government departments.

Hamm said a lot of the good things that happened in Halifax didnít come from government intervention.

Government has been downsized over the last four years and it is difficult to suggest that longtime civil servants relocate to Cape Breton, the premier added.

wstewart@cbpost.com