MRC controversy a COVID by-product?

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Added: Wed, 04/07/2021 - 2:56pm
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Allyson Beauregard
Rédacteur / Managing Editor
editor@journalpontiac.com

Controversy and heated debate have become quite common in recent months
at the MRC Pontiac’s Council of Mayors (CoM) meetings, particularly concerning the proposed bio-park project.
The issue hit the stage with a bang last November starting with two resolutions requiring a confirmation of federal funding and a commitment from a private company to locate its wood recovery facility here before the MRC moves forward with any further financial support, including the forestry consulting contract with Pierre Vezina. The mayors came to a deadlock tie, with Warden Toller breaking it in favour of the resolutions.
The issue has appeared again in different forms at every CoM meeting since then, resulting in more tied votes and a number of “special meetings” on topics
related to the issue (see page 6). Controversy has spilled over into other issues, such as designating the former CN railway corridor for recreo-tourism in some municipalities.
Allegations and insults eventually led to the reading of a “Statement of Decorum” at the beginning of recent meetings, reminding mayors to “think before they speak” and that negative comments toward others will require an immediate apology.
Debate is common in the political world, even at the municipal and MRC levels, but it’s fairly rare at the Pontiac’s CoM table where things generally run quite smoothly; most decisions are made and approved without much fuss or objection. Why the change?
Municipal elections are slated for November, so are mayors stating their
positions and demonstrating they are capable of defending them as a campaign strategy?
Is a year of dealing with the pandemic and all of its stresses and restrictions taking its toll? Is it a case of PC courage – when people feel braver behind a computer screen and say things they normally wouldn’t in person - due to the transition to online conferences during the pandemic? Or maybe it’s just that the issues would be controversial regardless of the timing or situation and they’re all crossing the CoM table at the same time.
While at first glance controversy and debate can seem counterproductive,
negative, uncooperative and inefficient, it’s usually a good sign. Under the right
conditions, it means democracy is working; mayors are voicing their concerns and
standing up for what they believe is best for the region or residents rather than silently voting the way others do. That’s what we want, right – leaders, not followers?
A number of reasons can explain the recent turbulence at the CoM table, but
bottom line: debate is positive, provided it takes place respectfully; it becomes inefficient when the same issue is brought up repeatedly with the same conclusion. The CoM decided not to invest any more money in the bio-park project as it stands – there’s no sense arguing that point further – but support has many forms. Other options should be explored given that all 18 mayors say they support
the project in principal. This should be the focus moving forward. Pontiac can’t afford to move backwards, nor stand still. It’s not the time to stop arguing; it’s the time to start arguing more respectfully and constructively.