Councillor David VanDamme speaks at a Chatham-Kent Council meeting. April 3, 2017. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

CK’s Municipal Leaders Tackle Hot-Button Issues At ROMA Conference

Chatham-Kent’s mayor and two councillors are addressing the municipality’s most pressing issues with top provincial leaders at a three-day conference in Toronto.

The 2018 Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference, which runs from Sunday to Tuesday, features information sessions and workshops about a wide-range of topics, such as rural education, health care in relation to marijuana legalization, waste management, and municipal elections.

Mayor Randy Hope and councillors Carmen McGregor and David VanDamme are representing Chatham-Kent at the conference.

Councillor VanDamme says he is excited to take home some “pearls of wisdom” and share them with the community.

“It’s a networking opportunity and it’s an opportunity to talk to other councillors and other mayors,” says VanDamme. “More importantly, it’s an opportunity to meet with the ministers and have face to face conversations with them and challenge them on some of the things that we hold near and dear in our community we call Chatham-Kent.”

VanDamme says a hot-button issue at the conference is the new Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.

“It all comes down to this Bill 148 and minimum wage. That’s impacting a lot of rural businesses and Chatham-Kent is predominately agriculture and small businesses because most of our big businesses left,” says VanDamme. “If we want to look towards sustainability, we have to start at what we’re good at,”

He says it is a top priority for the municipality to maintain a stable tax base and create economic development and prosperity throughout these changes.

Another topic at the conference is the province’s upcoming legalization of marijuana.

“That whole piece of legislation has a tremendous impact on small businesses and how employers will deal with employees who choose to use that,” says VanDamme. “There’s a whole social consequence to this and how it could affect our youth and just our general population,

VanDamme says he has not been involved in a lot of talks surrounding marijuana legalization, but looks forward to continued opportunities for economic growth in Chatham-Kent.

The councillor says he will also use the conference as an opportunity to discuss flooding issues in Chatham-Kent.

“Late last year, the high water levels on Erie Shore Dr. had a tremendous impact on the residents there and has a huge price tag on it as well,” says VanDamme. “There are shoreline erosion issues within our municipality as we look at Rose Beach Line as well. That’s one issue, shoreline stabilization and localized flooding, that we may have to bring our message forward on.”

He says the conference will also be a good time for the municipality to explore possible infrastructure funding boosts.

VanDamme says the OGRA Conference in February is one more opportunity for municipalities to have their voices heard before the upcoming provincial elections.