GREAT NORTHERN PENINSULA, NL – The Great Northern Peninsula Joint Council hosted its first meeting of 2018 on Jan. 27 at the Grenfell Heritage Hotel and Suites in St. Anthony.
Attending the meeting was joint council chair and Anchor Point mayor Gerry Gros, Flower’s Cove mayor Keith Billard, St. Lunaire-Griquet mayor Dale Colbourne, St. Anthony councillor Brad Johannessen, Englee councillor Ron Twyne, Main Brook mayor Barb Genge and Roddickton-Bide Arm mayor Sheila Fitzgerald. Calling in by phone was Bird Cove mayor Andre Myers.
Sean Martin, executive director and CEO of the Municipal Assessment Agency, also gave a presentation to the council prior to the meeting.
The following is a synopsis of that meeting, attended by the Northern Pen.
Cost of services for LSDs and UIAs
Mayor Keith Billard of Flower’s Cove feels the provincial government needs to provide figures on how much it costs for the province to provide local service districts (LSDs) and unincorporated areas (UIAs) – including snow clearing, paving and grading the roads.
“They can’t come up with a specific price and they got to,” he said.
Gros added this was an issue they’ve been pushing for the past 10 years.
Mayor Andre Myers of Bird Cove asked for a cost comparison between municipalities and LSDs/UIAs, while Billard added that the government should be able to provide the numbers.
“They (the provincial government) should know exactly the dollar figure and if they don’t, they’re incompetent,” said Billard.
Gros said they would ask Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) to keep pushing for it.
Increased cost-share ratios was once again a sore subject for municipal leaders.
Billard expressed the view that every mayor of the Great Northern Peninsula should be sending a letter to Eddie Joyce, minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment, stating they want a 90/10 cost-share ratio for capital works projects.
The municipal share is currently 20 per cent for fire fighting vehicles and equipment in municipalities with 3,000 people or less; 40 per cent for recreational projects, buildings and fire halls; and 50 per cent for roads and other funding requests.
Many municipal leaders on the Great Northern Peninsula have stated that this cost share is too high for small municipalities like theirs.
They want to see the municipalities’ share for projects levelled at 10 per cent.
Billard added that every council should have a copy of each letter sent to the department on this matter.
“It’s just as well for them to say we’re no longer providing any funding for roads for small towns because it’s impossible for small towns,” said Myers.
Letter from MP on Northern Tax Deduction
Since the last meeting, the joint council has received a response from the office of Long Range Mountains MP Gudie Hutchings regarding the Northern Residents Tax Deduction.
In May 2017, the council sent a letter to Hutchings’ office, requesting that towns on the Great Northern Peninsula be eligible for the deduction due to their remote location.
They hoped the petition would be brought to the attention of the Canadian Parliament.
According to Gros, the response letter basically tells them the same thing every letter from each previous finance minister has told them: they won’t be getting the deduction.
The Canadian Revenue Agency websites says to qualify for the benefit, one must live in one of the two prescribed zones: northern or intermediate zone.
Currently, all of Labrador qualifies for the northern zone but no other places in the province are currently eligible.
“We’re saying make the Northern Peninsula a region of its own or make us part of Labrador,” he said.
Gros said he will continue following up on the issue.
It’s been 27 years since Great Northern Peninsula residents have been eligible to claim a tax deduction for living in the north.
Pre-budget consultation comments
Council took issue with the timing of the pre-budget consultation for the St. Barbe-L’Anse aux Meadows district.
MHA Christopher Mitchelmore held the consultation in Sandy Cove at 2 p.m. on Jan. 22.
Billard pointed out that all other consultations were held at 7 p.m.
Many were unable to attend the Sandy Cove meeting because they were working in the afternoon, including Fitzgerald.
“I didn’t think it was fair because I wanted to be there,” she said.
No one from her council was able to attend because of the 2 p.m. scheduling.
Gros also pointed out that since the Liberals came into government, they haven’t had a minister of finance come to the Great Northern Peninsula for a meeting.
The joint council passed a motion to send a letter to the minister of finance asking that pre-budget consultations be scheduled in the evenings and asking that the minister host the meeting instead of the MHA.
NorPen Regional Service Board
Gros informed the rest of the joint council that a new board was in place at NorPen but it hadn’t yet convened for a meeting as of Jan 27.
He said he has received information that no new chair has been appointed at this time and the board will be electing a new chair.
In the interim, Gerald Hillier of St. Lunaire-Griquet is the acting chair.
“I think with all the issues around NorPen Regional Service’s board, they better have a meeting pretty damn fast,” said Gros. “Because it’s more than just waste collection.”
Council members subsequently discussed issues about waste management.
They are also hoping for more openness from the NorPen Regional Service Board and believe they should receive a copy of the minutes from NorPen’s meetings.
Being proactive with the fishery
Fitzgerald asked council if there was something they could do to be “proactive” with the fishery.
She doesn’t want council to be “reactive” – i.e. waiting for announcements first and then only being able to react to that situation. Instead, she feels they should try to address issues before announcements are made.
Gros replied that he feels communities heavily involved in the fishery are proactive and are in correspondence with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources on a continual basis.
“They just don’t listen very well,” he said.
Fitzgerald felt they need to write something as a group, to state, “this is important for our sustainability of all of northern residents on the Northern Peninsula.”
Main Brook Mayor Barb Genge proceeded to argue that a plan is needed amongst the municipalities.
In response to Genge’s arguments, Gros suggested developing a working group of five of the joint council who can sit down and develop a plan to work for the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula.
The joint council approved the idea and scheduled a meeting for the group in St. Anthony on Feb. 12.
Harris Centre regions initiatives
According to Fitzgerald, in 2016 Grenfell Campus – Memorial University identified different themes that would bring economic development to the Great Northern Peninsula. Research initiatives included development of Grenfell’s gardens, utilization of fish products, and what benefits CETA (the free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union) could bring to the region.
“They’re going to see around the region up here where was Grenfell’s garden, what was the legacy, and can we start one up,” explained Fitzgerald on the garden initiative.
Gros felt there hasn’t been much follow up from Memorial’s Harris Centre on the three projects.
The joint council will request more information from them.
Joint council’s next meeting is scheduled for Bird Cove on March 17.