The last major overhaul of the Municipalities Act in 1999 provided municipalities with a legitimate role in economic development for the first time. With the advent of the regional economic development boards, the MNL engaged the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the (then) Department of Development and Rural Renewal on a series of workshops to introduce municipal leaders to the REDBs, their purpose, their plans and the role for municipalities in both. The immediate, positive reaction to these workshops convinced the MNL to expand our efforts.
Since 1999, over 50 workshops have been held in all parts of the province. The workshops have covered topics such as:
- the basics of community economic development;
- the role of municipalities on REDBs, and;
- best practices in local economic development.
Many of these workshops were informed by study tours to Iceland, Scotland, Sweden, Kentucky and British Columbia as well as experiences here at home.
The workshops combined panel discussions, presentations, small group discussion of local examples, skits and case studies, and often integrate MNL Directors and local municipal leaders in these elements.
The central message is, and has been throughout the series, that municipalities need to base their economic development efforts on the unique tools they have at their disposal such as development controls, taxation, the ability to invest, physical and human resources, and the capacity to broker relationships. These are tools that no other economic development organization has at their disposal. Of course, municipalities also have the democratic legitimacy that comes from universal franchise - a potent tool when significant decisions must be made on behalf of residents.
The MNL Economic Development program is now expanding to include an interactive website, a library of materials, regional workshops, an Economic Crisis Response Toolkit, a newsletter, and a series of Municipal Development Guides that highlight how municipalities can have a positive impact on development through their existing operations.
The MNL's work in economic development has been highlighted at national events such as the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It has also been the topic of presentations to international rural development conferences in Scotland and West Virginia. In addition, The MNL approach was highlighted by the OECD as a best practice in regional development in their Territorial Review of Canada.