Little Current community members rally in support of Manor’s expansion

by Robin Burridge

MANITOULIN—Senior housing was the topic on many Islanders’ minds last week from the Centennial Manor board meeting to the Manitoulin all candidates debate night.

A large number of community members attended last Tuesday’s Centennial Manor board meeting to show their support for the Continuum of Care Business Plan—a 37-page study commissioned by the Manor and paid for by The Northeast Town, outlines how changes could be made to the Manor by adding a 4,400 square metre addition onto each existing floor, creating apartments and assisted living units to provide supportive homes for the aging population on Manitoulin and with financial savings for the Manor.

At the August Manor board meeting, members discussed the Continuum of Care Business Plan and, after much debate, moved a motion to ‘receive’ the plan, but not to ‘accept’ it. In addition, the board decided to move forward with one of the plan’s next steps: to work with the town seeking funding for a detailed financial plan and engineering study.

Concerned community members who attended the meeting were met with under-the-breath comments about their attendance at last Tuesday’s meeting, despite a welcome from the board’s chair, Mary Jo Tracy.

Ms. Tracy informed those in attendance, that the Continuum of Care Business Plan was not on the agenda, but after board member Al MacNevin stated he would be discussing it under new business, the chair thought it would be best to discuss the plan first so that community members would not have to “endure the full meeting.”

Ms. Tracy began the discussion by stating that it was not the board’s primary function to expand the manor—their job is to ensure that Ontario tax dollars are being spent wisely and to maintain and increase the wellbeing of the 60 Manor residents.

Christina Jones, a member of the Northeast Town council (as is Mr. MacNevin) came forward as a community member and said that she felt it was disturbing the numbers of seniors that are being forced to leave their homes on Manitoulin because appropriate housing options do not exist for them. She said that the board needs to be concerned for the seniors of the Island and move forward with the plan that would help establish housing options for Manitoulin seniors.

Mr. MacNevin stated that Ms. Tracy was dragging her feet on the plan because the town’s economic development officer had not received a copy of last month’s motions, which would have allowed her to begin the process of applying for funding, despite an email, which Mr. MacNevin presented to Ms. Tracy requesting the motion.

Ms. Tracy explained that she had requested that Manor’s administrator, Carole McIlveen, send a copy of the motion to the Northeast Town. Ms. McIlveen explained that she had had an employee fax the document.

Mr. MacNevin reiterated that the town had not received the motion and questioned why Ms. Tracy had not responded at all to the town’s original email.

“I am still very disappointed that the board would not accept the plan at last month’s meeting,” added Mr. MacNevin. “Having something put on your desk is to ‘receive’ it. We need to show the community that we are excited about this project and that we are taking it seriously.”

Mr. MacNevin requested the board amend last month’s motion and change ‘receive’ to ‘accept,’ to which Ms. Tracy replied, “you can try.”

Board member and Central Manitoulin councillor Pat MacDonald said that last month she did not feel comfortable ‘accepting’ the Continuum of Care Business Plan because she had not yet discussed it with her council, but since then, her council has expressed support for the plan.

Mr. MacNevin put forward the motion to amend the motion and Ms. MacDonald seconded it. Board members Pentti Palonen and Kathy Davidson voted against the motion to amend, with Ms. Tracy breaking the tie by also voting not to amend.

“I was very disappointed with the board’s lack of support to improve senior housing on Manitoulin,” Mr. MacNevin told The Expositor the following day. “I wish board members Bud Rohn or Ed Bond could have been present for the meeting. Things might have turned out differently.”

But perhaps not so differently Mr. Bond told The Expositor Monday that if he had been able to attend the meeting, he would have voted against the motion to amend. “There is some information in the document that I am still unsure of and until I can speak with the consultants and have those inquires addressed, I can not except the plan.”

He said that the Manor is in the business of long-term care and that needs to remain its priority.

Bud Rohn, who was unable to attend the meeting due to personal reasons, said that he was unsure how he would have voted. “I would have had to hear both perspectives,” said Mr. Rohn.

Mr. MacNevin revealed that after the public left the meeting, Ms. Tracy resigned from the position of board chair. “She said she would not tolerate board members putting the chair on the spot in front of the public,” said Mr. MacNevin. “She also indicated that there was a problem on the board. The problem is clearly me and we will be discussing ‘the problem’ at the next board meeting, in addition to appointing a new chair.”

Ms. Tracy would not comment to The Expositor as to her reasons for resigning, but stated that it was due to “personal reasons.”

Reverend Faye Stevens, who attended the board meeting as a community citizen, said that she was, “very disappointed that the board voted to receive, as opposed to accept the study. While Al MacNevin spoke passionately in favour of accepting the report and considering it in a timely fashion, he had very little support and there was a sense that most board members present had no intention of considering it. It seems to me that there needs to be a vision for the current and upcoming needs of the whole Island.”

Wendy Gauthier had also attended he meeting as an interested citizen and agreed with Ms. Stevens, adding, “I remain hopeful that once board members speak with their Island communities about the plan and listen to their concerns about the need for supportive housing for seniors, they will reconsider their positions and move forward to explore the plan in great depth. Then the board can decide if any or all parts of the proposed plan are appropriate for the future care of our Island’s seniors and take appropriate action.”

Little Current Mayor Joe Chapman was outranged when he discovered the actions of the manor board, “If the current manor board is not prepared to more forward and create the facility then they should resign and move aside for people who want to improve life on Manitoulin. The board has rolled up over a half million dollars in debt. There has to be big changes made.”

At last Wednesday’s all candidates night organized by The Expositor, Wendy Gauthier posed a question to the five provincial candidates, inquiring how they plan to address seniors’ housing if elected.

Mayor Joe Chapman, the Algoma-Manitoulin Ontario Progressive Conservative party candidate, replied to Ms. Gauthier, repeating his previous statements on the issue—that senior housing is of high priority and that he is committed to moving the Manor expansion forward.

Liberal candidate and incumbent Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Brown spoke of the several projects that his government has implemented to support Ontario’s ageing population and also expressed support for senior assisted living.

Mike Mantha, Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate said that he would endorse senior housing projects if elected.

The Family Life Coalition candidate David Hoffman spoke of tax breaks for ‘granny flats’ and in-home care with Green Party candidate Justin Tilson agreeing.