ANTIGONISH, N.S. - The impacts of the Engage Antigonish sessions, hosted last winter and early spring by the Town of Antigonish, are now being played out.
That was the impetus of a recent open letter by Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher which appeared in the town’s newsletter – the Talk of the Town.
In talking to the Casket Sept. 26, Boucher said a lot of what was emphasized during the Engage sessions, the town was already on the path towards. She noted a good example was the strengthening of the relationship between the town and the Municipality of the County of Antigonish, as well as St. F.X.
“‘Getting along,’” Boucher said, quoting the phrase most often used by residents.
“We’re doing well in that area. We’re just seeing a lot of things coming through now; a skateboard park would be one of them. The assets management [program] through the province, we received a grant for that and we’re doing that together as well, to see what we actually have as far as infrastructure and the age of it.”
Boucher talked about the town working on a Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) and a strategic plan and those being influenced by the Engage sessions.
“Engage feedback will be looked at when the MPS is being formed,” she said. “We will have information sessions and we will have workshops with different stakeholders in the community; affordable housing, youth groups, sustainability groups, folks from the hospital, the university, so we can get everyone’s input. The MPS is more envisioning what we want today and into the future, as far as planning.
“We gained a lot of information and we’re going to add that information to our MPS. Also, we’re going to have a strategic plan coming out; that was why it was so important to invest in the Engage sessions, to be able to get that information,”
As for an action taken that wasn’t already in the works, Boucher said Engage feedback suggested resident wanted more clean-up around parts of the town; and the town listened.
“We had quite a few people complaining the streets were not as clean as they would like them to be and although we do put a lot of money into it, we have our public works who attend to the garbage cans and things like, and also contract the CACL to do some litter clean-up, we went one-step further this year and hired another person we can call on when we need him,” Boucher said, noting clean-ups around the Sydney Street parking lot and around Antigonish Arena, as part of his recent work.
“We can call him to do a certain area if we find it getting bad.”
Boucher stressed the listening to residents aspect of Engage, noting it translates into trust.
“If you’re going to ask the community for input, and you don’t have enough time to follow through on it, then they’re not going to have that trust the next time you do it,” addressing the timing issue of the sessions as well.
“They’re going to say, ‘what’s the use?’ We did address that because there were other times with community engagement not a whole lot came out of it. We were very direct with Engage Nova Scotia that, at the end of it, we didn’t want a list of 20 things, we wanted some direct things that we could work on now – the skateboard park, the cleaning up of needed places in town – are a direct result, immediate. But we also have to look into the future and we talked about partnerships, shared services and planning; all long-term, but that all comes out of Engage.
“If we don’t start to show people we’re listening and doing what they ask, which is what is best for the community, then we’re not going to have their trust next time.”