Collective bargaining is a race to nowhere when its role is misunderstood
By Bill Roberts
Ifeel it is important to respond to Ryan Williams’ letter, Fast Does Not Mean Far, in last week’s edition of The Intelligencer— not only to correct a great deal of misinformation, but to speak directly to our neighbours, regional partners and County stakeholders, between whom Mr. Williams has attempted to drive a wedge with his inflammatory and selfserving comments.
We learned long ago in the County that unification of a large and diverse geographic area is no easy task. When we have fallen short, it’s been because we failed to recognize the differences between our communities; we’ve attempted to impose policies and regulations without consultation; or we have assumed that we know better than those on the ground, in the trenches, connected with the issues. In truth, it has been through celebration of the County’s history, its people, its culture, and its unique communities that has formed the foundation of our recent success—a brand and lifestyle that is attracting people and attention to The County, and to the rest of the region.
That Mr. Williams seems to trivialize the County ‘capitalizing on its brand’ shows a poor grasp of how one builds a brand, and the substance required to make it take hold. He is right, of course, that the challenges the County and the rest of the region face will take effort and perseverance to address—it will be hard. But if Mr. Williams truly understood this kind of hard work, or what it takes to build strong and lasting partnerships, organizations, and communities, he would not attempt, time and time again, to criticize or bully those who do not agree with him. Nor would he go on to create organization after organization—without mandates, without a thought to governance, without a clear purpose, and without buy-in from those to whom he claims to serve. The fact that so much turmoil has followed those organizations—name changes, organizational models come and gone, unstable funding and membership, an inability to build regional consensus, and now, a public response from one of those communities’ elected officials—is evidence of how partnership by decree, by pressure, or by the lure of funding alone, never yields lasting results. “Flash bang” indeed, Mr. Williams.
For the record, the County’s Community and Economic Development initiatives are extremely wellfunded— more than double that of the Bay of Quinte Regional Marketing Board. Contrary to Mr. Williams’ assertions, these resources are allocated to a broad array of award-winning services, partnerships and initiatives that are aimed not just at marketing, but also at relocation support, business retention and expansion, immigrant attraction, fostering entrepreneurship, workforce training, residential development and affordable housing, to name just a few. This comprehensive approach is being delivered through an innovative model—one that involves collaboration between County staff, council, and business leaders on our Community and Economic Development Commission—a model that has been studied and emulated elsewhere due to its success. By asserting that a website is the County’s only response to red tape and demographic challenges, shows a serious lack of understanding of just how innovative and successful that particular lead-generating initiative is (www.buildanewlife.ca), and how little Mr. Williams knows about our economy or our efforts.
The County’s biggest challenge is not attracting people or business—it’s accommodating them. Mr. Williams should know this as the County’s guests fill his hotels and our prospective residents snap up residential properties in neighbouring communities due to our (current) limited supply. It could be argued that the County’s popularity is driving the region’s current residential growth—as evidenced, for example, by developments like Briarwood’s Prince Edward Estates, where prospective home owners can choose from models such as The Picton Bay, The Cherry Valley, The Milford, The Wellington or The Bloomfield—all of which are located in Quinte West.
And Mr. Williams shouldn’t confuse the natural attrition of one of the oldest populations in the province, with outmigration as a source of population decrease. For the record, the County’s settlement areas are growing and there are over a thousand residential units in the County’s development pipeline. Our Development Services division is growing to meet these demands and our council is set to pass a series of new initiatives to help expedite development.
County employers, too, are looking to create hundreds of new, full-time jobs in the coming years. As evidenced by recent studies and consultations with business leaders, optimism is high. Mr. Williams is at least correct in asserting that workforce attraction is central to both the County’s and the region’s growth and prosperity. But when the County’s challenge is the ability to accommodate new workers and residents— not to attract them—and when we already possess one of the most effective municipal marketing apparatuses in the province, if not the country, the decision to forego membership in a new regional marketing board might become clearer. Our Community and Economic Development Commission has made a strategic decision to allocate our resources where we need them most—not to where the County already excels. And if Mr. Williams does not understand that decision, he should at least respect it.
If Mr. Williams was serious about regional cooperation and economic development, he would seek input from those in the County and elsewhere who have been fostering entrepreneurship for years. He would be able to clearly articulate his purpose and mission, and he would be building bridges with regional partners to understand gaps, needs, and ways to work together rather than duplicating things already being offered.
I and other County representatives are privileged to sit at many tables with our neighbours and partners across Eastern Ontario, including regional CFDC’s, Training Boards, Regional Tourism Organizations, QLIP, the Eastern Ontario Mayors Committee, the Wainfleet Group and, most notably, the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus— where our respected Mayor serves as chair—and which has been responsible for the single greatest public/ private economic development investment in this region in recent years with the expansion of broadband infrastructure across eastern Ontario. County representatives do these things as proud, contributing partners, members, and increasingly as drivers of change. Real leadership, Mr. Williams, is about more than sound bites, press releases and tired talking points; it’s about collaboration, consensusbuilding, and the ability to stay the course in the face of outside pressure or flavour of the week distractions.
That Mr. Williams would publicly chastise our municipality—and our Community and Economic Development Commission, comprised of Councillors and successful, respected businesspersons representing varying sectors of our economy—is indicative of his poor grasp on what it takes to foster lasting partnerships. And insofar as abstaining from membership on a single new marketing board is tantamount to the County going it alone in a broader sense, Mr. Williams’ simplistic vision of regional cooperation becomes apparent. Lastly, if Mr. Williams thinks that citing the County’s emerging challenges—those created by a thriving economy and significant development pressures (not vacation rentals as he incorrectly asserts)—as evidence of our missteps or to appeal to those challenged by such rapid change, he has much to learn, not only about community and economic development, but of the drive, resiliency, and pragmatism of the County.
Bill Roberts is Chair of the Prince Edward County Community and Economic Development Commission and councillor for Sophiasburgh.