District of St. Mary’s prepared to pursue new goals
District’s goals the result of September public consultation with Engage Nova Scotia
The Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s is looking to grow as a community, and put itself out there as a great place to live on the eastern shore.
It was in the spirit of that desire for growth that the district hosted a public consultation in conjunction with Engage Nova Scotia to see what its most important asset – its people – had to say.
Residents shared their perspectives on what St. Mary’s has going for it – and what could use some work, at the Sept. 22 session. The results of that consultation were published earlier this month.
CAO Marvin Macdonald said the district has incorporated what was shared at that consultation with its own 2026 Strategic Plan. What resulted from the consultation was three goals – goals that dovetail into the district’s 2026 plan.
These goals include increasing the population of the Municipality of the District of St.
May’s by five per cent by 2021, and increasing commercial assessment by five per cent and a general reduction in unemployment by 2026.
Another goal for the district is youth retention – a key economic factor in creating employment and growth.
"We want to keep young people here, as opposed to them leaving, and going elsewhere to find work," Macdonald said.
"Some of the issues we wanted to address were around population, and the loss of it, between Antigonish and the HRM," Macdonald said. "We have one major road through here, no rail, no airports and no ocean ports. We have some fishing ports and water frontage, but little development along that frontage."
Macdonald said the consultation was a way for St. Mary’s council and staff to consider how to find opportunity in the district, and reverse what is seen as a lack of public engagement.
"A lack of engagement is an issue for all levels of government, but at the municipal level, we felt that we needed to find a way to get more people engaged," Macdonald said.
At the consultation, council and staff with the district revisited St. Mary’s 2026, and a conversation took place, focused on the district’s goals, on how to St Mary’s 2026 is a10-year strategic plan that was drafted up with the input of municipal council, staff and the public.
As it name indicates, the plan is guidelines, a decade in scope, for council and staff to achieve them – specifically in relation to the 2026 plan.
Like many initiatives to revitalize population and economic trends in Nova Scotia, Macdonald noted the goals the district reviewed at the September consultation are a response to the warnings entailed in the Ivany Report – which warns that serious action has to be taken to reverse population and economic decline in Nova Scotia; particularly in rural areas.
The general feeling Macdonald had, coming away from the consultation, is that work remains to be done, to reduce population shrinkage and increase the population of the district – and that a lot of that has to do with branding.
One recommendation from Engage Nova Scotia was for the district to market itself better, specifically online, to build a greater presence for St. Mary’s.
"We’re trying to create opportunities for youth, market our assets and capitalize on the rural appeal," Macdonald said. "We need more marketing, visitor information and that type of service"
"We don’t have a lot of infrastructure like restaurants and motels and bed and breakfasts to accommodate large amounts of increased tourism," Macdonald said. "We need to address basic things around infrastructure in order to really get more people into the area – either as visitors or to move into the area to live."
Macdonald said the technical side is crucial for attracting people to do business in the district.
A lack of local facilities, and a lack of good cellular and internet services were described as significant, recurrent issues among those who attended the consultation. These issues, Macdonald noted, are hindering the growth of the district.
"If we could deal with the internet and cellular issues, there may be some home-based businesses that could be developed. There are people who want that rural lifestyle, but also want to run their tech-based business out of their homes That’s a theme of what we’re hearing."
"Once we do that, there will be other opportunities that present themselves along with job opportunities for people, and business opportunities and opportunities for existing businesses to expand," Macdonald said.
The plan now for council and staff in the district is to take what they have learned and go back to the drawing board. What comes next is very much a planning stage.
"We’re going to start generating some more ideas, and go back to the community with that and say, ‘what do you think about this?’ That’s the phase we’re at now," Macdonald said. "We’ve had some discussions, and we’re now getting a plan put together, to see how we’re going to work on some of these initiatives."
Macdonald stressed the need for the district to be ready to change, and that they need plans that are flexible and ready for change.
"It’s a kind of living thing, with the economic and population situations – it’s always subject to change and on the move. We have the info now, and we’re going to plan to address some initiatives," he said. "We’re definitely looking for input and we encourage everyone to come forward with ideas."