Friday, March 1, 2024

Strategic plan delivers healthy dose of tough love

Report commissioned by GDBP well-received

  • November 22 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH — Blessed with pristine natural beauty, boundless creative energy and profound economic opportunities, the only thing that can prevent the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) from realizing its full potential is itself.

That message came across loud and clear last week as Doug Griffiths, one of Canada’s best known community development consultants, delivered his long-awaited strategic plan – part blessing, part declaration of tough love – for the area.

“Our history is diverse and beautiful,” he told approximately 75 residents from all walks of life – and a range of communities – who came to the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex to hear him speak on Nov. 16. “Our natural beauty and amenities draw people in from across the country and around the world... [They] are choosing to come... knowing this is where they can find prosperity and quality living... Our fast-growing economy is drawing in new entrepreneurs and new investors.”

At the same time, he said, “The region needs [more] people to grow the economy and become more prosperous... [This] will require more businesses... more housing and housing diversity.” More than this, “If we don’t market ourselves, and our potential, we won’t attract developers to build the housing. [The] good quality of life in the region is at risk without [more] people, businesses and housing growth.”

The hour-long presentation – the culmination of months of community consultation for Griffiths, a former junior high school teacher and former Alberta municipal affairs minister, at the request of the Guysborough District Business Partnership (GDBP) – was the first independent assessment of the municipality’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And, if the mission was to start charting a course for future development by shaking up the status quo, then mission accomplished, according to several residents.

“We have started some of the stuff that Doug [Griffiths] is recommending and I think we have to continue moving forward in the same direction that he is [suggesting],” said MODG District 8 Councillor Mary Desmond, who, along with her colleagues, previewed the presentation in municipal chambers the day before the public gathering. “As a small, rural area, we have to improve equity and diversity, and that we have to promote ourselves to bring more young people into Guysborough.”

Added Nancy O’Regan, co-chair of the Guysborough County Housing Network: “What is very clear, very interesting for me, from [what I saw] Thursday night is [the recognition] that housing is one of the key areas of strategic work to be done – the thing that links everything together. I was gratified to see that making it to the top of this agenda. Knowing that others are working on it – that it’s coming together – feels great.”

But also crucial, O’Regan said, were the punches that Griffiths didn’t pull.

“You know, he talked about the things that work against the community... All these little acronyms like NIMBY and BANANA and CAVE for ‘Not in My Backyard’ and ‘Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone’ and ‘Citizens Against Virtually Everything’... The people who create the negativity that takes something down. It’s just so traditional and so ingrained. And, he also talked about leaving the politics out of it. These were some of the really great, important messages that I, personally, took away... I really got the impression that this report is not for the municipality or the business partnership. It is for each and every one of us.”

GDBP Executive Director Ashely Cunningham Avery couldn’t agree more.

“The main takeaway for us as a board and I believe the municipality, too, is to ensure that the community owns this plan as well. Although this document was commissioned by the GDBP, it is not ‘our’ document, it’s not ‘MODG’s’ document; it’s everyone’s document. Sure, we (GDBP/MODG) will guide and coordinate to get the ball rolling on some of the milestones in the plan, but we can’t do it alone. I believe we’ve heard from folks that the community does believe strongly in the content of the plan and we look forward to getting it in circulation to all organizations, volunteer groups and businesses when it is final. I have great faith in our community and its members and very encouraged by the level of support and enthusiasm.”

For that, Griffiths is breathing a sigh of relief.

“What I said at the beginning and at the end is probably the hardest part for [some people] to hear,” he told The Journal, reflecting on his presentation, on Nov. 17. “There is still a little bit of a focus [across] the entire district about what’s missing, and what people don’t have even while things are changing and good things are happening. That kind of undermines the success of the region, its brand, its reputation, its ability to attract new people, new developers, new businesses [and] new investors.

“Everyone knows that the region is doing well and that things are changing. Some of the biggest changes that [still] need to be made are talking about the region and its communities and their opportunities in a positive light. It’s up to the people to decide to do that.”