(A local look at development: ultimately all development is local.)
Like Elvis, the Atlanticade motorcycle event has finally left the building, well, the region at any rate. No doubt pub owners here are shedding a tear, as are local motorcycle enthusiasts. As for the rest of us, we’re probably split into two camps: those who wouldn’t like the region to miss out on the estimated $3 million in annual revenue, and those who won’t miss the sound of those bikes at all.
But one has to wonder, how did we actually get Atlanticade in the first place? I mean, there wasn’t any prior public consultation. And it wasn’t a planned part of any tourism strategy as far as I can tell. It was more or less opportunistic for both parties: the Atlanticade organizers who’d recently left Moncton and the Town of St. Andrews administrators who were looking for more tourism business.
A significant reason for hosting the event here was the financial support of the Flemer family and their Kingsbrae Garden operation. Without that commitment Atlanticade would never have happened here. But this year there was no money to be had to advance-fund the event (for whatever reasons; we haven’t been told by our civic leaders), so Atlanticade departed for the greener pastures of Prince Edward Island.
This issue brings up, once again, the whole idea of coordinated regional tourism and economic development planning. Or lack thereof.
I read in last week’s paper that former mayor Chris Flemming (1998–2001) is running again in St. Andrews. And he is clearly on a mission. “Council needs to encourage development in an organized way,” Flemming said. He also suggested that the town needed to “allow the professionals who work for the community to do so without being slowed or hindered in their work.”
That, to me, translates into having economic development professionals leading the way for town development. That might work except for the fact that the town has no economic development professionals on payroll. Nor does it have an affiliated development board like the one in St. Stephen.
Flemming goes on to invite others to run for council, especially “people who would offer without a set agenda…willing to listen to a wide variety of opinion and understand the need to operate in an environment of good governance.”
This is Flemming’s take on leadership: good governance. But governance, while excellent for control (and making sure staff shows up on time, potholes are filled and bills paid), is no substitute for community vision. And economic development is all about the citizens’ collective view on their own future.
So what is it about Flemming and his fixation on governance and professional services? One might point out that Flemming is an employee of Kingsbrae Garden and the Flemers. And the Flemers are big financial contributors to the community. They and their management team have a great deal of influence on the development focus of the town, much more so than the average citizen. So how much of Flemming’s agenda of governance and professionalism are related to his day job? One wonders.
In short, Flemming has his equations backwards. Governance has never been in short supply in stuffy, hidebound St. Andrews. But vision certainly has been. One would argue that development has never been fully embraced as a collective public activity here. Most development in St. Andrews has been done through the auspices of philanthropy or individual business people. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But if St. Andrews, or any other town, seriously wants to develop, it needs to have a council that understands its own culture and what that culture can accept. It would need a real commitment to development that would include hiring a full-time development person, creating a development budget and building a community development plan with the community and not only with its pushiest citizens.
Such a development plan would include a hard look at global trends and economics, including the future of trade, energy and fossil fuel, as well as local-regional options such as coordinating and building on key, core strengths: in St. Andrews’ case, its existing knowledge-based economy which includes the government biological station, marine science centre, salmon federation office, botany garden, visual arts centre and community college. These building blocks, and fine old railway hotel, are already in place. What needs to happen is a development plan based on integration of these pieces.
And something more inspiring.
Passamaquoddy Bay is the reason these communities in Charlotte County exist. First the fishery and later tourism and aquaculture defined the economy here. Whales are now a prime tourist attraction. So I will say it again. The region would be well-served by the idea of an international marine park here to build an international focus on marine science, our knowledge-based economy and ecotourism.
Instead, what we’ve had is local infighting, cross-community blame, opportunism (such as Atlanticade), lack of coordinated investment and now good governance. And the visionaries among us? Punished, ostracized, slandered and shunned. Just ask Art Mackay.
As for Atlanticade and the professionals operating it, has anyone else connected it to the front page story about Hell’s Angels locating in nearby St. George? In development, the culture you attract is the culture you get to keep.