LISTOWEL – Innovation was the key subject of North Perth Mayor Todd Kasenberg’s luncheon on June 8, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. After speaking on the good, the bad, and the hopeful, Kasenberg turned his attention to the opportunities the COVID-19 pandemic may present to the community and the need for innovation.
“Here’s the bomb I’m going to drop today,” he ended his speech. “It’s not the municipality’s role to solve the innovation problem in our community, but what if we created an innovation lab or an innovation program amongst our businesses and organizations in our community, to sort of help the process along?
“Could we find a way to nucleate an innovation solution in our community?”
The luncheon was the first in a few years, and in that time, there have been a lot of developments to the municipality.
“We’ve seen some new services and facilities in our community, our tax base has increased,” Kasenberg explained. “And this can lead in theory to further changes and improvements, services, an introduction of new services and facilities. We’re certainly becoming a more diverse community and there’s a richness that comes from that and there’s work to do. We have renewed long-term care home funding. That was a big challenge that not only myself, but my predecessor was working towards.
“Now we have a provincial government commitment to renew our long-term care homes in Listowel.”
Aside from those changes, affordable housing, the problems arising from a lack of housing in the municipality, and youth leaving the area have also become worse.
On the other side, the municipality has taken many steps in combating these prevalent issues. Like he mentioned, they secured funding from the province to support their LTCs, the mayor created a taskforce for the housing crisis early in his mayorship, work is further along on an Access Centre for United Way at the library, and the municipality secured a sizable grant for creating a Technology Learning and Skills Hub, tentatively called by Kasenberg ‘Set Seven,’ in honour of the seven skills the Canadian government has said are key to success. He says that some of the problems facing the community may not be ‘municipality issues,’ but the local government is, nevertheless, trying to monitor and assist in these issues.
“You saw the numbers, we’re becoming a place that is increasingly difficult to live and our children and our youth and our young people who’ve become adults are finding it difficult to stay here, to be able to afford to live here. This is a grave concern to me.
“We hear it in our community as our youth leave and don’t find places to come back to as they’re trained and accomplished through their schooling. We need to address that… While many would say ‘well, that’s not really a municipal issue.’ Yeah, it is. It’s part of our social infrastructure to get some of this right. That’s certainly on our horizon and the things that we’re keeping aware of at a municipal level.”
The key issue the mayor advocated for was innovation in the community – and Canada at large as well. “We have some problems and innovation is at the heart of continuing success in the modern world,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of manufacturing jobs lost in the last decade, we’ve seen that some of our nearest and dearest neighbors are outcompeting us on the innovation front. And maybe we could argue it’s a sense of scale, but still, it’s a concern. The federal government announced its most recent budget – a raft of money – and I’m just greedy enough to want our part.
“Whenever I see these funds, I drive poor Kris (Snell) and Kim (Kowch) nuts because I’m like ‘how do we get our fingers in that pie?’ There’s a lot of money that’s being put on the table right now by the federal government to support innovation in Canada and I want our piece.”
Citing a recent article on innovation by RBC Economics, he explained that Canada has a highly-trained and educated workforce and yet the country is falling behind when it comes to this key area.
“We’re not doing so well translating those inputs to outputs and making our difference or our impact on the world,” he said, though admitted that in this arena the municipality might take a backseat. “I really think this must be a community-led initiative. I’m encouraging us together to consider this and to raise hands if you’re willing to get involved.”
Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner