As of May 2013, all 20 zone boards across this province will lose 75 per cent of their core funding, and they are uncertain how long they will remain open for business.
Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency Minister Bernard Valcourt released a letter stating the federal government will not renew its contribution to economic organizations and agencies in all Atlantic provinces.
Sean St. George, executive director of Red Ochre Regional Development Board, said he knew something was on the way.
“But it was more than what I expected for cuts to services to rural Canada and Newfoundland.”
Bigger centres, such as Corner Brook will survive, he said, because the municipality has economic development positions.
The cuts will harshly affect rural communities, said St. George, because of gaps in available economic planning and sustainability services.
He said his board, which works with 34 communities on the Northern Peninsula, is the only entity in the area that assists with all components of sustainable development.
The government will instead fund the money directly to small and medium-sized businesses, which leaves St. George wondering who will fill the boards’ role.
He is fearful the responsibility and work currently held by the boards will result in an ad hoc approach.
“It’s not always about businesses,” said St. George. “Businesses are only one part of the economy. You’ve got to have a healthy community.”
St. George said the province’s economic boards go beyond business to help develop environmental, recreational and cultural aspects of a community.
St. George has worked with the board for 18 years and uses the Town of Woody Point as an example of the board’s stewardship.
Business has grown significantly in the past five years since walking trails and heritage restoration projects have been implemented, he said.
“The boards are champions and instigators,” he said. “Who will do what we do now?”
The Red Ochre Regional Board will meet June 12 to discuss its priorities moving forward.
The board was hoping to renew the contract next spring with a collective of 13 heritage organizations in the area. St. George said growth of current projects after the funding dries up is uncertain.
New Democratic MPs have called the cuts a blow to the Atlantic region, which has faced hardships this year in other industries.
St. John’s South-Mount Pearl member and ACOA critic, Ryan Cleary, and Nova Scotia member, Robert Chisholm, publicly disapproved the Conservative government’s cuts.
“We need to be supporting the economy, not putting up road blocks,” Cleary said in a press release.
The remaining 25 per cent of the provincial boards’ core funding is provided by the provincial government.
But, that money is not expected to last either, said Long Range Economic Development Board executive director John MacPherson.
The province budgeted $50,000 to each zone board this year, but MacPherson predicts it will not be renewed in 2013-14.
MacPherson said the province’s economic boards have been on “thin ice” for main years after the two levels of government could not agree on a co-operating agreement.
“It’s less than stellar support,” he said of the province’s commitment to its economic boards.