Disagreement over the "process" has sent the proposal for a District Social Services Administration Board back to the drawing board rather than on to the province.
And once again, the issue of representation on the board is one of the major stumbling blocks.
After a 90-minute debate Monday night, the Rainy River District Municipal Association conceded to objections from about half a dozen unincorporated residents to meet all day on March 14 to hash out another DSSAB proposal--or at least get an application to the province by the March 31 deadline.
If they can’t come up with a consensus then, the so-called "double majority" (a majority of votes representing the majority of population) will rule.
But while the RRDMA agreed to start again, the frustration level was high Monday night. In fact, some municipal leaders questioned whether they could overcome their differences, or if it would be the same issues being argued again.
"I’m really very disappointed in the whole process. This idea of going back and forth I think is ridiculous," fumed La Vallee Reeve Ken McKinnon, who felt people were fooling themselves to think they could come up with a 100 percent agreement with the amount of distrust.
Morley Reeve Gary Gamsby also didn’t believe they would come up with an agreement, explaining they had different purposes for being involved in getting a DSSAB off the ground.
"We’re going to get as far as when representation comes up. And then it’s going to be very, very difficult," echoed Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, who is president of the RRDMA this year.
But representation is one of the big complaints unincorporated residents have with the proposal the RRDMA wants to submit to the province.
The proposal, like the Area Services Board proposal before it, recommends representation by population. Each municipality would have one vote for every 1,500 people while there would be one vote each from the east, central, and west unincorporated areas.
"[I]’d come out with something different on representation for sure," argued Cliff McIntosh, an unincorporated resident in the area east of Atikokan, who felt there was a tremendous imbalance in representation.
"[I] want to see representation that doesn’t allow any cluster of people to have a dominant position," he argued, noting Fort Frances had too much say.
But Mayor Witherspoon noted Fort Frances was footing 56 percent of the bill.
"That’s not a good justification. Canada wasn’t built that way," McIntosh replied. "Democracy is the will of the majority protecting the rights of the minority."
But Emo Reeve Brian Reid, who noted the smaller municipalities were in the same boat, warned representation would be an even bigger concern if the district couldn’t agree on a proposal and ended up being thrown in with the Kenora or Thunder Bay districts.
With about 10 DSSABs to be established across Northern Ontario, lake of the Woods Mayor Valerie Pizey feared something would be imposed by the province.
"If the big problem is representation, talking to you until eternity is not going to change your mind," charged Rainy River Mayor Gord Armstrong.
the unincorporated residents, though, argued it was the who process, not just the representation, that they objected to. McIntosh stressed they were never included in putting together the proposal and weren’t allowed a vote.
"We should be sitting down with the working group and hammering out what this thing is going to say," mcIntosh said, arguing the unincorporated area weren’t included. in molding the proposal but just brought in at the end to ratify a document that was already a "fait accomply."
"We’d just like to have a say, sitting at the table," agreed unincorporated resident Glen Rawlings.
One challenge is that unincorporated residents only can represent themselves. Mayor Witherspoon explained they can’t be legally sanctioned to be a representative until the DSSAB was in place.
Despite that, he disagreed that unincorporated residents had been overlooked, saying the invitation went out for unincorporated residents to be part of the process when if first started a year ago.
"Personally, I thought the east Rainy River district thought, ‘Just leave it alone and they’ll go away,’" he retorted, arguing unincorporated residents were involved in the original proposal for an Area Services Board here.
"All we did was change the heading."
But unincorporated resident Carol Lyons, who sat on the working group, said the proposal she worked on was different from the one that went to Toronto--primarily with representation.
And while McIntosh felt there were other "serious limitations" with the DSSAB proposal, he refused to say what those were.
"I don’t want to get involved in talking about that document because that’s a trap," he explained, noting he pretty much wanted to start out with a blank slate.
Meanwhile, Aime Dimmatteo, director of the Northern Services Implementation Project, admitted unincorporated area residents were concerned about what impact the DSSAB--or possibly ASB-- would have on them.
"They know they’re going to be paying more," he said Monday, explaining everyone had to pay their fair share for services. "If you’re using the service, then you’re going to pay for it.
"Its the whole matter of universality," he added.