By Steve Connolly
Recently, the salaries of the mayors and councillors of the 17 communities making up the MRC de La Vallée- de-la-Gatineau (MRCVG) were revealed. Unsurprisingly, huge disparities prevailed. For example, elected officials of Lac Blue Sea and Lac Ste. Marie pay themselves more than twice as much as those in Low, where the population is over 25 per cent higher. The cost per citizen for elected officials varies by almost five times across these 17 municipalities.
Ten years or so ago, I surveyed the incomes of the 17 municipal directors general within the MRCVG. The seven male DGs averaged an income of $63,000, while the eleven female DGs averaged $41,000. While this situation has improved, it most likely remains unfair.
It has always been difficult to obtain this information because of the embarrassment on the part of our elected officials, who are supposed to coordinate overall governance. The MRCVG has refused to share details of the contract with its director general because it would reveal that the position pays more than four times the income of the average citizen.
Totally out of financial control, and hugely inefficient, Quebec has 1,476 municipalities – over a 1,000 more than either Ontario or California, which have much larger populations. The time for consolidation is long overdue.
The new prefect for the MRCVG, Michel Merleau, is a strong advocate for amalgamating municipalities and recently convened a second MRCVG meeting on the topic. All 17 mayors, 102 councillors, and 17 directors general, representing a total population of only 19,600, were invited. Sadly, a majority of them did not even show up.
An MRCVG study was presented that shows that our region is the poorest in Quebec, that the population does not want or deserve higher taxation, and that no money is available for the MRCVG’s number one priority: development. Attendees were asked to provide ideas as to how to raise funds for development and to complete a survey as to how they would like to see the 17 communities combined. About half of those who responded indicated that they would like to see amalgamations that would result in just four municipalities. For example, one can envisage the towns of Kazabazua, Lac Ste. Marie, and Low merging to become, say, Kazmarlo. Two director general posts and over half of the current elected official posts would be eliminated. Only one municipal office would be required.
The MRCVG prefect would preside over a small committee of only four mayors, greatly facilitating decision-making. Fewer seats would be available for municipal elections, making competition tougher, eliminating acclamations, and resulting in higher quality representation. Administrative costs would be greatly reduced.
Citizens need to become involved in this inevitable wave of necessary change.
Steve Connolly is a resident of Low, QC