During the meeting yesterday (November 25) at the MRC Pontiac, the mayors voted on a resolution concerning the sums allocated to the consultant Pierre Vézina within the framework of the Biomass Valorization Center (CVB) project.
For several months now, the Warden of the MRC Pontiac, Jane Toller, has positioned herself more and more as a skeptic of the project, in particular concerning the consultant’s results. Some elected officials had positioned themselves as defenders of the project and of the consultant. In recent weeks, elected officials have confided that the mayors of L’Isle-aux-Allumettes and Litchfield, who have always believed in this project, would oppose the conditions, they recently held meetings to explain the consultant’s actions and convince a majority of their colleagues to continue in the same direction. The warden as well as the mayor of Otter Lake Kim Cartier-Villeneuve (also deputy warden) had, over the months and years, taken the position that the allocation of the budget to the consultant is conditional on certain results.
In summary, the resolution placed two conditions on the consultant for the MRC Pontiac to approve the funding. On the one hand, obtain funding from the federal government as well as attract a business in order to begin setting up the Biomass Valorization Center. During the debate, which was held in English only, Jane Toller and Kim Cartier-Villeneuve expressed their wish to see conditions aimed at performance results for the consultant.
The opposition to these conditions was led by the mayor of L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, Winston Sunstrum, who said: “I am not an expert in forestry and I do not claim to be. On the other hand, I claim to vote for the good of the Pontiac. I have followed the file from the start. I would like to specify that the bio park (CVB) is not the same as Renmatix. CVB is a company that is part of a group of partners. You have to be patient in this kind of case”
The arguments brought by Mayor Sunstrum, more specific and technical, did not convince the elected officials who wanted to see the two conditions accepted. In turn, the mayors expressed themselves for or against. The mayor of Campbell’s Bay, Maurice Beauregard, who opposed the conditions, was nuanced. Maurice Beauregard mentioned that he would have liked the conditions to be different. “I wanted that under the conditions, we ask that the consultant can work in all areas of the Pontiac forest industry so that he can provide his expertise through all the projects. I do not agree with the conditions put in place, they should have been different”. It was Jane Toller who decided and who voted in favor of the proposed conditions. “We therefore ask Pierre Vézina to demonstrate that he can obtain financial support from the federal government and that he is able to attract Renmatix before going ahead with the addition of this salary position in the next budget.”
A majority of mayors voting in favor of the conditions voted this way, indicating that they were not speaking only on their own behalf, but on behalf of their council. This was the case with the mayor of Rapides-des-Joachims, Jim Gibson. "I don’t see how a project like this should take eight years and go nowhere. If that doesn’t work, how are we supposed to justify that to our taxpayers? I have not seen any definitive answer which assures that the company will come to the Pontiac and if so, when is the project going to materialize? My advice is not to agree to give more money. Any self-respecting business has a three or four year strategic plan, I don’t think it takes eight to do that”.
Serge Newberry (Île-du-Grand-Calumet), Gilles Dionne (Mansfield), Lynne Cameron (Portage-du-Fort), Debbie Laporte (Fort-Coulonge), Karen Kelly (Thorne), David Rochon (Waltham) and Carl Mayer (Alleyn-et-Cawood) voted in the same direction.
On the side of the opposition, the reasons were mainly directed towards the efforts of the MRC Pontiac for several years to revive the forestry industry following the closure of Smurfit Stone. In addition to the nuance provided by Maurice Beauregard (Campbell’s Bay), the mayors Brent Orr (Bristol), John Armstrong (Clarendon), Alain Gagnon (Bryson), Colleen Larivière (Litchfield), Doris Ranger (Sheenboro), Donald Gagnon (Chichester) and Sandra Murray (Shawville) joined their votes to Mr. Sunstrum’s point of view.
What’s next for Fiber Pontiac?
The question arises, what will happen to the CVB project and the Fiber Pontiac organization, for which the MRC has been investing since 2013? During the press briefing after the meeting of the mayors, the prefect affirmed that the end of the budget allocated to the consultant Pierre Vézina does not mean the end of CVB. "Everything is possible. There is still time for the consultant to achieve results. The other thing is that contrary to what has been said, I want to see Renmatix here, but I want people to be careful. We are accountable to the citizens and to spend another year spending without having any results, in my opinion is not working for the citizens ” declared Warden Jane Toller.
Remember that Fiber Pontiac is a non-profit organization that was set up by the MRC Pontiac with the aim of reviving the Pontiac forest industry after the closure of Smurfit Stone in 2008.
A public vote so rarely divided
When asked about the division of the vote at the table of mayors, Warden Jane Toller mentioned that she was extremely happy with the way the vote had gone. “I’m so happy that we finally got to have a public discussion of our positions. It is taxpayers’ money, it is not the kind of question that can be removed from the public space. It must be done in full transparency and accountability. I appreciated that everyone spoke calmly. Even if the table is divided, we will find a way to work together” reiterated Jane Toller. According to her, this was the second time she had to decide a vote like this. The first time would have occurred behind closed doors, while this time the vote was public.