PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The Current believes that the issues raised in this editorial originally published just over a year ago remain relevant, particularly given the apparent lack of activity and progress on economic development during the new Council’s first year. We re-publish it now ahead of tomorrow evening’s public meeting at the Paul J. Yakabuski Commmunity Centre from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Township’s workshop discussion is to get input and advice from citizens and business and community leaders, with the intent of providing an “opportunity to offer input through a candid and honest discussion on your vision for Madawaska Valley’s future.”
As we luxuriate in the aftermath of another election spared from signage blight it is worth considering what we have learned about what should occupy the new Council’s attention. Handover is only a month away.
Before we get to that, The Current congratulates all of the successful candidates. Councillors Archer and Maika, who will not be returning, deserve appreciation for their tireless contributions over the past four years.
Looking forward, the issue that dominated campaign rhetoric was economic development. This was apparent from comments and questions on The Current’s online Town Hall forum as well as from other public statements by most of the candidates themselves. The need for improving this was most often linked to the subjects of tourism and the Railway Station. As recently noted by Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Sport, “tourism accounts for over four percent of the province’s GDP, contributing more than agriculture, mining and forestry combined.”
When they hear the phrase “economic development” some people focus on the word “development” and immediately think of property development. They erroneously believe that it is a strategy limited to encouraging and facilitating more residential construction, seasonal or otherwise. An often heard complaint is: “We don’t want to become another Muskoka.”
In recent years many municipalities have used their economic development powers, which are limited by legislation, through “branding” policies. These are aimed at promoting and marketing the assets and attractions that would encourage investment, tourism and cultural development. Madawaska Valley itself adopted such a policy in its Economic Development Strategic Plan 2010-2014. The plan included:
- an economic/community profile
- results of stakeholder consultations
- an analysis of its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT)
- a strategy based on certain guiding principles
- identification of target sectors
- a five-year marketing action plan
This resulted in considerable progress until 2016. By May of that year at a Special Council Meeting the public learned that Railway Station staff who were charged with implementation of priority goals from the Economic Development strategy and the Township’s community-led Strategic Plan The Path Forward were either working on or had completed 27 out of 64 (42 percent) of the goals identified in the two guiding documents.
Unfortunately after that date Council seems to have focused less, if at all, on this strategy. In fact, it might be said it dropped the ball altogether. Cost-cutting in certain areas — especially ones that have been shown to contribute to development — does not make sense even when justified on the basis of keeping tax increases to a minimum. As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money, and that surely applies to improving the profile and marketability of the Valley to increase economic development. The ripple effect of making it more attractive to businesses and professionals means that they will have more incentive to move themselves and their families here. This should be a priority. For example, how many orphan patients might there be three years from now?
It is to be hoped that the new Council will soon pick up the ball and rejoin the economic development game.