Monday, June 16, 2008

Tale of two cities

There seems to be a few political certainties which transcend geography and cultures; one being that federal parliaments tend to attract a disproportionate number of lawyers and local and state/provincial bodies a strong core of property developers. Although the latter bodies, involved as they are with planning approvals, might actually create the developer along the way.

These thoughts stem from a comparison of two widely separated cities, well Port Macquarie/Hastings on the NSW coast has never realized actual city status, though it does have roughly the same population base as the regional city of Chilliwack BC. They both share rapidly declining rural roots and are both now depending on ‘growth’ to go forward.

Oh, and both have identities under investigation for potential development malpractice, and overspending on developments supposedly of value to the community. The Port Mac council has actually been dumped and replaced by an administrator after the fiasco surrounding the building of an arts centre. Chilliwack is being criticized, apart from other development issues, for moving ahead with construction of an arts centre.

The Port Mac Glasshouse project, initially expected to cost the council $ AUD 7.3 million, had blown out to over $41.7 million, and with interest repayments likely to extend the council's liability to $66 million. Chilliwack has long been planning a Cultural Centre, a similar facility to the Glasshouse, but no price tag has been yet announced.

The Port Mac council is now under administration and their Chilliwack counterparts are in moderate disarray, following the allegations of developer deals against former mayor and now sacked BC Solicitor-General, John Les. Any real differences are in the political ties for the two councils.

Both NSW state government and BC provincial government are equally corrupt, but unlike BC the Port Mac council is on the wrong side of the current political divide. Former mayor Rob Drew still tries to conduct council from the back stalls, but unlike Les he has no buddies upstairs to shore up his position.

The issues for both go much deeper than cosmetic cultural centres, taking in the broad sweep of land and infrastructure development as well. Releasing and rezoning land is always open to major corruption, as is letting contracts for civil developments. Like most communities these two will probably just live with it; ‘it happens everywhere, what can I do about it?’

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