Municipality continues advocacy during delegations at ROMA Conference
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance, along with Chief Administrative Officer Michelle Larose, represented the Municipality of Sioux Lookout during the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference in Toronto from Jan. 19 to 21.
ROMA, along with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) annual conference held every August, provides municipalities such as Sioux Lookout an opportunity to meet directly with Provincial Ministers to advocate for specific municipal issues.
“I thought it was a good conference. We had opportunities to meet with seven or eight ministers, so that was good,” said Lawrance.
During their delegations, Lawrance said he had the opportunity to discuss topics such as area highway upgrades, a local youth detention centre, and an addictions treatment centre.
“We met with the Minister of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney, and we had three things that we wanted to talk about there. One was the inter-community bus service throughout northwestern Ontario, which is something that we’ve been lobbying for as a community and as the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, so we were keeping that on their radar. We talked about Highway 516, the Ed Ariano By-Pass, and just getting some upgrades, specifically at the intersections and perhaps doing some widening for pedestrians. There are pedestrians and bikes using that… We had another safety concern related to pedestrian crossing where the provincial highway comes to town, just before you get to the Pelican Bridge, at the intersection with Sturgeon River Road. There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic crossing back-and-forth from the Sturgeon River side to where we do have a foot path and a pedestrian bridge going across Pelican Creek, so we brought that to their attention and we consider it unsafe conditions. The other one was upgrades to Highway 516 north where the pavement ends halfway along 516 before it gets to the Pickle Lake highway. There’s about 35 kilometres or so of upgrades on 516 that would be beneficial for commercial traffic coming to and from Sioux Lookout,” said Lawrance.
“We met with the Minister (Todd Smith) of Children, Community, and Social Services (MCCSS), and we had a joint meeting with the Ministry of the Attorney General and the MCCSS, and we’re looking at what we would call a bail aftercare program. When people are released on bail, there are a lot of breaches of probation. The residential facility has been shown in other places that it drastically reduces the breaches… We’re also lobbying the MCCSS for more transitional supportive housing.
“With the Attorney General we had a separate meeting and we talked about something that the police inspectors for Sioux Lookout and Lac Seul spoke to me about, and this has the support of the Lac Seul Police Service, the Sioux Lookout OPP, the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service, and the Dryden Police Service and that’s for a youth detention centre. It’s very strongly supported by all the police forces. There’s a lot of opportunity here to serve the youth in the systems if they were located in Sioux Lookout and to reduce the real burden on police services in terms of transportation. The youth would be closer to their families and have a lot more support while they’re in detention. As it is, they’re being taken by police to detention centres in Thunder Bay, Kenora, or Fort Frances, which is a long way from where their family supports are in Lac Seul, Sioux Lookout, or closer to Sioux Lookout in communities that we serve.
“We met with Minister (Michael) Tibollo and we have a really good relationship with this minister. We’ve met with him around five times now, he’s actually been to Sioux Lookout twice, and he’s the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. We were lobbying for a wraparound addictions treatment centre. While we were there, we were putting the double squeeze on it because our staff and council were lobbying at the pre-budget consultation that was held here in Sioux Lookout for the same thing… So we hope to see good results there. Minister Tibollo seems to truly appreciate and understand our situation here, and he’s very passionate about mental health and addictions.
“We met with the Solicitor General who is responsible for policing, Sylvia Jones. I met with her in December and secured a discount for our policing services for another two years. It might run out before then because they are redoing the billing model… We wanted to ask if we could have some input on the revisions to the billing model… Even after a 35 per cent overall discount we’re still among the highest of the OPP policed communities, but it is a significant discount. We’re about 650 dollars per property. When we get it down to around 325 (dollars per property) we would be becoming more like a normal community in Ontario.
“We met with Jeff Yurek the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks… Our request here was for an environmental assessment on the east-west corridor to go to the Ring of Fire. We had a very good meeting with him… They’re doing an environmental assessment on the north-south route, and our advocacy is the east-west is much better in terms of environmental disruption, cost, and the socio-economic benefits for the communities to the west of the Ring of Fire, including Sioux Lookout, Kenora, Dryden, and all the First Nations communities on the west-side, would be significantly more than a project-specific road from the south into the Ring of Fire, which would only benefit one or two communities.
“We met with the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance (Stan Cho), and our ask here was related to the Ontario Municipal Provincial Fund (OMPF). We want it stabilized at what it is, with no more decreases, but we also wanted them to take a look at the Northern and Rural Fiscal Circumstances Grant parameters in the OMPF Grant and factor in some things that they don’t. There’s five or six things they factor in, but there’s so many more that they don’t that relate to Sioux Lookout,” Lawrance explained.
Through his involvement in the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA), Lawrance was able to be part of the Associations’ delegation to a multi-Ministry table.
“I was part of the NOMA delegation to a multi-minister panel. There was eight ministers across the table from us and the NOMA board on our side of the table, and the topics we discussed were policing in northwestern Ontario, the inter-community bus transportation, winter highway maintenance, and safer northern highways,” he said.
When it comes to ongoing advocacy, Lawrance said patience and persistence is crucial because seeing advocacy come to fruition tends to be a slow process.
“Often, the advocacy we do will be seen in four or five years. We benefit from some things the previous council’s and administrations advocated for ten years ago or five years ago. It’s a slow process but you have to keep on taking the message to them,” he said.