Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Credit Union Closes...

Gerry Hicks, chairman of the Campobello Island Health and Wellness Advisory Committee, speaks at a rally to protest the closure of the Campobello Credit Union Friday.


CAMPOBELLO – Friday was the end of an era on Campobello as the island’s branch of the Charlotte County Credit Union closed its doors for the last time leaving islanders without any financial institution.
To protest the closure, which will mean islanders will have to drive to St. Stephen to do their banking, Mary Fowler organized a rally and about 60 people showed up.
“The whole idea is to let them know we are not happy about the way we have been treated. We would expect this from a bank but not from a Credit Union.
“We were supposedly owners of the Credit Union and we were not given any notice. If we had been given notice we would have been able to do something. This (rally) is just to show our frustration.”
Islanders marched around the parking lot outside the Credit Union chanting “Shame on you CCCU” and brandishing placards expressing such sentiments as “We are not going to St. Stephen,” “We are not the problem – CCCU management is”, “Campobello is a forgotten island”, “Does no one care about us?”, “The CU sold us out”, “Where does this leave seniors?”, “Down with CCCU”, “Shame on you CCCU” and “We cannot survive without a bank.”
Armed with a megaphone, Gerry Hicks, chair of the island’s Health and Wellness Advisory Committee, accompanied by some of the protestors, went to the locked door of the Credit Union during the lunch time rally calling for someone from management to come out to speak to them. No one did, so they marched around to the rear door but still got no response from those inside.
Speaking to the crowd, he said islanders have to take control of their own futures since it was clear they didn’t have support from the local, provincial or federal governments when it came to preserving the quality of life for residents.
He said they either accept defeat or fight to maintain the kind of life they deserve and the level of services they are entitled to. Hicks said the committee has been working very hard to find another bank, for a year-round ferry and on local governance.
“As an island community we are handicapped by our own government and they hold the keys. A petition is being circulated to have our status determined that we are, in fact, an island community and with that we are entitled to a certain degree of services.”
While everyone knew the closure of the Credit Union was coming, he said he didn’t think the inconvenience of this will sink in until next week.
“This is not just about the closure of a bank. This is about the preservation of the community and the people and the quality of life... It is up to us to say how things are going to be run and not simply to be dictated to.”
Hicks questioned what the island may lose next and said they have to fight to keep what they have because they didn’t see this coming and there was no collaboration or negotiation so they were just left to deal with the ramifications. He urged people to continue to support the businesses which are on the island.
The decision to close this branch and the one in Blacks Harbour was announced in April and Gerald Adams, president and CEO of Credit Union Centre in New Brunswick, blamed lack of business. The Campobello branch opened in May 2001 following the closure of the Scotiabank branch there.
Glen Alexander, who is a member of the island’s Health and Wellness Advisory Committee, commented as he put up posters, “I feel they have abandoned us for no good reason. They have not made any concessions. We know we are not going to change their minds. There is no hope of that. We just hope someone will come along.”
Debbie Barker, who created a huge banner protesting the closure, said, ”I feel strongly about how it happened. There was no community awareness. They just came in and announced it to the staff.
“I thought the credit union was run by the people. We are working on trying to get another bank but nothing has been confirmed. We are looking at having to drive 40 miles and there are people who don’t have vehicles.”
Marianne Alexander said the closure of the Credit Union was just something else that had been taken from island residents. She said every community needs a bank and there was also the loss of the jobs as well.
“It is the seniors I am most worried about. It is devastating. It is another nail in our coffin but we are not going down without a fight,” she said.
Inside the Credit Union, where customers waited to do their last minute banking, a number of residents brought in flowers and treats for the four local staff while staff from the head office in St. Stephen and the Credit Union’s Risk Management Agency worked in a back office.
As she waited in line, Joanne Matthews said it was a sad day for the island and it is going to be tough especially for seniors because many of them will have to rely on someone else to take them to St. Stephen to do their banking.
“That takes away their independence. Everything is funnelling off the island and very little is funnelling back. It’s just like you don’t see much hope here and our children cannot stay. It is pretty sad.
“If it were not for a dead U.S. president we would not even have what we have now because we are pretty well running on tourism. They are cutting back at the provincial park but the Roosevelt Park is the only one that can weather it.
“My husband doesn’t want to go to St. Stephen and I don’t want to go over that bridge. What are business people going to do? I use this bank a lot and these girls are excellent.”
Diane Getchell said business people are going to have to take time out of their busy schedules to go to St. Stephen to do their banking and no matter how many ATMs there are on the island – there are two – you cannot get coin out of them.
Janet Cline, chair of Campobello Cooperative Ltd., which owns the building the Credit Union shares with Value Foods and Herring Cove Pharmacy, said they are concerned about the loss of the rent for that portion which goes towards paying the mortgage and taxes.
“We are losing approximately $1,800 a month in rent with their demise. It is going to be very difficult for us, as a cooperative, to continue to stay in business.
We are trying to find someone to rent the space. We have been working on this ever since we were notified they were leaving. We will make it for a while but once that income is lost there is a strong possibility everything is going to be lost and we won’t have a grocery store anymore. We will be back to square one.”
She said it was about 15 years ago that the people of Campobello rallied round and formed the cooperative. The original grocery store was a co-op and the pharmacy moved into the complex about three years later.
Alan Seeley said devastated was not a strong enough word to describe how islanders felt. He said they have been let down and lied to especially as their branch was the one which was carrying the outfit.
“We were the first one and they told us they had to have four branches in order for it to run and now they are kicking out two of them and figure they can run on two. In St. Stephen, the very best they can do is 20 per cent because there are four other banks in the town plus a currency exchange.”
Lloyd Getchell said what bothers him is that they all paid $300 membership fees to join and were told they were an intricate part of this Credit Union.
“Then when they made the decision to rip it out of here they never asked any of us. It is an hour to go to St. Stephen. It costs me about $40 in gas to get there and back.
“One thing we are really worried about is that if people have to go to St. Stephen to do their banking they will buy their groceries and pick up their drugs there so we could lose Value Foods and the pharmacy as well.”
Following the rally, Hicks said the committee are continuing to look at possibilities for another bank on the island and have been talking to both the National Bank and RBC.

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