Cornwall-County ‘beating a dead horse’ over new shared services contract

In this August 2016, file photo, a paramedic response unit sits outside the ambulance base in Long Sault, Ont. The city and county are no further to getting a new deal signed for shared services, which includes land ambulance. Both sides have been working on a deal for about two years. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

SD&G – Described by one committee member as “beating a dead horse,” the City of Cornwall and the United Counties of SD&G are no closer to inking a shared services agreement.

In fact, tensions reached a peak during a quarterly meeting of the Service Manager Joint Liaison Committee essentially falling apart. Cornwall Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy walked out of the Sept. 11 meeting.

Committee member Eric Duncan spoke with Cornwall Newswatch following his update to county council on Monday (Sept. 18), where he likened part of the talks to “beating a dead horse.”

“There’s been no progress on it there. We are 99 per cent there. We have been for months in terms of trying to get an agreement. So, it’s just that last bit is the arbitration (clause). It’s gone back and forth,” Duncan said.

While confirming that O’Shaughnessy walked out of the meeting, Duncan said there are “certainly frustrations” around the table. “The mayor can speak to his actions,” Duncan said.

O’Shaughnessy told CNW the meeting was “going in circles” and he had another appointment to attend. However, the mayor said he wasn’t aware that his leaving would break quorum, effectively ending the meeting because not enough people were at the table.

Committee member and Cornwall Coun. Mark MacDonald had left the meeting prior to O’Shaughnessy for a previous engagement, according to some of those in attendance.

The big issue with the city-county agreement is whether an arbitration clause is included, allowing either side to send disputes to a third party for resolution.

In short, the county wants the dispute resolution clause; the city doesn’t.

Both sides have been working – since Norm Levac was Cornwall CAO in 2015 – at formulating a new contract to bring all shared services under one umbrella document. The services are land ambulance, social housing, child care and Glen-Stor-Dun Lodge.

O’Shaughnessy says there are previous agreements that are still in place and are being followed. “There’s always this rush to get things done. This is not a situation where we have no agreements in place,” he said.

The mayor said they have made headway with changes to the agreement in regards to more meetings and the transfer of information between the parties. “We’ve come a ways with it.”

To the contrary, Duncan says getting information and being consulted before the city makes a decision on shared services is “something we want to work on.”

As for what happens next, O’Shaughnessy says the decision “is in county council’s hands…we’ll wait to see what transpires.” He said the discussions are at the “administrative level.”

“Would if be safe to say that both sides have apparently dug their feet in? Certainly, I would say that is the case. It is what it is. Either way we move forward, either with a new agreement or by still in accordance with the old agreements in place.”

The mayor doesn’t believe either side is looking at walking away from the table or abandoning a new agreement. “I certainly don’t want to give you any indication that anybody that anybody is walking from the table.”

Eric Duncan was asked if both sides are waiting for the other to blink.

“Perhaps. I’ve been involved in public life for 11 years. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Not (speaking) for the whole committee, but I know, how it will be resolved, I don’t know. Not sure what the final step will be. I don’t think what we’re asking for is too much.”