CBRM council to tackle economic development
Economic development has never been the responsibility of the municipal government but it’s fallen into its lap because there’s no one else left to do it.
That was the sentiment of at least one member of council Monday as the Cape Breton Regional municipal council’s general committee discussed the process of how it is about to begin looking at the issue of economic development and related planning issues.
Dist. 10 Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger suggested it has now become the domain of council by default.
“We own it, because there’s nobody left here doing anything,” he said. “The only office we had was taken out of Sydney.
“We have to do more for ourselves and, yes, we’ve got to meet more, because there’s nobody else going to come to help us … that’s the bottom line.”
Hand-in-hand as part of the discussion will be the first review of the CBRM’s planning strategy and land use bylaw since they came into effect 13 years ago.
In a region that is plagued by high unemployment and high rates of child poverty, council now intends to hold standalone general committee meetings dealing with economic development and the planning strategy review on the first Wednesday of each month. The discussion could also spill into other general committee sessions, when scheduling allows, as well as other briefings and workshops.
“If you’re going to consider how do we move forward to be a leader in economic development, what was our role to play, so we’ll go through the heavy lifting process, and it’s rather weighty going through policy documents that are very lengthy, and analyzing that and getting feedback from business and community so that we can make improvements,” Mayor Cecil Clarke said.
There is the belief in some quarters that municipal policies are delaying some development, he said.
Under the Municipal Government Act, there are no provisions involving economic development, Clarke said, but the CBRM has been given no choice but to be at the front end of it.
Several councillors said they want to see bodies such as Destination Cape Breton, Innovacorp, Business Cape Breton, the Cape Breton Partnership and others appear before the committee and discuss their strategies for the CBRM. There was also talk of bringing together all of the municipalities on the island for a discussion, something Clarke said they are overdue for, given last fall’s municipal elections.
Dist. 8 Coun. Amanda McDougall added she would like to see the non-profit sector included in the conversation.
Bruckschwaiger said they could also learn from good news stories such as Protocase’s steady growth as a significant employer in the region.
“This is huge in our municipality … let’s talk about this stuff, these are the types of people who have got to be brought in to council for discussion, they’re the ones who are the movers and the shakers, they’re the ones that are creating jobs. What else can we do to help you do more?” Bruckschwaiger said.
Clarke noted the City of Moncton also once found itself at a similar crossroads and is now in a position where it spends more than $1 million annually on an arts and culture strategy and has economic development spending of about $7 million.
Dist. 6 Coun. Ray Paruch said he welcomes the review of planning and land use issues but called the economic development discussion “an exercise in academia,” saying he’s seen it many times before in his years on council.
“I like what I heard on the planning section, it makes sense that we’ll modify and we’ll change plans in order to accommodate what the public doesn’t like … but what I see here on economic development, we’ve been down that road 10 times already,” he said. “I’ve seen all kinds of plans, I’ve got maybe 20 of them home.”
Instead, Paruch said the municipality needs to shakes things up and think outside the box.
“We’ve got to sit down in a workshop atmosphere and we’ve got to plot a new strategy to go in a different direction in order to achieve success,” he said, adding the CBRM’s role should be to act as an advocate and bring people together.
The mayor will also write to the leaders of the province’s political parties inviting them to appear before council and discuss how their platforms would affect the CBRM.