Tourism Initiatives Divide MNBP Council

By John Francis

At its inaugural meeting on Dec 3, MNBP’s new Council had to deal with a couple of hot-button issues. The most contentious of these pertained to tourism development and planning. The problem was that Council had to make a decision before they had a chance to really understand each other.
ROMA, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, hosts a get-together for municipal and provincial politicians and functionaries every January. In order to get a delegation to a provincial Ministry, you have to apply in some detail by Dec 10. With the next meeting scheduled for Dec 17, this meant the application would have to be filed without Council’s approval.
Because this would be the only way to get funding in time for the 2019 season, Councillor Megan Myles was particularly eager to apply under the Tourism Development Fund. Councillor Jamie Mielhausen tentatively agreed. Mayor Milt McIver, as always, looked for consensus but didn’t find any. Councillor Smokey Golden and Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles were both uneasy about having an application filed without Council’s oversight and approval.
In the end Council voted unanimously to make an application despite the misgivings. This left Municipal CAO Bill Jones to craft and submit a brief based on very limited input from Council and a very limited understanding of individual councillors’ priorities.
Sustainable Tourism was discussed at length at the Dec 17 regular Meeting and again on the 18th at the Special Planning Meeting. Council decided to facilitate the creation of a Tourism Action Group (TAG) but not to appropriate any funds to the project.
The ROMA brief did not appear on the Agenda for either of the January meetings, but was dealt with in closed sessions after both meetings (because the funding application deals with “labour relations or employee negotiations (staffing)”).
After the second of those meetings on Jan 21, Council emerged from closed session and voted 3-2 in favour of going ahead with the deputation to ROMA. The dissenting votes belonged to Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles and Councillor Smokey Golden.
The proposal calls for a “Manager of Community Services” position to be created, funded 50% by MNBP, 17% by Parks Canada and 33% by the Tourism Development Fund.
Councillor Megan Myles posted on Facebook:
“Council has voted in support of an application to the Tourism Development Fund for a 2-year contract combined Manager of Community Services/Tourism Manager. I voted in favour of this because of what I heard from you and from experiencing first hand the need for someone to support tourism organizations and agencies, and coordinate between them. Yesterday, we presented to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport to make him aware of our local challenges and in support of our application! An important first step!”
Councillor Golden and Deputy Mayor Myles voted against the deputation on Jan 21. Councillor Golden explains her concerns:
“My position was that any funding “ask” should not be tied to a municipal employment position.
The idea of this new Tourism/Community Services Manager position took me by surprise, I have previously stated that I do not believe there is support for a Tourism Manager to be a municipal employee. The Sustainable Tourism Report itself states that TAG would be separate from council. As much as I want to be a team player, I feel my first responsibility is to be accountable to the ratepayers. Also, if the 30% funding for the position is approved for 2 years, where will the “sustainable revenue sources” to fund this position in the future come from?
I feel municipal priorities in regard to tourism should include infrastructure in Tobermory to deal with overload, and any available revenues from paid parking should be allocated there. Also, the municipality owned Visitor centre in Ferndale could be better utilized. Better advance signage and funding there could alleviate several problems in managing visitors.
Of course, all of council, and staff , wish to deal wisely with tourism issues, we just may have differing ideas on how that is best accomplished at present.”
Sustainable tourism planning is almost certain to come up again at Council’s next meeting on Feb 11.