Bid failure leaves lessons to be learned.

As the dream of a “world class” Commonwealth Games slips from the 2014 Bid Committee’s grasp, it is time to examine the root of many citizens mistrust and fear, and the politics behind the bid.

There was palpable panic and frustration coming from Scott Logan — the bid’s head honcho — last week. Over the weekend fellow bid city Glasgow’s paper the Scotsman had run a well-written and researched news report on how our games bid was in “disarray”. Logan kicked the damage-control into high gear, claiming “The media frenzy here, the constant striving to find some kind of dirt or blood or something wrong here . . . to find scandal in everything we do, has made it very difficult on the politicians and made it very challenging on the bid committee,” in the Monday March 5th Herald.

To blame the media for reporting on the actual documented comments and concerns of elected officials if obviously ludicrous; to blame the politicians for having doubts and responding to their constituents concerns is not acceptable.

The unease and mistrust directed at the bid committee reveals the deep concerns that most Nova Scotians have about our government. Fear replaced trust in the Commonwealth Games bid process.

This province has a huge problem that crosses all departments and agencies of government – we do not have transparent, accountable and public decision making processes around funding and policy creation.

Because of the inscrutable and politically driven way in which essential programs, capital programs, and maintenance funding is decided, it is hard to get excited about something like the Games. It is hard because one is left to wonder how many of these essential services, which have to fight for funding each and every budget, will be sacrificed in order to finance the bid.

An example of this is public education funding. Specifically the funding of renovation, repair and replacement of our public schools. There ought to be be a series of formulas that are applied to this issue: a percentage of the real capital value of all buildings had to be set aside for yearly, and a multi year per-capita funding amount for renovation or replacement of buildings. A system like this would allow for sensible steady maintenance and repair or replacement of buildings, and encourage real and meaningful capital planning.

This is not the way it plays out. Instead, school boards, municipalities, MLAs and old boys bicker, intimidate and jockey for position, each trying to get the governing party to support their requests. About every two years, usually right before an election, the Cabinet approves new construction, and the Minister announces the decision to build, often in politically sensitive ridings that need that extra boost to ensure “a good election result.”

This kind of political decision making is not just an education problem. Arts funding, museums, community services, low income housing, and joint funding for municipal projects are all victims of this kind of politicization, and have been for decades.

Which brings us back to the issue of public mistrust, and fear.

The fear is that the Games, be they $800 million or $1.7 billion, would put such tremendous pressure on the finances of the province that it would become impossible to be assured that programs that currently struggle for funding to would ever get what they need to succeed. The mistrust is that current programs would suffer financially to fund the Games.

Many of pro-Games supporters are disappointed and angry today. They say things like “we need to grow up” and “we look stupid internationally” and “we need to stop being so small town.”

There is nothing more “small town” in Nova Scotia today then the politics around essential core and capital funding from the Province. Arts, municipalities, schools and museums deserve more. The public deserves more. Old style politics has to stop.

Trust will come from an engaged public developing and supporting a transparent and fair policy framework that guides how multi-year public funding is determined in all of these areas.

Nova Scotia needs a change, or we will continue to fear change… and often, with good reason.

Waye Mason is music and festival promoter, business consultant and education activist in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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