Not the first one, but one that still stings.
As you may know, I love hockey. If I am not posting about politics or business, it is most certainly about Hockey. I’ve never been good at hockey but I’ve always understood the game better than most and had good vision. I was also a big fan of the team aspect, the code and the camaraderie shared among teammates. If there was a scrum after the whistle you can bet that I either started it or was the 3rd guy in to protect my teammate. That being said the place where all of my recent hockey memories have occurred has been the Belledune Veterans Memorial Arena.
A Small Town Rink in a Regionalized World
This is important and if you take nothing else away from this post please take this piece of knowledge to heart. As a means to unload the cost of servicing all of the small LSD’s i.e. Lorne, Nash Creek, Madran etc. The province began early in the 2010s building Regional Service Commissions. Visit Nova Scotia and you will see how these regional municipalities work. Essentially what happens is the province offloads a lot of the costs of servicing these small pockets of the population to the regional service commissions by having municipalities pay a large portion of their tax base into the Regional Authority. The Mayors and LSD Reps sit on the board and serve as a “Mega Council.” Eventually what occurs is that more and more services become the responsibility of the RSC.
It was the first or second meeting we had when I volunteered to take outgoing councillor Mario Lapointe’s spot on the Regional Service Commission’s Recreation Committee. They were in the middle of their mandate and had already paid around 100k for a consultant to come in and do a regional analysis of the recreation infrastructure in the region. This includes arenas, pools, tennis courts, fields, ballparks, playgrounds, everything. Then their next step was to classify them into categories:
- Regional = a recreation facility that serves the entire region
- Sub Regional = a recreation facility that serves more than just the municipality or LSD it is located in
- Local = a facility that is only utilized by the members of that community.
No surprise our facilities were mostly classified as local, and some as sub-regional. The purpose of this classification was that when all the money eventually goes into that common pot, these categorizations will determine which ones stay open, which ones get upgrades and which ones are forced to close. Basically if your facility had a Regional classification you were safe. So looking at our marquee item the Arena I started thinking about how we could transform it not just a regional but a provincially accessed asset. I do believe that there is still some good work that can be done by advertising our lower prices but ultimately it boiled down to summer operations. For the summer we were open we were the only arena North of Moncton that was open during the Summer.
The Importance of Kids
This all came together with the movement of the Major AAA Midget team relocating from Miramichi to Bathurst. Bathurst, could not afford to put their ice in during the summer in the very expensive. But in order in this day and age for kids to remain competitive, they have to be on the ice nearly 12 months a year. So a few dozen kids were travelling to Moncton at least twice a week for ice time. The idea was simple, open the Belledune Arena during the summer and attempt to get a summer program off the ground. Drawing in Kids from as far as Kedgwick and the Miramichi. Making the Arena a multi-regional infrastructure asset.
As is the case, we drug our feet finalizing the decision and the camp only had a couple of months to advertise it but had as many 35 kids at their sessions. The next year we were informed that the amount would be much higher because decisions about camps are generally made prior to Christmas given the demand to get into them. So we put the money necessary for a second year into the 2019 budget…
Microeconomics and the Value of Listening
So we budget for the ice to be in. The representative even comes in and gives us all shirts to celebrate the ongoing partnership. Everyone is happy or so I thought. Our rink is kind of old. And needed some work. Immediately everyone became a refrigeration expert. Apparently running it through the summer was the worst thing we could do as it was never meant to be open during the summer. I don’t ever recall seeing that on the plans but hey maybe someone declared that when it got built. So we hired the company that always services our rink to come up and report back on that. His response was unequivocal that the repairs required would in no shape, way or form be impacted by summer operations. At the time I was working with a group of teams in the region to move their home rink to Belledune furthering profitability and regional impact of our arena. Our rep from the midget team said almost double the number of kids had registered for the camp forgoing other camps. This would have meant good crowds in the rink 5 days a week for hours and hours of ice time.
But the testimonial from the professional was ignored. The impact on our ability to function as a regional/provincial facility was dismissed, and for some reason, the address of these kids coming into play hockey was not worth the additional cost (before revenue from rentals) of what we pay to put up Christmas lights each year. I pleaded, I argued, kicked, screamed and did everything I could, but to the people involved this was an open and shut case, they didn’t use the rink, it costs money and they couldn’t see the value of bringing people in the community. So as the special meeting vote went down I managed to swing one vote, while two councillors maintained their same arguments, and the mayor and another councillor barely said two words.
Immediately after the teams that were interested in coming here, no longer wanted to. We have apparently lost a long-running camp, our canteen operations are extremely strained as during the week there are now only 4 dedicated groups, a bantam team, figure skating down to 10 kids, and two men’s rec groups. I wonder what arena they will decide to close when regionalization takes that already planned next step.
A Leader Sees These Things
I don’t know why the other councillors voted the way they did. I will likely never understand. But the long term effects of caving on that $12,000 dollar investment to keep the arena open still baffles me. And later on, finding out that we got RDC funding to pay for half of the cost of the repairs and replacements required was bitter-sweet. But my failure to convince my fellow councillors of the value of that arena is one that haunts me to this day.
To see how I would make sure that these decisions never happen like this again please read my Mayoral Platform