Tuesday, July 26, 2016
To say CFA or to not say CFA that is not the question.
Last week this was the topic of conversation on CBC's Maritime Noon. Being an eighty year old stuck in a 48 year old body, I live for talk radio. I don't know why I find it so entertaining to listen to your average Josephine on the street let loose with her opinion, but I do. Somewhere in the middle of the show, a gentleman called in and hit the nail on the head. He said, this whole discussion was a big distraction and absolved government from taking responsibility. The host replied, well, let's try to stay relevant here and the gentleman said, Oh this is very relevant. And that was the end of the passing moment of bullshit free truth and then it was gone, never to be discussed again. Funny how that happens. It's so much easier to engage in navel gazing than to actually come up with a clear plan of action.
If you come to Nova Scotia with the aim of retiring, or if you don't need to run a business within Nova Scotia you will likely not experience any extraordinary challenges. The problems that newcomers face are classic and happen all around the world. Most of these problems can be resolved with cookies. The CFA discussion is only newsworthy because our rural communities are in serious population decline. It's difficult to operate a small business anywhere, but when there aren't enough full time residents to support local businesses it's extra challenging. People come and people go. They don't go because Gertrude, next door, stuck her tongue out at them and called them CFAs. They go because it was too hard to make a living and it was easier somewhere else. Because our small town councils are filled primarily with older, retired residents who are not currently struggling to make life work, there is little understanding of the reality of trying to run a business in Nova Scotia. There is often little understanding that there is even a problem.
So, we can continue to contemplate our belly buttons and talk about how hurtful it was when Millie didn't invite us to Bingo, or we can actually create municipal and provincial policies that make it easier for people to start new businesses in Nova Scotia. The very first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem. So, let's begin. Repeat after me- I am the Town of Lunenburg and I have a population problem. I am Yarmouth and I have a population problem, I am Pictou and I have a population problem. Good. Very good. The next step is to listen. Talk to the people you are trying to retain. If you want to understand what young people need, talk to young people. If you want to understand what families need, talk to families. If you want to understand what entrepreneurs need, talk to entrepreneurs. And then, claim responsibility. The question is not, should we drop the term CFA, the useful question is, what needs to happen to attract and retain young people, families, and entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia.
Here are some of my suggestions. Feel free to add to this list.
1- An issue close to my heart that should be fixed by our provincial government- Don't charge small home-based businesses commercial property taxes. This is not common practice. Nova Scotia is an ideal location to set up a home-based business, but this kind of policy prevents growth and causes people to choose other provinces. Full disclosure, I now pay commercial taxes for my home-based studio that is located in an extremely quiet, residential neighbourhood, completely devoid of any privileges inherent to the commercial zone. (tourists, people, priority for snow removal, priority for general maintenance, proximity to other shops..)
2-Simplify permitting processes. AKA, reduce red tape. Does the use of a public washroom for a bus tour, the hanging of a colourful banner, or the use of folding chairs for a film festival need to go through council? How are these things handled in larger municipalities. For some reason I doubt that borrowing folding chairs ever gets put on the agenda of an HRM council meeting. Requiring a small business owner or volunteer to present to council for a simple request is unnecessary.
3- Keeping on the theme of red tape, solicit feedback from business owners who have established businesses. It should not take 4 months to open a cafe. If it does, the process should be simplified. If we want new businesses then we can't make it onerous.
4- Initiate rule changes. If a potential business is appropriate for a town, but does not neatly fit into the rules and the rules no longer makes sense, then change the rules. Don't put this change on the backs of the potential business owners and leave them to navigate an unfamiliar process by themselves.
5- Talk to youth and young families to learn what they need in order to stay. One of the biggest obstacles to attracting youth is a lack of public transportation. A twice a day bus from rural communities to Halifax would help young people stay in small towns and also bring more tourists from Halifax to rural NS.
6- High speed internet. Yes, we all know about this one, but seriously, it's not small minded neighbours driving people away from Nova Scotia it's the lack of high speed internet in rural communities...and cheese. We seriously need better cheese here.
7- Change the rules to attract a diversity of views on small town councils. Did you hear what Justin Trudeau just did? He created a committee of youth. He is soliciting the opinion of young people. So simple, yet so smart. If you want to make Nova Scotia a better place for young people then bring young people into the conversation. Small town councils have meeting times that exclude people with jobs. Think about that.
8- Sometimes people have good reason to be afraid of change. Gentrification pushes the locals out. It's an old story and it doesn't have a happy ending. That's the last thing we want. I can't imagine a Nova Scotia without the warm hearted, salt of the earth locals. Now's the time for governments to be proactive. Create policies to ensure that property assessments do not become inflated as new people move in and fix up old houses.
9-Time for aging administrators to relinqish the crown. If it's time to retire then, thank you for your years of service and please step down. Councils need to replace these positions with young people. When people have had one job for 30 years, it's really hard to stay fresh. The municipality of Lunenburg has an awesome new deputy CAO and the difference in spirit is palpable. The air feels hopeful. Many of our small towns are being run in the most risk averse way possible. Fear is paralyzing. The word, No, is thrown around like a beach ball. We desperately need fresh perspective.
10- As we amend our Municipal Planning Strategies, why not add, attract and retain new people and entrepreneurs, to our municipal policies. Our future councils need to be reminded that this is the big picture.
So, there you have it. Love your neighbour even if they don't love you back. Change is tough and how humans act in our little province is how they act everywhere else, kind, mean, petty, big hearted, scared and brave. People don't change because a politician or a report puts out a call for change. Work on the rules and time will take care of everything else.