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After family health emergency, Fontaine makes return to mayor's seat

After spending months out of town to help look after a family health crisis, Flin Flon Mayor George Fontaine returned to his seat last week.
Flin Flon Mayor George Fontaine speaks at the opening of the Witness Blanket exhibit in summer 2023.

After spending months out of town to help look after a family health crisis, Flin Flon Mayor George Fontaine returned to his seat last week.

Fontaine formally returned to council March 19, sitting for his first full in-person meeting in over five months. The mayor had not been present in-person at a city council meeting since Oct. 17 - deputy mayor Steve Lytwyn sat in the mayor’s chair while Fontaine was in Winnipeg and undertook most of his duties during meetings.

“I would like to thank the entire council, Lyn Brown and everybody who’s been working for us for their help covering for me while I’ve not been able to be here,” said Fontaine.

“I’m really pleased to be back - I’m not pleased to have been gone.”

Ten days after that last meeting, Fontaine’s wife Nora suffered a stroke. She was taken to hospital, flown to southern Manitoba for further treatment and is now recovering - Fontaine stayed with her during that time, only heading back home once she was able to begin at-home convalescence.

“My wife did have a stroke Oct. 27. It was devastating and she’s been working on getting better ever since. She’s doing very well right now and we are finally home,” said Fontaine.

To do his job while away, Fontaine got by with a lot of help from council and City executive staff. Under the Manitoba Municipal Act, members of local councils - including mayors - are disqualified from council if they miss three meetings in a row without officially taking leave of a meeting through council, leading to an election. In order to keep Fontaine in the mayor’s chair, councillors included measures near the end of each meeting since November to formally grant Fontaine a leave of absence for the next meeting.

Similar measures were taken by councillors in 2019 and 2020 when the late councillor Colleen McKee had to miss meetings to undergo cancer treatment. Council had already approved a measure March 5 that would have excused Fontaine from coming to the March 19 meeting, but he showed up regardless.

While down south, Fontaine was able to occasionally be involved in City business, keeping in touch via phone calls - Fontaine, who rarely uses a cell phone, was provided one by the City while he was away so he could be contacted quickly if important business came up. Fontaine also took part in Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) business representing Flin Flon while down south, taking part in meetings in Brandon and Winnipeg along with other local councillors.

Fontaine said that for him, old habits came back to the surface while away - he said he spent time trying to sell people he met with and spoke with on the idea of living in Flin Flon.

“I was selling Flin Flon to everybody I meet while I was in Winnipeg. I’ve been trying to recruit people to come work here, to come buy homes here… I can’t help myself, I’m always bragging about this place. I’m pretty thrilled to be back,” he said.

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