This op-ed was published in the Halifax Chronicle Herald on August 1, 2019.
Sometimes when taxpayers stand up and make their voices heard, politicians actually listen. Federal Minister of Rural Economic Development Bernadette Jordan’s recent rejection of the proposal to spend $18 million tax dollars on a luxury golf course airport in Cape Breton is proof of that.
This taxpayer victory sets a powerful precedent and shows two things: one, that it’s worth taxpayers taking a stand to push back against government waste; and two, that we all need to stay on alert for further corporate welfare demands that will undoubtedly rear their ugly heads in the future.
The owners of the luxury Cabot golf courses and resort were demanding $18 million tax dollars from both Nova Scotians and taxpayers across Canada. They wanted the cash to build an airport close to their golf resort. The request was unreasonable for many reasons, not the least of which was that there were already two airports within a one-to-two-hour drive from the resort.
The opposition on the ground to this brewing boondoggle was clear. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation launched a petition, quickly amassing over 15,000 signatures.
The day before Minister Jordan rejected the funding, signers of that petition called her office in droves, eventually causing staff to stop answering the phones and the office voicemail box to fill up.
Videos on the issue were posted on Facebook, garnering tens of thousands of shares and views.
There’s power in numbers.
But there’s power in money too.
Using a sleek website, videos and Twitter account, the golf resort owners had the audacity to suggest that the airport was for the benefit of Western Cape Breton and not for the direct financial benefit of the golf resort owners.
Sure, their wealthiest patrons would have then been able to fly into and out of the course in the same day, but the airport was really for Western Cape Bretoners – the entire population of which is just over 17,000 – whom for some reason require a third airport (which would be seasonal … for the golf season) within the driving time it takes most suburban Torontonians to drive one-way to work.
What’s worse, the funding would have come out of something called the Rural and Northern Communities Fund, which is otherwise dedicated to improved food security, improved health and education facilities for First Nations reserves, broadband connectivity and reliable energy in remote communities and those in Canada’s North.
Improved air infrastructure falls under this fund – but think more along the lines of flying in food to poor communities with no access to highways – not an airport built to fly in Warren Buffett for a day of golf.
Minister Jordan felt the public pressure. In addition to the signatures garnered by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s petition, business owners, local mayors, the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, environmental groups, the dean of the Cape Breton University business school and the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia all spoke out against funding the airport. Many said this will cost well over $18 million and carries huge risk for Canadian taxpayers.
Additionally, the operator of the airport in Port Hawkesbury made clear that taxpayers funding an airport for the Cabot golf resort would put his nearby airport unfairly out of business.
But, as those in government do, Minister Jordan left the door open to these golf resort owners to come back with a second ask, so a revised funding proposal may be brought forth and have to be defeated in the public square once again.
Luckily, this victory has proven that fending off these absurd demands of cash-strapped taxpayers is completely doable.
Minister Jordan deserves credit for rejecting this request. And the taxpayers on the ground who made their voices heard can pat themselves on the back.
Nova Scotians should remember for the next corporate welfare pitch for their pennies: sometimes signing a petition and calling a minister’s office can make a real difference.
In this case, it saved (likely more than) $18 million limited tax dollars that could be put to much more valuable use in this province.
Paige MacPherson is Atlantic Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.