Legislation will be introduced this spring to grow ACOA's presence in Cape Breton and enable it to take control over the economic and community development activities of ECBC, as well as its budget.
© Cape Breton Post photo
[SYDNEY, NS] — The Crown corporation that looked after economic development in Cape Breton and Mulgrave for the past 27 years will soon be absorbed into the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Rob Moore, minister of state for the ACOA, was in Sydney on Wednesday to give details of the federal government's plan to scrap Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. and expand ACOA's presence in this area.
"Our government will introduce legislation this spring to expand ACOA's presence in Cape Breton," said Moore. "This will result in the agency being the main federal organization responsible for the direct delivery of programming dedicated to maximize economic opportunities here in Cape Breton."
If the legislation passes, the economic and community development activities of ECBC, as well as its budget, will be taken over by ACOA. No employees will lose their jobs; in fact, some positions may be added to the Port Hawkesbury office which the minister said would be "enhanced," although he would not go into further detail.
As well, ECBC employees will remain in their present jobs and keep the same rates of pay, vacation and sick leave earned, as well as accumulated years of service. Moore also said the government will maintain the level of economic development funding delivered through ECBC. Other ECBC activities, such as property holdings, environmental remediation of former mine sites and human resources obligations of the former Cape Breton Development Corp., will be transferred to Public Works and Government Services Canada.
"Simply said, it will be business as usual," said Moore. "As minister, I've had the opportunity to meet with a number of community leaders who have shared their views on the need to expand our government's presence in Cape Breton, and the importance of working together to advance economic development in this region. That is why, in addition to maintaining the current office here in Sydney, I've also directed ACOA to restaff the office in Port Hawkesbury in order to better assist entrepreneurs, local economic development organizations and community leaders as they strive to increase business and employment opportunities and foster long-term prosperity throughout the island. Let me be clear — this decision in no way impacts the level and quality of service that business owners and community leaders in Cape Breton expect and are accustomed to receiving."
Earlier in the day, muncipal, aboriginal and business leaders met with government officials about what would be happening. For the most part, the news was being seen as a positive move.
"I think it was good news for us," said Port Hawkesbury Mayor Billy Joe MacLean. "We wanted more attention in the Strait and they assured us (of that) in this announcement ... I know that people have to be sorted out and the total fine print at the end of the day, but if economic development is the word for the minister, it's very good with us."
Richmond Warden Steve Sampson was also pleased with the news.
"I think this is exactly what we're wanting to hear as well. We're all looking for wins and it's important there's some good news announcements because I think people have been waiting for quite some time for it. In the meantime, we wait as things unfold."
Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke was also onside.
"When you look at any government review, the first thing I worry about is the budget being reduced, second thing is staff impact, the ability to have program supports — all of those have been provided as assurances," said Clarke. "The staff will continue. If they said they were reducing staff, we'd be in a different model. And most importantly, they're maintaining budget dollars, which is critical for us."
Local MPs looked at the announcement with more of a wary eye. Cape Breton–Canso MP Rodger Cuzner said he will hold the minister to his word that ACOA will continue to provide the same level of service and programming that Cape Bretoners have come to expect.
"If the changes announced today are indeed just administrative, that is one thing, but if they are a means to further decrease funding for economic development for our region, that would be unacceptable," said Cuzner in a press release. "I will be eagerly awaiting further details to assess how these changes will affect the economic future of our region."
Sydney Victoria MP Mark Eyking was more blunt in his assessment.
"The decommissioning of ECBC is another Conservative hit on Cape Breton," he said. "Although the Harper government assured us that they will not be closing ECBC, that is exactly what they have done. They are trying to spin a positive outcome with the closure by merging the office with ACOA but the reality is that our local regional development agency is going to lose local input and local design programs.
"Minister Moore and the Conservative government may try to put a positive spin on this, but the reality is we are losing a key component to our economic revitalization."