COVID ”reveals weaknesses in social, economic systems” -County CEDC

(Gazette file photo)

OLIVIA TIMM

FOR THE GAZETTE

Council heard an update from the municipality’s Community and Economic Development Commissions (CEDC) focused around workforce development and resident support.

Jeremiah MacKenzie and Christine Searle, Chair and Vice-Chair of the CEDC, provided the group’s annual report at Tuesday’s regular council meeting.chair of CEDC

MacKenzie said in February 2020, Prince Edward County Council approved seven new strategic priorities. 

“We started on the journey of examining resident and investment attraction strategies, workforce development, and balancing the needs of industries with the needs of residents. It was all hands on deck and then we ran into COVID-19,” he explained. 

From March to August 2020, progress was suspended and priorities which shifted shaped where the group is today, he added.  

A new mandate, goals and governance, refreshed strategic framework and proposed work plan for 2021-22 all came out of the prior year’s work.

He noted the youth representative position on the commission was a non voting seat until 2020 and that a representative from the County Foundation was also added to the roster. The new chair and vice-chair were elected in September of 2020.

The new mandate, he said, focuses on facilitating partnerships and collaborations across all sectors. 

“Working with the Prince Edward County Chamber and looking at their evolving workforce strategy, which was released in February 2021, we identified opportunities for growth in a host of sectors,” MacKenzie said. 

Sectors included remote working, entrepreneurship, small business, workforce development, local food and agriculture, sustainable tourism and arts and culture, he explained.

“All require partnerships with not-for-profit groups and with government to leverage resources to develop comprehensive county-wide economic development,’ MacKenzie noted. “There is a real sense that the CEDC is gaining momentum and it is being optimized for what it does best – that is community building.”

Searle touched on the strategies the CEDC has prioritized to improve wellbeing – supporting individuals, building enterprises and strengthening communities. She said all commissions across the country focus on these. 

“COVID, as you know, has revealed many of the weaknesses in the County’s social and economic systems. Evidence from the County Foundation’s COVID-19 Impact Report showed that health and social and economic impacts of the pandemic are being borne disproportionately by the County’s vulnerable populations such as seniors and youth,” she said.

Economically, declines in employment resulting from COVID affected industries like food services which dropped by 25 per cent in revenue, she added. 

“CEDC is the right foundation for COVID recovery,” MacKenzie added later in the deputation. 

In the presentation to council, the  CEDC outlined three outcomes within their strategy, in response to the Canadian Community Economic Development’s strategy framework. One outcome is to increase diversity, equity and inclusion by working with All Welcome Here and to reflect on summer initiatives and discuss future collaboration with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ).

The group also aims to reduce poverty by working with the Food Security Working Group and Healthcare Services Working Group as well as building youth engagement. 

The third goal within the framework is to protect natural heritage by partnering with the Picton Harbour Boardwalk Task Team, the Wellington Waterfront Task Team and referring to the Tourism Management Plan.

Coun. Bill Roberts posed if it would be worthwhile for the CEDC to report to council more often. 

“Given the breadth and scope of the work in terms of citizen wellbeing and community development, should they report to council more than once annually?” Roberts asked. 

MacKenzie applauded the question, saying he would like to see quarterly touch-ins. 

“Complex issues require collaboration, and the more dialogue we have with council, I think it only best prepares us,” he responded.

The CEDC’s work plan for the 2021/22 fiscal year focuses on improved direction to task teams, monthly updates from CEDC working groups, reports to council by the CEDC Chair and Vice-Chair, use of the Have Your Say portal, working with budget allowances, and strategic planning.