Vancouver Island mayors share success stories

Mayors from Ladysmith, North Cowichan, Parksville and Qualicum Beach spoke about revitalization at the Global Mural Conference in Chemainus.

Vancouver Island mayors

Vancouver Island mayors

Taxpayers around the world can breathe a sigh of relief — they won’t have to pay for the revitalization of their community.

That was one of the main themes at the eighth Global Mural Conference (GMC) Mayor’s Roundtable Sept. 11 in Chemainus.

Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins told delegates at the conference that municipalities have to be innovative when strapped for cash and not always rely on the taxpayer.

“Partnerships are key to success. You can’t go to the taxpayer anymore; it is impossible to achieve what we want to achieve just through the taxpayer,” he told delegates. “So partnerships are critical to build the community. Part of that is building pride in the community in order to build unbelievable support for a simple vision, to beautify the community.”

The Mayors Roundtable was a chance for the mayors of North Cowichan, Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Ladysmith to inform delegates of what they have done to revitalize their communities to build economic growth.

Hutchins took delegates through a history of Ladysmith and the transformation the community had to undergo after the logging industry left. He encouraged other municipal leaders to be confident in change.

“You need to diversify your economy,” he said. “We used to be so resource-based. You need to be innovative, flexible and creative — it’s part of our culture. Money will flow to where there is confidence. I am so saddened by people who think the sky is falling if we continue to grow. The worst thing we can do is use the word ‘ghost town.’ What kind of person wants to invest in a ghost town? If we are confident, then money will flow here.”

The mayors of each community all had the same message for the audience — build on what is there and build a brand.

“What did we have? We had iconic streetscapes,” said Hutchins. “So in 1985-86, we said, ‘we have to do something.’ So we created an iconic First Avenue during a recession, and we adapted the brand Heritage by the Sea. In 1994, Statistics Canada said we were the fastest-growing community in British Columbia because of our effort to revitalize.”

For the most part, the mayors agreed with each other — except when it came to which town had the best waterfront.

Parksville Mayor Chris Burger joked that Ladysmith had it wrong, that his town had the nicest waterfront.

Tom Andrews, President of the Festival of Murals Society, said he was quite pleased with the Mayor’s Roundtable and he thought the mayors had a strong message for delegates.

“It’s a complex process, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “But it can be achieved … there will be challenges ahead, but you can achieve it. Delegates got a lot, well worth their time; they learned a lot.”

The Mayors Roundtable wrapped up the second day of the GMC. The four-day conference aims to educate other small communities about the power of arts, culture and tourism for economic development.