‘Zero confidence?’ EDCNS chair responds to civic criticism

Several factors contributed to a recent discussion of ‘zero confidence’ by heads of north Simcoe councils, according to a top organization spokesperson.

Allex Laurin, vice chair-of the Economic Development Corporation of North Simcoe (EDCNS), spoke to MidlandToday regarding a recent discussion by Penetanguishene Mayor Doug Rawson that revealed there was “no confidence” in the organization by the mayors, deputy mayors and most CAOs in the partnering municipalities of Midland, Penetanguishene and the townships Tay and Tiny.

“There’s no secret that some of our municipal partners have had some concerns around the dormancy of our organization over the last couple of years,” Laurin confirmed.

According to Laurin, the pandemic played a role in the reduced involvement of the volunteer-based, not-for-profit organization over the past few years. Additionally, staffing changes over previous years saw the EDCNS change to a new executive director in Suzanne McCrimmon as well as the hiring of an economic development officer.

However, the disclosure of financial records to its members had been a concern as late as 2021, when then-councillor Bill Gordon (now mayor of Midland) had asked to see those records but found difficulty in obtaining them.

As part of its annual requests to the four municipal partners, a representative of the EDCNS addressed respective councils during budget deliberations to seek funding, and in 2023 had provided Midland council with a full breakdown of its financial status through a PowerPoint presentation during a public meeting.

That meeting highlighted approximately $400,000 in total revenue and $430,000 in expenses for 2023, with roughly $215,000 of expenses projected as May spending for programs, with the remaining expenses attributed to payroll, occupation and equipment, and administrative costs.

Rawson put forward a motion in early March to reduce funding to the EDCNS, stating he had difficulty obtaining revenue amounts that correlated to the Midland presentation figures, and making a case to join other municipalities that had looked at reducing their funding of the EDCNS as well.

Laurin admitted the partners having low confidence wasn’t great to hear.

“No organization based on a group of volunteers wants to hear that their municipal partners — who even have a seat at the table on the board — aren’t feeling confident in the organization,” he said. “... Especially with what we’ve been doing up until the (new terms of councils were) instated and the work that we’re doing now, it’s a little disheartening, a little disappointing, but it’s not unjust.”

Emphasis was placed by Laurin on the transition from the previous term of councils to new councils where members could be unaware of various organizations and their worth over the short time from taking office in late 2022 to the present, especially on the heels of passing a municipal budget they may know little about.

“I think they’re doing their jobs in saying, ‘We have an organization here that, in the short amount of time that we’ve got to know them, we struggle to see the value.’ And that’s a good wake-up call for our organization, too, to say we need to get better at showing our value and proving our value,” said Laurin.

That wake-up call will arrive through an upcoming strategic plan being developed by the EDCNS and to be introduced at a meeting later this month to be approved by members of the board. Laurin said a greater branding strategy with the Heart of Georgian Bay would be one item addressed while working with the four municipalities for a focus around agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, and supporting small businesses in the region.

“Unfortunately, transformation takes a little bit of time,” said Laurin. “Hopefully, we get the benefit of the doubt as we work through this transformation.

“Overall, it’s a very healthy thing despite how it may appear publicly, but at the end of the day, we’re a group of volunteers who are really fixed on driving economic value, and we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think that.”

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca