Powassan and East Ferris have likely avoided seeing the Ministry of the Solicitor General stepping in to help both municipalities create their respective OPP Detachment Services Boards. For the last few months Ontario communities have been creating new police service boards in order to comply with the Community Safety Policing Act (CSPA), which comes into effect in 2022, and replaces the current Police Services Act. The proposed new police boards are to include neighbouring communities. The problem that surfaced locally in June was that both Powassan and East Ferris wanted to add the Township of Chisholm on each of their boards, something that would not sit well with the Ministry of the Solicitor General. At the time, Powassan Mayor Peter McIsaac warned that if both municipalities laid claim to Chisholm there was a good chance the Ministry would venture into the fray and it would decide how the police service boards would be made up. However, this is now not likely to occur after there was mutual agreement that Chisholm would be added to the East Ferris police services board. Chisholm CAO Jenny Leblond arrived at the solution by creating three police boards instead of sticking to the original two police boards scenario. Her first proposal involved two boards pairing the communities along the highway corridors with one set of towns falling along Highway 17 and the other communities being aligned with Highway 11. Her second option to create three boards based on an east, central and west alignment solved the impasse. Mattawa, Mattawan, Papineau-Cameron and Calvin will form one police board in the east, Bonfield, East Ferris and Chisholm fall into the central division while Powassan and Nipissing will make up the west side. Leblond told The Nugget that all participating municipalities were on board with the revised proposal and she has now forwarded the document to the Ministry of the Solicitor General. When the ministry began to communicate with Ontario communities about forming the new boards it laid out the criteria it wanted them to follow. The ministry preferred one police board created for every service area and if more than one board was going to be proposed, it would want an explanation. Leblond told The Nugget the North Bay OPP detachment covers a large and decentralized territory and historically this led to the creation of the smaller offices in Mattawa and Powassan decades ago. In lining up the communities into the proposed zones, Leblond said Powassan and Nipissing on the Highway 11 side share Highways 534 and 522 and have an Automatic Aid Agreement where the Trout Creek Fire Station provides emergency responses along Highway 522 and to Nipissing. Leblond also says both communities, which are part of the Parry Sound District, have similar conditions and their close proximity to each will require very little travel for members to attend future police board meetings. In contrast, the Mattawa area communities which form the east police board would see its members face a one- to two-hour drive to attend police board meetings either in the central or western zone. Leblond added the four Mattawa-area communities felt it was prudent to leave them in the Highway 17 corridor since they have similar conditions. The East Ferris-area communities all fall into Nipissing District and Leblond says each is within close proximity to the other and also share similar conditions. Leblond says other reasons given to the ministry for a three police board scenario point out that although the population of all the communities combined has remained relatively stable at 17,000, according to the 2016 census, the population jumps significantly when unorganized townships from both Parry Sound and Nipissing Districts are factored in, as well as a further increase when people vacation in the region during the summer. This leads to an abundance of people on off-road vehicle trails and area lakes, to say nothing of the existing population which regularly engages in these recreational activities. Leblond says other reasons for creating three police services boards to more adequately represent the area include seeing more seniors from southern Ontario moving north.
In addition, she says both major highways are already experiencing heavy traffic because the smaller towns serve as bedroom communities to the larger centres including North Bay, and that results in more cars and trucks on both Highways 17 and 11 as people drive from one community to the other. With the report off to the Ministry of the Solicitor General, it's now a waiting game to see if the ministry agrees with the reasons it's been asked to consider.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget