Control-freak capital

Brian Flemming

Halifax is a self-proclaimed “Smart City.” It boasts more residents per capita with post-secondary degrees than any other Canadian city and is regularly rediscovered as a “hidden treasure.” One writer recently labelled it “Canada’s last best place.”

Halifax is also becoming Canada’s most rigidly regulated community. Quebec may regulate signs and language but Halifax, fresh from banning scents in public places, now seems determined to surpass the sovereigntists by regulating private gar (lens in pursuit of perfecting the ban. Indeed, the perfect has become the enemy of the good in tall ship city.

Last week, while Halifax’s Moosehead hockey team battled the Rimouski Oceanic for a place in the Memorial Cup finals, city councillors were being verbally pummelled, one block away, by hordes of earnest, chemically concerned citizens.

The issue was whether the state had any place in the backyards of this sprawling city of:350,000. If a proposal to ban residential lawn and garden pesticide use is adopted, Halifax will become the first Canadian city to attempt regulation of these potting potions.

So many Cincinnatuses showed up last week to have their Warholian moment of populist fame that all could not be heard. So, another – televised, naturellement – public hearing has been slated for June 1:3 when, once again, “city mice” will square off against “country mice” for the votes of their governmental garden-keepers.

Government regulation has been in retreat throughout the industrialized world for years but not in Canada’s Ocean Banned Wagon. Here, the three horsemen of the regulatory reflex fear, tragedy and disaster – continue to canter along in the blissful belief that Regulation-H can still do everything including care piles.

Supporters of a pesticide ban painted a pathetic picture of children being poisoned if Halifax’s reeves ignored their pleas. Opponents accused these urban Ulanovs of ignorant fear- mongering. In this overheated rhetorical oven, neither side bothered to ask why a middle-sized city like Halifax should regulate sub-stances it is ill-equipped to know much about or to oversee effectively.

Health Canada has scientists in Ottawa labs to test pesticides and pass on their safety. It also has an enforcement arm. In her presentation, the Sierra Club’s Elizabeth May complained about the lack of up-to-dated ness of these federal regulators but did not suggest Halifax had the capacity to replicate what they do.

The more extreme regulati denounced the plan to phase a ban in over four years. Too long, they cried. The Pizza-Pizza generation wants what it wants in half an hour or all hell happens.

No one suggested compensation be paid to local businesses that might be hurt by an instant ban. after all, Robert Mugabe, a graduate of one of our Bluenose universities, doesn’t plan – on “moral” grounds – to compensate those white Zimbabwean farmers whose land he is taking. Why should Halifax pay child poisoners?

Many of Halifax’s middle-class boomers appear uncertain about which side of the hysteria to join. They don’t want their kids hurt but, simultaneously, their 6,000-square-foot suburban plots are their most valuable assets. Chinch hugs could turn their Kentucky blue grass into a worthless brown barren. Indeed, a ban could transform many into midnight regulatory scofflaws, secretly squishing 2-4-D onto their dandelions under cover of darkness.

The dangers facing this exquisite city are manifold. If the pesticide puritans win, where will they stop? Are genetically modified foods something a sensitive, caring city should control? Should death-dealing peanut butter be stricken from supermarket shelves because a handful of people are allergic to it? Should citywide racial and sexual harassment regulations be imposed? The list of possibilities for foolish regulatory schemes is endless.

More importantly, will those who promote Halifax as a great place to live and work risk it becoming known as Canada’s control freak capital, a last best place for civic government intervention in areas where it has no business regulating anything?

Stay online. Halifax’s PC orgy of orthodoxy is far from finished in this civic election year. If the city is lucky, the silent electors might tell the next crowd of councillors to stick to their sewers and street paving lest Halifax become Canada’s “Too Smart City.”