By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Rarely has a Northumberland County councillor pronounced him- or herself “disgusted” with a vote, but it happened at Wednesday’s meeting.
During budget debate, a new $52,000 item was listed in the Corporate Services budget – the cost of providing staff with a paid holiday on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It was voted down, and Warden Mandy Martin and Trent Hills Councillor Bob Crate expressed bitter disappointment when councillors from the Municipality of Brighton, Municipality of Port Hope, Town of Cobourg, and Townships of Hamilton and Alnwick-Haldimand voted to remove the item from the budget.
The motion further provided for the cost to be cut to $25,000, which – as per Port Hope Councillor Olena Hankivsky’s amendment – is to fund staff education and training on the issue.
“They were here first – no doubt about it,” Martin stated.
She talked eloquently about the need to walk the walk on Truth and Reconciliation. Both she and Crate argued that taking the initiative and declaring the holiday would be a gesture of leadership that might inspire others.
Cobourg Mayor Lucas Cleveland, in making the motion to take this item out of the budget, said that a paid holiday bears no connection to honouring Truth and Reconciliation. Hankivsky, reluctant to see the opportunity lost, made the subsequent amendment.
Brighton Councillor Brian Ostrander insisted, “I am absolutely committed to and in favour of doing everything we can to work towards truth and reconciliation, as Councillor Hankivsky said, in an authentic way.
“The topic is incredibly sensitive, and I understand that. But what I want here is for our county staff to be educated in a way that helps us get on the right path here.”
Ostrander blamed the Federal government for making it a holiday for Federal employees, as opposed to a more universal statutory holiday that would have been mandatory.
“That would have been the right thing to do, but piecemealing this doesn’t work,” he said, suggesting that council might consider a motion at a future meeting calling on the Federal government to declaring this new statutory holiday.
“I believe there are times to lead, and this is one of the times we should show leadership,” Trent Hills Councillor Bob Crate said.
“Quite truthfully, I am disgusted.”
“I would second that – this is so petty in terms of the issue we are dealing with and the attitudes we are bringing forward,” Martin added.
“We are the governance of Northumberland County, and this is the example we are setting for all our citizens.”
She dismissed the proposed educational activities as “training and taking attendance for an attitude that has been so ingrained in our culture, and not addressing it but avoiding it. Side-stepping it. I too am very disappointed.”
“In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe providing 500 public servants with a day off work is leadership,” Ostrander countered.
“It’s the wrong way to go. The right way is to encourage our Federal friends to take action and provide a statutory holiday across the country.”
This was also one of the few times a recorded vote was requested, with the request coming from Crate.
Martin explained that this involves a weighted-vote system based on each municipality’s population. Cobourg’s vote counts for six points, Port Hope’s for five, Brighton’s and Trent Hills’s for four each, Hamilton Township’s for three, and Cramahe and Alnwick-Haldimand Townships’ for two each.
With only Crate (for Trent Hills) and Martin (for Cramahe) voting against taking this item off the budget, the end vote was 20 to 6.
Later that same day, Northumberland County issued a press release that the 2023 budget had been finalized, actually coming in at 0.1% under the targeted 5% levy increase.
Overall, the county’s 2023 levy will represent a 6% increase after growth – a base-levy increase of 4.9% and a 1.1% increase to the dedicated infrastructure levy (a charge introduced in 2015 to address a widening funding gap for repair, maintenance and development of critical infrastructure). This works out to a $80.56 increase to county taxes for a median single-family detached home.