I’m winding down my tenth year of providing municipal council reports for CBC Cape Breton’s Information Morning, and I may have hit a first – amazing the host.
Sitting in for Steve Sutherland last week, Information Morning news anchor Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith sounded incredulous as she asked how Richmond Municipal Council could put in three years of work on a $6.6 million county-wide tourism strategy, only to vote to walk away from it.
I could trace the trajectory from last May’s 6-1 council vote that launched spending and tender calls on the project to last week’s 3-1 vote to withdraw from the contract struck with the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the provincial government.
Or I could let the players themselves speak to the issue, especially since their commentary wouldn’t even begin to fit in the story I wrote about it for last week’s edition of The Reporter.
“Hopefully we will have tenders out very shortly and will be able to move before the summer on some of these contracts.” – Richmond’s Chief Administrative Officer at the time, Warren Olsen, shortly after the May 2, 2016 council meeting that saw the tourism spending approval.
“I think we need to be very careful.” – Warden Brian Marchand on December 5, 2016, shortly after council voted to defer discussions on the tourism strategy until it was able to hold follow-up meetings with ACOA and the provincial government.
“We are concerned that delays in the project will cause us to miss this wonderful opportunity to build a tourism industry in Richmond County.” – Gordon Kerr, tourism committee chair for the St. Peter’s Economic Development Organization (SPEDO), addressing the same December council meeting.
“We’re talking about leaving $4.4 million on the table in external funding, and it might take a long time to get that again. Having said that, when you look at our financial situation, we need to be diligent in what we do.” – Isle Madame councillor Alvin Martell, who spoke during a January 23 council session in Arichat which included an update on the tourism project that suggested several tenders had come in over budget.
“They seemed to be completely for tourism and saw it as a great source of economic development, and they said all the right words, so I hope they follow through.” – Acting SPEDO tourism committee chair Sherry MacLeod, following a March 11 meeting in Arichat that also included Marchand, Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Michel Samson, and the county’s interim Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Maris Freimanis.
“What we found in some of the business plans – and in the lack of business plans, in some cases – is that there was absolutely no sustainability in certain portions of the [strategy].” – Freimanis, at the March 27 council meeting, shortly before the 3-1 vote to withdraw from the current tourism plan.
“What we got was a 53-page document and a 130-page document – there’s been nothing done. What’s being proposed by this council is that we don’t want to spend money on consultants and big reports – we want to get forms into ACOA and we want to get money spent.” – Marchand, on March 27.
“It’s a tough decision, and I have wavered on this since I brought myself up to speed on it, and I’ve had lots of conversations with people. At the end of the day, the one thing for me is that I’ve had many people tell me that they would like to see the project move forward, but not at the expense of having to raise taxes. And if that’s our only option, then that’s the part that sticks with me the most.” – Deputy Warden and first-term councillor Jason MacLean, speaking at the March 27 council meeting
“Why do we have to send all the money back to Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Halifax? I’m not sure what the rationale is.” – SPEDO chair and former councillor Clair Rankin, on March 27.
“I’ve been on this project for many years now, and to see it stroked off with the stroke of a pen in a matter of minutes is just purely a disgrace.” – SPEDO member and Richmond County business owner Colin MacDougall, on March 27.
“If you don’t want to support this, that’s fine – we’re coming back… and we’ll be counting on you to provide some leadership. And I will be meeting with you guys to make sure that it moves forward.” – SPEDO tourism consultant Denise Martell, near the end of the March 27 meeting.
And the final word goes to the warden: “I think everybody, instead of nailing us, should work with us – that’s all I’m asking.”
They’ve all said their piece; let the new tourism negotiations begin.