“It has a great effect on us, because for this area, in the smaller towns, none of us got the expertise to promote an idea or to do the necessary paperwork…because we’re all volunteers.”
Those were some of the words of Leading Tickles Mayor Harry Hallett, echoing the chorus of politicians, community groups and individuals dismayed by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) plan to eliminate funding to regional economic development groups in the Atlantic provinces, effective next year.
The federal agency recently circulated a letter to the boards, explaining it has decided to discontinue annual operational funding to the regional development authorities in the Atlantic provinces.
The news didn’t sit well with some people, including Mayor Hallett, who has worn several other hats over the years in terms of community government, past president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, and now the chair of the Exploits Valley Economic Development Corporation (EVEDC).
“In the past, we went to the EVEDC, who helped with the necessary work to put plans into fruition,” said Mayor Hallett. “Now that arm is gone.”
The cranberry project is a joint effort between the EVEDC, ACOA and the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor. However, that may not be affected, if it falls under ACOA’s new mandate to concentrate on small and medium business enterprises.
“You’ve got an item affecting all of Atlantic Canada,” said the mayor and EVEDC chair. “This is devastating from my point of view. Look at Norris Arm, from the tourism and heritage point of view. That would have never happened, if it hadn’t been for the support of the corporation. And you can’t expect volunteers (to do everything). They have lives, too.”
According to ACOA Minister Bernard Valcourt, the core funding that ACOA has provided to regional economic development organizations (REDOs) will instead be invested directly in small- and medium-sized businesses and communities in support of initiatives that deliver economic growth and job creation throughout the region.
“The ACOA minister is still dreaming in Technicolour,” said Mayor Hallett.
ACOA provides most of the core funding to development boards, while the provinces make up the difference.
However, the funding cuts mean $18 million being shaved from ACOA over three years. Covering the lost ACOA funding would cost the provincial government approximately $3.6 million dollars in addition to the current $1.2 million contribution from the province.
However, Innovation, Rural and Business Development Minister Keith Hutchings told the House of Assembly this week the province would not bridge the funding gap.
There are 20 economic zones represented by boards in Newfoundland and Labrador. The core operational funding is 75 per cent federal and 25 per cent provincial.
“With regard to special projects, projects that communities and municipalities are involved with, I don’t see a big change in that,” said Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Allan Hawkins. “Obviously there is a concern for rural Newfoundland, and what we’ve depended on over the years has been special projects, such as cranberry, and ACOA has provided funding for that. Without ACOA, we would have never been able to do that.”
In an interview with the Advertiser May 24, ACOA Minister Bernard Valcourt said in time of fiscal restraint, ACOA is reinforcing its commitments to Atlantic Canada by giving greater priority to those investments that directly support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises in the region.
“This decision is about reducing duplication and focusing ACOA’s efforts on providing the small and medium sized enterprises and entrepreneurs and communities across NL with the tools and resources they need to create jobs and growth,” said the minister. “Eliminating the core funding of those boards will not impact the work ACOA carries out with businesses and communities in Atlantic Canada.”
He said ACOA invests 60 per cent of its budget in businesses and communities in rural Atlantic Canada.