No money for forestry consulting, says MRC divided vote

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Added: Wed, 04/07/2021 - 3:05pm
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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC – Mayors Gilles Dionne (Mansfield) and David Rochon (Waltham) called a special Council of Mayors meeting via ZOOM, March 24, with one item on the agenda: determining what to do with a remaining $50,000 in the MRC’s Sustainable Forest Management Program (PADF) budget. The issue proved to be controversial, ending in a tied vote after considerable debate.  
For the last several years, $50,000 from the PADF paid a portion of the salary of the MRC’s forestry consultant, Pierre Vezina, who had been working with Fibre Pontiac to research and implement a diversified bio-park project to recover value from forestry by-products; it has been in the works for eight years with about $700,000 spent. His contract ended last November when the mayors passed two resolutions requiring a confirmation of federal funding and a commitment from a private company to come to the Pontiac before the MRC provided any further support; consequently, the $50,000 remained unused.
The resolution asked that the unused $50,000 be moved from the consulting stream of the PADF to the “realization of forestry management projects on residual land delegated by the MRC” category. This would fund silviculture work on public (TPI) lands the MRC manages: tree thinning, planting, tree marking, cutting, etc.
Jason Durand, MRC director of territory, displayed an email confirming that the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP) has extended the deadline for work funded through the PADF program to September 30, 2021, and that
unused funds can be carried over to next year’s funding envelope.  
Controversy arose concerning the urgency of adopting the resolution and Mayor Brent Orr (Bristol) requested it be discussed first in plenary instead of “voting on it carte blanche.” Mayor Winston Sunstrum (L’Isle-aux-Allumettes) agreed. Toller said the MFFP told her that although unused money won’t be lost, it could only be reallocated to a different category until March 31.
Mayor Colleen Larivière (Litchfield) said she didn’t see a rush since the money wouldn’t be lost, and re-allocating the funds would continue to allow wood to leave the Pontiac. “We’re just putting another bandage on the problem,” she said.  
Toller stressed the issue isn’t that the $50,000 would be lost; it’s where it can be spent. “[Some mayors] don’t agree with it continuing to be left [for consulting]. The new category will involve work on the TPI, because at the end of the day, what are people asking us for? We know wood leaves the Pontiac right now, but that’s not the point. This is a chance for people in the Pontiac to be working,” she added, noting Groupe-ment Forestier and local contractors would be given the work.
 
Mayor Serge Newberry (Calumet) called the vote, which ended in a tie with the following mayors voting against the reallocation: Winston Sunstrum (L’Isle-aux-Allumettes), Brent Orr (Bristol), Alain Gagnon (Bryson), Maurice Beauregard (Campbell’s Bay), Donald Gagnon (Chichester), Sandra Murray (Shawville), John Armstrong (Clarendon), Doris Ranger (Sheenboro) and Colleen Larivière (Litchfield).
Toller voted in favour of the reallocation. This broke the tie, but resulted in
further debate.
“I asked [why you didn’t vote] last meeting and you told me when [it’s a tie], you wouldn’t vote. So, why are you tonight?” asked Mayor Beauregard, referring to a tied vote concerning the PADF fund at the regular meeting on
March 17.
Toller explained thewarden can vote when it’s a tie: “I knew many of you would feel badly and felt it would be heavy-handed. It already failed on a tie, why did I need to vote as well?
I think it’s very clear what my position is: I’m the one that raised my concern about so much money being spent on a consultant and a project that was moving very slowly with no investor or major guarantee; I’ve been consistent,” she concluded.