A Cautionary Tale On Secret Economic Development Commissions

Editor’s Note: One of the central tenets of the Mayor’s Economic Action PLan was to take the task of providing economic development for the City away from the public eye on the model used by cities like Chilliwack and Pitt Meadows, among others.

In Chilliwack the arms length relationship has led to the City welcoming employers classified by the federal government as ‘Toxic Employers’ and most recently it led to the unanimous approval by Chilliwack Council of a toxic waste facility along the banks of the Fraser River which endangers all downstream communities – without public consultation.

As a cautionary tale, we are re-publishing a column from our sister community website, Pitt Meadows Today, as illustrative of some of the kinds of issues communities face when they decide to take important civic matters away from public consultation and verification.


Get Out The War Paint – It’s Election Time

By Carson Zi. As many of you may already know, Pitt Meadows is having its 2014 municipal election this coming November and the pounding of drums, the circling of the wagons and the cries of war are already perceptible if you have a keen ear or any modicum of political interest.

Our current mayor Deb Walters has already announced that she will be running for a second term, and her contestant from last election, John Becker, has recently announced that he too will put his name in the hat and challenge Deb for her title again this year.

There are many hot button topics surrounding this election and they are patiently sitting there on the council room table just waiting for sides to be drawn. Not many topics cause more spikes in blood pressure though than the proposed North Lougheed Commercial Corridor. This project proposal, which followed the North Lougheed Land Use Study conducted in 2011 and the subsequent approval from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), proposes a 33 hectare commercial/retail development on the north side of the Lougheed Hwy between Harris Rd and Meadow Gardens Way.

This development, which is to become a new home for a plethora of big box stores and other multi-national corporations (likely the only ones that can afford to open up shop there), is being touted as the solution to Pitt Meadows’s high youth unemployment rates and a way to keep some of the 82% of Pitt Meadows residents that leave the community for work, in the community more.

However, what I noticed when I read the Land Use Study and the citizen comments on it for myself was, there isn’t a whole lot of community support for this development. The majority of the comments were of the “You have your mind set and nothing is going to change it! Leave the Ag land alone it’s the best farmable land in the area!” and the “(we) need retail that will bring in customers without having a big box store that will only take away from the little shops” variety and not of the “We need more Walmarts!” bent.

That said however, I did notice this comment; “Timing is very important and we believe is now as stores like Walmart will move to neighbouring communities where we will loose the development which we need to pay for infrastructure and roads.” I guess there are people out there who still enjoy getting screwed. Who knew!? Perhaps they just aren’t aware that most multi-national corporations actually pay very little tax.

General Electric, for example, reported a consolidated revenue of $146B in 2013, yet they only paid 2.3% income tax … I wish I could get away with that! As mentioned in my <a href=”http://www.pittmeadowstoday.ca/why-you-should-buy-local/”>Why You Should Buy Local</a> article, when we shop at Walmarts and other multi-national corporations we are effectively removing our money from the local economy and any chance of us ever seeing or benefiting from that money ever again. But in contrast, as the graphic below shows, spending even 1% more at local businesses results in real, measurable benefits to the quality of life for everyone in the community.

<a href=”http://www.pittmeadowstoday.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/10481917_660756527348129_9220371016641721821_n.jpg”><img src=”http://www.pittmeadowstoday.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/10481917_660756527348129_9220371016641721821_n-300×300.jpg” alt=”Shop Pitt Meadows” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-20506″ /></a>In an effort to keep from repeating myself ad nauseum, let’s look at how Mayor Deb responded when I asked her about this same topic at this week’s council meeting. I asked if she felt that independent and locally owned businesses were important to Pitt Meadows’s success and if so, what her opinion was on why so many of these businesses seem to have a hard time getting off the ground, some even closing within months of opening. She responded by saying she doesn’t know why I would think the city is promoting big box stores and that the city has tasked the <a href=”http://www.thinkpittmeadows.ca/”>Pitt Meadows Economic Development Corporation</a> (PMEDC), a third party corporation staffed with city employees and funded by taxpayer dollars, to investigate why businesses here fail.

Ummmm … okay?

When I questioned further on the origins of the PMEDC and the reasons for having a third-party corporation manage the economic development of the community, CAO Kim Grout stepped in to help provide some clarity. She said that the PMEDC has a board of directors that looks at new initiatives and they are assisted by city paid PMEDC staff who then bring these initiatives to council’s attention. She also clarified that when they were establishing the PMEDC and trying to decide on the model to use, there were advantages from a granting perspective and from a foreign investment perspective to using a third-party model and this is why things are the way they are. Needless to say there was a fair amount of stammering and stuttering following my calling out
of the “foreign investment” comment.

To me the logical follow-up question here was to ask Mayor Deb if she felt that, in light of the current state of small business in Pitt Meadows, it might be worthwhile to invest some time and energy into understanding if there was room for improvement in the city’s economic development strategy. She replied that she believes the PMEDC is doing a fantastic job with the assets they have and there is no plan to investigate, further fund, or revamp the model of the PMEDC.

Fair enough I guess.

While I don’t doubt that Lori Graham and the PMEDC staff are doing the absolute best they can with the money and directives they receive, I question whether there are measureable goals in place, whether those goals are being achieved and if the people of Pitt Meadows are in agreeance with these goals.

Following the council meeting I approached both Mayor Deb and mayoral hopeful John Becker to ask if they would be willing to be interviewed by me. John was eager and excited and Deb was nervous and trepidatious and has yet to commit. Personally I think that the citizens of Pitt Meadows deserve an honest, no-holds barred style of interview with their potential leaders. We deserve a strong leader who isn’t scared to get their hands dirty and say what they mean, with confidence. I hope that both candidates will begin to share themselves and their vision for Pitt Meadows with us soon.
<blockquote><a href=”http://www.pittmeadowstoday.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/carson-zi-2.jpg”><img src=”http://www.pittmeadowstoday.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/carson-zi-2-150×150.jpg” alt=”carson zi 2″ width=”150″ height=”150″ class=”alignright size-thumbnail wp-image-20374″ /></a>Carson Zi is a citizen of Pitt Meadows, former owner of the One Love-United We Grind Coffee House. </blockquote>

Carson Infographic

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