ATHABASCA - There have been rumblings behind the scenes for months, but the Town of Athabasca finally took the plunge last week and pulled out of the regional Tourism and Economic Development (TED) committee with Athabasca County and the Village of Boyle in the hopes some time apart might spark some changes to the makeup of the committee.
Town council voted 5-1 in favour of a recommended motion from mayor Rob Balay, “To suspend further commitment to the TED committee, until it is restructured. Restructuring to be discussed at our next scheduled Tri-Council meeting” at their Dec. 20 regular meeting. Coun. Edie Yuill, who represents the town on the committee, voted against it.
The TED committee has traditionally been made up of all county council, with representatives from the town and village along with various industry and public members. The county is the administrating partner and by far the highest contributor of the three.
“I put forward this request for decision after our discussions at retreat and the input we got from all of council that we bring forward a motion,” said Balay.
Coun. Jon LeMessurier was willing to go a step further and initially put forward a motion that they drop the second sentence altogether, but he later rescinded it.
“I just question the wording on the recommended motion. To say ‘to suspend further commitment until’ … I think there could be a chance that we just don’t continue with the TED committee anymore,” he said.
Coun. Dave Pacholok expressed some concerns there may be some sort of repercussions or animousity that will come as a result of the decision, and asked Balay if he had any insights.
“I believe that there is value in having discussions going forward on how we are going to deal with economic development. It may not be in the form of the Tourism and Economic Development committee; it may take other forms … I wanted to send a message to our partners that we are willing to enter into discussions around that topic,” said Balay.
“I believe there still needs to be a regional approach; we can’t be three silos … I think the region is too integrated to have an approach like that. I just don’t think that the way the current structure, the governance of the TED committee that suits the best needs of the region.”
Pacholok said he would prefer Balay recommended wording for the sake of diplomacy more than anything. Balay said he agreed.
“I just find that if you’re using key performance indicators to measure what has been accomplished by the TED committee, I don’t believe that there would be any huge success. There have been a bunch of little successes, but nothing to the extent that I think is worth the current investment under its current format,” said Balay, reiterating the need for restructuring and a different approach.
Coun. Ida Edwards said she was in agreement with suspending the commitment for the time being calling it “a great idea”.
Coun. Sara Graling reminded council there is “some low-hanging fruit” as far as tourism goes, and that the town has “seen some great benefits” being the hub of the region, but suggested hearing Coun. Yuill’s report from her latest attendance at a TED meeting before going to a vote, and council agreed.
“I’d just like to mention the last TED committee meeting was actually the most proactive that I’ve seen in the entire time I’ve been on the committee,” said Yuill.
She reviewed several of the delegations that appeared at that meeting, noting one involved attracting healthcare workers and others to the region by targeting those wanting to escape the city to work remotely; another regarding sponsorship opportunities on a locally created hunting production; and another from Freshnet Creative Services which provided a presentation on marketing, social media and website services for the regional Visit Athabasca website and social media pages.
“This last meeting was the first glimmer of hope I’ve had for that committee,” said Yuill.
Council actually ended up making two motions — one to suspend the commitment to the TED committee and another to bring the topic forward to the next tri-council meeting.
Both the county and the village say they expect fruitful discussions with their municipal partner going forward.
“The decision last night by the Town is not a surprise,” said Athabasca County reeve Brian Hall in an e-mail the day after the decision. “A realignment of the TED committee is something that has been discussed informally over many months.
“Economic development is a regional responsibility. One of the things we should all be proud of is the good working relationships and high level of trust between the three municipalities; I’m confident that this decision will not harm our relationships.”
He went on to point out that during the county’s Dec. 20 budget meeting, council had already directed Coun. Camille Wallach, who chairs the TED committee, to reach out to representatives from the other partner municipalities to discuss the potential restructuring of the committee and regional economic development initiatives, and she has already been in touch with Balay and Village of Boyle mayor Colin Derko.
“Currently, the representation on TED is reflective of the financial contribution of the partners; a discussion on increased representation and funding would be welcome,” said Hall.
“We are new councils and sometimes what was working in the past isn’t working now so we must re-evaluate. I am looking forward to working with the other councils to determine what our priorities and goals are moving forward and how we can best accomplish those,” said Wallach.
Reached for comment on Wednesday as well, Derko said he was “100 per cent confident that whatever the three parties decide will be in the best interest of the entire region”.
“We totally respect the Town’s comments and look forward to a good discussion at our Tri-Council meeting in the New Year. TED’s future has been discussed by all three municipal partners in the past in different contexts but always respectfully and always in the best interest of everyone involved,” he said via e-mail.
“We have never felt that TED has ever been “one-sided”, and we have always felt that the three councils are looking for what works best for all parties involved.”