West Nipissing council had two delegations at the annual AMO conference (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) August 21-23, joining more than 2500 municipal leaders, government officials, public servants, sponsors and exhibitors, for the largest AMO conference to date. The schedule was jam-packed, according to Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon. “They are full days, and then the nights are full too; there’s receptions everywhere and you’re going from 8am.”
The two scheduled delegations were with the Minister of Municipal Affair and Housing, Steve Clark (who has since resigned over the Green Belt scandal), and the Minister of Energy, Todd Smith. Thorne Rochon says the meeting with Clark “went very well, and we were all high fiving. Jay [Barbeau, municipal CAO] said ‘I’ve probably done a hundred of these in my lifetime and I’ve never been in a situation where council handled themselves so confidently that I didn’t need to say a word’. So, he literally said nothing during the delegation.”
The mayor was accompanied by four council members, Jérôme Courchesne, Roch St-Louis, Jamie Restoule and Dan Gagné, along with administrative staff. She says they went in as a team and practiced their roles for both delegations, with herself and two councillors to speak at each meeting. “For three of the four it was the first time that they had participated in a delegation,” she notes, adding that Restoule had attended previous AMO conferences. “You kind of want to get the sense of what it’s all about. Our first delegation was the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and we were going in to advocate on behalf of the West Nipissing Not-for-profit Housing Corporation. There is a plan, and the land, everything that we need to go forward with adding one more building to the Au Chateau apartment complexes, and so last year they applied for funding.” Thorne Rochon said it was a good application, but funding had run out. “We wanted to present that plan to the Minister again and bring it to the front of their attention.”
Coun. Courchesne, who sits on the Non-Profit Housing board as chair, was the lead. The mayor says they impressed upon the minister that, while West Nipissing is served by DNSSAB (District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board) “Our community has a very different demographic profile than the rest of the region; we’re large and we’re largely francophone and the needs of our population are different than other parts of the DNSSAB catchment area. … Minister Clark had been involved with the previous council, you know, and I think that he was a very pleasantly surprised at the professional working relationship that was obvious between members of council and staff. I think we presented ourselves really well and I think that it was important for West Nipissing to kind of reset that relationship… We rely on provincial government for funding.”
Asked if she was hopeful of receiving the funding this year, Mayor Thorne Rochon says, “I don’t know if it will be this year. They did make some pretty major announcements as far as funding, but it really was more in the space of supporting municipalities, building infrastructure to encourage housing… expansions of water, sewer or other services that would help housing. But the interesting thing that he mentioned is that he would be sharing our letter and our materials with Minister Caroline Mulroney, who is also the Minister of Francophone Affairs… because we have the need to serve our residents in French.” Thorne Rochon is optimistic West Nipissing is on the provincial radar.
“The other impressive thing for the Minister is that we went in armed also with our housing strategy, which was released earlier this year. So, for a community of this size we have the data… the demand for the units in the community. We’ve done the legwork, we have the recommendations … we have it written down what our waiting lists are, where the demand is as far as single units, for senior units, for couple units, for family units. All of that has already been done. So, when you’re meeting with ministers and other funders, it sure makes you look good when you’ve got your homework done. …We can justify what our ask is based on. We have the land available; the plans are done… We have drawings, it’s ready to go. We just need the funding.”
Without it, she says the town would be unable to move forward with building. “It’s hard to [build geared-to-income housing] with the construction costs these days without any other kinds of additional funding, like subsidized units… We can’t self fund subsidized units because there will be a mortgage and there will be carrying costs and we need to minimize that, to make sure that the numbers make sense for long term operation of the building. …It’s just a dollars and cents issue and hopefully as we rebuild those relationships with our provincial counterparts, they’ll look favorably upon the things that we’re trying to do in the community here.”
The second delegation was with Todd Smith, Minister of Energy, to talk about the capacity of the West Nipissing Power Generation hydro dam. “Many people don’t know that the municipality owns the hydro generating plant 100%. It is run as a separate company, but the board [is comprised of council members].” Thorne Rochon explains that the generating capacity of the plant is higher than what is currently being sold into the power grid, and WN Power Generation wants to sell more energy than their quota allows. “We’ve got a couple new turbines. We’ve put in a significant investment… We now have two or three vertical turbines instead of the old camelbacks and that increases capacity. Currently our facility is rated at 8.6 megawatts. We can actually go up to 10 megawatts… but our quota, what we’re allowed to put into the system is maxed at 8.6… We were looking for permission to put that extra power into the system, at the rates that we’re getting right now for the power that we sell back to the province.”