Meeting held September 6, 2022
The September 6 municipal council meeting opened with Mayor Joanne Savage and Coun. Denis Senecal voicing their complaints that items they requested were not on the agenda. Mayor Savage wanted updates on the OPP lease, the OMAFRA lease, discussion on the report for the dumping stations in Verner and Sturgeon Falls, while Councillor Denis Senecal was intent on finding out who operates the River Valley landfill site and discussing a reduction in speed limit at the Lavigne bridge. They were informed that their requests did not come in on time to make it to the agenda and the items would be included for the following meeting.
Petition for Plaque
A petition was received asking that a memorial plaque be placed at the boat launch in Lavigne to commemorate the memory Leo Perron, who went missing from his boat on May 26, 2021 while fishing in Lavigne. His body was recovered the following day approximately 60 feet from the boat launch. His widow, Deborah Perron, submitted the request along with several pages of signatures; Mr. Perron was a well-known figure in the area. “My further hope is that this sign in some small way might make people think twice before venturing out on Lake Nipissing without wearing a life vest,” read her covering letter. “Leo was an experienced fisherman, very adept at handling his boat on his own and yet… the unthinkable happened.” The Perron family submitted a letter in agreement, “It would give our family a place to visit, reflect, and honour our dearly loved brother, husband, father, uncle, cousin and friend.” In the normal course of events, a petition is received at one council meeting and discussed at the next.
Vehicle for Hire bylaw
Staff was directed by council on June 7 to provide options for a vehicle-for-hire bylaw as the current taxi bylaw is outdated and transportation needs are not being adequately met in West Nipissing. Using the North Bay bylaw as a base for comparison, municipal clerk Melanie Ducharme submitted a comprehensive proposal including definitions. She reported that the North Bay Police Service (not clerical staff) monitors and enforces all vehicles for hire – taxis, limousines, Ubers, ride-shares — excluding shuttles, school buses and vehicles with larger capacity. Vehicles for hire must have, and be able to produce on demand, documentation for licensing, insurance, etc. Most of council felt the proposal was a good starting point, with some concerns that pricing be competitive and there be a ceiling on what can be charged to the client in the event there is a lack of competition in the market. Coun. Rolly Larabie stated, “I agree with no fixed prices because competition would resolve [that issue] – but in the case of only one [service provider] we should keep the liberty to put in a fixed fare … keep it reasonable to our citizens.”
Ms. Ducharme noted that her submission did not address fees to license the service providers, that those are normally adjusted on a cost recovery basis. Coun. Norm Roberge noted, “Usually we don’t charge fees to make a profit, it’s to recover costs so it’s not laid on the general ratepayer.” Coun. Dan Roveda suggested that, because there would be extra work at the municipal clerical level and for the bylaw enforcement officer, the town might “Find out the cost if we asked the OPP to enforce it.” He added that the service had to be made safe for vulnerable populations that require transportatio. Mayor Savage repeated those thoughts and suggested some urgency, “We have local citizens accessing services for transportation… We were concerned with safety of citizens, wanted some type of mechanism to assure the citizens that when they get into a vehicle it’s a safe driver… Is there something we can do for a short-term solution – that the current drivers can be cleared by police authorities?” The mayor was told that current operators are not under the taxi bylaw and cannot be compelled. The mayor asked if the Police Services Board could be involved in hastening the process. Coun. Lise Senecal said, “People have been driving with no restrictions, we don’t even know if they have insurance… We are not liable, which is great for the municipality, but not great for our citizens.”
Corporate Services director Alisa Craddock cautioned that “to do a bylaw you have to define everything… there is no mechanism for a half-way bylaw.” The current forms of transportation supplied by private businesses do not fall under the existing taxi bylaw as they are not taxis. Additionally, as Ducharme pointed out, “We can’t pass a bylaw we can’t enforce.” Ms. Ducharme was directed to obtain some legal advice on the matter by the next council meeting.
