Cape Breton must control its own destiny

I was heartened to read in the Cape Breton Post recently that about half of my fellow Cape Bretoners believe the island would be better served if it were independent, autonomous, or had some form of self-government from the mainland.

The number of people supporting self-government rises to 53 per cent of Cape Bretoners under the age of 49.

I’ve long believed that Cape Breton Island should have control of its own destiny. Despite living ‘away,’ I will forever consider myself to be a Cape Bretoner and I care deeply about the welfare and future prospects of the island.

For far too long, mainland leadership has failed Cape Bretoners. Halifax thrives whilst Sydney falters. The capital’s population grows whilst the number of Cape Bretoners steadily declines. I’m a proud Nova Scotian, but I do not allow that pride to blind me from the fact that rule from Halifax is detrimental to Cape Breton.

Observing the ongoing tension in Great Britain between Scotland and England regarding Brexit and the way in which Scotland’s destiny is being decided by the English in London, I was reminded of the way in which Cape Breton’s destiny is being decided by Mainladers in Halifax.

It is clear that good policy for Halifax comes at the detriment to Cape Breton. For years, governments in Halifax have simply been managing the decline of Cape Breton. Very little opportunity exists for young Cape Bretoners – indeed, our biggest export is arguably our young, energetic, educated youths – and the government in Halifax has done little to attempt to abate this torrent of out migration.

Moreover, we have no feasible way to reverse this decline because we are, ever increasingly, being managed by Halifax. Many young people such as myself would gladly return to the island if reasonable prospects for employment and self-sufficiency existed. Our exile cannot be labelled a choice when the only options available to us are to move away and enjoy a reasonable standard of living or to remain and be either woefully under-employed or unemployed. We shall never be able to lure these young people back without access to the levers of policy and fiscal control that self-government brings.

Prince Edward Island – a similarly sized and populated island – is not only stable but enjoying a renaissance. Why? They have selfgovernment and they develop and implement policy which is in their own best interests.

Cape Breton, meanwhile, cannot possibly turn its fortunes around if its people are not in control of our governance. We need to take control of our destiny and demand the right to determine our future. Whilst formal independence would be both a cumbersome and drawn out process, regional autonomy could be implemented relatively quickly and simply and is not without precedent both within Canada and further afield. Regional autonomy would see Cape Breton allocated its fair share of provincial revenue and given the power to manage its own affairs.

I think it’s a grand idea. And for those of you who would be naysayers, consider this: rule from Halifax has clearly not worked so what is the harm is giving regional autonomy a go? At worst, we continue down our current path of decline and eventually fade into the abyss. At best, our local community and economy are revitalised, the population stabilises, and we build a brighter, sustainable future for generations to come.

We are a proud, unique collective of people and I see no reason why we should not demand that we control the fate of our community.

Up with Cape Breton!

This piece was originally published in the Cape Breton Post on 21 December 2019.