By Jennifer Hoegg
GEORGETOWN, P.E.I. — Doug Griffiths’ entertaining speaking style and sharp commentary on what it takes to fail or succeed in small communities drew laughs and applause Friday at the Georgetown Conference.
A problem, the Alberta cabinet minister said, is that the people who really needed to hear the lessons from his “13 ways to kill your community” talk weren’t in Georgetown.
“The people who are killing our community are not likely the people here today,” he said. “You are not alone in facing the people trying to destroy your community.”
Pictou Landing’s Michelle Francis-Denny said she felt two of Griffiths’ items: “don’t have quality water” and “live in the past” struck close to home.
“I want this community to thrive, but there are two issues of industrial pollution and environmental damage that impacts this one community,” she said. “I would love to wish there was a magic wand, this is how we’re moving forward, this is how we’re going to advance. It seems we're stuck in a sense of hopelessness because of it.”
While she says she doesn’t believe Boat Harbour will be cleaned up in her lifetime, she wants to find a way for the community to build towards the future is important instead of getting stuck on the past.
“I want to make sure there’s something there. We don’t want to be at this standstill forever,” she said. “It’s so hard to move beyond that and get that positive energy, because it’s all about attitude.
When he heard Francis-Denny’s story, Griffiths pointed out that there is a difference between holding on to the past in a negative way and continuing to pursue something that is a real problem.
“It’s about holding on to something that’s no longer relevant,” he said. “That’s a very relevant issue that needs to be fixed and addressed.”
In her position, he said, “I would be relentless. I would be on the doorstep of every politician… until it’s cleaned up.
“I can see it in your eyes. It’s a very challenging thing to deal with. The best thing we can do to deal with challenges like that is to surround yourself with people who will keep you going” he said.
“Never give up.”
Asking for advice
Griffiths’ passionate presentation also drew questions from conference delegates about how to apply his lessons to specific problems in their communities.
“Eastern P.E.I. is made up of many different smaller communities,” Wallace Rose of Souris said, asking Griffiths how those communities could be brought together for regional success.
“Find out what it is that’s keeping you apart,” Griffiths suggested.
“People get a notion it’s a blood sport and to be successful you need to kill your neighbours.”
Cheryl Veinotte – who works with youth in Amherst, N.S., and Sackville, N.B. – asked Griffiths about how people can “help build an understanding in communities to have faith in our young people?”
Language, Griffiths said.
“Everything is about building the right culture. That’s what breeds the right attitude about stuff,” he elaborated. “It’s a long process to change the culture and it starts with the language people use. You start by talking about it. Make sure people hear constantly that what they think is true is not true anymore.
“People believe stuff when they hear it seven times, which is challenging when you try to get information and facts out because a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”
A second question from Vienotte was on unifying communities with one major economic driver — like a university or a dominant industry.
“It applies to any community if one industry is very strong and prominent and generates a lot of wealth, it’s easy to rely on that too much,” Griffiths replied, “and then, when it’s gone, you have nothing left because you don’t have a diverse economy.”
Alberta as a province has the same problem, Griffiths pointed out. The success of the oil industry “sucks the life out of every aspect of Alberta.
“It’s very difficult to get people to work in restaurants, in arts and culture because they can’t compete with the wages.
“Always try to push for diversity.”