By Gordon Carroll
The decision on the part of Premier Darrell Dexter’s government to move the offices of Access Nova Scotia, the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Land Registration Office from downtown Truro to Truro Heights is incomprehensible on many levels.
Town councillor Tom Chisholm, in fact, noted in an article that appeared in the Feb. 5 edition of the Truro Daily News, “I have not spoken to anyone in favour of this.”
First, full disclosure up front. I am not a resident of the town, nor do I have any business or other beneficial interest of any kind riding on the outcome of this decision.
Rather, I am a retired person living in Colchester County and I have never taken an active role in the political process or participated in party politics. Even from that detached perspective, I consider that this issue is so important I can no longer enjoy the luxury of remaining silent.
The Town of Truro is the center of the business, financial, social, cultural, religious and judicial life of the whole of Colchester County. Ensuring a strong and vibrant downtown core is absolutely essential to the well being of the entire county and beyond. This truth should be self-evident. The viability of any small town business district is largely a function of how many goods and services are available there to meet the needs of their clients and customers.
The actual presence of a business or service provider, public or private, makes it attractive to new businesses to join them and thereby make the whole even stronger.
Conversely, the loss of any business or service provider diminishes the whole and has an adverse effect on all those who remain, and a corresponding adverse effect on their clients and customers.
In this case, Dexter’s government has decided to move all the employees who work at Access Nova Scotia and the Registry of Motor Vehicles on Walker Street as well as the employees working at the Land Registration Office located in the Truro Center to a remote and as yet undeveloped site in Truro Heights.
While I do not know precisely how many employees will be affected, the overall number is significant. These government employees are currently positioned to support downtown businesses when they go to lunch, do their shopping over the noon break, pay their property taxes, pay their rent, purchase tickets to cultural events, visit their bank, the post office, their church, the library, or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll through the downtown core as part of their daily routine.
If the relocation of their office space proceeds as planned, these employees will be greatly inconvenienced and the downtown will be much diminished by their loss.
One short year ago, the closure of three long-established family businesses in the downtown (Margolians, Walkers and Crowells) cast a dark shadow over the future prospects of the downtown business area.
Fortunately, a number of new businesses subsequently moved into the area and partly offset that great loss, but the Crowell building and most of the A.J. Walker complex is still vacant.
If the relocation of these offices proceeds, a new building that was purposely built for Access Nova Scotia a few years ago will also become vacant as will a large block of office space in the Truro Center.
The provincial government provides financial support for the physical revitalization of small town business districts because they seem to recognize that it is important to keep them healthy and viable. This very progressive policy seems strangely at odds with their current determination to deal a severe economic blow to downtown Truro by removing much of their public sector presence from the downtown.
There are many financial and economic forces beyond our control working to challenge the viability of small towns. The trends toward regionalization and centralization are universally at play in every sector.
The astonishing growth of Halifax-Dartmouth-Bedford-Sackville-Cole Harbour-Easterm Passage since 1970 has been largely at the expense of rural Nova Scotia, and that includes Truro. What possible sense can it make for our own provincial government to disregard the vigorous and broad based opposition to this decision by proceeding unilaterally to gut the downtown of these vital government services?
To date, the mayor, the town council, the chamber of commerce, the Downtown Truro Partnership and many private citizens have voiced their opposition to this decision. To date, their voices have fallen on deaf ears.
Only the MLA for Truro-Bible Hill, Lenore Zann, publicly supports the move. In so doing, she is actually supporting the removal of a significant provincial government presence from the constituency that she represents to one that she does not!
She is either very poorly advised or very brave to do so. I can not recall a single precedent in which a sitting MLA, on the government side of the house, is actually on record as being in favour of removing government services from the heart of her own constituency.
Everyone makes mistakes. Even governments. But when a mistaken decision has been taken, the only acceptable course of action is to make it right.
Indeed, Dexter’s government did just that this past week when they reversed their position regarding the legality of allowing wine and beer kit retailers to permit their customers to make their own wine and beer in their stores.
The minister of justice, Ross Landry, speaking for the government on this policy reversal said, in effect, that we live in a democracy and that in a democracy it is incumbent on government to listen to the people who they represent. The public outcry against their ‘U-vint’ policy proved greater than the willingness of the government to continue to support that policy.
In light of this example, let the residents of Truro and Colchester County take heart and raise our voices loudly, clearly and persistently against the decision to move these government offices from the downtown core. Ill-considered decisions, left unchallenged, can and frequently do result in lingering and unforeseen consequences.
Rural Nova Scotia, including the downtown core, cannot afford to lose any existing business or government presence. The correct decision in this instance is a no brainer.
Gordon Carroll is a retired career civil servant. He has been a resident of Colchester County for more than 30 years.