The Review Newspaper

Opinion: Right now, the Prescott-Russell trail is set up to fail

(File photo/Francis Tessier-Burns)

It’s time for everyone involved in the Prescott and Russell Recreational Trail saga to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves “What can I do differently?”

One suggestion: start thinking long-term.

At its latest meeting, the United Counties of Prescott-Russell council floated the idea of dissolving the corporation of the recreational trail saying it didn’t see the corporation’s value anymore. While the corporation may not like this, council may not be wrong.

UCPR Warden Gary Barton was the first to highlight the corporation’s lack of fundraising efforts. Stéphane Parisien said the corporation was created for exactly that purpose—to find funds other than what is allocated through UCPR’s budget. If the organization whose responsibility it is isn’t doing that, why keep it around?

The trail corporation sent a letter to council asking it to cover the $2,000 cost to renew its insurance. The corporation knew its insurance payments were due at the end of the month. How does it justify not having enough money to pay for this basic cost? It was banking—literally—on the Counties paying for the insurance, now it’s not and the corporation has no backup plan. For $2,000, it can only muster half of that amount and its account is bone-dry.

Council is far from being scot-free from this story. Having the corporation around allows council to focus on other things; its responsibility to the trail revolves around two major actions: figuring out the budget and negotiating a lease with VIA Rail (the trail’s current owner). It hasn’t been effective on either front.

Last year, it cut the trail’s budget so much that maintenance was only possible after magically re-allocating an extra $40,000 to cut grass. (Whether or not maintenance should really cost that much is worthy of another editorial). This year, it seems to have learned from its mistake and upped the trail’s budget, though it hasn’t been finalized and could still be cut before final approval.

Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins, suggested exactly that. He thought a full-time employee was too much to “look after” the trail. What he fails to understand is that the employee’s salary is the Counties’ responsibility, not the corporation’s. That employee’s job is not solely to “look after” the trail, they’re in charge of the entire Prescott and Russell cycling network. Now, granted the trail is a large part of the region’s cycling network, but to reduce the employee’s job to just looking after the trail is just plain wrong.

Council also has nothing to show when it comes to negotiating a new lease for the trail. When asked why the corporation hasn’t moved forward with fundraising, it said collecting money is hard when you know your efforts won’t be rewarded with a long-term commitment from council. That is understandably true, why waste time in fundraising if those in charge of keeping the trail open can’t guarantee that? If council was to take it upon itself to negotiate a lease with VIA before the eleventh hour, thus securing a long-term commitment, it creates an incentive for a solid base of volunteers to organize activities on the trail, create partnerships and get those funds.

On the flip side, if council does wait until the last possible second to negotiate and presents a set of terms VIA would never agree to, it could then blame the failed negotiations on VIA. Obviously, no one can say for certain this is council’s intent, but it would be a terribly convenient way to extricate itself from a responsibility it clearly doesn’t want any longer.

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