Mayor imagines the County could be Quinte Region’s entertainment district
In a meeting of the Quinte Economic Development Commission (QEDC) last week, the mayors of Belleville and Quinte West discussed the County. Prince Edward, they said, was missing out on provincial and federal funding, as well as the benefit of presenting something bigger than just the County to potential residents and investors.
The board agreed to prepare a report to present, both to QEDC and the County, the pros and cons of joining the regional commission.
No one at the meeting was representing the County.
This municipality has been maintaining an arm’s length relationship with QEDC for years. In the early 2000s, Quaiff, then a councillor, sat on the County’s corporate services committee. That committee discussed joining QEDC, but didn’t. The County has acknowledged the commission’s work in the region and occasionally offered funding. But with the County’s in-house community and economic development department working hard to promote the island, membership in a regional board seemed unnecessary.
In response to reports that QEDC wanted to woo the County, Mayor Robert Quaiff participated in a conversation with CJBQ’s Lorne Brooker last Wednesday Quaiff said that the Bay of Quinte was one region, that there were no borders.
“I said that same exact sentiment when I got elected mayor. This is the Bay of Quinte region, it truly is,” Quaiff told Brooker. “We would be stronger if we worked together. I have had a really good relationship with Mayor Harrison from Quinte West— and a really good relationship with [Belleville] Mayor Taso Christopher. We all three of us believe there are no borders or boundaries.”
Quaiff spoke about a variety of issues, but focused on the strategy to attract people to the County, which, despite being extremely popular with tourists, has had a stagnating population. He discussed how teaming up with Belleville, Quinte West and even Hastings County would contribute to financial sustainability.
“If we can work together and create an environment that shows us being stronger as a region than just individuals, I’d definitely take a look at that,” Quaiff said. He added that while he doesn’t believe the County can attract manufacturing business the way Belleville can, it can focus on drawing families moving to the region with its entertainment sector.
Brooker likened the County to Disney World, and the rest of the Bay of Quinte region to Orlando—one a tourist attraction, the other a functional city. Quaiff concurred.
The Times asked Quaiff to clarify a few things. What did the County’s mayor mean when he said there were no borders? What did he mean when he agreed that the County was Disney World to Belleville’s Orlando?
“Rather than each municipality—Prince Edward and Quinte West and Belleville and Hastings—all working separately, we should be working together,” Quaiff said, adding that what’s good for one part of the region was good for the entire region. “I’m anxious to see a report [from QEDC], and it’s something I’ve been working toward since I got elected as mayor. I think we start thinking regionally, then we start growing as a region.”
Quaiff pointed to the recently published census numbers, which showed Prince Edward County’s population had dropped 2.1 per cent since the previous census. In a municipality that has been struggling to increase its number of full time residents, the statistic meant to Quaiff that something had to change.
“The census numbers spoke volumes to me. When I saw ours go down 2.1 per cent, I saw Quinte West and Belleville go up marginally,” Quaiff said. “There’s got to be some attention paid in that area. I’ve said all along—the same as the mayor of Belleville—there should be no borders and there should be no boundaries. We all benefit one another when we all work together for the betterment of the Bay of Quinte region.”
When asked if he meant the municipalities should combine to form a regional government, he simply said, “not really.”
For Quaiff, it’s about pulling young families to the region, even if that means not increasing the County’s population at all.
“If we can attract younger families to come into Prince Edward County, or to come into the region, and buy a home in Belleville—I don’t care—and come over into the County. Everyone in the County would benefit, the wineries, the restaurants, parks, all of that. So what we need to do is really beef up younger families in the entire Bay of Quinte region.”
Quaiff said that would improve the County’s economic development
“They’re spending money here. They’re supporting our local businesses,” says Quaiff. “The benefit would be in that entertainment corridor. Visiting our wineries, visiting our parks and our beaches, visiting our museums.”
Quaiff’s idea seemed to give up on bringing stable employment and full-time residents into the County altogether.
“We don’t have full-time, sustainable jobs to offer,” says Quaiff. “Whereas Belleville and Quinte West, they have better opportunities to fund full-time employment, then use Prince Edward County as their playground.”
The chair of the County’s Community and Economic Development Commission believes Mayor Quaiff’s remarks were taken out of context “or certainly weren’t intended to encourage speculation about regional government.”
“Indeed, the County is still dealing with our own 1998 amalgamation challenges,” said Bill Roberts, who also serves as Sophiasburgh councillor. “That said, I can understand the playful envy motivating the Mayors of Quinte West and Belleville to muse on such a subject; but our immediate economic development needs and aspirations don’t have a great deal in common.
“Just when the County—as a unique and celebrated brand, and an economy—is at a turning point it would be unwise, in my view, to now merge that focus with the beautiful municipalities of Trenton and Belleville. True, there are many wonderful social and political linkages nudging the three communities together—but our current at-home economies remain much like chalk and cheese.”
The County’s economic development efforts are serving the County well, said Roberts.
“In fact, Prince Edward County already has a good working partnership with the Quinte Economic Development Corporation—and we can build on that—but a working partnership is not a merger by a long-shot.
Take for example last week—our Community Development Department had three business enquiries from young people in one day based on our “buildanewlife” campaign, looking to relocate to the County; we now have as many as five new people a day signing up to our County relocation newsletter; and about one business enquiry every two to three days.
“Something is working,” said Roberts, “and I’m optimistic about the inflection point we’re about to experience.”