At this week’s virtual meeting, Town of Virden Council discussed the changes to the rural service delivery model for the provincial department of Agriculture and Resource Development, which were announced by the Minister, Hon. Blaine Pedersen, last week.
“What is going to happen here is that the Virden office will continue to provide workspace only for Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development employees, but will no longer be open to the public,” Chief Administrative Officer Rhonda Stewart told councillors.
She explained that Virden’s outlet is one of nine offices throughout rural Manitoba that is losing public access. Referring to it as a vital service to the community and surrounding area, she feels that its loss will have widespread negative effects.
“If our local farming community aren’t coming to this office to get help with their claims, with their insurance, they’re going to go to other service centres,” Stewart said. “Then what happens is that they are not shopping here for groceries, they’re not getting fuel in town, whatever it might be. This is just another service…another sign towards centralization, which we fought several years ago and now it’s going back that way.”
Deputy Mayor Tina Williams suggested that the pandemic may have played a role in expediting the move.
“The different government services have realized that all of these things can happen remotely. I think it just puts steam behind the efforts to close these places faster and I think it’s going to happen in all sorts of different provincial organizations…that they’re going to see that they don’t have to have the offices open. If we want to keep it that way there’s going to be a lot of these battles to fight,” Williams said.
She and Stewart agreed that due to different comfort levels with leveraging technology, delivering services online does not work for everyone.
“There are people who have adjusted very well, and have figured it out. Not everybody can do it online,” Williams said. “I think they’re forgetting about the people it’s not working for. I think we’re going to have to be prepared for more of these types of situations.”
Wright criticized the province’s lack of consultation prior to initiating the changes.
“There’s some big farmers around here that produce a lot of grain…they pay a lot of taxes to the provincial government,” he said. “I see no reason why they shouldn’t be contacted and just ask their opinion, if nothing else. At least have the respect to do that.”
At Wright’s suggestion, Council will join with their counterparts at the R.M. of Wallace-Woodworth and draft a letter expressing their opposition to the decision to both Pedersen and Riding Mountain MLA Greg Nesbitt.
BUSINESS EXPO SPONSORED
The Town will provide a $500 sponsorship to the 2021 Southwest Business & Entrepreneur Expo, as well as a $1,000 prize for the Business Pitch Competition. This year’s event, the fourth annual, will take place virtually on Feb. 10.
MANITOBA PLANNING CONFERENCE
All councillors were authorized to attend this year’s virtual Manitoba Planning Conference, which will be held on Jan. 19, 21 and 22.
WCG LEASE RENEWED
Council approved the renewal of the Town’s lease with Westman Communications Group for its telecommunications facility, located at the headworks building next to the water tower on Wellington Street. This will be for an additional five-year term, with a rate increase to $600.00 per year.
Authorization was given for the renewal of the Town’s membership in the following organizations for 2021:
Manitoba Environmental Industries Association ($600.00 per year); Hudson’s Bay Route Association ($100.00 per year); Manitoba Good Roads Association ($200.00 per year)
Authorization was given for any interested councillor to take part in the “Healthy Communities Are Age Friendly Communities” webinar on January 19.
RED RIVER BASIN CONFERENCE
Attendance at the Red River Basin Commission 2021 Annual Conference, which will be held virtually on January 21, was approved.
BOOST COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP CHANGES
As required under the organization’s terms of reference, Council ratified the membership of the Virden Boost Committee, which has undergone some revisions, for the coming year. Paula Brazil and Lance McLean have each tendered their resignation, which was accepted with regret. Beatrice Norton will be joining the committee, effective immediately. The committee now consists of Tiffany Cameron, Christa Milne, Clayton Murray, Grant Gardiner, Beatrice Norton and Economic Development Officer Liza Park.