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Northern municipalities looking to stay put

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Northwestern Ontario municipalities aren’t following the City of Sudbury’s lead and threatening to pull their membership from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

But Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said yesterday that wasn’t something Fort Frances has even considered.

"It’s not a wise move," noted Neil MacOdrum, a Geraldton councillor and president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA).

The major problem with bailing out was the whole municipal voice to government would become extremely fractured, Coun. MacOdrum said. And he feared their credibility could be in jeopardy as a result.

For instance, someone from Kenora might be saying something different than a rep from another northern municipality.

Coun. MacOdrum felt Sudbury’s move to sever ties with AMO illustrated the frustration mayors of larger northern municipalities were feeling--and that they wanted to circumvent any association and vent that frustration directly at the premier.

The City of Sudbury sent a motion of intent to withdraw from AMO earlier this summer after hearing the provincial government didn’t intend to continue with a special fund for northern municipalities. That despite the request from northern municipalities that part of the $570 million transition fund be designated for them.

But AMO executive director Doug Raven pointed out all municipalities across the province were feeling the heat--not just those in the north.

"They are, historically, more dependent on the province than municipalities in the southern part of the province," he admitted.

"[But] we have been relaying northern concerns to the province," Raven stressed, adding the fact the province wasn’t listening was no reflection on AMO.

"If we don’t deliver good news, they’re not satisfied with their association," he said.

And Mayor Witherspoon didn’t feel Northern Ontario’s needs were being pushed to the backburner, noting three northern reps were appointed to the provincial transition teams--Thunder Bay Mayor David Hamilton, Kirkland Lake Mayor Joe Mavrinac, and himself.

"For every issue that comes up . . . we’re well represented," Mayor Witherspoon assured.

Meanwhile, the north/south division in AMO isn’t something new. Emo Reeve Brian Reid noted many northern municipal reps were disenchanted after last year’s annual convention when Geraldton Mayor Michael Power--who was vice-president of AMO--lost the top job because Terry Mundell broke an unwritten protocol by deciding to run for a second term as president.

At that same convention last August, any resolutions referring to "northern" concerns were changed to reflect all municipalities across the province.

"I think that was where the rift had actually started," Reeve Reid said, adding the lines were divided even further when Power was asked to seek the president’s chair again this year.

"There was some unrest in the north following the annual convention," admitted Raven, with some northern municipalities even suggesting the area separate from the rest of the province because they felt their concerns were being ignored at Queen’s Park.

Reeve Reid wasn’t optimistic the division would change much even if Power was elected president this time round but he felt it might prove a point.

"I would not like to speculate," Raven said, noting a northern mayor--Mavrinac--was president of AMO in 1993-94. "We’ll have to wait and see what the outcome is."

The unfortunate part, Reeve Reid said, was some important issues might get tossed aside as the north/south election took centre stage. So far, the only other candidate for president was Jack Morris from the County of Essex.

Raven added candidates still can come forward from the floor at the convention.

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