Blue Mountain Ratepayers' Association

Economic Development presentation takes intense turn!

Tensions – and tempers – flared Monday afternoon at a committee of the whole session as a report on economic development in The Blue Mountains was discussed at length.

Members of the Economic Development Committee spent nearly an hour presenting the report, which outlined what they called challenges in the local labour market.

The region is facing an acute labour shortage, said both Mylisa Henderson and Andrew Siegwart, who serve on the committee.

Siegwart said there are approximately 800 job vacancies region-wide, and employers are having huge problems filling the openings.

The committee attributed that labour shortage to a number of converging factors, including transportation issues, lack of attainable housing, and lack of available child care.

“The labour force has dropped by 18,700 people,” the committee report said, with much of that coming from people leaving The Blue Mountains area.

“It’s a simple question of not enough people in all of the cohorts to meet the demand,” Siegwart said.

That’s a narrative the committee has been using as talking point for more than a year now.

“Employers are hiring under-qualified people just to meet the demand, and that means it’s a necessity that they train,” he said in response to a question from Coun. Michael Seguin about whether local companies are doing training locally.

Siegwart, who is the head of the Blue Mountain Village Association, pressed the council to make a decision on whether to commit the town to immediate take action on the issue.

However, Mayor John McKean told the Siegwart and the other committee members plainly what was missing from the report was any discussion of working conditions, particularly wages.

“I think we need a lot more information,” he said.

He told Siegwart that he didn’t see The Blue Mountains as being as similar to such tourist towns as Banff and Whistler, as the committee was suggesting. Instead, he viewed the town as being more akin to Fort McMurray, which struggled with recruiting workers until “the rates of pay changed.”

McKean also made it clear he wasn’t satisfied with the statistics and numbers being presented by the committee members.

“I think you have to take a deep dive into what people do after work – where do the shop, where do they play.  That’s the information municipal councils have to take a look at.”

That didn’t go over well with Siegwart, who was at the podium when McKean spoke. He said he was “offended” and “shocked” at the mayor’s questions and perspective.

He told the council members that patience in the business community was running thin.

“This community depends on this engine (tourism industry),” he said. “Patience in the business community is very short. I’ll bring 3,400 hundred businesses next time.”

“This municipality is really lucky to have private (business and industry) taking the lead on this and doing the lion’s share of work,” Siegwart added.

He said that businesses such as Blue Mountain Resort have an abundance of jobs that pay in the “six figures”, and he was offended about having to answer questions about the value that tourism jobs bring to the town.

Councillor Joe Halos said he agreed with McKean’s comments in general. He told Siegwart that “government isn’t good at initiating things”. Instead, government was better suited to following such initiatives and then “taking taxes.”

“Mr. McKean’s point is well made. We’ve got lots of things to do, and we’ll get to you,” said Halos. “You just have to have some patience.”

Originally posted at www.thornburypaper.ca – Posted on January 30, 2018 by tsgiilck in NewsTopUp Front