Clash of personalities at Pontiac council meeting - MPAC vs. council
Mo Laidlaw
By the end of the evening Mayor Eddie McCann characterized the Municipality of Pontiac Advisory Committee (MPAC) as “self-appointed and anointed spokespeople, who see themselves as non-elected officials,” at the regular council meeting on December 12, 2012. The public question period was dominated by this group whose members one after another claimed that their demands for transparency had nothing to do with the Charbonneau commission, suspicions of giving contracts to friends, or suggesting that municipal employees had done wrong. To no avail, the mayor and three councillors (a majority) voted against recognizing or collaborating with this group, a motion proposed by Councillor Tom Howard.

About 30 people were present at the meeting in the community centre in Luskville. This report is about the input from MPAC as the rest of the meeting has been reported elsewhere.
Charles Éthier asked if council would have a motion tonight to support the Union of Québec Municipalities (UMQ) White Paper, “The future has a place”, which has two major priorities: “to involve citizens more closely in decision making, and to adapt taxation to 21st century realities.”
“The White Paper clearly summarizes the position of MPAC in better words than we could ever imagine,” said Barrie Marfleet, co-chair of MPAC. (The summary mentions reinvigorating local democracy by focusing on accountability to citizens, optimizing citizen participation and consultation processes, and defining the rules of transparency and ethics in the management of public funds, but doesn’t explain how this is achieved.)
Mr McCann explained that any motion has to be presented at caucus, a week before the regular meeting, unless a councillor wishes to bring it forward. Mr Howard said “We need to take the opportunity to look at the White Paper, to see if we can work with community groups.”

Richard Simourd was allowed to set the context for his question. “First, Mme Charbonneau has said that councils need greater transparency. Secondly, the White Paper. Third, MPAC was formed with the same goals: being respectful and non-adversarial. Finally Councillor Amyotte’s letter expressing outrage over ‘the attack on council’ [actually ‘the attack on municipal employees’], and demanding a retraction. Do you understand how the public can see this as council being above reproach? There’s a double standard. The public have to be careful what we say or we get legal threats, paid for with our money.” (This referred to a mise-en-demeure (legal letter) sent by the mayor to MPAC, demanding an apology to municipal employees.)

Mr McCann said, “I took exception to our municipality being grouped with other municipalities in Québec [that may have been involved in wrongdoing. The mise-en-demeure] was required to protect the good name of the municipality. We have to talk properly and respectfully on both sides.”

Mr Simourd stated that the report of the interview with Charles Éthier and Barrie Marfleet for the Journal article, had “no tone of accusation. It was not adversarial.” Mr McCann said he couldn’t accept this. Dr Amyotte said, “I was not offended personally, but for the municipal employees. Also I hadn’t met with MPAC, yet it said MPAC had met with council,” (implying all members of council). Mr Simourd wanted to continue but was refused. “Your part of question period is over,” said Mr McCann. Barrie Marfleet suggested there was a “huge elephant in this room [which usually means an obvious truth or problem that no one will discuss], the two words ‘and councillors’ in the article, which some read as ‘and all councillors’. The elephant needs to be deflated,” he said. (This is a complicated way of saying that one word changed the meaning, a source of misunderstanding.)

Mr Marfleet, co-chair of MPAC, asked about transferring to MRC Pontiac from MRC des Collines, a pet project of the mayor’s. “Have you talked to the Minister? What are the advantages and disadvantages? We need a better understanding of the process.” Mr McCann said there would be three public meetings before the end of January, at which time he hopes to present estimates of comparative costs.

Mr Marfleet also would like detailed information on the strategic plan, such as where 100 new jobs will come from by 2016, and on the 2013 budget. Mr McCann replied, “the Medical Centre is an ongoing project, businesses that hire people will be encouraged, there is an industrial park site north of Quyon, perhaps a supermarket, a marina, tourist accommodation (bed and breakfast or small hotel/motel), and a brewery could be a possible use for the old mill in Quyon.” And, “No, you cannot have a copy of the budget until the meeting (18 December). I think you’ll like the budget.”

Joan Belsher asked Mr McCann, “Why not call Mr Éthier and Mr Marfleet before sending an intimidating lawyer’s letter? This was a pretty strong action. No one else, including employees had a concern.” Mr McCann replied that he had no regrets. “I thought it was an attack on council. I talked to two council members who thought I’d done the right thing.” In reply to Rick Knox, Mr McCann continued: “It was insinuated there was a possible problem related to the work of the Charbonneau commission. People commented at meetings of the CSSSP. I had a mise-en-demeure issued asking for a retraction.” Councillors Howard, Larose and Middlemiss clarified that the legal letter was already sent when they saw it, they did not approve it.

Several other members of MPAC stood to attest to council that “at no time have they discussed the Charbonneau commission,” including Carl Hagen and Marie Bertrand. Despite these reasonable sounding words, both Mr Éthier, in his interview, and Mr Simourd, mentioned Charbonneau, and it is clear that some leading members of MPAC irritate the mayor and some councillors, with their combative, incredulous or superior tone, raising the level of frustration on both sides.

During the discussion on the resolution to recognize MPAC, Mr Larose agreed, “It is a good idea to work with people.” Mr Howard said, “We work with this committee and others so that we can make better decisions. I see opportunity here, I’m willing to work with them.” Councillor Pontiroli pointed out, “It’s not necessary to pass a resolution to work with people.” Mr McCann said, “We worked with this group on the nuisance bylaw. We should not meet one group more than another.” (Some members of MPAC worked with council on this before MPAC was set up.)

Despite all the talk of being non-adversarial, it was clear that frustration was mounting particularly in the audience. Denis Dubé (former co-chair MPAC), questioned the legality of letting a psychotherapist use the Luskville library free of charge, a motion just passed by council. James Eggleton asked the mayor, “What are your thoughts on your chances for re-election?” adding to the impression that MPAC has political ambitions. The mayor and several members of MPAC remained behind after the official end of the meeting to continue the discussion.