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OPINION – Municipal bylaw headaches.


Editor-in-Chief and Sales Director René J. Roy is an experienced book editor, photographer, volunteer firefighter, PAB business chamber volunteer, and Montreal Canadiens hockey fan. He likes to rant about most of these things on Twitter as @ReneRoyWHP. Email him at: rjroy@wreckhousepress.com.

I occasionally have some down time here in the office, and when I do I find it interesting to scan my way through the comments on local social media platforms. A few weeks ago, the Town of Port aux Basques posted about the overnight parking ban. They post this notice every year. You know the one: no parking during or after a snowstorm overnight on streets, etc. There really wasn’t anything special about the post to be honest, but there was a comment from a town resident that really struck me. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of “why post this if you don’t have anyone to enforce the bylaw?” Whoever this person is, they hit the nail on the head with that one little question. No town or village on the entirety of the southwest coast has a municipal enforcement officer. The first one you will find is in Stephenville. What this person does is what we currently expect the RCMP and the Towns to do. They enforce vehicle parking and winter regulations bans, animal control, building and construction rules, licensing, noise, zoning and business regulation, and management of public recreation areas. The powers given to an enforcement officer could range from being able to ticket a vehicle to towing one. They can look at zoning regulations, give a ticket to the owner of a wayward pet or someone with derelict vehicles on their property. The wide duties of having a Municipal Enforcement Officer like this in the employ of the Town, perhaps shared by all of the Towns in the region, would ensure a lot of things could change for the better around here. I’ll give you a hypothetical example of how it works now. Imagine a really big, ugly fence. I send a letter to the town, telling them I want to complain about my neighbour, Bob, who built a big fence that blocks my view of the sunset. So the town sends a couple of councillors on the public works committee to look up at this fence and they agree. It’s too high, in excess of the regulations. So they then draft a letter to my neighbour, Bob, and tell him to take it down. Then we all wait. I wait, the town waits and, most of all, Bob waits. Because he can. The most that might really happen is he ends up having to tear it down in five or six weeks. If he doesn’t, then the town will do it for him. That means time, equipment, labour, and resources committed to that task. Then the town sends Bob a bill and waits for that payment. The bill Bob gets does not cover the amount of time, labour and materials the Town spent to tear down the fence. It becomes an enormous task just to make sure things are done right. So let’s say the town does have a bylaw officer. That person comes out and agrees it’s too high. They write the ticket on the spot and give it to Bob. He has 30 days to take it down, or he gets another ticket and potentially, a bigger fine, and this goes on and on until Bob removes the fence. See the difference? Let’s continue talking about Bob’s imaginary fence. He took it down because it was nine feet high. Town bylaws state no fence can be more than six feet. So he goes and buys all kinds of material and starts building another fence. Only Bob doesn’t bother getting a permit from the Town office. So he starts building a seven foot high fence, because Bob’s like that. Unless the town comes by and sees that he doesn’t have a permit, he will be able to build that fence without repercussions. Taking that a bit further, lets say he did buy a proper town permit. He built the fence at seven feet anyway. You know why? There is no municipal enforcement officer to come by and make sure he adhered to the bylaw of six feet. This one simple scenario can take months and a whole lot of time and effort from staff that shouldn’t have to deal with it. Who wants to argue about a fence for months on end? Parking enforcement is a whole other bag of hammers. The Port aux Basques RCMP is our local law enforcement, and they of course are our traffic enforcement by default. Traffic, believe it or not, does include parking. I have it on good authority that, in the past, on those rare occasions that vehicles were towed due to the winter parking ban, those vehicle owners positively flipped out. If you got a ticket instead of being towed, with a notice that the next time you’re being towed, I imagine that you would move your vehicle pretty quickly. Asking the RCMP to issue parking tickets in town is like asking a carpenter to tighten a hinge. Sure he can do it, but he’s got better things to do. The RCMP has a large mandate, and expecting them to enforce municipal bylaws is just adding to that workload. I know there are big expenses to having a full time position, training someone etc, but I also think that if all the communities of this little corner of the island buy in, and share a proportionate amount of the wages and costs involved, then the job would be well paid for. Heck, the fines alone would likely be more than enough to cover that salary. I might be alone on this view, but I would love to see actual, consistent and proper enforcement of some of these municipal bylaws. Clean up your yard, don’t park 3 feet from the curb, don’t be a Bob the Bad Fence Builder, and for pity’s sake at least pick up your dog poop.

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