EDITORIAL: When business and politics cross paths

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
October 20th, 2010

Where is the line when business and politics cross? How much if any separation is needed between the two? It’s a question that is never far from the surface in any decision making process of government, be it local, provincial, federal or international. Legitimate and logical arguments exist for the two being closely intertwined as well as for keeping the two separate in a ‘church and state’-type relationship. It’s also a philosophical question that can and has lead to both wins (the revitalization of downtown Nelson in the 90s is a local example) as well as career killing political moves (Sponsorship scandal anyone? Perhaps the current BC Liberal energy plan? Maybe the recent stimulus package?).

Here in Rossland, the question of how involved government should get with business has been rising to the surface recently. It boiled over at council this week with heartfelt monologues on the subject from several councillors on both sides of the fence.
Two issues in particular both tie into this equation: the revitalization tax exemption bylaw and the waiving of rent on the city-owned Golden Bear daycare facility.
The heavily debated and discussed revitalization tax exemption bylaw appears to be one of those possible win-win situations where politicians assist business. In short, owners of businesses that make improvements to their facilities to the tune of more than $10,000 won’t have to pay the increased portion of their tax assessment for five years, with a five year ramp up of the new taxes to follow. Rossland tax payers don’t lose any existing revenues and, if all goes well, five to ten years down the road we’ve increased property tax revenue along with having fixed up the city.
Alas, the devil is in the details on this proposed bylaw as two projects applications came in three weeks after the application deadline as set in the yet to be adopted bylaw.
The line between business and politics becomes sketchy around two projects in particular: the Red Resort lodge project and the fix up work going on at the BMO building.
It would seem in this case that the majority of council is supportive of allowing the two non-compliant properties to be included, which begs the question, ‘how close is too close a relationship between politics and business?’
Most would agree that fixing up our town is a good thing and that doing it at no up-front cost with a long term return is a great thing. But should we be offering a development incentive to projects that have already been completed?
On a smaller scale, the same question could also be posed around the recent decision on waiving Golden Bear child care’s rent.
As reported, the Golden Bear Child Care Society has come back to council asking for to have their rent for the next two years waived on the Spokane Street facility. The building, which is owned by the City, has been occupied by Golden Bear for the past three years. Over that time, the group made just shy of $200,000 worth of capital improvements to the property. As part of their initial five year deal with the city, they had three years of rent waived in lieu of capital improvements. Their improvements exceed what they first thought and so they are now requesting an additional two year rent waiver.
On the surface, again, it seems like a wonderful partnership between an important service to town and the city. The City gets an improved building with increased value and the child care society gets an affordable facility to operate in.
The politics and business question applies here as well, though. Upon further discussion, questions arose around the other child care providers in town. What would the impact on them be if council continues to assist Golden Bear? Is subsidizing one non-profit child care provider being done at the expense of other for-profit child care providers in town? It’s a difficult question that, again, has valid arguments on both sides.
On one side, when Golden Bear was first launched roughly eighteen years ago, it was because at that time the City felt the need for more child care and that the provider of this care should be non-profit. Today the need for child care still exists. You could say that supporting Golden Bear helps maintain high quality child care in Rossland and you’d be correct. You could also say that by supporting Golden Bear you’re hurting the other for-profit providers in town and thus harming the overall child care scene in Rossland and you’d possibly be right there as well.
While it may be an extreme example, if through subsidizing the non-profit you create an uncompetitive environment for the for-profits, they could very well go under. In that scenario, you could be harming the overall child care picture.
While the issues and their many sides are muddied, difficult to wade through and whatever decision is made will be right for some and wrong for others, it brings us back to our original question: should government get involved with business and, if so, how far should the relationship go?
At their core, the motivations behind politics and business are polar opposites. Business runs on the mindset of competition and one side winning and one side losing. Politics ideally runs on a motivation of how best can everyone win or lose together with as minimal impact on folks’ lives as possible. 
Given the different goals of each, can those two worlds cross paths in ways that work fairly and equitably for all?

Categories: Op/Ed

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