Pembroke – It was an unusual inaugural session for Renfrew County council last Tuesday as Warden Debbie Robinson was inaugurated for her third consecutive term, this time in a hybrid session of council.
“The chain of office does not feel as heavy as it did the first year,” she noted to the assembled mayors and reeves, some present in chambers and others tuning in over ZOOM.
Perhaps it was fitting for a warden who was first inaugurated in December 2019, just prior to the COVID pandemic when the thought of restrictions, virtual gatherings, ZOOM meetings, masks and plexiglass surrounding each member of council would have been unheard of. However, the effects of the pandemic would mark her third inauguration with a meeting with about two-thirds of the members of county council in chambers and the rest tuning in over ZOOM. Even the guests who normally bring greetings were all extending their best wishes over ZOOM.
The warden pointed out this was the first hybrid inaugural meeting. She added there have been many firsts in the last two years.
Warden Robinson was nominated by Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue.
“Though often a political trope, there are those whose leadership is precisely attuned to their time,” he said. “Over a tumultuous tenure, two years of absolutely unparalleled challenge, Debbie Robinson has been an exceptional warden.
“While the COVID-19 response has, appropriately, consumed much oxygen – and ink – in the health care sector, the transformation of Ontario’s health system has continued apace. Debbie has staked out a position for the county at the forefront of this transformation,” he said.
“Her indefatigable advocacy for the Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre, or VTAC, has indelibly impressed upon Premier (Doug) Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott that this innovative program, created and developed right here in Renfrew County, must become permanent,” Mayor Donohue noted.
The seconder for the nomination, Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon, said it has been a privilege to work with the warden in the last two years.
“Our political will has never been stronger and Debbie exemplifies that,” he said.
“Having overserved her in action speaking with ministers I know she is very well respected,” he added.
Too often people in the political world ask what others can do to improve things.
“Debbie’s motto has been ‘what can we do?’,” he noted.
Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski expressed his congratulations to the three-term warden.
“It is even more special when you are unopposed,” he added.
He pointed out she has been the warden during a challenging time with COVID and has never wavered.
“The symbiotic relationship between the province and municipalities was strengthened in this time,” he added.
There have been historic investments in long-term care, Mr. Yakabuski said.
“COVID brought that focus to long-term care like never before,” he said.
Noting the recent provincial announcement of $12 million to Renfrew County for infrastructure will be very important, he said the province is investing in the county.
“This recognizes there is work that has been done and much to be done,” he said.
Mr. Yakabuski said by the province giving the county the flexibility to make changes as needed to the Official Plan gives “Renfrew County that additional tool in the toolbox to be successful.”
Noting a lot has been done in the last two years, he said he does not believe there is a warden he has had more interaction with because of the nature of the world today.
Warden Robinson pointed out Mr. Yakabuski has been involved in seven major projects recently. She said the County of Renfrew is the envy of the other counties in Eastern Ontario.
“The kind of relationship we have with our MPP and the kind of respect he has from his colleagues,” she said.
The warden received congratulations from several mayors in the county. Don Eady of Renfrew noted being unopposed for a third term is quite an accomplishment.
“COVID has changed our lives,” he said. “We are doing things differently. It takes real resilient people to keep things going.”
“We all strive to do the best for our constituents, but without the county’s help we would be hanging out to dry,” Whitewater Region Mayor Michael Moore said.
Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay spoke of the success of the partnership with the County of Renfrew.
“We continue to share costs,” he noted. “Pembroke council is pleased we were able to complete a Memorandum of Understanding with county council for long-term care.
Colonel John Vass offered his congratulations and reflected on the challenges of the last year.
“As an organization we have learned to navigate like the rest of you,” he said.
While vaccine intake has been very high, it has been a difficult year in terms of the allegations of sexual misconduct in the military, he admitted.
“The Canadian Armed forces in a bit of a crisis here,” he said, noting there have been harmful news reports regarding senior leaders.
“Culture change is needed across all ranks,” he said. “Culture change for me is one of my top priorities.”
He thanked all communities for allowing Petawawa soldiers to train throughout the county in realistic settings.
Warden Robinson expressed her thanks for the support from council and staff.
“As we enter 2022, we do so as a united team,” she said.
Instead of dwelling on the challenges of 2021, it was important to highlight the successes of 2021, she said. The Renfrew County Virtual Triage Assessment Centre is still functioning and has served more than 51,000 people since its inception, which is outstanding, she said. Permanent funding is needed, she said.
“Our residents will accept nothing less,” she added.
Council interested itself in the healthcare issue to deal with the fracturing of healthcare applications.
“Fast forward to today where Network 24’s steering committee, its membership includes our CAO Paul Moreau, our director of long-term care and our chief of paramedic services,” she said.
Working in partnership with four original applicants it is a joint submission, she explained.
The Official Plan Amendment 31 became a reality after lots of open meetings, closed meetings and consultation.
“The struggle to get there will be well worth the effort,” she said. “Growth will also be happening in our tourism sector.”
The Algonquin Trail, which she said is destined to be the pride and joy of area residents, is closer to completion.
Warden Robinson also expressed support for her senior leadership team at the county, noting they are “steadfast, bull-headed, innovative and battle-ready warriors.”
There have been major staffing changes in both Human Resources and Planning and the building has also been renovated, she pointed out. The need of help in community services continues, including the 456 people, including families who found themselves homeless.
“All but four now have a place to call home. The enormity of their situations cannot be understated, nor can the positive impact our staff continue to have on the health and wellbeing of our residents,” she noted.
Her address was heard by members of council both virtually and in person in the hybrid session.
“It’s an absolute pleasure to be in council chambers again. It is a rarity and hopefully we will be able to engage in council chambers more in 2022,” she said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader