Originally published in the Whitecourt Star
How many councillors should represent Whitecourt at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Ottawa?
That was a subject of debate at Town Council on Feb. 13, with a motion in favour of sending four councillors passing by a razor-thin margin.
The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Maryann Chichak, Deputy Mayor Paul Chauvet and Coun. Norm Hodgson voting in favour. Two councillors — Bill McAree and Derek Schlosser — were not at the meeting.
“Since I started on council eight years ago, I’ve always been steadfast that the FCM conference is a very expensive one to go to, and I believe council needs to limit the attendance,” said Coun. Darlene Chartrand in explaining her vote against the motion.
The average cost per councillor is $4,904 and five members have indicated a willingness to go, which would cost the town almost $25,000, she added, suggesting that only two members be permitted to attend.
Coun. Eris Moncur joined Chartrand in voting against the motion, stressing the poor optics of council spending $25,000 on a conference in Ottawa while businesses are struggling at home.
“Given the economic times we’re in … I think it’s prudent for us to consider at least whether or not this is the right time, or a good time, for all members to be able to attend,” he said.
Chauvet suggested that the conference’s cost doesn’t take into account the economic opportunities provided by meeting with other municipal leaders and their federal counterparts.
“I understand the concerns. What actually happens, who actually goes, is different from who says they want to go. We have a responsibility to protect the interests of Whitecourt, but also to promote Whitecourt,” he said.
Due to attendance at last year’s conference, the town was able to get the federal government to commit $6 million to help with its river erosion problem, Chauvet added.
Chichak said she met with Adam Vaughan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary, and he agreed to work with local MP Arnold Viersen to fix the south bank of the Athabasca River’s erosion.
“That (meeting) did result in us getting the approval through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I’m not too sure that project would have gone through without that actual contact. (Vaughan) was the one who pushed it through,” she said.
But Chartrand disagreed.
“I don’t believe for a second that the river erosion project wouldn’t have happened without the attendance,” she said.
Hodgson defended the mayor and deputy mayor’s position, saying that their appearance at the conference directly resulted in movement on the river erosion file.
“I was there and I saw and know what happened, but you weren’t,” he said. “You can believe what you believe.”
This year’s FCM conference will be held from May 30 to June 5 in Ottawa.