Carmen McGregor is a believer that her first AMO conference won’t be her last.
The rookie Wallaceburg councillor attended the Association of Municipalities of Ontario three-day session last week in Niagara Falls and came away convinced of only the training value but the practical aspect of the event.
McGregor said she was in a session discussing changes in provincial regulations that would make it a municipal responsibility to assess endangered species potentially affected by drainage work.
“We have 9,000 (kilometers of) drains in Chatham-Kent, 20 per cent of the total in the province,” she said. “If that regulation was applied, we would have to hire four staff just to keep up. The reason it wasn’t passed is that we were able to discuss the issue with the province, show them how unfair it was to us and get them to agree not to change it.”
McGregor said Chatham-Kent and Lambton have nearly half the province’s drains so whoever drew up the regulations likely didn’t have first hand knowledge of its effect.
“The intent was sound in someone’s mind, but the practical side of the issue just didn’t work,” she said. “It’s so much easier to avoid a problem like this than to try and change things once the regulation is in place.”
Other council members attending were Mayor Randy Hope, South Kent’s Karen Herman and Chatham’s Brock McGregor.
Staff attending included Chief Administrative Officer Don Shropshire, Chief Legal Officer John Norton, General Manager of Infrastructure and Engineering Thomas Kelly and Economic Development Director Michael Burton.
Registration for the event was $680 per person.
Kelly said the municipality “dodged a bullet” by having the change halted.
“We were looking at $500,000 per year in extra costs associated with the work we would have do to,” he said.
He said the municipality would be in an almost impossible situation had it absorbed the building.
“We can be fined under the drainage act if we don’t act within a specified time to correct a problem and yet if the regulations under the Endangered Species Act meant we did the work and harmed a species, we could be fined there as well. It was literally a no-win situation.”
Under the procedure still in place the municipality can contact the province with questions and use its expertise when proceeding.
Brock McGregor said the as a newcomer to council, he was happy to have the chance to meet councillors from other areas.
“We have some similar interest and issues and it’s nice to be able to look at the way one particular area handled something and see if it can apply here,” he said.
Of special interest was the government’s commitment to the SWIFT (Southwest Integrated Fibre Technology) program aimed at increasing speed of and access to, the Internet.
“One way for us to increase economic growth is to empower citizens in our rural areas with the same advantages enjoyed by people in the city. Internet connectivity and access to natural gas supplies are important factors for us.”
Coun. Herman, who has attended AMO several times during her career on council, said she was impressed with presentations given by municipal staff.
“Thomas Kelly’s knowledge on drainage was tremendously helpful,” she said. “John Norton and Michael Burton gave excellent presentations, and Don and Randy’s meeting with (Economic Development Minister) Brad Duguid was helpful.”
She said the presentations give an indication as to how well municipal staff is regarded.
“It’s clear our people know their subjects and have good reputations,” she said. “We’re well regarded at AMO and by the province.”
Mayor Hope said he’d like to see more council members attend the event as a form of education.
“It’s an excellent way to learn how things work in other communities and how our relationships with the ministries are handled.”
“The open access you have to ministers, the plenary sessions and the networking are all worth every penny and more,” he said.
Hope and McGregor agreed that hearing the message from either the minister responsible or their deputy enhances the relationship.
“We’re not getting a filter, we’re not getting the version of something that was told to someone who told it to someone else and so on,” Hope said.