MTA votes to renegotiate Welcome Centre agreement

Members of the Manitoulin Tourism Association and senior volunteers gathered for the 2018 annual general meeting. photo by Michael Erskine

TEHKUMMAH—Members of the Manitoulin Tourism Association (MTA) gathered at the Tehkummah Triangle Senior’s Club Hall for their annual general meeting on Friday, November 30. Following reports from the MTA board, a lengthy debate ensued on a Special Business motion to authorize the board to renegotiate the Welcome Centre operating committee agreement with several Island municipalities and to negotiate a tenant’s agreement with the Northeast Town.

Under the Welcome Centre building management agreement (MWCA), the MTA received the space at the Welcome Centre located on Highway 6, near the swing bridge, free of charge including, heat, hydro and water used at the building etc. in return for the provision of services that include operating the Welcome Centre for a set number of weeks each summer. In addition, the MTA receives $5,000 from the Northeast Town to clean the Welcome Centre building.

MTA Chair and director Christianna Jones facilitated the meeting.

The board of the MTA maintained in the motion, and arguments put forth in the ensuing debate that “the 1990 MWCA is outdated, non-inclusive and no longer works in the best interests of the growing MTA membership.”

Concern over the loss of the “rent free” Welcome Centre location was voiced by a number of MTA members at the meeting, but MTA director Doug Wuksinic, who was leading the MTA argument in favour of the motion, pointed out that the term “free” was a misnomer, as the MTA was locked into the provision of services that the MTA board maintains acted as a restriction on MTA’s ability to raise revenues and membership.

Following a heated but civil debate, the membership struggled to reword the motion in a way that was more palatable to the membership—removing the authorization to serve notice of withdrawal from the MWCA and replacing it with authority to simply negotiate a tenant’s agreement. That motion passed by a comfortable margin. But after Mr. Wuksinic pointed out that the building agreement was not with the Northeast Town, but rather with a larger group of municipalities, and that since the MWCA operations committee does not own the building, the MTA could not proceed under that motion. A second motion was proposed and passed authorizing the board to renegotiate the operations committee agreement with the management committee.

As part of the original motion proposed by the MTA board, the board was authorized to “enter into negotiations with the town of NEMI for a reasonable tenant agreement for use of space at its current location and failing that, to seek other venues that ensure the best ROI (return on investment) for its membership.”

Throughout the discussion, MTA board members stressed that the MWCA was hampering the MTA’s efforts to promote “all of the Island.” It was noted by a number of those present at the MTA AGM that the MWCA building operations committee does not include any of the Island First Nations.

During the debate on the MWCA withdrawal, Derek Stephens, a Central Manitoulin councillor, indicated that he was highly in favour of his municipality withdrawing from the MWCA, “since we have our own welcome centre in our community.” Mr. Stephens noted, however, that he was not necessarily speaking on behalf of Central Manitoulin council.

On Monday, Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin declined to comment on the MTA motion.

In other business at the meeting, former MTA Director of Tourism Shelba Millette delivered the Director of Tourism Annual Report. Ms. Millette is currently serving in a volunteer capacity.

The Director of Tourism Report provided a brief explanation of the MTA’s Island-wide branding efforts and noted that “The MTA was fortunate enough to receive FedNor and NOHFC (Northern Ontario Heritage Foundation Corporation) funding to bring phase one of our branding concept to fruition in 2017-2018.”

The branding concept centres on a colour-coded three lands concept that “is all about meeting both traveller navigation needs as well as a strategy to increase tourism by setting the stage or, expectation of a minimum three-day stay on Manitoulin in order to experience it all, Eastern Land, Middle Land and Western Land.”

“Traveller’s need and want better and simple directions to businesses when they arrive here,” noted the Director’s Report. “Since our Island is more of a series of grids than a circular route, we will be adding a second tear away map indicating what businesses are where within the three lands. Our directory at the back of our guide will be helpful as well, since it too is colour coded by lands.”

Another pillar of the Island-wide general branding included a tagline “Heart and Spirit of the Great Canadian Lakes,” that tagline, and the Three Lands concept, were credited to former MTA director Ron Berti of Tehkummah. The MTA slogan for “our call to action” is “Awaken Your Spirit,” credited to Shawn Wahlen and Melissa Duggan of Toronto.

Ms. Millette also noted that the past year saw, through the same aforementioned FedNor and NOHFC funding, an MTA-led a Island-wide Tourism Steering Committee (ITSC) comprised of Island economic development officers, activity coordinators and tourism sector representatives. The report indicated that the ITSC members have signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) indicating theywill all work together in order to develop Island-wide branded promotional materials.

The overall idea behind the formation of the ITSC, maintains the MTA board, is “to ensure we are not duplicating efforts when it comes to increasing Island tourism assets and revenues.” 

Ms. Millette conveyed the MTA’s appreciation of the “selfless people” who are behind the scenes and on the frontline donating their time to make the Island tourism industry successful. “Without our loyal and knowledgeable senior mentor and youth volunteers we would be in trouble and they deserve much recognition for their efforts in keeping the industry alive and thriving.”

MTA treasurer Stan Ferguson delivered his report which included an unaudited set of statements. In response to a question as to why the reports were unaudited, Mr. Ferguson noted that the level of funds and activity did not require an audit. Ms. Millette interjected that the financial statements are “certified later in Sudbury.”

The financial statements, as of August 31, 2018, indicated that the MTA had $14,092 cash in hand and $26,306 in accounts receivable as well as $2,087 due from the lighthouse in Meldrum Bay which the MTA manages. There was also a $374 security deposit and $4,761 in wage subsidies receivable. Current liabilities included accounts payable and accrued liabilities of $25,050, commissions of $1,474 and deferred revenue of $283. Excluding capital assets, the MTA statements show a surplus in operating for 2018 of roughly $20,813. Net assets at the beginning of the year were $43,819 and $37,568 as of August 31.

Noticeably absent from the MTA expenses was a manager’s salary, which tallied at $33,000 for 2017 and nil for 2018.

Following the debate on the Welcome Centre the MTA elected its board for 2019. The 2018 board members include Stan Ferguson, Laurie Leeson, Doug Wuksinc, Christianna Jones, Heidi Krieger, Sam Nardi and newcomer to the board Jocelyn Paibomsai, who replaces former MTA director John Dube.

Following the election of directors, the MTA members and their guests sat down to a delicious year-end dinner.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised from an earlier version to correct an error that indicated the Manitoulin Tourism Association membership had voted to withdraw from operations committee agreement. The actual motion authorized the MTA board to renegotiate the agreement.