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President’s Report from the August Echo

Posted on: September 28, 2015  |  

How many cottagers have taken stock of their finances in light of the massive increases in taxes and fees the government is demanding to maintain their cottages, and are deciding to bail out? We have used the Statistics Canada database to calculate income figures for Whiteshell Cottagers based on standard data techniques. It turns out that the median household income of members of the Whiteshell Cottagers Association is not much different from median household incomes of the Manitoba population as a whole! No wonder that the idea of selling becomes an unfortunate necessity when the new occupancy taxes for the Whiteshell will consume up to $7,500 annually of that income!

(Anyone who depends upon an Old Age Pension will recognize that number.) What can the provincial government possibly be thinking when they claim that cottagers are all the likes of Peter Nygård? How can Premier Selinger look at himself in the mirror every morning knowing that his policy for cottagers is forcing the very people he is committed to defend, to abandon their cottages along with decades of family memories?

The response of our membership to this depressing information is amazingly varied. Some, of course, are upset and concerned, and we are cheered by the many offers of help for our campaigns. On the other hand, we still are faced with what one of our directors calls the “deer in the headlights” response. In effect, the sneak attack by the government, with no prior notice or consultation, and with its confusing array of “discounts” and “caps” and “pleading for relief until death,” has paralyzed many cottagers. We still hear comments like, “well our fees went way up last year, but surely that will be the end of it”! Let me assure you all, that the plan of the government is clear; combined service and lease fees (both of which are taxes, plain and simple) will have increased by at least 750 per cent from the 2012 baseline, which represents about $7,500 per year by 2022. Nothing this government has said suggests a retreat from that outrageous tax grab.

We hear occasionally from cottagers that they are worried that the WCA is doing little or nothing in the face of this challenge.

Let me assure you of the contrary. The Executive and Directors have been working tirelessly to bring the Government to a more reasonable position, and to reinforce the longstanding tradition of both parties, and the government’s promise of “affordable cottaging.”

What concrete steps have we taken?

First, we have strengthened our organization with a new administrative officer, Ken Sommer, himself a cottager, who is ensuring a strong and responsive “face” for the organization.

Second, we are engaged in a vigorous campaign to make sure that all cottagers in the Whiteshell join us to fight the government on this critical issue.

Under the direction of Gary Kennedy and Deborah Seguin, White Lake Directors, our membership committee is spearheading a district-by-district, lake-by-lake and block-by-block effort to meet face-to-face with cottagers, to be sure they are aware of the stakes, to make sure they are members of the WCA and contributors to our campaign.

It is shocking that a substantial number of cottage owners have not yet joined the WCA this year. Who else do these cottagers think will be fighting for their interests?

Third, under the leadership of our President Elect, Ronald Smith, we have worked to develop a province-wide voice for cottagers. The Whiteshell region comprises only about 50 per cent of all provincial park cottagers, so we have engaged with the cottager associations in other parks in the province, and are happy to report that a significant and growing number of these associations are committing to work with us in a common cause. And it won’t just be the Provincial Parks Cottagers that government will have to contend with. Other cottager groups are joining us, including the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners (an umbrella group representing cottagers in municipalities as well as in Parks, see www.macoman.com) and merchants in parks, such as the Whiteshell Chamber of Commerce (falconwesthawkchamber.com). This is a powerful coalition of cottagers and parks stakeholders that will fight the taxation policies of the NDP that single out cottage owners as scapegoats for the current provincial budget morass. We hope to put an end to the NDP government strategy of “divide and conquer” in its dealings with Parks Stakeholders.

A provincial election is just around the corner (Spring 2016), and when the government starts polling for support in contentious Winnipeg ridings, they will quickly become aware of a sizeable and solid block of voters who will not be voting NDP because of their eagerness to throw provincial cottagers under the political bus.

Fourth, our preparations for this upcoming political campaign includes working with a strategic communication consultant (chesscommunications.com) who is providing us with professional advice to make sure our message is clear and unequivocal, and that it is heard where it will count. Watch for this public campaign!

Fifth and last, we continue to prepare our legal brief with our team at Fillmore Riley (www.fillmoreriley.com). We are documenting the innumerable examples of the Ministry of Conservation and Water Stewardship’s failure to live up to the legal standard of the very statute they are obliged to administer, The Parks Act and its Regulations. Beginning with the government’s failure to adhere to the settlement agreements of 2006, including its failure to provide information and consult as required with stakeholders in the Parks, its failure to assure the fair administration of service fees that are to benefit cottagers and other stakeholders, through to its inadequate management of lease arrangements for cottagers, there is a litany of transgressions of the Ministry for which we intend to hold them to account.

To fully implement this five-part strategic plan, we are heavily dependent upon the active support of our membership.

We want all cottagers to make sure that they are fully registered members of the WCA. We want you all to be regular visitors to our much-improved website (www.whiteshellcottagers.com), so that you can be up-to-date on our issues. We want you all to make your concerns heard by writing directly to the Minister, or by participating in written or digital media conversations.

We also need your direct help by volunteering for a number of tasks that we are currently undertaking; we need canvassers to complete our door to door campaign for members, we need volunteers to participate, this fall, in our political campaign to visit the constituency offices of all Winnipeg MLAs and make our case to our elected officials, and we particularly need the help of cottagers who can represent us in various avenues of social media.

We also need your financial support to help our messages reach their targets in the broadcast, print and digital media. We can’t compete with the government in the art of spending public money for political purposes, but we can make sure that the people of Manitoba have a clear picture of the depths to which this government has gone to unfairly pick the pockets of cottagers throughout the province. A combined legal media campaign will greatly advance our cause, but will cost a lot of money!

I want finally to point out that we have provided the government with many opportunities to find common ground. All have been spurned; the latest insult being the failure of Minister Nevakshonoff to even acknowledge a formal request from WCA to meet and have an open discussion of our concerns.

A government that won’t even talk to its people, let alone listen to their concerns, is a government doomed to oblivion.

 

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