I am writing in response to the recent letter to the editor by the mayor of Channel-Port aux Basques, John Spencer in the Jan. 29 edition of The Gulf News.
In recent weeks, the entire southwest coast has been wrapped up in a heated debate regarding the Bruce II’s new two-tier registration system implemented by the town council of Channel-Port aux Basques. This two-tier registration allows residents of Channel-Port aux Basques to have priority registration, while “out-of-towners” are given the second pick at registration.
There have been fierce conversations on this decision, mostly on an open forum group on Facebook where people can become very frustrated and the debate and civil dialogue becomes blurred. People are often caught up in the protection given by a computer screen, and civility is easily lost.
I believe the proper arena for such debates are newspaper editorials and local radio, which the mayor has taken advantage of. In his statements, Mr. Spencer has repeatedly stated council’s stance on the matter and the reasons for their decision. However, I am also allowed the same venues to express why I think that the town council of Channel-Port aux Basques has made a mistake on this matter.
In his letter to the editor, the mayor references other jurisdictions in the country that participate in this two-tier system. For Toronto and Winnipeg, this is the case, but for many other urban centres he listed, there is actually a “non-resident fee,” not a two-tier registration system. I found this information with a quick Google search, which also led me to many cities/towns across the country with first-come, first-served registration, such as: Thunder Bay, ON; Courtenay, BC; Mount Pleasant Community Centre in Vancouver, BC; Port Hope, ON; Campbell River, BC; St. Mary’s, ON; and Township of Rideau Lake, ON.
How can we compare Port aux Basques to Toronto? Or even smaller urban centers such as Mount Pearl and St. John’s? Our populations are drastically different, and the availability of services are far from comparable.
Two-tier systems may work in urban centres, but that is only because there are far more options. In the St. John’s metro region alone, there are over half a dozen swimming pools. If a two-tier registration system were to be implemented there, residents would have other options available to them in the area. For the southwest coast, the Bruce II is our only option. If people from outside of Port aux Basques are unable to register for the services offered in Port aux Basques because of this two-tier system, they have no way of accessing the services at all.
It is unrealistic for people to travel to Stephenville or Corner Brook to access services that should be readily available in their own region. The Bruce II has been a regional facility since its conception and needs regional participation to survive.
Mr. Spencer also says: “It does belong to PAB. It was PAB built. It is PAB maintained.”
Who owns the Bruce II is not up for debate but using language like this only works to further polarize the populations on this issue. It fosters the “us vs. them” dynamic that stands at the root of most people’s disdain for this decision. The mayor’s condescending attitude on this matter does not help to bring any resolution to the problem.
As a small region with an even smaller population, we all rely on each other to stay above water in our current economic climate. In support of his assertion that the Bruce II belongs to Port aux Basques, Mr. Spencer referred to how none of the communities in the region would “commit a portion of its annual budget for the arena.” Now, I am not sure of how well-versed Mr. Spencer is in Newfoundland history, but I think that most of us can agree that 1995 was on the heels of 1992’s cod moratorium. For many of the communities on the southwest coast, the moratorium was a devastating blow, and even three years later many of the populations of these towns were struggling with unemployment. It would have been completely irresponsible for the councils of these communities to dedicate any of their incredibly limited budgets to a sports complex at that time.
My question is: why is the council so quick to throw this lack of support in the faces of the surrounding communities now, when this issue was never revisited in the last 23 years?
These programs are paid for on a fee-based system, and as I stated in my letter earlier, non-resident fees are used by many different communities in this country. This could be a solution to the current issue at hand.
A first-come, first-served program is the most fair and transparent way for this system to work and is the one that the Bruce II successfully functioned on for many years. While some residents of Port aux Basques have surely complained about the former system, the public outcry on this decision has proven that the communities of the southwest coast (Port aux Basques included) simply do not support this decision.
It is only fair that our voices be heard on this matter as well. We most definitely need a regional effort to make our communities thrive on the southwest coast, but we must also provide equal opportunities to our residents. Why fix something that isn’t broken?
Michael King, Tier 2 citizen