Steamlined form of JAG a possibility

Dan Fraser re-elected Chair for what could be final three months

By Greg McNeil
Cape Breton Post
Monday, June 23, 2003

Dan Fraser will guide the Joint Action Group through what could be the community group's final three months of existence.

Fraser was re-elected chairman Saturday at the group's annual general meeting at the Victoria Park Armouries. In his final three months, Fraser says bridging the gap between JAG and its eventual replacement is a priority.

Saturday was the final AGM for JAG in its current form.

A memorandum of understanding signed by the three levels of government and JAG members in 1997 was up for renewal in September unless one of the parties sent notice of termination by June 19. But the provincial and federal governments decided not to renew their commitment.

That leaves Fraser to sort out how JAG will close its offices and whether the group can be registered under the Societies Act.

Questions arose Saturday that could see the community group remake itself into a smaller, more streamlined organization that could appeal to government partners who recently pulled funding . Fraser said anything is possible.

Although the chance of seeing a new JAG is remote, government partners are open to all possibilities.

David Darrow, CEO of the province's Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said the province has not decided what the next community consultation process might look like.

He said he would like to hear from JAG members and other groups in the area.
"Once we have that input, governments will get together federal, provincial and municipal and endeavor to come up with a format that works for the government and the community," he said. "As I say, JAG is certainly a group that has a lot of experience in that area and we want to hear from them on this issue."

Word that JAG members may set up an ad hoc committee appealed to Darrow. "That makes perfect sense to me, for them to get together and talk about what the community engagement structure should look like in the future," he said. "We look forward to hearing what they come up with." If a new JAG is born, Darrow said it would have to be more streamlined and more cost-effective than the existing structure.

"The current arrangement is costing governments something in the order of $700,000 a year. We envision something more cost-effective. "That is a lot of money we would like to be putting into the cleanup, quite frankly"

Garth Bangay, Atlantic regional director general of Environment Canada, didn't say what he sees as an option after JAG. "The only view that governments have is that, one, we are winding down the current MOU (memorandum of under standing) with JAG," he said. "This doesn't mean the end of JAG, it just means the end of financial support for JAG through the MOU."

Beyond that, he said, all the options are on the table. "We are committed to public engagement," he said. "We have gained a lot by working with this community, the community has gained a lot and the government has gained a lot and that is recognized by everybody."

He said governments will continue to engage the community to avoid leaving a gap as JAG winds down. He said he's comfortable it will be a smooth transition. Bangay lists a smaller JAG among the possibilities.

JAG consists of concerned citizen business people, federal, provincial and municipal representatives.

The group was formed with the goal of remediating the Muggah Creek Watershed, which is considered by some to be Canada's worst toxic waste site .

JAG discusses severance packages (A3)

Severance packages were discussed during what could be the Joint Action Group's final annual general meeting Saturday.

First on the table was a motion that would see JAG staff with zero to four years of service receive two weeks salary, as per provincial labour standards. Employees with more than four years service would get four weeks pay. There was also discussion that would have seen members receive up to one month of salary for every year of service, but that amendment was defeated.

Dan Fraser, who was re-elected as JAG chairman Saturday, said they wanted to make sure provincial guidelines were not breached.

Equitable severance packages have been an issue since earlier this month when JAG was notified that the provincial and federal governments would not renew the memorandum of understanding that funded the organization. Staff members are expected to receive official notices of termination by the end of June.

The meeting also saw Shirley Christmas elected vice-chair. She said she was surprised to be invited to the meeting and even more flabbergasted when, she was nominated and elected vice-chair.

Christmas said she will work hard to represent the First Nations community and build ties with JAG and the rest of Sydney.

Other officers elected included France Sidney as secretary and Christene Levatte as treasurer.

The steering committee now consists of Bill Bailey Bill Doolan, Allistair Scott, Keith McKeen, John Martell and Frank Larade.

JAG members also began preliminary discussions of an ad hoc committee.

This group has another meeting tentatively scheduled for July 2 from 4:30 - 8:30 p.m. in JAG's boardroom.

Among issues this committee will discuss are options presented by Teresa MacNeil about how the community can proceed past September 18 when JAG's MOU is finished. She listed things seen as essential, important and desirable in the next step of the tar ponds clean up in categories of discussion. MacNeil said the prepared list was only a thought for discussion purpose.

Members also discussed and approved JAG's 2003 business plan and the recommendation by the Health Studies Working Group that government partners fund the creation of a health information system to include First Nation Health in Cape Breton, resources to generate local data, communication of strengths or positive aspects of local health/wellness, cooperative exchange of information between providers of health services, consistent comparable trend date and community ownership of information generated.