By many accounts, 2016 was a year worth forgetting, but that overlooks the many positive stories which took place over the past year.
Richmond County was the site of one of the biggest stories of the past year as the Municipality of the County of Richmond was embroiled in a spending scandal involving senior staff and councillors.
After a motion for a forensic audit into credit card expenses was denied last year, the winter of 2016 was dominated by on-line allegations, animosity, political dysfunction, a defamation lawsuit, an extortion investigation, government investigations, and forensic audits. As the tumult continued and independent audits and investigations determined there was questionable spending and a culture of entitlement at the municipality, Chief Administrative Officer Warren Olsen resigned and former warden Steve Sampson announced he was leaving politics.
That didn’t satisfy residents, as three incumbents decided not to run in the October municipal election, then three others, including warden Victor David, went down to defeat at the polls.
Also on the municipal level, 2016 saw voters across the Strait area elect new faces to councils and the school board. The Strait regional school board has three new female members and the towns of Port Hawkesbury and Antigonish have female mayors, with Antigonish also electing its first-ever openly gay town councillor. Voters in Antigonish and Inverness counties also elected two disabled councillors.
A by-law approved by Port Hawkesbury Town Council to sharply increase permit fees for food trucks, temporary vendors and flea markets, stirred opposition. After receiving a lot of negative feedback, the town is looking at dropping the permit hike to a more reasonable amount.
This came just before Port Hawkesbury Mayor Billy Joe MacLean left office after decades as an MLA, cabinet minister and mayor, capping off one of the more impressive political careers ever in this region.
The action over the past 12 months wasn’t just relegated to the municipal arena. On the provincial scene, 2016 was also tumultuous. Last winter saw employees in Registry of Deeds offices and with provincial parks lose their jobs, while provincial services were also reduced.
Months later, workers at the Port Hawkesbury Nursing Home criticized the province for making cuts, which they claimed led to a reduction in hours for some staff.
The year ended with teachers electing work-to-rule action after they twice massively rejected contract offers the Nova Scotia Teachers Union recommended. Not long after, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union also rejected a contract offer from the province, which is sticking to its argument that funds are limited.
The provincial government wisely stayed out of the decision to close Mulgrave Memorial Education Centre in 2018. With the community about to lose town status, the loss of the school was one blow too many for some, as residents and students valiantly, but unsuccessfully protested the closure decision.
But the news wasn’t all bad. Even stories like the prolonged stay of the rusted Dutch Runner had a silver lining as the community chipped in to provide comfort to crew members who were stuck on the vessel and unable to return home because they had not been paid.
The Port Hawkesbury waterfront, specifically the Strait Area Yacht Club, was the host of another positive story as candidates for the federal leadership of the Conservative Party converged on the region to offer their positions on various issues, solicit support for their bids, and most importantly, acquaint themselves with the people and issues that matter to the Strait area.
Also on the federal scene, the success of Syrian immigrants to the region is definitely worth noting. The Hadhad family escaped the war torn country and now have a thriving chocolate business in Antigonish and a growing family.
Another growing business in the region showed a level of ingenuity and originality that won them attention and acclaim from around the country. With their offer of land and a home for new employees, the owners of The Farmer’s Daughter were flooded with thousands of inquiries and settled on two families who recently met the community they will serve.
It is arguable that the most positive news item from the past 52 weeks was also the biggest story, that being the Meghan Trainor concert which brought thousands of people to Port Hawkesbury, while providing the town and area with national and international attention. Not just a showcase for this region, the concert gave local artists a chance to showcase their talents and demonstrated that the area has the ability to host large scale events.
While the popular opinion might be that 2016 was a terrible year, with the benefit of hindsight, it wasn’t that bad, and over time, it might be determined to be a very important year.