Gore Bay council not in favour of Northeast Town planning board governance model

GORE BAY—Gore Bay council has relayed its concerns that it is not in favour of a new Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB) governance model that is being proposed by the Northeast Town.

“I have concerns that two municipalities could potentially control 55 percent of the planning board vote,” stated Gore Bay Mayor Ron Lane at a council meeting last week. “If they decided to have a proportional vote, in a perfect world everyone would vote for what is best for Manitoulin Island, but if there was ever a case of a municipality voting for its own self-interest in this model, two of the 11 municipal entities on the Island could sway a vote.”

In a letter to the planning board dated March 24, Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin outlined that the Northeast Town had requested permission from the province to create its own planning authority but were told a solution should be worked out between the Northeast Town and the planning board. The Northeast Town would still prefer to have its own planning authority, however they are proposing a new governance model.

Currently the planning board has nine municipalities with one appointed representative from each. The province appoints two representatives from the unorganized townships for a total of 11 members who each have one vote, wrote Mayor MacNevin. “To illustrate the unfairness of the current model we only have to look at the population numbers and see that the Northeast Town has 32 percent of the population yet it only gets less than 10 percent of the voting power on issues that impacts its citizens. The percentages are relatively the same using households or assessment numbers for comparison as well.”

“We are proposing a new model that reflects the realities of both our population and our financial contribution to the planning board,” wrote Mayor MacNevin. He provided a model that provides representation using population numbers. “This model would require additional seats for the Northeast Town and Central Manitoulin and the combining of seats for some of the municipalities and the unorganized townships. Although this model would be more representative, it might create some issues. Some communities would not have a seat at the table and have no direct voice in putting forward their interests regarding planning matters. The province would also have to change how they appoint the representatives from the unorganized townships as well.”

“In the case of the MPB it could still have the same number of members but when a vote is taken each member would vote with the strength of their population,” wrote Mayor MacNevin. “All votes are conducted in the normal manner (for example one vote per member) unless any member requests a per capita vote. Having a preprinted sheet with the population beside the community name would allow for  quick tally to determine the result when requested. The procedure would be similar to the recorded vote methodology that municipalities currently use.”

Under the proposal, the Northeast Town would have four seats on the board by population with votes by population being 3.55, and Central Manitoulin would have three. Assiginack, Gore Bay, Gordon/Barrie Island, Billings and Tehkummah would have one member each. Burpee/Mills, Cockburn Island, Robinson and Dawson would share one vote.

At the Gore Bay meeting, Elva Carter, planning board secretary, and board member Dan Osborne were in attendance.

“I have my own point of view on the process and the Northeast Town’s proposal,” said Mr. Lane. “I think by reading the papers the Northeast Town has some concerns with the way the board operates and it wants the board voting structure to change.”

Of the Northeast Town’s request on having more say in voting, town representatives had met with the board’s executive committee as a first step, said Ms. Carter. As for the issues the Northeast Town has, they have never brought these forward, they only wanted to talk about their proposal. Mayor MacNevin then made a presentation to the executive committee of the planning board, who made a proposal to the full board and is now back to municipalities for comments.

The Northeast Town proposal will not be considered by the board until its May meeting, council was told.

Mr. Lane questioned when it goes to the board what the next steps will be. Ms. Carter explained the proposal has gone to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, but the ministry has not commented to date.

“It goes back to the board in May and if it is approved there would be some form of  proportional voting put in place,” said Ms. Carter.

When the planning board was first established, every municipality had one member, pointed out Mr. Lane, and at that time the board had 17 members, said Ms. Carter.

When municipalities amalgamated, for example, Central Manitoulin went from three members to one and Burpee-Mills and Gordon-Barrie Island went from two to one. There were five unincorporated municipalities and the board received $16,000 in funding from them.

“If we are looking at changing the model at all, it could be put back to where it was, not just change the voting structure,” suggested Mr. Lane.

Ms. Carter noted, “the work the board does is to benefit the Island representation across the board, not just one municipality. The more board members we have the more travel and costs there would be.”

Those that get more members would have to pay more of the costs of the planning board, said Mr. Lane.

“The board looks after each municipality and the best interest of the Island as a whole,” said Mr. Osborne. “I can’t see any one or two municipalities weighing down a vote one way or the other.”

“But it could because two townships would basically control the board vote,” said Councillor Jack Clark.

“One of the suggestions we have been hearing from board members is that if we go with proportional voting, it would need a certain number of votes to carry a vote,” said Ms. Carter. “Just 50 percent isn’t going to work.”

“To risk losing some funding because of proportional voting for the board, the rest of us are going to pay somewhere,” said Councillor Lou Addison.

Ms. Carter acknowledged that doing anything that affects the number of members from unincorporated areas will affect the board’s funding.

“The proposed model provides for too much authority for too few,” said Mr. Lane. “The other thing is if it is set up this way, on a per capita vote, Cockburn Island would have no vote, and this would not be democratic. There are some serious challenges here from a democratic point of view.”

“In all the years I’ve worked for the board I’ve never seen the  controversy we are dealing with now,” said Ms. Carter. “Since 1982 the board has made all its decisions based on policies. What the board does is driven by policy. There has never been a case of municipalities teaming up against municipalities.”

Mr. Clark said, “we are on a very slippery slope if we award votes by assessment. It takes away the democracy part of this whole thing.”

“I agree,” said Ms. Addison.

“To be fair, the planning board doesn’t have a lot of activity come from us. We are a small municipality, geographically,” said Mr. Lane. “It’s the principle of the thing that concerns me more than anything else. If it isn’t broke why fix it when one municipality has an issue?”