In looking back on 2016 for the Town of Antigonish, Mayor Laurie Boucher was asked to start with the event which landed her in the office and doing the reflecting on behalf of council – October’s municipal election.
“I decided early in the New Year last year, and announced in February,” Boucher said. “It was a family decision. We sat down and discussed it and thought it would be a good time; our children are grown now so there is more time for something like this.
“Without the support of my family, especially my husband Jacques who was fantastic throughout the whole campaign … if you don’t have that support, it’s a tough job to do.”
Noting the demands, Boucher announced she resigned from her job at St. F.X. (aquatics and recreation co-ordinator) and finished up the first of December.
“It would be tough to do both for sure,” she said.
“I think the role has changed a bit from the past… I think they’re more projects, more hands-on projects, so I’m happy to be able to give it my full attention, for sure.”
Still with the election, she talked about the strong community engagement displayed through voter participation and candidate numbers.
“It says something about the engagement of citizens in both the town and county,” she said.
“Especially the town where we had three people running for mayor; three different platforms really, three different outlooks, and we also had 10 people running for council.
“A lot of municipalities in Nova Scotia, many candidates were acclaimed, but we had an abundance of quality people who ran … all of whom worked hard.”
Boucher noted the official opening of the Ellershouse Wind Farm Project, in which Antigonish has partnered with the towns of Berwick and Mahone Bay on, as being a definite highlight from the year.
“That’s very exciting and something I’ve been involved with from the beginning,” she said. “I sit on the [Alternative Resource Energy Authority] board and now I’m chair of that board.
“That’s definitely a highlight; we have the four running, another commissioned and the other two scheduled to be commissioned. And we’re in the progress, right now, to see if we can get the other three up.
“This is very exciting and something growing to be even bigger than we thought. You have to give credit to the councils, all three councils from the different towns participating, who took the calculated risk and put their money towards it. This could be a big revenue generating project for us plus it’s a green energy, so it’s a win-win on all counts for sure.”
A controversy around the timing of the Eastern Nova Scotia Exhibition last year has, in a roundabout way, furthered town council formalizing their joint meetings with the Municipality of the County of Antigonish council; their first public meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10.
“One came out of the other in the sense we were having joint council meetings, anyways, and we wanted to be a united front with the exhibition grounds,” she said.
“We realized we didn’t have enough time to make a terms of reference and formalize the meeting so we had to go to our separate councils and, actually, that showed us we wanted to formalize these meetings, we wanted to have them opened to the public so people could witness we’re getting together and dealing with the issues that affect both the town and county.
“I can’t stress enough the cooperation and strong relationship between the town and county; all councillors are on board. You still have to make sure you have the interests of your constituents first in mind, all of the time, but what is in that best interest is getting along with the county, and what is in the best for the county is getting along with the town.”
Boucher noted the other local partner is St. F.X.
“All three of us have made great strides in the last four or five years [in relationship building] and there is no reason for it to not continue and develop into something even stronger,” she said.
“None of us would be who we are without the other and we have to always remember that.”
Still on the topic of partnerships, Boucher talked about the Eastern-Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN) taking shape in 2016.
“This is what the provincial government has been urging us to do as municipalities; reach out and get together, form partnerships with not just our immediate neighbours but throughout our region. The ESREN is a great example.
“Our former CAO [Stephen Feist] put a lot of work into getting this started, he was somewhat the lead in getting it done, so a lot of credit should go towards him for that.
“It’s exciting; it’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, an economic development plan, and this is something bigger than what we can do by ourselves. Things the ESREN is going to accomplish, the town couldn’t accomplish on its own. It’s much bigger than just getting extra people in to do some shopping; it’s a plan, how can we work with our partners to make sure our region is going to develop economically.”
Boucher said the town was fortunate to have Feist in the role of CAO and equally as fortunate to have Jeff Lawrence come in as his replacement.
“Stephen did a great job for us, I think he was exactly what we needed at the time he came in,” she said. “With his experience, we were lucky to have him.
“And then when he decided to retire, again we got lucky with Jeff Lawrence. He has experience in a small town, in Hantsport, but he also has the experience from a bigger centre, Lac La Biche – Alberta. He really understands the small town and has the experience of a bigger municipality.”
Boucher commented on a couple of more recent items; the completion of work for Braemore Bridge and the passing of flag lot development for all zones with the exception of residential 1.
“It’s great Braemore Bridge is done,” she said.
“It’s appreciated too that our residents realize, in order to achieve progress, sometimes, there is an inconvenience. It was inconvenient for a lot of people, especially people in that area, but I think we’re much better off than we were this time last year.”
And with flag lots?
“We have to start thinking outside the box,” she said.
“We want Antigonish to develop; we want development to happen inside our town and we have to work with what we have. We don’t have a lot of land, so we have to think of ways to work with the land we do have.
“In the same respect, we have to be able to develop land in a way that is acceptable to a majority of people. We want to have good development; there is development and then there is good development and we want to make sure our planning department is working on good development.”
Another fall event was the announcement that Antigonish’s downtown was recognized in the Great Places in Canada contest as the 2016 People’s Choice Neighbourhood recipient.
“Those are nice recognitions to receive,” she said.
“It makes you feel good, our residents, our downtown business people, but that doesn’t happen without our Downtown Business Association (DBA) and our Chamber of Commerce, they’re the ones who help make it such a vibrant downtown.
“A lot of main streets in Nova Scotia these days are not as vibrant as ours. Jamie MacDonald and the DBA, they work really hard in putting on the annual Street Fair, which adds to it for sure. Then you have Dave Miller and Beth Latwaitis who work so hard on the Antigonish Art Fairs, then there is Antigonight … all those things help.
“It’s not to town hall or our administration, really, what it is, it’s an award to our people. We wouldn’t have it without those people and the work they do.”