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More of the same for Cape Breton in 2015

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke.
CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke.

By Garry Leech

From The Cape Breton Independent

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke returned from meetings in Toronto last week where he promoted the economic “opportunities” the municipality has been developing. First and foremost among those so-called opportunities is the development of the Sydney port project that he also touted last month in his “Year in Review” report. And the crown jewel in this project is the doomed-to-fail container terminal. But while the mayor continues to insist that Cape Breton’s economic future rests with deeper integration with the global economy, Target’s announcement that it is closing all its Canadian stores, including one in Sydney, highlights how communities are at the mercy of outside forces in this unpredictable economic model.

Target’s announcement means that more than 100 workers will be laid off in Sydney. This latest development highlights the economic insecurity that results from dependence on large corporations from away. These corporations are not accountable to residents in communities where they operate. Target’s announcement follows on the heels of a decision by Walmart’s corporate headquarters in Ontario to replace a local Cape Breton contractor tasked with snow plowing and litter removal with a contractor from away.

Clarke’s promotion of the container terminal seeks to further integrate us into an unpredictable global economy dominated by large corporations that make decisions thousands of miles away from Cape Breton to serve their own financial interests rather than the economic needs of the local community. In short, it is an economic model that disempowers local communities and undermines local democracy.

For decades, the livelihoods of Cape Bretoners have been at the mercy of decisions made by unaccountable corporate executives who have never step foot on Cape Breton Island. Whether it is the opening and closing of large retail outfits (i.e. Target, Walmart, Zellers, etc.) or the constant comings-and-goings of call centre contracts, the decisions that impact lives here on the island are made thousands of miles away.

Clarke’s insistence on further integrating Cape Breton into the global economy might make sense if a majority of Cape Bretoners were benefitting from the model. But Cape Breton’s unemployment rate is 12.6%, which is almost double the national rate of 6.6%. And this number is artificially low because it does not include those who have given up searching for work and First Nations people on reserve. Furthermore, the global economic model has forced scores of Cape Bretoners to head to Halifax, Toronto and out West in order to survive. Meanwhile, one in three children in Cape Breton live in poverty, which is almost double the national rate.

Given that the global economic model is clearly not benefitting a significant portion of Cape Breton’s population, it is unlikely that increased dependence on it will suddenly result in a different outcome. The disease cannot be the cure. Instead of further exposing Cape Bretoners to the disease, Clarke should be promoting locally-based economic development that does not leave us vulnerable to the whims of the global market. Such an approach would be more sustainable, more democratically accountable to local residents, and likely more stable.

There are many examples of communities and countries around the world that have taken such approaches and that are benefitting from them. In previous columns I have explained in detail the futility of the container terminal project and proposed alternative development ideas. It is time that Mayor Clarke and the CBRM council seriously considered working with leaders in other municipalities to lobby the provincial and federal governments into promoting locally-based alternatives instead of perpetually begging for the few crumbs that fall from the corporate table. If they don’t, then Cape Bretoners will remain at the mercy of unpredictable global economic forces throughout 2015 and beyond.

Author: Garry Leech is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University and a member of the J. B. McLachlan Media Collective.

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