I have just returned to Corner Brook having spent the past four years in Eastern Europe and the sale of the Venture Centre obviously is of interest to me, having been one of its founders. Although I have been away, I would like to contribute a few thoughts to what appears to be a very limited dialogue, not only about the sale but the role of the Centre in the Economic Development of Pasadena; past, present and future. Having lived away from Pasadena for almost twenty years now, I know that there are those who will suggest that I am out of touch, perhaps many thought this when I lived there. But, one thing that hasn’t changed is my belief in local community development and the necessity for participatory and communicative local democratic governance. My experiences over these past few years has strengthened these views. The future of not only Pasadena but I believe the whole country depends on these two concepts.
The current sale of the Venture Centre has obviously raised some passions within the town, but unlike the attempt by the Provincial Government to sell it in the 1990’s, the outcry seems much muted. At that time, the public outcry by people of Pasadena was so vocal the Provincial Government backed off and turned the facility over to the town. Perhaps better said, placed it in the trust of the Town Council for the people, because it was and still is a public property (mostly paid for by the federal Government) owned by the people.
By way of background, if any is required, The Venture Centre when it was built (after a six year effort by council) was a key and critical element of it’s the economic development plan. Pasadena was one of the few smaller municipalities in the province that had anything resembling an economic plan. It had, as well, an Economic Development Committee, established in 1999, perhaps a first for such a small community in the province. Both the committee and the centre were pursued despite provincial government constraints (we did have some support). In those days economic development was considered the purview of provincial and federal governments. Pasadena was considered an upstart by many in the Provincial Government and even among some of its peers.
The Venture Centre is the primary reason that the industrial park in Pasadena flourishes perhaps, not directly, but certainly, indirectly. The park, when the Centre was built, was only a short road into a field with a couple of businesses. It obviously must still be considered a valuable piece of the Pasadena economy, perhaps in a different way, in that it is home to many businesses and organizations. My understanding is that it is now a self supporting facility paying its own operational costs. The mantra in economic development circles in Canada for the past ten years or more years has been “business retention” (building on what you have). In today’s world we see this focus being played out nationally and internationally as governments at all levels struggle to preserve their economic base.
But that is not the main point I wish to make. I am intrigued by the lack of communication and dialogue around an issue that should be of critical importance to anyone living in the town. We all know that one of the pillars of any town is its economic strength and development. As important, is a basis of governance that is open transparent and communicative; without which there is no democracy! The issue of the Centre, like most today, seems to be relegated to short comments written in response to the limited news releases that have appeared. There appears to be little by way of real information flow, dialogue and debate. We should know by now that sound bite information, spin and rude and caustic comments don’t make for good governance; it only agitates both citizens and those elected to govern. Perhaps people are forced into this because of the lack of a genuine community communications process.
This is not only an issue in Pasadena, it is an issue across Canada and indeed throughout the western world. The demise of true democratic process is undermining the democratic, social and economic advances that have been made since the Second World War. This is evident in the many crises that are having to be addressed. Democratic Governments are no longer owned by people, but are vehicles for use by those in power, influential interests and the elites. Government and governance appears to be less about common good and more about specific interests.
This is at the nub of my concern with Pasadena and the sale of the Venture Centre. It appears that there is limited discussion within the town about the sale of the Venture Centre, about future implications for the local economy and the businesses who operate from it. There appears to be limited information available to anyone about the process or the sale itself. There certainly appears to have been no public tendering process, a necessity for good, transparent and participatory local governance; even if it not required.
This takes me to the purpose of my intervention, which is being made without being party to any of the rationale, reasons or vision of council in making its decision. I believe that community dialogue, discussion and debate are fundamental to any legitimate, democratic governance as is participation. I remember well my first real experience as a young new councilor, at my first public meeting, when council proposed the concept of “property tax” for Pasadena. To say there was open debate would be to put it mildly. Our Mayor at the time, Nelson Bennett, endured the brunt of the heat of the criticisms, but they were felt by all the councilors who were with him. The dialogue didn’t end with the public meeting as there was ensuing discussions and debate over the months before property tax was eventually implemented. Many still disliked it, but most issues were addresses and the people did have their say. The sale of the Venture Centre appears imminent and immediate, whether people in Pasadena want it or not.
The issue in Pasadena is indicative of a far greater challenge for all of us. I believe that real democratic participatory government is under significant duress in the country, provincially and also locally. In fact, Local government appears to be emulating those senior levels of government, many who appear to be operating on the basis of intimidation, pressure and fear.
There is a need to reclaim our democratic process. This will not happen though political parties, interests groups or lobbyists provincially or nationally. It must come from local people, speaking out; making their views known and challenging those who they have been elected to govern and make decisions for them at the local level. A genuine democratic government is an arm of its people, not their controller, which is influenced and controlled by the people who actively engage and participate in their activities. The process of engagement is imperative, as is, the genuine respect for people who wish to make their thoughts and feelings known; even if we disagree. The lack of dialogue, often difficult to create and manage and is time consuming, will only further diminish our rights and obligations as citizens.
Written by Bill Pardy
May 16th, 2009
Bill is a former Mayor of Pasadena and was their first Economic Development Officer with responsibility for the Venture Centre. He continues to work in the field of Community Economic Development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org