Good politicians will make themselves as accessible to the public as possible, but should public libraries be a suitable location for a political party representative?
Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop is located out of Orillia as a home base of operations, while serving the roughly 120,000 residents of Midland, Penetanguishene, the townships of Oro-Medonte, Ramara, Severn, Tay and Tiny, and Beausoleil and Rama First Nations.
MPPs are members of provincial parliament, and meeting with constituents to hear their concerns is one of the many roles they play in government.
In the months following the June electoral victory by the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario in Simcoe North, a riding that has held strong to the party for decades, the Midland constituency office for Dunlop was relocated from the basement level of a King Street multi-unit facility to the Midland Public Library for one day each week.
Executive assistant Jacqueline Bayley responded to MidlandToday on behalf of Dunlop’s office via email.
“Constituency offices are non-partisan,” wrote Bayley, “and the service approach at the Midland Public Library is a proven, cost-effective common practice used in northern rural areas to provide access to provincial services to all constituents.”
Simcoe North is located north of Barrie, accessible by means of Highways 400 and 11 depending on the direction travelled; both Midland and Orillia are approximately a 90-minute drive from Toronto to the south.
In the conclusion of Bayley’s email, the office for Dunlop clearly states: “The Midland office has also relocated to the Midland Public Library, 320 King St., and is open Wednesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.” It goes on to state meetings in Midland can be accommodated on other days by scheduling an appointment through the provided Orillia contact information.
Trish Hayes, CEO and chief librarian of the Midland Public Library, explained the room-rental contract was approved based on library policies, and began Oct. 19.
“MPP Dunlop’s office reached out to request a room rental to provide local community access to the MPP’s constituency office,” Hayes said to MidlandToday through an email exchange.
“This office is a non-partisan (entity). It was made clear before the signing of the agreement that there could be no promotion of any political affiliation.
“We provide equal access to our rental spaces as long as it conforms with our policies. The staff and board work to always ensure that we are an equitable and safe place for all,” Hayes stated.
In the library’s room-rental policy criteria, the library board “reserves the right to issue and/or cancel agreements for the use of the facilities.” Additionally, “advertising for meetings open to the public must include the name of the sponsoring group and contact information.”
The policy continues by stating advertising “cannot imply any association” with the library, and the library wouldn’t endorse or be responsible for any programs or events within.
“Opinions expressed and/or actions recommended are those of the group using the room and are not necessarily those of the board or the staff of the library.”
Last year, the Midland Public Library was one of six services from various agencies, boards and commissions that presented budgetary requests to the municipality; the library’s was a $1.3-million ask for the annual budget.
As per library policy, costs to rent any of the Midland Public Library rooms for government organizations specifically can range between $20 and $50 per rental as a starting point, with further cost charged for extended time.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca