Column on the Carvery sit in

The Daily News, May 10, 1995

Let us now compare fairnesses. Let us compare the shabby way we treated — and continue to treat — the people of Africville with the "humane" and "honorable" way we have handled the case of a briefly employed provincial senior civil servant who simply "wasn’t working out well."

Let us begin with Africville.

Halifax Mayor Walter Fitzgerald says his "patience is running out" with two former Africville residents who have been camped out in Seaview Park for nearly a year to protest the way the city compensated members of that black community when it took their land nearly three decades ago.

Back in the sixties, in the name of the great god of urban renewal, the City of Halifax bulldozed Africville — a small, self-contained, more-than-100-year-old black community of 400 on the edge of Bedford Basin — off the face of the Earth.

Rather than providing its residents with much-needed and much requested city services, the city took their homes, razed their community and scattered them to the unwelcoming winds in the larger white community.

In exchange, the city offered the displaced residents $550,000 for their lands and buildings — probably "fair market value" for homes without the city services the city had refused to supply — $200,000 for assorted welfare and relocation costs and the promise — never fulfilled — of educational and occupational programs to help them make transition to a new and predominantly white community.

Though the issue of compensation has been a festering sore in the black community for decades, city staff recently filed a report concluding — surprise, surprise — that the city had treated the residents fairly.

It is against that backdrop Victor and Eddie Carvery began their protest last July, setting up trailers on the spot in Seaview Park where their parents’ Africville home once stood.

In March, seemingly more mindful of the bad publicity that might befall heavenly Halifax during this June’s G-7 summit than the bad precedent they were setting, city council hastily passed a bylaw banning anyone from camping overnight in the park.

Now, says Mayor Walter Fitzgerald, the city is going to put an end of the protest. "We’re not going to put up with it much longer."

The provincial government decided not to put up with it either — "it" in this case being the mere presence of Art Battiste, the man it had hired from Saskatchewan 13 months earlier to become its new deputy economic renewal minister.

So the province gave him $35,000 and told him to be on his way.

It’s not the first time the province has been generous to departing neophyte officials. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to help it fire former Tory-era deputy ministers, and then hire a new crop of its own, it has now spent even more to help it fire two of the nine deputies it hired.

Lucy Dobbin, the disgraced former deputy health minister who got the boot for conflict of interest, collected $100,000 on her way out the door. She had been on the job less than a year.

Let’s see: $135,000 for two deputy ministers who didn’t work out after about a year each versus $550,000 for 400 people whose families had lived in a community for more than 100 years.

"There are always special circumstances," explained Premier John Savage when attempting to explain the inexplicable payout to Battiste, but he couldn’t say what those special circumstances were, except of course that he "wasn’t working out well." He just wasn’t …

Perhaps the real difference between Africville and the deputy ministers is that the deputy ministers were white, well-educated professionals and the people of Africville, well, they just weren’t.