Fire services merger a good thing, Hatley Township mayor says
The inter-municipal fire services merger between Ogden, Hatley, Ayer’s Cliff, Sainte-catherine-dehatley, Stanstead Township, North Hatley, Stanstead, and Hatley Township has been a hot topic recently.
While the majority of the municipalities approved the agreement unanimously in recent council meetings, a number of firefighters who spoke to The Record raised concerns about the proposed régie. Stanstead Township approved the agreement with a three/two vote amid vocal opposition from members of the public who were frustrated that they weren’t given more information about the plan beforehand.
The Record contacted Mayor of Hatley Township Martin Primeau, who is a member of the Sherbrooke Fire department and also designed the inter-municipal agreement in question, to address some of the concerns raised.
Primeau said the changes will be administrative, not operational.
The Record asked if Primeau had looked into what would happen if the firefighters in the eight municipalities, in the interest of equity, were to unionize after the régie was formed.
“They could do that tomorrow if they wanted,” explained Primeau, saying that any group of workers in Quebec is entitled to form a union. He does not believe the formation of the régie would be a motivating factor.
When asked how the régie could function equitably when four of the eight municipalities have no fire station or equipment to speak of.
Primeau said that an evaluation was done of the resources of all the municipalities in the proposed régie. Those resources, whether trucks, boats or other equipment, will be bought out and become the property of the régie. In the case of municipalities with fire stations, rent will be paid by the régie to ensure that resources, which will become available to all, won’t be a financial burden on the town where they reside.
Given the significance of the intermunicipal agreement, The Record asked Primeau why the public wasn’t invited to weigh in on the idea.
Primeau said the dossier is very complex, and has been in the works for 2.5 years. He said municipal councils were elected to be decision makers for the population, a he didn’t see how a consulting the public would affect the agreement.
“It’s happening everywhere,” Primeau said, pointing to other regions in Quebec merging services.
When asked if the project would be scrapped if one of the eight municipalities were to reject the agreement, Primeau said no.
While the agreement is based on the participation of all eight, if one were to opt out, the others would still move forward with modifications.
While Primeau suggested support for the agreement was virtually unanimous with the exception of the split vote in Stanstead Township, the western sector of Lake Memphremagog was offered the same plan for an inter-municipal merger and rejected it outright.
“The elected officials weren’t convinced,” Primeau said, referring to the western sector.
“I gave the exact same presentation,” he said.
Primeau suggested that because the eastern sector of the lake already has two régis in place the work well, which may account for a willingness to merge.
Primeau said that the mission of fire protection services to save lives stays the same. He added that with ice storms, floods, and climate change becoming more of a factor, being able to have a regional director to coordinate efforts is imperative. Also, a global view of resources and needs could allow the régie to make global purchases in advance and avoid doubling up.
“The job is evolving,” Primeau said. Fire chiefs these days have constant reports and detailed accounting to stay on top of, and could benefit from a stronger administrative structure.
“We can’t be afraid of change,” Primeau said. “We’re doing this because we believe there is a gain.”
“We know we have good service already,” commented Primeau, complimenting the current workforce of firefighters.
The goal is to move slowly and work towards making the current system even better, he said.