County News, Size of Council

Council makes a decision

Posted: February 5, 2016 at 9:56 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Manages to keep lid on can of worms

With a warm round of applause from the Shire Hall gallery, the matter of council size was settled on Tuesday night last week. After nearly a decade of debate, meetings, consultations, an electoral ballot, a Citizens’ Assembly, more public meetings and a survey, the issue was, at last, dispatched by County council. By a 10-6 vote, council agreed it would eliminate Bloomfield and drop one of two representatives of Sophiasburgh. It is a modest ward restructuring proposal designed to change as little as possible. Its chief attribute being that it represents just enough of a change that it might survive an Ontario Municipal Board appeal.

The clock for such an appeal has already begun ticking. An appeal of council’s decision must be made by end of business day on March 11. This final council debate began on a peculiar note. A lawyer, with neither OMB nor municipal experience, presented his opinion that the nine-ward, 13 councillor plan proposed originally by John Thompson—a former councillor and current president of the Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture (PEFA)—would likely survive an OMB appeal. Paul Andrews qualified his assessment, commissioned by PEFA, however, by noting among other things, council would have to produce evidence to show that “material deviations from voter parity are expected to revert to more tolerable levels over time.” The inference being that the County’s current voter parity is currently less than tolerable, but could be made so if, over time, growth occurred in the right places. It is not clear where this evidence might be gathered. Or that it exists.

But council didn’t get hung up on such details. Even those once vehemently opposed to the plan were now intent on keeping the lid on this “can of worms”—a cliché used frequently on this night as a warning to those still eager to extend the debate.

So when Councillor Kevin Gale suggested that perhaps—since PEFA had sought a legal opinion on the plan—council should get one of its own. Mayor Robert Quaiff stared down his council colleagues, imploring them not to engage in the debate.

It was no use.

“I’m a reasonable man,” declared Councillor Lenny Epstein, indicating he could wait a couple weeks for such advice. But like many of his fellow colleagues, Epstein didn’t want to open up the debate again, the legal opinion would be strictly on the survivability of Plan 13.

When the vote came on Gale’s motion, only half of council proved as reasonable as Epstein.

The motion failed on a tie vote.

Before the final vote, Councillor Bill Roberts asked the County’s Chief Administrative Officer about the thoroughness of council’s process and deliberations.

“We’ve heard from Mr. Andrews that the OMB places a great deal of importance on the process we have followed and whether we have established clear criteria, and whether our decision meets this criteria. In your view, have we done this?”

CAO James Hepburn responded saying that both a process and criteria were laid out.

Roberts asked if both had been implemented.

“Not fully,” said Hepburn.

But by now, a majority of council were done talking. They wanted this debate over. Emotions, again, were rising to the surface. The fear of what lay in that proverbial can of worms was more terrifying than the risk of an incomplete process.

Council voted 10-6 for Plan 13, reducing the size of council from 16 to 14.

It was, after nearly a decade of debate, off their table.

Voting for Plan 13: Steve Graham, Hillier; David Harrison, North Marysburgh; Treat Hull, Picton; Janice Maynard, Ameliasburgh; Brad Nieman, Hallowell; Dianne O’Brien, Ameliasburgh; Roy Pennell, Ameliasburgh; Lenny Epstein, Picton; Steve Ferguson, South Marysburgh; and Jamie Forrester, Athol.

Voting against Plan 13: Kevin Gale, Sophiasburgh; Bill Roberts, Sophiasburgh; Barry Turpin, Bloomfield; Jim Dunlop, Wellington; Gord Fox, Hallowell; and Mayor Robert Quaiff.