Port au Port volunteer fire department resigns en masse

Frank Gale fgale@thewesternstar.com
Published on August 30, 2013
A municipal election dispute has led to the resignation of the entire Port au Port Fire Department. — Star file photo

PORT AU PORT EAST  The towns of Port au Port East and Port au Port West-Aguathuna-Felix Cove are without a fire department following a meeting of the volunteer group Wednesday.

Fire Chief Bill Abbott said members of the fire department voted to close the doors in a meeting and that “majority rules.”

He said he didn’t personally resign from the fire department.

Jeremy Simon, firefighter and former deputy fire chief, however, said all 19 members of the Port au Port Fire Department resigned over a municipal election issue.

It’s all over a request to the town of Port au Port East to separate the ballots of council from that of mayor. The community, like most small towns in the province, has only one ballot for its municipal election. Once the votes are tallied, the council itself determines who will be mayor.

Because of this, Simon said the town council of Port au Port East has refused to let current Coun. Michael McCann and deputy fire chief, run for mayor. McCann, as council liaison with the volunteer department, was responsible for applying for the new fire truck, getting firefighting equipment donated through various sources and is in the process of having the entire department trained, said Simon.

Simon said in support of having McCann run for mayor, the firefighters resigned.

“We informed the town of our decision through correspondence, but will be putting it in writing in the next day or two,” said Simon.

Port au Port East Mayor Eileen Hann said her council will be holding a meeting Tuesday afternoon and the issue will be tabled at that time. Before saying too much on the issue, Hann opted to wait until the meeting to share council’s view, but did say changing the voting system couldn’t be completed in time for this year’s municipal election.

“As for having a separate mayoral vote in the election … that is something that would take time to change and not something that can be done in time for the Sept. 24 election.”

Throughout the town’s 60-year history, council has always had an open election with the mayor’s seat decided among the elected council members.

Hann said a separate ballot had been discussed in the past and the decision was to keep it the way it is currently.

“When McCann made the request in an email to change it, council members were asked to vote on it and all four council members polled voted to leave it as is,” the mayor said.

The Stephenville Fire Department has always been the backup for Port au Port and Hann figures there wouldn’t be a problem for coverage until things get straightened out. She hopes it won’t be too long before that happens.

McCann, meanwhile, said he has lived in a lot of places across Canada and has always been involved in the communities he calls home. He feels not allowing the public the opportunity to vote for its mayor is “morally and ethically wrong.”

To him it’s not the matter of winning, it’s giving the public the opportunity to decide and said he would be up for that challenge.

Due to current policies in Port au Port East, McCann said that opportunity is non-existant and asked for the change with a mayoral race.

He said without change he would not be seeking nomination for councillor and relenting all associated responsibility that came about as a result of that position.

“Simply put, I should have the right to run for mayor,” McCann said.

Requests were made to the provincial department of Municipal Affairs relating to responsibilities and liabilities in the case of a fire department closing down, as well as how much time it would take for a community to change its policy on an election.

Hugh Donnan of the Department of Municipal Affairs said the matter will be looked to.