LETTERS: Perhaps it is time for an upper tier Manitoulin government

A much more practical approach to providing a political counterbalance

To the Expositor:

In a week when brand new councils (and some acclaimed ones) are being sworn in across Manitoulin, may I make a plea for more cooperation—both formal and informal—between them over the next four years. Let me explain!

First, over the last year or more, various groups have approached individual municipal councils urging them to declare their jurisdictions “pesticide free,” specifically focused upon the use of Garlon brand herbicides by Hydro One and provincial ministries like Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Ministry of Transportation. These actions have been well reported and supported by The Expositor publishing group and collectively we are very grateful for the publicity the actions received. Frankly, it would have been much easier for all the groups to get together and approach a single legal entity representing Manitoulin District to obtain such support. There is a Manitoulin-Espanola District Services Board legal entity which represents all municipalities (as well as unorganized communities) but its mandate does not seem to cover what we were looking for. There is a non-legal entity known as the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) but without legal status its influence is not much more than moral suasion. Clearly, something is missing but needed here.

On another front, over several years, Manitoulin and District’s elected school board trustee, Larry Killens, has been frozen out in representing Manitoulin interests at the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) by what could be described as an autocratic Greater Sudbury dominated clique of trustees. Our municipalities are required to collect school board taxes as part of property taxes but, like the MMA, appear to have no direct legal mandate to call the RDSB to account when these dubious actions take place.

So, what is the answer? Well, when I moved up here 12 years ago I left behind several municipal government entities that are described collectively in the Municipal Act as lower and upper tiers. The lower being the individual municipalities, the upper usually county or district level (conventionally made up of mayors and/or deputy mayors of the lower level municipalities) and this upper level typically corresponds one for one with county level school boards. There is a much more practical oversight role of the school boards there. Now, in Manitoulin and District, a formalized MMA could correspond to this upper tier and has the potential to be a counterbalance to the dominant Sudbury council when the RDSB is making decisions.

I am sure there is history behind the current structure. Individual municipal councils proudly wishing to independently pursue their own interests. But, when higher levels of government take away municipalities’ authority (through the one size fits all Cosmetics Pesticide Act or through placement of wind turbine farms to mention a couple of examples), isn’t it time we collectively pushed back and said, ‘we are a group of municipalities who have many common interests, but no common body to express them?’ Perhaps urgent political action is required to remedy this omission? I hope I am not the only observer concerned about this!

Paul Darlaston