A municipal councillor's proposal to set up toll collection stations at every point of entry to the city wasn't meant to be taken seriously.
At least, that's what we were advised at this week's meeting of Sault Ste. Marie City Council.
"I want to make it very clear off the top, I'm not an advocate for tolls," Ward 1 councillor Paul Christian said as he introduced a very formal resolution asking the city to consider slapping tolls on large commercial vehicles.
"The purpose of the resolution is to draw attention to the problem that we have with traffic flow on our current bypass," Christian said.
Christian expressed exasperation with Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) for dragging its feet on a Highway 17 East/ 17 North bypass with 17 East connecting to Black Road at Second Line.
A bypass, he said, would "help defray the escalating costs of maintaining connecting links roads which these commercial vehicles damage as a result of continued use."
Whatever its intent, Christian's motion drew sharp criticism from SooToday readers and his fellow members of City Council.
"Nothing says 'open for business' like a toll booth," quipped reader David Root in our editorial forum.
"I'm not sure the city has the authority to charge road tolls; at the very least it would need approval from the province," Root said.
"Maybe toll booths on the bike lanes? The Hub Trail? The boardwalk? Perhaps the entry points to downtown?" added Derek Crowell. "Would the last person out of town please turn off the lights?"
"This statement is ludicrous," sputtered Ward 5 councillor Marchy Bruni. "I definitely won't support this....It shouldn't even be in this resolution."
The response from Ward 3's Matthew Shoemaker was more naughty than nice.
"I don't support this, as I believe our recent tax increase is enough of a barrier to entry that we don't need to add more," Shoemaker said. "And I think that we should be building bridges, not walls."
A sulky Councillor Christian then griped about "unjustified comments" from the councillors who took his resolution at face value, accusing them of grandstanding.
Christian said his resolution was merely an attempt to find out whether MTO would even consider allowing a municipality to impose tolls on trans-provincial traffic.
"Read into it what you want, I'm making it clear right now what I'm intending. So spin it any way you want. That's what I'm saying," Christian said.
Ward 6 Councillor Ross Romano advised Christian to drop the trucker toll proposal.
"Supporting it may be tantamount to suicide in some respects," Romano remarked, chuckling as he said it.
Christian agreed to make Romano's deletion, indicating that he will still investigate the legality of tolls on his own.
"I'm always one to believe that information is power. I don't think it hurts to have that in your back pocket," Christian said.
Council then approved Christian's stripped-down resolution, which called for city staff to "provide an update on any current developments relating to the widening of Black Road, and any funding options that would allow for the completion of this work."
The toll debate was immediately followed by an unusual occurrence in which the meeting was interrupted by Jay Villneff, a Shaw TV volunteer who assists with live coverage of City Council meetings.
"I'm a suicide survivor and I didn't care for a city councillor joking with the word suicide. I've lost some friends to suicide," Villneff said, demanding an official apology from Councillor Romano.
Both Romano and Mayor Provenzano extended apologies to the volunteer.
"Let me apologise to you as the mayor of the community and the chair of City Council. You have my sincerest apologies," said the mayor.
"I do deeply apologise," said Councillor Romano. "It was obviously on my part a poor choice of words."
"Sorry to interrupt your meeting," said Villneff, who accepted the apologies.
"Thank you for your courage," said Mayor Provenzano.