MTA seeks to renegotiate Welcome Centre agreement

Little Current swing bridge

Item to be discussed at annual general meeting

MANITOULIN—The Manitoulin Tourism Association (MTA) is having its annual general meeting on November 30 and the agenda calls for a renegotiation of its Manitoulin Welcome Centre agreement with the Northeast Town.

“The MTA is not asking for anything outrageous, it is a responsible and very reasonable request for the MTA to ask for this agreement to be more inclusive or, possibly consider that the solution is to just simply pay rent and operate the MTA without any of these old strings attached,” writes MTA Director of Tourism Shelba Millette in an email. She declined to get into specifics about the ‘old strings.’

The agreement Ms. Millette refers to is the 1990 Manitoulin Welcome Centre Agreement, a document that includes the Towns of Little Current and Gore Bay, along with the townships of Assiginack, Howland, Billings and Allen East, Carnarvon and Burpee.

Since the time the agreement was written, Little Current and Howland have amalgamated into the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (Northeast Town), Carnarvon has been amalgamated into Central Manitoulin, Billings and Allan East has been shortened to Billings and Burpee has amalgamated with Mills Township to form Burpee and Mills.

Also not reflected in the original document text is changes in membership. Tehkummah has since joined the MTA but is not officially recognized on any agreements The Expositor has seen. Burpee and Mills is no longer a member of the MTA, a fact not reflected in more recent agreements dated 2003, 2005 and 2017.

“I would think Tehkummah must have signed something somewhere even though the agreement has not been amended to include them, as far as I know,” says Ms. Millette.

Because the recent agreements do not outline MTA members, some of their terms overlap with the base 1990 agreement. The 2003 and 2005 documents, for instance, refer to sharing duties according to the multi-municipal agreement signed in 1990, despite the fact that many of the township changes had already happened by that time, making the 1990 agreement outdated.

The agreement between the Northeast Town and the MTA states that MTA may use the upper level of the Manitoulin Welcome Centre essentially rent-free in exchange for paying for all utilities and cleaning, carrying liability insurance and making its washrooms available to the public.

The MTA is also required to provide staffing at the welcome centre for a minimum of 21 weeks per year. In practice, much of the staff have been volunteers and there have been some concerns about the centre not being open for the full 21-week period. The welcome centre generates some paid positions for students in the summer months.

“The last time we spoke, they touched on the fact that they’re having difficulty being open for 21 weeks because of a lack of staffing,” says Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin.

The agreement also includes a breakdown of the contributions from each partner township in 1990, based on the assessed value of their property. Ms. Millette says the cost sharing agreement also needs to be updated.

“The budget agreement is based on property assessment percentage by townships. So the model itself simply will not work and is not practical for all Island communities involved,” she says. First Nations in particular would be excluded if the funding agreement was based off property assessments.

According to Ms. Millette, the most important aspect of the renegotiation will be inclusivity. She says the agreement “needs to be revisited in order to include First Nations and other Island municipalities, townships and unorganized townships so the MTA can function as just that, the Island-wide ‘Manitoulin’ Tourism Association.”

She also says the MTA needs to put a greater emphasis on online-oriented services, since a great deal of business is generated through web traffic. To be effective online, she says MTA will need to have dedicated web staff available.

“MTA needs to acquire more funding and support for it to operate year-round, have longer hours and have more full-time and volunteer staff,” she says.

To have a fresher start, Ms. Millette says the MTA may be open to exploring an agreement for the welcome centre in which the MTA pays its own rent but is also able to focus more on its own strategic goals that include Manitoulin as a whole.

But Mayor MacNevin cautions that the Northeast Town would be under no obligation to reserve the current space for the MTA, should they be unable to reach an agreement.

“That’s something council would have to look at. If they withdraw, then with no agreement in place, it’s the town’s building and we decide what to do with it,” he says.

The MTA has its annual general meeting on Friday, November 30 at 5 pm at the Tehkummah Triangle Senior Citizens Club. Anyone interested in attending is asked to RSVP to mta@manitoulin.net or call 705-368-3021 by this Friday, November 23. A full-course dinner will be available for $20.