Paul MacNeill

A few years ago plans were crafted to make Georgetown an attractive destination to the small cruise ship industry. It was a novel idea aimed at creating new revenue in a town sorely in need of it.

From the get go, one of the main issues faced is the reality that while the harbour is world class, there is not a lot for passengers to do when they get off.

You only have to be in Charlottetown when a cruise ship arrives to know what the majority of passengers like to do – wander around on foot. Sure many will cough up for a speciality excursion, but most are just happy to walk the streets, look at local architecture, purchase a trinket or stop for a small meal.

Part of Georgetown’s plan was to create an historic walking tour, which included a renovated Holy Trinity Anglican Church, an architectural gem built in 1842. Holy Trinity had fallen on hard times. The last service was held in 2008 and it was scheduled to be demolished in 2011. It avoided the wrecking ball but fell into greater disrepair. Structurally it is a hazard. The bell is still in the tower but no one knows just how safe it is.

The former Liberal government never took a shining to Georgetown’s plan for tourism diversification. Plans stalled. But with the election of the King government life is being breathed into the grand old building.

The church is owned by the provincial government. Three Rivers Council ordered the owner to either clean it up or tear it down. With the new premier being a proud son of Georgetown it didn’t take long for government to announce it will both clean the property up and ensure structural integrity.

After that is a vague promise to consult with local organizations on what role the church may play in the future.

There is no question preserving significant historical buildings is an important investment. Ideally, Holy Trinity would have received needed TLC years ago. The fact it didn’t may speak to its relative importance provincially and the reality that a great many once prosperous churches now find themselves fading into history.

As a province can we afford to bring them all back to former glory? Probably not.

Politically it is easy to see why Holy Trinity suddenly jumped to the top of the queue. It’s the premier’s hometown. But without being part of some greater community initiative, simply shoring up the structure will be of little long-term benefit.

In opposition Tories were known to object to everything and offered no solutions to core issues impacting rural communities, most notably an aging population. It is the challenge of our time. How do we grow the local economy, and provide and pay for services in an era when there are more seniors and fewer taxpayers? There are no easy solutions.

What was intriguing about the original Georgetown proposal is that it was ambitious and built on an intrinsic strength – the harbour. The argument against the plan is it was a proposal promoting seasonal employment when the goal should be year round employment to help break our economic development addiction to employment insurance.

No one knows if the original plan is still on the table or collecting dust on a government shelf somewhere.

What we do know is it has been more than a month since the PCs took office and taxpayers have yet to see mandate letters which set out priorities for each department. The reason they are important is because they offer a road map to the priorities the premier is setting for each department and will quell confusion over what department is responsible for initiatives such as rural economic development.

It is the type of information all communities must know to effectively promote local priorities. It also ensures investments like Holy Trinity are part of a bigger plan and not just a photo op for government.

Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at paul@peicanada.com

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