While many rural municipalities are still looking to squeeze more dollars out of tourism and Frontenac County wants to turn us into a community of goat farmers, one of our township mayors is definitely thinking outside the tourism/agrobusiness box.
North Frontenac’s Ron Higgins is gradually bringing together a concept that, if successful, could effectively re-write the blueprint for municipal governance.
It’s a bit out there, and something that you might more expect to see in a science fiction magazine than the AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) bulletin, but strangely enough, it almost ‘feels’ possible.
Higgins freely admits that there are still ‘I’s’ to be dotted and ‘T’s’ to be crossed but he’s now at the point where he’s bringing a working concept to paper.
“North Frontenac, like other small rural communities are struggling to meet the needs of the community due to ever increasing taxation, cost of living and downloading of services from the provincial to the municipal level,” he says. “As a result the quality and level of services provided to the residents and visitors are being impacted in a negative manner . . . we struggle to have basic services not only at the municipal government level from from a social level as well.
“This includes access to health care, food, restaurants and affordable housing as some examples.”
To counter this situation, Higgins has adopted a kind of Ubuntu philosophy. Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu word often translated as “humanity towards others” that Desmond Tutu argues was a formative influence on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“My mandate is to strengthen the community with the intent to enhance economic development,” he said. “We have many ideas to address this but we are limited in our financial capability to do so.
“What we do have is a strong human resource capital to make this happen.”
In other words, he sees the community contributing to the plan’s success by working together and restoring the political influence back to the people “so they can control the destiny of the economy.”
To do this, Higgins encourages the use of ‘Earthship’ eco-friendly building techniques (ie lots of solar tech and dirt) to create a vertical farming facility for aquaculture (fish farming) and vegetables.
He’s already had meetings with companies who specialize in such things and claims to have “$62 million in financing lined up.”
He’s looking at the North of 7 site to house a community operation/warehouse/restaurant.
The technologies for such a thing do exist in many countries such as the Shauguan Liran Fish Farm in China and the Kharp facility in Siberia. There are also vegetable/grain operations in existence.
And, he says he’s very close to a deal with an electrical generation company which would allow the Township to generate its own electricity.
“This step in the process is the one that will be the catalyst for resurrecting our community,” Higgins said. “I will be asking each resident to commit to three hours a week minimum to work on a community related project.
“Those who sign up and honour their commitment will receive free electricity for as long as they stay in the program.
“This concept allows us to resurrect our community that will be second to none in the world and begin to provide products and services to our resident and allow for income from providing these outside our community and to those who do not sign up for three hours a week.”
Higgins said he’s about “two months” away from presenting the actual plan.