MRC hiring consultant for forestry action plan despite discord

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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC – Tension and discord returned to the Council of Mayors (CoM) table during its monthly meeting, held June 16 via ZOOM (see page 6),
concerning a resolution mandating Jason Durand, director of territory, to look into hiring an external firm with expertise in forestry. The firm will help the MRC create an action plan for forestry using a maximum of $25,000 from the Territorial Development Fund (FDT) that won’t be used for energy-from-waste consultant fees.
According to Durand, he will approach a company he has in mind rather than going to tender. “[I will] sit down with the firm to [discuss] all the information and expectations before signing a contract,” he explained.
Although Mayor Colleen Larivière (Litchfield) said she wouldn’t vote against the resolution because she wants to see forestry files move forward, she’s disappointed in the way things unfolded.    
“About a year ago, a strategic plan for forestry was presented at a forestry committee meeting, and there was a recommendation from Regent Dugas (then director of territory) to move forward with an action plan [based on it], but it was strongly turned down by the warden (who chairs the committee)…Nothing happened between June and December last year when we had a consultant who was ready to work on the action plan. It would have been paid for and we wouldn’t have to spend $25K now,” she said.
Mayor Winston Sunstrum (L’Isle-aux-Allumettes) agreed: “Last year from June until November 25, we had two people very capable of putting together an action plan, so we missed the boat when we didn’t assign that task to them. I think [Dugas’ recommendation] should have been brought to the Council of Mayors for a decision,” he said, referring to Dugas and Pierre Vezina.
Vezina worked as a forestry consultant on the Biomass Conversion Center/ bio-park file for eight years, but his contract wasn’t renewed last November after a majority, including Warden Jane Toller, were frustrated with the lack of progress on
getting the project in full operation. Many tied votes and controversy at the CoM table have occurred since then.
Toller insisted the plan presented to the forestry committee last year wasn’t complete – “some things were mentioned in the plan, while others were not”– explaining why the creation of the action plan didn’t move forward at that time. However, Larivière said the plan hasn’t change from a year ago. 
“Last year, nine mayors didn’t agree with that consultant, who is no longer with us…I think having an outside company that isn’t embroiled in all the (sentence cut short on Zoom), because I’ve learned that forestry in Québec is very political and feelings run very deep. We have a well-rounded plan, but we need expertise from a successful company, who has the perspective of the whole province and possibly Canada, who can take all of our ideas and put it into an action plan that will have a schedule,” said Toller.
Sunstrum suggested that once a firm is identified for the job, it presents to the forestry committee to “spell out the terms” of what they’re going to do with the file before commitments are made; “[They should] make a presentation on their expertise before they’re chosen so we’ll know what we’re getting into.”
However, this suggestion wasn’t integrated into the final resolution, which was adopted as originally presented.