Council backs away from bus plebiscite

In a move that surprised Northern Action Group president Sybil Mowe, Fort Frances councillors yesterday changed their mind and decided not to put the bus issue to the electorate in November.
During a special committee of the whole meeting at the Civic Centre, councillors all agreed they would defeat a bylaw at their next regular meeting Sept. 22 that would have allowed the question of having a municipally-funded and run bus here on the ballot.
The decision has NAG deciding its next approach in its efforts to revive a bus service here.
“We’re going to hit it from a different angle yet,” Mowe pledged yesterday evening after hearing the news, though admitting she didn’t know what that angle would be.
“We’ve got lots of gas. And spirit,” she added.
But Coun. Deane Cunningham said the issue was dead as far as he was concerned.
“We really got a lot of abuse over this in the past year and a half,” he noted. “I think we’ve really taken a lot of criticism, both as individuals and as council.”
“We’ve been badgered and we probably caved under some pressure,” admitted Coun. George Blanc, the lone councillor to vote against putting the question on the ballot at last week’s regular meeting.
But after that meeting, councillors said they got a lot of feedback from individuals questioning why they were putting the question on the ballot in the first place.
Coun. Bruce Armstrong, who wasn’t at last week’s meeting, stressed council already had made its decision–and replaced the bus service with a better, more cost-effective alternative.
The new service costs the town $1.50 per rider while the former bus service–which was terminated in March, 1996–ran over $5 per rider.
And with the new service, Mayor Glenn Witherspoon noted the town didn’t lose anything if no one used it.
“The main reason we got out of the business was not the cost. It was the lack of utilization,” Coun. Armstrong argued.
Coun. Sharon Tibbs agreed, noting a letter to the editor in last week’s Times confirmed that for her. She said the woman who wrote the letter lived in a manor, and agreed the current transit service was good.
“And she had the courage to sign it,” Tibbs said, stressing she herself had the courage to stand behind her original decision to axe the bus service.
Still, council was convinced the bus issue wouldn’t die, and that those seeking another term would face it during the municipal election campaign.
“In essence, it is on the ballot because in my view, it’s nothing more than a campaign issue,” Coun. Tibbs said. “I know we made the right decision.”
“I guess it is going to be a campaign issue,” echoed Mowe
In related news, a bylaw to put questions on charitable gaming and VLTs to the voters in November could be tabled at Monday’s meeting because the town is still waiting for answers.
“There’s so many questions here that we don’t know,” Coun. Cunningham noted. “And we don’t want to make any decision here that’s going to jeopardize any local charities.”
But he did question why they were including VLTs as a possible plebiscite question when council already had made a decision against them at licensed premises here earlier this year.
Coun. Blanc noted he’d like to see what the “pulse” of the public was on the issue, with Coun. Kabel arguing gambling–such as bingos, Nevadas, and lotteries–already existed.
Council agreed the public would need to know what questions were going to be on the ballot two weeks before the Nov. 10 election.