The Dryden Observer

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How do you solve a problem like MPAC?

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

I think most people would say answer ‘cooly and rationally’ — it’s the way we like our politics done.

Heated rhetoric and disingenuous posturing seems an affront to the easygoing nature of those 5.4 per cent of Ontarians who have chosen to live north of Parry Sound, despite all of its challenges.

Unfortunately we are our own worst enemy when it comes to playing political hardball — historically standing by and watching while things are done to us, then grumbling about it for the rest of lives, imbuing our children with a sense of resentment and futility towards Queen’s Park.

In the ever-growing laundry list of historical grievances, the north must pick its battles. The battle to make the province re-examine the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation’s (MPAC) industrial assessment model in the north is one that Northern Ontarians should be politically re-engaging for.

When local property owners find their residential properties suddenly re-assessed at twice their actual market value while watching the heavy industrial sector enjoy assessment reductions of over 70 per cent — there is something clearly, overwhelmingly wrong with this picture.

In the provincial Assessment Review Board (ARB) hearing which saw the assessed value of Domtar’s Dryden Mill operations drop from $50 million to $14 million, provincially appointed chair Joseph Wyger pays lip service to the consequences of his board’s ruling, yet omits any acknowledgment of the extremity of their actions.

“For the people involved with the declining fibre industry there are not many winners, but several losers including industry workers, contractors, suppliers, managers and investors. The reduction of property value attributable to the decline of the industry will cause the municipality to lose a significant part of its assessment base and that is simply the City of Dryden’s share in the costs resulting from that decline.”

The reassessment process was one that communities prepared for, budgeting for years in expectation of a reasonable outcome based on projections provided by MPAC.

Is it reasonable for the ARB to assume that small northern communities, after a decade of recession and the near death of their primary industry, have the millions in cash reserves to fund this rather rash bang of the gavel?

Why would this appointed group of real estate lawyers trouble themselves with minutiae such as this? They’re ‘big picture’ people.

MPAC’s defense in the onslaught that has ensued has been to say that the ARB’s decision was within their legal bounds to make, that the question of the logical basis of the ruling is a political one. While playing political games with MPAC has certainly captured attention for the issue, the way forward for the municipal leaders championing this fight seems to be with the Ontario Ministry of Finance to re-examine the valuation model and make it work within the framework of single-industry communities.

The ARB’s Joseph Wyger is right about one thing, there are very few winners in forestry’s decline, but make no mistake — there are winners. Strangely enough in this case the winners are already profitable forest companies — some of whom have collected far more in taxpayer-funded subsidies in recent years than their properties are purportedly now worth.

 

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