ARICHAT: A new five-year plan for the municipality received more criticism.

During the regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on February 25 in Arichat, members of the public gave their feedback on Richmond County’s new strategic plan for 2019-2024 after council approved the recommendation of the committee-of-the-whole to adopt the plan last month.

Richmond County Literacy Network board member Shirley McNamara sent a letter to council to express her disappointment that the literacy network was not mentioned in the plan even though they’ve enriched the literacy of thousands of residents over the years.

“The network, in and of itself, was started by Richmond Municipal Council, and funded for many, many years, except the last couple,” McNamara noted. “We’ve certainly been able to assist many, many people who fall through the cracks so to speak, with some of them off to university, or off to community college, and many off to the work place where they’re productively contributing to the tax base of our municipality.

“I just was simply taken aback by the fact the strategic plan mentioned a whole lot of educational institutions and opportunities to connect but absolutely no appreciation or statement of appreciation for the network.”

Mary Lou Bedford, with the Seniors Take Action Coalition, told council she felt senior citizens were “under represented” in the plan, despite the fact that seniors represent half the population of the municipality.

“We feel that we should have maybe had as much space as tourism or other industry,” she said. “We’re mentioned in there as valuable, but I don’t think there’s enough emphasis. We, as a group, don’t feel that there’s enough emphasis on seniors as being an asset.”

Bedford noted there are many retirees locating or returning to Richmond County, pointing out that seniors are assets who are integral to the growth of communities. For example, she noted that many tourism-related events are dependent on seniors to serve as volunteers.

“We’re all paying taxes, we’re all purchasing things, and buying things to improve our life in our homes and that should be recognized more, I think, and used more,” she noted.

She suggested that the municipality have a staff member dedicated to delivering on the recommendations of the province’s Age Friendly Communities Plan, under the SHIFT program. Bedford said her group can assist the municipality in adopting those measures.

Richmond Warden Jason MacLean responded that the municipality is fully committed to working with seniors groups over the next five years.

“It’s unfortunate that your group feels slighted by not having a presence, I suppose, in the strategic plan but I agree 100 per cent that when you’re talking about tourism, if you’re talking about growing the economy, that there is a role for seniors to play in that,” the warden said.

Petit de Grat resident Robbie Fougere recalled that when he was a member of a committee formed to deal with the closure of the Richmond Fisheries plant 25 years ago, one of the suggestions to help the economic recovery was by attracting retirees to Isle Madame.

“I thought it was a good suggestion at that time, and I still think it is,” Fougere told council. “I guess it’s never too late to latch-on to a good idea.”

River Bourgeois resident Dorothy Barnard said because the plan is based on the feedback of a small segment of the population, the municipality needs to reach out to marginalized people and groups who are rarely heard from and were not consulted last year.

“Hopefully, the strategic plan is a living document, not something set in stone,” Barnard said. “We need a better way to get input from people who live in this county because it seems that a lot of the input is given over and over by the same group of people.”

Barnard said to make the strategic plan work, the municipality has to recognize the assets already in communities, as well as the contributions from people of all ages.

“There are already established groups that are able to give input,” Barnard noted. “They can start reaching out to other people.

“There’s not a whole lot of appreciation of the resources you have and the people who live in this county no matter what their ages are.”

MacLean responded that the plan recommends that the municipality has to do a better job of communicating with the public and has to do work better with community groups.

“I don’t think that what we’re trying to say is that the strategic plan is a complete document, that it’s closed and we’re not going to try to work on things,” the warden said. “It’s a document trying to help us all move forward, so the important part is what do we do with that document and how do we move forward with that document.”

District 2 councillor Alvin Martell added that the contents of the strategic plan come from public feedback and seniors are very important in the process, but the plan will depend on the availability of funds during budget deliberations.

The strategic plan can be viewed on the municipality’s Web site at: http://www.richmondcounty.ca/council/municipal-documents.html?own=0.