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Sunday 10 June 2012

Another Nail in the Coffin

Once upon a time...
Municipalities in NL are somewhat of a new entity. While communities have been here for hundreds of years, municipal councils are much newer. In fact if you were to do a little digging you'd find that a great many of our 170 odd councils are less then 50 or 60 years old. If you were to dig a little deeper you might even find that many councils were established not to give voice to the common man, nor to help organize community resources but in fact were created as a tool to help legitimize the flow of money into communities. Following confederation there was some new money to spend in communities but there were very few legitimate avenues to facilitate the transfer. As such the new Provincial Government of NL encouraged the setup of municipalities to smooth out the process.

Jump ahead a couple of decades and there were still a large number of communities who were not interested in jumping on the municipal bandwagon but still wanted some of the cash to help run local programs. This gap was filled by Rural Development Associations (RDA). These were not for profit corporations that received government funding to provide some basic services on a regional basis. They offered many rural youth summer employment through basic community development initiatives. Then in the mid 1990's the NL Government wanted to shift the focus of regional development toward economic development and instead of funding the RDA's they cut their funding and instead created the Regional Economic Development Boards. Where the RDA's were smaller and usually had no or one staff these new RED Boards had larger budgets and had at least one full time staff person.

More recently...
Today there are 19 RED Boards with significant budgets and the ability to work with municipalities and other not for profits and businesses to leverage even more resources to invest in all areas of the province. The current funding structure is a partnership between ACOA, at 75% funding, and Gov of NL at 25%. While there have been many successes and many failures during their years of operation there is very little doubt that some of that money has been invested wisely and has resulted in job creation and more sustainable communities. Thats not to say the system is perfect, far from it. So much so that it has been the rumored mission of some folks within the Fed and Prov bureaucracy to kill the RED Board structure in hopes of the creation of a more effective and accountable system.

And then on May 22...
The Minister of State for ACOA announced that on May 21st 2013 ACOA would cease all funding to the RED Boards. Across all of Atlantic Canada that means $18 million less to invest in regional economic development each year. What kind of impact will this cut have on rural areas that benefit greatly from the assistance? How many jobs will be indirectly impacted or not created al all through this loss. Then there are the direct job losses for each of the 19 RED Boards in NL. WHile it is true that the Gov of NL still supplies 25% of the funding they are unlikely to want to invest any more given their current, and future, economic realities. Where then does this leave rural NL?

Last hope?
So what now? There is hope that the Gov of NL will step up and cover the lost revenue, or at least a portion of it....but I highly doubt it. The best scenario would see the available funding invested into municipalities for economic development purposes. While there are issues of accountability and the legislative ability for municipalities to "actively" engage in economic development, it is the best hope to maintain the economic development presence that RED Boards have been providing since the 1990s. The Current Prov Gov has been reluctant to commit to any enhancements to municipal funding but this development may force them to reevaluate their position. After all it may make more sense to offer that 25% funding to existing municipalities instead of trying keep 19 RED Boards on life support. Either way the real losers here are again the businesses and therefore the people of rural NL. Once the money is taken away it is highly unlikely it will return. At least not under the current Fed or Prov Governments.

In the end it may prove to be one more nail in the coffin for rural NL, and those who were elected to protect it will likely sit by and watch it continue to die a slow and painful death. Lets hope not though. Lets instead hope that some of them will have the fortitude to stand up a fight for a future that reflects our past instead of morning it's death.

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