Citizens need to be engaged, says Yarmouth mayor

Dave Stewart
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Federation of Canadian Municipalities hosts seminar on lessions learned from last fall’s Georgetown Conference on redefining rural

Paul MacNeill, publisher of Island Press Ltd., says people want to be engaged and want to take about growing their communities. MacNeill was a panel member at a seminar hosted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Charlottetown on Wednesday that was moderated by Beth Sanders, a board member with the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Real change comes from within.

That seemed to be the essential theme at a meeting in Charlottetown on Wednesday to discuss stories and lessons from last October’s Georgetown Conference.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is holding its annual sustainable communities conference and trade show in the P.E.I. capital this week, involving hundreds of delegates.

Beth Sanders, a board member with the Canadian Institute of Planners, moderated a panel that included Paul MacNeill, publisher of Island Press Ltd. in Montague; Yarmouth, N.S. Mayor Pam Mood; and Jim Mustard, deputy warden of the municipality of the County of Inverness, N.S.

If there was one thing to take away from the meeting it’s that if people want change, real change in their communities, that change starts with them getting involved.

“People are starved for leadership,’’ MacNeill said when referring to the big lesson he took away from the Georgetown Conference on redefining life in rural P.E.I. And he wasn’t talking about traditional leadership found in political circles.

Mood said people in the community want to be involved and get involved and one of her jobs is to find ways to make that happen.

“You need to engage them to do what they want to do anyway,’’ Mood said. “‘Can’t’ and ‘status quo’ are four-letter words in my house.’’

She said instead of complaining about living in a messy community, to use an example, do something about it.

Mustard said when it comes to getting people involved he suggested municipalities get away from the approach where meetings are held to discuss issues and then everyone goes home and don’t talk again until the next issues-related meeting.

“The power base is the people - the doctors, the gas station workers, the people who run our arenas and the people who volunteer to do our palliative care,’’ Mustard said. “Those are the people who need the power and belief that governance is theirs and we facilitate it. I’m not there to make decisions up on my ivory tower.’’

MacNeill said councils will often discuss the big issues but very little attention is put on actually growing the community.

“Silos are killing us. What Georgetown wants is an opportunity for community individuals to come together in a non-crisis format so they can actually discuss issues of importance to the community and ways to grow the community.’’

MacNeill also addressed the issue of losing youth to jobs out west by saying rather than trying to give them a reason to stay, why not focus on giving them reasons to come back.

Mustard said the bottom line is people need to feel welcome.

“Hang up your hat and become a citizen. We’re not nurses, doctors and lawyers. We are citizens, we are neighbours.’’

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: Georgetown Conference.The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Institute of Planners, Island Press

Geographic location: Georgetown, Yarmouth, P.E.I. Charlottetown Montague Inverness

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