Full text of the article published by Danielle Belec in the Pontiac Journal (JP, 2017-08-16, p. 18)
For the first time in the history of Pontiac County, citizens will elect their warden at the 2017 municipal elections. In this article, I explain how MRC Pontiac Council reached the decision to elect its future wardens.
When the issue of warden elected by universal suffrage (US) resurfaced at MRC Council last year, rumours began to circulate suggesting that this MRC wanted to create a full-time job with a boost in salary for its warden. Others insinuated utter disregard for the cost of a full-time warden to taxpayers, or that the MRC was taking a leap into the dark, without guarantees of a return on its investment.
Having attended most Council meetings in the last two years, I can guarantee at the onset that cost was, as it always is in this MRC, very much a consideration in the decision-making process.
But cost alone cannot and should not be the only factor in all decisions. In the case of a warden elected by US, the questions we needed to ask were: Is there a need and is it a good investment? After months of deliberation and analysis, the answer was “yes”.
The analysis began last year when MRC Pontiac Council commissioned an internal study of the 14 MRCs that elected their warden by US in 2013, to collect the data needed to make an informed decision.
The study revealed that most of these 14 MRCs are small (less than 25,000 people), remote, don’t have a dominant urban core, and post a per capita income among the lowest in Quebec.
And our similarities don’t end there.
There seems to be a consensus among these MRCs and other similar ones, that an elected official can no longer cover his mayoral duties and adequately represent the interests of the MRC. This has not always been the case. There was a time when the role of the MRC Pontiac was limited to maintaining the land use and development plan, preparing assessment rolls, selling property for non-payment of taxes, and providing license bureau services.
MRCs have since become true proximity governments with more responsibility and accountability for economic development and business support, rural, cultural and social-community development, strategic planning, environment, fire safety and contingency plans, management of unorganized territories, and so on.
The warden must be in control of all these files, understand the issues, set goals, mobilise and motivate individuals and groups to achieve these goals, and represent the interests of all communities in his or her county, which is a colossal task for a warden designated by his peers who is also the mayor of a municipality.
But what was probably the most decisive finding in the study, the element that tipped the balance in favour of an elected warden, was that the vast majority of MRCs that choose its warden by US would not want to go back to the old method.
Most of the interviewees emphasized, above all, the advantages of an elected and full-time warden. The wardens of Témiscamingue and Vallée-de-la-Gatineau, who came before Council to share their experiences as elected wardens, agreed that the outcome has been mostly positive. The warden of Témiscamingue even mentioned that the value of their development projects since his election in 2009 had crossed the $ 500 million mark.
Can we then conclude that a warden elected by US is a guarantee of success?
No. There are too many x-factors to forecast any return on investment. For example, will the next warden possess the charisma to rally everyone around a common goal? Will he or she be a good communicator and have the skills necessary to implement a vision, or advocate for issues of importance to all of Pontiac? And, even if we do elect the perfect candidate, can we guarantee that outside forces or unforeseen events won’t throw a wrench into his or her mandate?
There is no guarantee, but there are well-founded assumptions. MRC Pontiac Council did not jump to conclusions: it asked for and received all the information necessary to make an informed decision. And in the end, that decision was that it is not an expense, but an investment in our future, to elect a warden for whom raising the profile of the MRC Pontiac will be a full-time endeavour.
It is now up to citizens to do their part by participating in the municipal elections, either by voting on November 5, or by becoming a candidate at the municipal or regional level.