ALMAGUIN – Almaguin’s leaders stood together this week in a show of solidarity against proposed federal riding boundary changes.
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario, which includes Dr. Leslie Pal, chair Justice George Valin, and vice-chair Douglas Colbourne listened to what concerned residents had to say about proposed boundary changes in North Bay on Tuesday.
The group attended a public hearing on Tuesday morning to impress upon the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario their opposition to proposed boundary changes that would see the boundary line for Parry Sound/Muskoka and Nipissing shifted south through the middle of the Almaguin Highlands.
The proposal would see the villages of South River and Sundridge, as well as the townships of Machar, Strong and Joly shifted into the redrawn Nipissing riding.
The commission is composed of chair Justice George Valin, a superior court justice in North Bay; vice-chair Douglas Colbourne, who sat as Ontario Municipal Board chair for many years; and Dr. Leslie Pal, of Carleton University.
Sundridge Mayor Elgin Schneider told the commission the boundary changes would be “detrimental to the partnerships we have formed,” adding the affected municipalities have strong ties, including shared services, with those to the south, including the Village of Burk’s Falls, the townships of McMurrich/Montieth, Perry, Armour and Ryerson, Magnetawan, and the Town of Kearney.
“It would be very difficult to work together with two MPs and two MPPs,” said Schneider.
Schneider stated that although he was aware that the boundaries changes being addressed are federal, the province historically could follow suit.
“It’s hardly worth upsetting the many partnerships that are working so well,” said Schneider.
He says the 12 municipalities remaining in the Parry Sound boundary worked long and hard to forge the trust and goodwill that they currently hold.
“We’re a community down there that is like a family,” he said.
Burk’s Falls coun. Bruce Campbell says he could not see any positives in splitting the Highlands, stating that they have worked very hard to establish a single identity. He says the divide could threaten cooperation between the municipalities, citing a number of commonalities including the Parry Sound District Services Board, Parry Sound EMS, Victim’s Services, and the Almaguin Highlands OPP. He added there is also the Almaguin palliative care organization that services the Highlands and the mutual aid agreements and negotiations currently underway for a joint training officer for the fire departments. There is also the matter of the Almaguin Highlands Health Centre, the facility in Burk’s Falls the municipalities established after cuts closed the Burk’s Falls and District Health Centre.
Campbell also stated that the region’s smaller rural communities are not a good fit with North Bay.
“If we’re involved with North Bay, smaller centres seem to get lost,” said Campbell.
“Over the past 50 years the communities there have established, in your words, a community of interest,” said Stan Lawlor of Lawlor and Associates Consultants Inc., representing the East Parry Sound Municipal Association.
Lawlor cited statistics showing dramatic demographic differences between municipalities in the South River/Sundridge area and North Bay.
He also pointed out that in light of the Highway 11 bypass and economic downturn, have illustrated an ability to prevail and a self-reliance that is essentially different from more urban centres. He stated that strategic planning for the area would also bare little resemblance to those priorities in North Bay.
Lawlor states that as smaller rural communities special attention has been given from both the federal and provincial levels of government as part of Parry Sound/Muskoka.
There was an area at the commission looking to be added to the Nipissing riding.
Chief Marianna Couchie told the commission the Nipissing First Nation would like to be included in Nipissing, saying the electoral change a decade ago split them into two ridings.
“We’ve had a schizophrenic life for the past 10 years,” she said. She says there are about eight communities that make up the First Nation of about 2,495 people and more than 2,000 voters. There are 895 residents currently on the reserve, a number that Couchie says is growing.
“It would be very disappointing (to be under the Nicklebelt riding) but it would not be the end of the world,” she said.
Couchie emphasized her desire to be attached to Nipissing to eliminate travel to Sudbury instead of North Bay to see their Member of Parliament.