Government sends JAG mixed message

Feds say all options on the table; province, municipality disagree

By Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post
Thursday, June 10, 2003

Government sent mixed messages to Joint Action Group members just days after the community-driven process was told it was being dumped.

During a four-hour session Monday, aimed at discussing the demise of the group and options for future community engagement, a glimmer of hope was provided by one level of government but was repeatedly quashed by others.
"All options are on the table as to what the future engagement will be," said Garth Bangay Atlantic regional director general of Environment Canada.

Don Ferguson, senior adviser for Health Canada, echoed his colleague's remarks to the group of about 50 participants. "All options are on the table for consideration."

Jerry Ryan, CAO for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, repeatedly reminded the group that government funding will not continue past September as stipulated in a letter signed by both representatives from the province and Ottawa.

He cautioned that the group has an employed support staff that needs to be told what the future holds and not left wondering if they will continue their employment past the summer. "JAG needs to get its house in order."

CEO of the provincial Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, David Darrow also reminded the group that "the status quo is not an option" for the provincial government.

He said there was concern over what JAG operations has cost government - about $600,000 per year - and a more cost-effective means of consultation is desired.

Throughout the session, JAG members expressed hope that the five-year relationship that evolved around a memorandum of understanding, signed by the three levels of government and JAG in 1997, would continue past September's expiry date.

"I feel very strongly that destroying JAG will risk all that has been accomplished thus far, and I appeal to common sense for the continuation of JAG with its meaningful partnerships and appropriate secretariat support until the cleanup is complete," said Jane MacLellan, JAG member.

Francis Sirois, JAG member, appealed to government to continue funding the process so working groups could continue with work involving the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites. "It would be a shame to throw out all the resources accumulated through JAG."

Glenn Hanam, JAG member, said the group "is flexible enough to deal with the future. The people here, we know how to do it."

Government partners said JAG will continue to be consulted in the coming weeks as they decide how the community should be consulted in the future.