Meeting with Transportation Minister Glen Murray gets mixed reviews

ESPANOLA—Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha said he remains hopeful that a recent meeting he arranged between Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray and the mayors of Billings, Assiginack and the North Shore over the challenges faced by those small communities in dealing with their water plants will bear fruit—but that optimistic assessment was less enthusiastic for at least one local municipal leader.

At the November 19 meeting of Assiginack council, Reeve Brad Ham shared with council his recent meeting with Minister Murray.

“To be blunt, he didn’t have much sympathy for high water rates,” the reeve said. “However, when I told him about our US Filter issue, six years after they stopped manufacturing and we still don’t have replacements, he was very interested in that. He took every scrap of information on it and I wouldn’t be surprised of his office called here.”

Mr. Mantha noted that the minister seemed interested in the situation regarding the manufacturer of the filters used in the water treatment plants which are no longer available. The US plant was bought out by another company and discontinued the filters upon which the water treatment plants depended. This has left Billings and Assiginack searching for alternative options, many of which are costly.

Reeve Ham told council that the minister began his speech to Assiginack’s delegates by noting all of the funding the municipality has received from the province over the last few years and thanked them for their most recent application to the Small, Rural and Northern Municipal Infrastructure Fund Capacity Funding program (which was sent just the week before).

“I kind of read between the lines here—he was basically telling us to be grateful,” he laughed.

“I still don’t understand how they expect people to pay high water rates and expect people to live,” said Councillor Brenda Reid.

The minister told Assiginack Reeve Ham and Billings Mayor Austin Hunt that there were other options available to them, such as subsidies through the municipality, or even the development of an Island-wide water authority. Council discussed the hard time the municipality has with Manitowaning water users rejecting the idea of covering Sunsite Estates’ skyrocketing water rates, and non-water users in Assiginack having to pay for Manitowaning and Sunsite water rates.

“Good luck in telling Little Current to subsidize Billings’ rates,” the reeve said of an Island-wide authority.

“If it was such a wonderful idea, he would have mandated it by now,” he added. “The minster also made it clear that it was a previous government that instituted the need for small water systems (after Walkerton).”

The reeve said Sunsite and Billings’ rates are actually low compared to what some users are forced to pay, pointing to the Township of the North Shore which has one water treatment plant with 11 users. Everyone in the municipality must pay $80 each month to cover its costs.

“At least we got to talk to him and he’s familiar with the issues we have,” he added.

Michael Erskine