Thursday, February 5, 2004 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Eric Wynne / Herald Photo
Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm speaks with former Ontario health minister Tony Clement and MLA Brooke Taylor before a government caucus meeting Wednesday morning. Mr. Clement is running for the leadership of the new Conservative Party of Canada.

No tar ponds politics, please
Hamm insists there is a deal with Ottawa for 70-30 split

By Amy Smith and The Canadian Press

Cape Breton Nova MLA Gordie Gosse says politics shouldn't get in the way of cleaning up the Sydney tar ponds.

"We don't want it to be a political football," the New Democrat said Wednesday. "Let's just get 'er done."

He said the responsibility for funding the cleanup lies with both the federal and provincial governments, but Ottawa should pay for the majority of the cost. This week, Environment Minister David Anderson said Ottawa is responsible for just 40 per cent of the site, but will pick up half the cost of the roughly $400-million project. He warned there could be less federal money for other Nova Scotia projects if Ottawa gives too much to the tar ponds.

Premier John Hamm argues there is a deal for a 70-30 split, with the federal government picking up the larger amount.

"We have set aside money for 30 per cent," he told reporters Tuesday.

According to the 1999 Canada-Nova Scotia-Cape Breton Regional Municipality cost-share agreement, "level 3, phase 1 remediation will be funded 70 per cent by Canada and 30 per cent by Nova Scotia."

Parker Donham, spokesman for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said a 50-50 cost-sharing agreement is not an option.

"We're focused on a 70-30 split," he said Wednesday.

"It's roughly how the contaminants are distributed between the federal and provincial sites."

Ottawa owns the tar ponds, an open waterway leading directly to the Atlantic Ocean. It also owns portions of the former coke ovens site, which cooked coal to make coke that fired the provincially owned steel plant for decades.

Tony Clement, federal Conservative leadership candidate, says he's not surprised Ottawa is trying to shift more responsibility for the Sydney tar ponds cleanup to the province.

He said the federal government is "trying to have its cake and eat it too."

"I've seen how the federal government deals with all provinces," said Mr. Clement, former Ontario health minister.

"The federal government manipulates the agenda and tries to make grand announcements and yet doesn't back it up with the appropriate financial infrastructure to actually make it work."

Mr. Clement, in town to seek support and attend this weekend's Tory annual general meeting, also promised to lobby for a better offshore royalty deal for Nova Scotia if he becomes party leader.

He said a Conservative government under his leadership would end the federal clawback of equalization payments for every dollar Nova Scotia earns from oil and gas.

"I think it's very important for Atlantic Canada to have more control over its natural resources and also more of the revenue stream from the get-go, rather than having a system of dependency on the federal government through equalization payments," he said before paying a visit to the weekly provincial Tory caucus meeting in Halifax.

Meanwhile, a resolution calling on leery Nova Scotia Tories to back the new Conservative Party of Canada is expected this weekend from the provincial party's new executive.

The wording of the resolution hasn't been finalized, but the intent is to urge party members to explicitly support the new federal entity, said Grant Galbraith, the outgoing provincial president.

Political scientists in the province say the resolution shows party brass are concerned about the deep reservations the rank and file have towards the new party.

Leonard Preyra, a professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, said in an interview it's one more sign the party is struggling for unity in Atlantic Canada.

"It's extraordinary that the party has been reduced to this state," Preyra said. "There is a great deal of disillusionment and depression within the conservative movement, especially here in Atlantic Canada, where most party members are looking (at the merger) as a wake, rather than a rebirth."