Never doubt city council's ability to suck. Last week's meeting—the same one where the crazy cat by-law was passed—hit a new low when council voted to consider bringing back licences for bicycles. Councillor Krista Snow floated the idea, suggesting that licence fees could help pay for cycle-centric spending like bike lanes, and a majority of her colleagues agreed. It doesn't matter that bike riding should be encouraged rather than taxed, given the whole global warming thing. Or that the city got out of the bike licensing racket years ago because it proved more trouble that it was worth. Council has made a lot of bad moves this year, so why stop now?
The defeatist sentiment has spread beyond city hall to become a mantra for premier Rodney MacDonald and the provincial government. There, the scandal du jour is not the legislature's late opening date of November 22 (conveniently timed to miss former cabinet minister Ernie Fage's hit-and-run trial) or RodMac's promised law to take the right to strike away from healthcare workers, but immigration.
Two weeks ago the government scrapped part of its immigration strategy and offered to return a kind of extortion fee it had collected from prospective immigrants. This might have been a "good news" story—a department seeing a problem and taking action to correct it, all to better serve the people of Nova Scotia. But when the government went about cleaning up its mess by trying to quietly disperse $60 million among hundreds of immigrants, it became a "we've got something to hide" story. RodMac has already shuffled his cabinet to get Carolyn Bolivar-Getson out of both the immigration portfolio and the public spotlight.
Before questions of government mismanagement and corporate corruption even surfaced, the program at the heart of the matter seemed like condoned exploitation. A potential immigrant to Canada could get an application fast-tracked by paying a bribe of $130,000 to Nova Scotia's immigrant nominee program. Then, a local company would get $100,000 of that cash to accept the immigrant as a worker for six months: $20,000 going to pay the worker's salary, $80,000 for the company's trouble. This from a dying province that is desperate to boost its population through immigration.
Len Goucher, the new immigration minister, admitted in a two-hour press conference that immigration really "wasn't a priority" for the government when it cooked up this scheme in 2002, so it didn't pay much attention to abuses. And obviously priorities did not change very quickly, as the government waited years to invent the immigration minister
position, then filled it with a weasly former gym teacher. "This is a time in our history when we need to open our doors wide to newcomers," said Nova Scotia's first immigration minister, Rodney MacDonald, at his unveiling in 2005.
"We are committing significant resources to promote immigration and settlement. And we're determined to make our province the most immigrant-friendly place in Canada."
The immigration program revelations now coming out hint at just how much bullshit was spewing from RodMac's mouth. It's the same sort of lip service city council pays to green living. Here's mayor Peter Kelly at an event in 2005: "We must make every effort to foster a generation of environmentally conscious citizens who will better influence decision-making processes and act responsibly to create a sustainable municipality."
Then council—which pays tax subsidies to cars by spending a huge chunk of its budget on road maintenance—gives serious consideration to bike licensing fees to pay for the bike lanes Halifax so vitally needs.
Both RodMac and Kelly are saying the right things. They aren't making outlandish promises or disputing the very real challenges facing Nova Scotia. They also speak like modern and aware leaders, which makes their actions all the more disappointing. Pretending to "get it" is worse than not getting it at all.
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