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Power struggle, lack of leadership form stumbling blocks to creation of regional economic development unit


TRURO - An effort to form a regional economic development group within greater Truro/Colchester County is running up against a "power struggle" over who would have control of how it operates.

Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Lake and vice-president Stephanie Jones recently appeared before Colchester County Council to pitch a revised model of a proposed joint, regional economic development body.

"Who's going to run the darn thing?" Colchester County Deputy Mayor Bill Masters asked, during a recent presentation by the Truro Colchester Chamber of Commerce of a revised, proposed model for a regional economic body encompassing the chamber, the county and the towns of Truro and Stewiacke and Millbrook First Nations.

"We haven't even got it off the ground," Masters said, during discussion that at times bordered on being heated between the two sides.

"I don't think there's one person around this table who doesn't think we should have a regional approach," he said "It doesn't make sense not to have a regional approach. But folks, what we've got right now is no approach."

Masters later described the effort as a "pissing" contest.

"Power struggle," Coun. Tom Taggart added.

After the collapse of the former Colchester Regional Development Agency when funding was cancelled by the federal and (previous) provincial governments, the county and Truro each hired their own economic development officers to look after their respective interests.

And in recent months the chamber has proposed the formation of a regional economic development body encompassing itself and the four municipal bodies.

After failing to gain municipal support for an initial proposal, chamber president Andrew Lake and vice-president Stephanie Jones met with county council last week with a revised offer.

"The business community is firmly, firmly, firmly behind this," Jones said.

Despite a reduced financial commitment under the new model, however, it too was met with criticism from some members, in part because of the fact that the volunteer business members on the board would outnumber the elected municipal members.

"So business actually has all the control," Coun. Karen MacKenzie said. "It's called stacking the room."

And Taggart, the municipality's current representative on the chamber board, expressed his umbrage when Jones informed council she had received criticism from the business community for agreeing to sit on the county's Business and Economic Development Advisory Committee (BEDAC).

"I'm just going to be frank here, when you approached me to be on the BEDAC and we accepted the proposal and said ‘yes, we will be on the committee,' I took tremendous heat for that, to be perfectly honest with you," Jones said, prompting response from Taggart that he felt "offended" by the comment.

"I've got to tell you folks, I'm not too happy with the Chamber of Commerce. They should be ashamed of themselves to suggest that they don't want to be involved with the County of Colchester on economic development," he said.

Despite an attempt to reassure council that the criticism was aimed only at the fact that chamber members are attempting to form a regional economic development body, while the BEDAC is a sole county initiative, further criticism was expressed by Coun. Mike Cooper for negative comments that he said have been levelled at council by chamber members through its monthly newsletter.

"Unfortunately, I think the leadership of the chamber, I'm just going to have to be blunt, has been one of the leading reasons why there has been so much distrust between business and the community and the municipalities," he said, because of members who are continually "beating away on what the council is not doing right."

Mayor Bob Taylor also expressed disappointment with his perception of chamber members' sentiment towards council's efforts.

"We've got a lot of history of working with the Town of Truro and the Town of Stewiacke on everything including economic development," he said. "We led the road here on economic development."

But, for chamber members "to go out and say we're not being regional or we're not thinking regional, man, that hurts," Taylor continued.

Ultimately, the two sides agreed that they have to find a way to continue to work together, and Jones concluded by expressing hopes that negative feelings would not carry the day following the meeting.

"I feel like some of the tempers that flared, including my own, were maybe because you think that we have more of an agenda than we do," she said. "We do support what this council does and we've been working to try and build relationships here. So I hope that everybody realizes that this isn't an in-your-face thing.

"There is a bit of a power struggle because we are trying to get something started, but we do support this council," Jones said.

"We'll be in touch," Taylor said.

While Truro Mayor Bill Mills and Stewiacke Mayor Wendy Robinson provided letters to the chamber saying they are supportive of the latest proposal, Taylor told the Truro Daily News he still is not in favour of the proposed model.

"There's a role for the chamber," he said, "but not a leadership (role)."

hsullian@trurodaily.com

Twitter: @tdnharry

 

 

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