AMO delegations address Verner water, River Valley highway
WN Council was accepted for two delegations to the AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) conference from August 14-17. CAO Jay Barbeau reported that municipal officials met with the Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney, and the Minister of Infrastructure Kinga Surma. The meeting with Mulroney “was to discuss enhancing the economic development opportunities north of River Valley, logging and mining,” which is seriously impacted when road conditions reduce trucking to half loads. Coun. Larabie led that delegation with fellow councillors Roberge, Leo Malette and Roveda. Barbeau said the delegation went very well, “The surprising news is that it wasn’t an outright no to pave and enhance the level of road between Warren and River Valley… The chief engineer had some potentially favourable news for us… in terms of technology that could be used on that highway to eliminate half loads.” No commitments were made, but all parties felt encouraged.
The second delegation to Minister Surma concerned the proposed water infrastructure for Verner. Barbeau said, “This was a very big ask… We’re putting them on notice that we are going to be coming and asking for assistance.” The proposed project to pipe water from Cache Bay to Verner was presented, “To make them aware that this is very serious… We indicated all the issues, capacity issues, water quality issues, the source water… We talked about the opportunity for growth in the Verner area with respect to capacity… Coun. Roberge spoke and represented his ward excellently.” Coun. Roveda added that the minister was not only receptive but she “made the point that one of the objectives of [Premier] Ford is to provide clean water [throughout] Ontario… that as it stands right now, there is not a federal-provincial agreement in place… As soon as they are aware of what kind of program comes out, they will let us know.”
2022 finances looking good so far
Council received the 2022 second quarter variance report, a financial picture of the town’s finances from Jan. 1 to June 30. Director of Corporate Services Alisa Craddock cautioned council to not get too excited about the perceived surplus of $7.3 million, as “We are in mid year… Our final billing goes out in June, tax revenue is recognized, revenues are coming in as we expect…” but not all the expenses are in. “Building and Planning are having a spectacular year – will hit a new revenue target… Coming out of COVID… Community Services was such a difficult department to budget for [during] the last couple of years. People are returning to our facilities, which is encouraging from a community and revenue point of view… There is nothing troubling overall… We are all keeping an eye on the fuel costs – vehicles and equipment and heating has been astronomical [but we are] seeing the change at the pump …most vehicles are diesel driven… We will see overages at the end of the year [but it is] not so big a concern for the overall budget… The end of second quarter, things are just starting in Public Works – overall it looks… a lot more like it did pre-COVID. I find it an encouraging position to be in at this time of year.”
Possible reduction in federal seats
Council discussed correspondence from MP Marc Serré on the proposed reduction of a federal seat for northern Ontario and a realignment of boundaries for the Nickel Belt riding. Mayor Savage said that the natural alignment for West Nipissing is with East Sudbury, that the five municipalities of West Nipissing, Markstay/Warren, French River, St. Charles and Killarney consult together on regional matters, and that a statement/resolution is being drafted in opposition to the proposed changes. Anyone who wishes to participate in the discussion has until September 25th to register.
Coun. Chris Fisher noted the reduction in representation and the timing were both concerning; St. Charles is asking for an extension because of municipal elections. “Northern Ontario is 88% of the land mass [of Ontario] … Going by population, I don’t think it’s the right way to think about it. Canada is a resource-based economy and northern Ontario is the resource… Those need representation as well as the people; all the trees, the water, the environmental aspect.” Fisher said that, if anything, a Northern voice should be added as there are stewardship issues. “We should be writing our own opinion that we don’t agree.”
Coun. Normand Roberge said he had “deep concern… We have to put forward a very strong argument. We should be adding, not taking away… Northern Ontario is bigger than a lot of European countries that have a whole government of their own… Some of those ridings are so big, how can one representative service it properly? Some MPs have [a few] city blocks to cover… Here, from one end to the other you have to take a jet and fly… you have to drive a day to get to the other end [of the riding]… The only public hearings are in Timmins. I support the municipality send a delegation of at least one person to Timmins.” Coun. Roveda also pointed out that not one individual on the commission is from northern Ontario. “This is a stand-alone board with Elections Canada… none of the people deciding this reside in northern Ontario.”
Mayor Savage advised that the draft resolution from the 5 municipalities would be reviewed by the MP, with feedback, and should be tabled by the next meeting. Coun. Fisher advised that there is a virtual meeting scheduled for October 25th that the public is allowed to sign up for, and, “FONOM (Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities) made a recommendation that they maintain the 10 [current ridings], plus add an Indigenous representative.”