Dear residents of the Pontiac,
Yesterday, Premier Legault was in Maniwaki to make an important announcement regarding an election promise that was initially made in 2017. This promise was to decentralize certain government departments that are currently located in urban centres and move them to rural regions. By September 2022, there will be 2000 employees who are going to be spread across a number of devitalized rural communities. This first wave does not include the Pontiac, but we remain hopeful that we will benefit from this increase in population and job opportunities in the next phase. The plan is to roll out 5000 positions in total between 2022 and 2028. I fully support this initiative as it would greatly improve the quality of life of our citizens and will also increase our population and available services. I believe that any bureaucrat who is moved from an urban centre to the Pontiac will quickly discover how fortunate they are to live and work in our region.
In terms of COVID-19, as many of you are probably already aware, several restrictions will be lifted during the month of March, including the use of proof of vaccination as of March 14th. Starting on Monday, March 7th, students in elementary and secondary school will no longer be required to wear masks when seated in class. I am happy to see that the number of cases in our region have begun to subside, with only 46 active cases in the RLS Pontiac as of today, which includes the Municipality of Pontiac located in the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais. As things begin to slowly open up and we resume a sense of normalcy in the Pontiac, I would still advise all residents to remain vigilant in their efforts to avoid spreading this virus to our most vulnerable populations, whether by avoiding contact with people when you are showing symptoms, by continuing to wear a mask when in high-risk areas or by booking your appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine. Protecting our vulnerable citizens from getting ill must remain a top priority for everyone. I am so thankful and proud of our residents for their efforts in keeping the virus out of the Pontiac throughout the pandemic and am looking forward to a bright future.
Earlier today, I was invited to speak on behalf of the MRC at an excellent housing forum which was organized by the TDSP and CDC Pontiac. This forum examined the following questions: whether housing should be a main priority for the MRC, what we can do now about this issue and what our long-term plans could look like. This forum was well attended by many local organizations that sit on the TDSP as well as the CISSSO, and the school boards. At the conclusion of the forum, I suggested that we need both a strategy and an action plan. One of my ideas, which will be discussed with the Council of Mayors, is to look at existing buildings, whether residential or commercial, that are currently empty to potentially turn them into rental housing. We know that as a result of the floods, we have lost a significant number of homes and that with the arrival of COVID-19 we are currently experiencing a population boom in our region. At this point, only 21% of people in our MRC are renters and the other 79% are homeowners. Today, I advocated for increased seniors housing, affordable housing, rental housing and Indigenous housing. I also spoke about our need for transitional housing which will help individuals go from emergency housing to permanent. The MRC, through our vitalization committee, plans to work on a housing strategy which could include a reduction of red-tape and bureaucracy to make construction easier, a possible harmonization of some by-laws between the 18 municipalities, and accessing infrastructure funding through the Federal government to improve water/waste water systems. It is interesting to know that as of today, all 18 municipalities currently have a subdivision plan. This simply means that their councils have chosen specific areas that have the proper zoning for potential investors to build housing projects. Finally, I spoke about the need to bring back the instruction of trades such as construction, plumbing and electrical to our high schools to provide important training in order to ensure that we meet the demands of construction and grow our economy at the same time. I will be sure to keep you informed about any progress made on this initiative in the future.
I would like to remind everyone that Les Maisons des Jeunes du Pontiac are organizing several days of activities for local youth next week for the March break. You can find a list of all activities on their Facebook page. I truly hope that everyone gets a chance to enjoy the outdoors and have some fun and relaxing times during the break. I would like to encourage everyone to please continue to follow public health guidelines to ensure that everyone remains healthy and safe.
I also would like to take the time to congratulate Greg Graham and the Pontiac Community Players for receiving their OBNL status. I look forward to joining them tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Pontiac High School to celebrate this wonderful achievement.
Lastly, I would like to say that my thoughts and prayers are with the Ukrainian people all over the world during this horrific time in our history. I believe I speak for the entire Pontiac when I say that we stand with Ukraine and are praying for peace and resolution during this difficult time.
Thank you, together Pontiac!