Northeast Town attempting Planning Board compromise

Suggests majority vote for Northeast Town, Central as condition for staying

LITTLE CURRENT—Northeast Town council met in a special meeting last Thursday night to discuss the changes the municipality would like to see in the structure and format of the Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB), this after direction from representatives of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) that the Northeast Town make an attempt at ‘playing nice’ with the MPB.

Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson told council that the purpose of the meeting was for council to have the opportunity to have a discussion about options should the municipality find it could no longer stay within the MPB after making the effort to work things out, as the minister of MMAH had requested.

“You have to decide what is the will of council,” he said. “And what is reasonable and what is not.”

Mr. Williamson reminded council that the primary issue facing them is the tendency of the MPB to usurp the authority of council, which has happened on numerous occasions over the past year, he said.

The council was provided with a document dated February 21, 1975 to the Ministry of Treasury, Economics and Intergovernmental Affairs that lays out the Manitoulin Planning Area. A document from the Manitoulin Municipal Association dated March 19, 1975 also outlines the representatives of the municipalities and unorganized townships, which included 18 members, three of whom were from the areas which now make up the Northeast Town: Little Current, Howland and McGregor Bay. This remained the status quo until 2002 (after amalgamation), when the procedural bylaw for the MPB was amended, lowering the number of representatives to 11.

“This shows that this was done prior to amalgamation and those areas had three representatives, and now there’s just one,” he said. “This is to give a sense of where it started and where we are today.”

Mr. Williamson also reminded council that the Northeast Town pays almost 33 percent of the total costs of the MPB.

Mayor Al MacNevin noted that it has been a very long time without a review of the MPB.

“I think council’s preference is still to go it alone, but we said we would try,” the mayor said, adding that the Northeast Town’s interest would be in restructuring the MPB but “we’re not sure if the MPB wants to meet us halfway. If not, we can at least say we tried.”

After much back-and-forthing about the purpose of the meeting between Councillor Michael Erskine, who thought council should develop a concrete list of its wants from the MPB, and Mayor MacNevin, council got down to discussions on restructuring.

Councillor Erskine thought the suggestion council heard previously from the ministry that a breakdown of four representatives from the Northeast Town, three from Central Manitoulin and the rest divided between the smaller municipalities was a good starting point.

“I’m not sure it would solve all our problems, but it may make it more equitable,” he said. “It’s clear the board isn’t operating the way it should be.”

Councillor Dawn Orr said that following her own research, “the only fair and equitable way to do this is by population.” Councillor Orr gave the example of one representative per thousand, which would give the Northeast Town four members of the board. “Money (referencing the 33 percent) and population—to me they both jive,” she added.

Mayor MacNevin said that a meeting with MMAH Minister Linda Jeffrey has been set up with the municipality on Tuesday, February 25 as part of the joint Ontario Good Roads Association/ Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto held at the beginning of this week.

“The question is, if we were to put more representatives on, is this going to solve our problems?” asked Councillor Paul Skippen. “And I doubt it if they’ll agree to it.”

Mayor MacNevin reminded council that the Official Plan is not part of the discussions. “It’s not about the Official Plan, it’s about how we stay in the MPB and make it work,” he added.

Councillor Christina Jones observed that staying would be the “lesser of two evils.”

“What I want to know is, if we we’re stuck with the MPB for the next 20 years, how should it look?” the mayor reiterated.

Mayor MacNevin explained that between the two largest municipalities, the Northeast Town and Central Manitoulin, over 50 percent of the MPB’s costs are covered. He also noted the representative makeup of the Manitoulin District Services Board, which has larger areas, such as Espanola, with more representation.

Councillor Bruce Wood also voiced concern that the MPB “doesn’t have a clear set of rules” as new rules appear at every meeting. He said it should be MPB policy that new rules for planning be shared among municipalities and board members.

Councillor Koehler and the mayor agreed, saying MPB staff should have evidence to back up why decisions are made, as these decisions seem to often have no basis in the MPB’s mandate.

As it stands currently, the mayor said, “I don’t feel good when someone from our municipality is going to the MPB,” giving a recent example of a decision that had to be reached by the Ontario Municipal Board, which ruled in favour of the Northeast Town’s original call on the matter of severance.

“The concerns of this council are very strongly centered around our ratepayers,” said Councillor Erskine. “The MPB does not reflect the needs of our residents.”

The mayor noted that no matter which way the population is divvied up, the number always comes out to be roughly one-third of the MPB’s total costs.

“How many times do we have to say one-third, one-third, one-third before they realize we’re not being represented properly,” Mayor MacNevin said.

Council ended the special meeting with a motion and also agreed to meet with the MPB. The motion reads, “that the Council of the Corporation of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands reaffirms its position that the town wishes to leave the Manitoulin Planning Board, however in consideration of the letter received from the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, council supports the efforts of the mayor to meet with representatives of the Manitoulin Planning Board and Municipal Affairs and Housing in an effort to resolve the outstanding issues.”

Alicia McCutcheon