MRC Pontiac 2009-2013 mayors from left, back: Winston Sunstrum, Raymond Durocher, Leslie Bélair, Richard Edwards, Donald Gagnon, Ross Vowles, Bill Stewart, Brent Orr, Ken O’Leary, Jack Lang, John Griffin, Albert Armstrong; front: Garry Marchand, Paul-Emile Maleau, Charlene Scharf Lafleur, Lynne Cameron, Jim Gibson, Graham Hawley; seated, Michael McCrank. The next MRC meeting, November 27, will see some new faces to ratify its 2014 budget; last year it was over 5.1 million dollars.
CAMPBELL’S BAY – The municipalities of Bristol and Waltham were missing representation for the final regular MRC Pontiac council meeting, held in the Community Learning Centre, prior to the upcoming elections of the current 18 mayors (photo). The September 24 agenda was routine until the last item: “the report on the public consultations on the subject of municipal amalgamation.”
Within moments of receiving the draft document, the first glimpse any of the mayors have had of it, Shawville mayor, Albert Armstrong, asked, “How many municipalities here want to amalgamate?” Two mayors, Bryson’s Jack Griffin and Fort-Coulonge’s Raymond Durocher, raised their hands. “I make a resolution we abandon this,” concluded Armstrong, of any further discussions on amalgamation.
“We have a responsibility to report the results and make some form of recommendation,” noted Thorne mayor, Ross Vowles. The summary indicates that 75% of 400 people across the region who completed questionnaires are “open to amalgamation”, with 42% of those preferring the 18 municipalities be reduced to four and 36% in favour of a full merger.
Litchfield pro-mayor, Ken O’Leary, made a plea for the municipalities to commit to “better co-operation and communication”, while Warden Michael McCrank was sceptical of any genuine collaboration between municipalities. He referred to the MRC’s recent efforts to collect data from each municipality for a survey to apply for regional carbon credits. “It took 2 years for the MRC to get the electricity costs from each municipal office. Two years!” McCrank emphasized. “That should only take a month.”
Following an hour of debate, Otter Lake mayor, Graham Hawley, tabled a resolution: “To abandon the question of an amalgamation scenario in favour of the following: undertake initiatives toward municipal cooperation of services; and to initiate and encourage ways to standardize services and charges for municipal services across the MRC Pontiac.”
Nine mayors were in agreement; Mansfield abstained; and Campbell’s Bay was absent for the vote. The municipalities that voted against the resolution to continue merger discussions were: Bryson, Fort-Coulonge, L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, Portage-du-Fort and Thorne.
“I don’t know if I should laugh or cry over this [vote outcome],” said Durocher, a staunch supporter of fusion. “We’ll be the laughing-stock of all the MRCs; over $100,000 [of taxpayer money] swept under the carpet!” A plebiscite will be on the Fort-Coulonge and Mansfield election ballots asking voters, “should your municipality consider amalgamating with one or more neighbouring municipalities?”
Hawley further clarified the controversial subject. “We’ve all had more than enough time on this and we’re going ‘around the same mountain’. Until municipalities become more similar, say in millage rates, is when amalgamations won’t be such a stretch to consider.”