Sunday, May 19, 2024

Sunlight and oxygen

Two weeks ago, in a 12-to-6 vote, the mayors of MRC Pontiac passed a motion to contract a consulting firm to produce a business plan for Pontiac’s proposed garbage incinerator project.
Of the $120,000 contract, $100,000 was drawn from MRC Pontiac’s accumulated surplus. This surplus is money that comes from taxes collected in each of the member municipalities and is paid to the MRC in what are called “municipal shares”.
The fact that money from the accumulated surplus has been spent on the business plan contract understandably irks some mayors. For one thing, last year the MRC raised the shares the municipalities would have to pay, which contributed to the accumulation of a surplus this year. It’s money that the mayors know could have been put to many good uses locally. Giving it to a multinational corporation is not one of them, especially when grants are available for such things.
It’s true, applying for a grant takes a little longer than simply spending the cash you have on-hand. If there have been any discussions among the warden and mayors on which way to go on this question, they have not taken place in public. So, we can only speculate as to why the sudden hurry.
One possible reason is to make sure Pontiac’s plan for an incinerator is ready in time for consideration by Ottawa as it maps out its own garbage future. But, irony of ironies, within just a few days of green-lighting the consulting firm’s proposal, Ottawa announced its intention to extend use of its Trail Road landfill facility another 14 years.
While this does not remove the possibility that Ottawa might one day want to consider an incinerator option, it does remove the current panic to pull together a Pontiac proposal.
Whether Pontiac comes up with an incinerator option in January or July or December isn’t really a crucial factor. It was clearly not necessary to expedite this process. We had time to explore other funding options and save the surplus money.
And, as if to add insult to injury, had the mayors waited just another week, they would have learned that the company they so quickly contracted has been found guilty and fined some $1.59 million for falsifying sign-off dates on their audits going back several years.
There has been a lot of hurry up on this file, starting with pressing mayors and municipal councils to support the project before information was available on exactly what they’re supporting, followed by awarding a sole-source contract rather than putting it out to public tender, and now by allocating the accumulated surplus to the contract instead of taking the time to apply for a grant.
It’s a process being driven by the MRC Council but which has never been debated by its members in public. If it is being debated at all, it is happening in private meetings out of public view, deprived of the sunlight and oxygen of public scrutiny. Even when two mayors purposely called a special public meeting for the express purpose of airing this issue out in the open, the meeting was quickly diverted to an in-camera session.
The result is the public has no idea what is going on, why the process is suddenly being rushed, why corners are being cut, and whether anyone in the room is challenging the wisdom of any of it.
Now we’ve got a decision where we’re forking over hard-earned, locally-saved tax revenue to a company of questionable integrity and, as far as the public knows, without consideration of perfectly good alternatives.
In our hard-won democracy, we not only have the right to know what is going on but the responsibility to find out.

Charles Dickson


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