Offset needed for Northeast Town isolationist tendencies

While the Northeast Town has reasons for not participating in a recent Island-wide emergency planning discussion, the impression the municipality is leaving with at least some elected officials from other communities is one of isolationism.

The issues are unrelated, but this comes at a time when the Northeast Town is also considering abandoning the services of the Manitoulin Planning Board, in fact withdrawing from it altogether, and providing these services itself.

The juxtaposition of these events prompted one councillor from a south-shore municipality to wonder if the Northeast Town was considering an isolationist policy, expressing concern at the thought.

This is not the case, of course, but in light of recent events, it’s not unreasonable that others might draw this conclusion.

In fact, the Northeast Town, through the amalgamation of the Town of Little Current, the Township of Howland and the unorganized Township of McGregor Bay in the late 1990s shares common borders with Central Manitoulin, Assiginack and Billings, surrounds Aundek Omni Kaning First Nation and Sheguiandah First Nation and shares Whitefish River First Nation’s southern boundary.

The Northeast Town’s firefighters are part of the Manitoulin Mutual Fire Aid System and provide, as required, backup firefighting services to all of the First Nations and municipalities where there are shared boundaries and even beyond, in extreme circumstances.

But giving the impression to fellow Island politicians of “splendid isolation” may also have unintended consequences when the Northeast Town seeks support for an initiative.

This isn’t likely, but it’s a possibility simply because politics at any level, but certainly at the grass-roots municipal level, is a balancing act that involves favours and alliances.

Four years ago, the Northeast Town also withdrew from the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) for a time, for reasons that were wholly supportable.

Time passed and a council member, officially, resumed this particular MMA relationship.

And while every such decision to be officially absent from an organization or group initiative, or, as in the case of the planning board, to withdraw from it completely, is justifiable on its own particular merits, it is the cumulative effect of all of these separate events that could possibly result in the Northeast Town being deemed an isolationist community in the context of Manitoulin Island.

Some bridge building or some signal that would counter this impression might be in order just now, if only to make sure that the Northeast Town doesn’t develop this reputation.

But civil servants at perhaps the regional level may point to the Northeast Town’s choice not to participate in certain, usually shared, activities as a trend and could conceivably object to the municipality opting out of the planning board as simply another example of a municipality that likes to get its own way.

This would hardly be fair comment in an historic context but it is the sort of thing that elected officials must be aware of and demonstrate that, in fact, the opposite is the case and the Northeast Town has taken a leadership role, Island-wide, whenever possible.

Some things are already in the works, or have taken place such as the initiative for the Northeast Town, Assiginack and Tehkummah to share the same chief building official. Hardly isolationist.