Cost-cutting politicians are often stymied by the fact that someone, somewhere, is very keen on any given service.
This has been made clear in the Maritimes, where news that snow-plowing budgets in two provinces are being trimmed was immediately met with cries amounting to “not my road!”
It’s a sticky bind for politicians. The need to cut costs is evident in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and it's likely money can be saved in every department. But there’s also a powerful argument that clear roads are vital for emergency vehicles. And the image of those rural residents unable to afford private plowing becoming housebound because of routine Canadian winter weather is not one with which any politician wants to be linked.
Hence the caution as the provincial governments tackle the issue.
New Brunswick is looking to save $4-million annually, relying on attrition to cut staff and retiring expensive old equipment.
Among the more contentious changes, after this year the province will no longer plow private roads with fewer than three full-time residents. Supporters argue that the public should never have been on the hook for clearing what are, in essence, driveways. Opponents painted dire pictures of what could result.
“A lot of people have tractors but some don't have cabs on them, they'd freeze to death plowing it themselves,” Joyce Wood, who lives in a tiny community north of Moncton, told the CBC.
Perhaps inevitably, as do many arguments in New Brunswick, the debate often morphed into a shouting match over urban versus rural rights and whether the province should redirect money currently spent on offering services in both official languages.
In Nova Scotia, where the province will offer few specifics on its review of snow-plowing operations, the reaction has been quieter.
NDP Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks confirmed they are looking to save $2-million annually. The result could be less salt, though the minister said residents could expect the same standard of service. Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil shot back that people are already unhappy with the current level of service.
The debate has been less vociferous here than New Brunswick. But give it time.
It was only last week that the Progressive Conservatives were delighting in pointing out road repairs done near the homes of those in and connected to government. You can bet they will be watching closely to see just where changes to plowing are felt.