Open Letter to Francis Drouin, MP and Grant Crack, MPP; (aka elected representatives of the people)
Dear Democratically Elected
I am writing regarding the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) Council’s decision to approve Colacem’s request to change the zoning of a Champlain Township situated property even though the residents of Champlain Township and its municipal council made it very clear they oppose the zoning change. They very specifically do not want a cement plant on that property. The presence of pollutants the cement plant would emit, when added to those already emitted by a neighbouring steel plant would compound the health issues in the area, let alone drastically change the quality of lives of local community residents.
Not ready to accept the (Upper-Tier) UCPR Council decision to see their community voice ignored or the democratically reached municipal (Champlain Township) Council overridden, the municipality’s residents, via a local citizens’ group known as Action Champlain have decided to appeal the County Council’s decision before the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). A hearing that will be held in September 2018.
Why am I writing to you? Because of my grave concerns about what the Colacem dossier tells me about the ill health of our so-called “democracy” at the municipal, provincial and federal levels and at the way they interrelate, or don’t. And what it tells me about Mr. Grant Crack and Mr. Francis Drouin when it comes to fulfilling their obligations to ensure the voices of the people who elected them to Office are heard and respected.
The interplay amongst the municipal, provincial and federal politicians that we elected to represent “we the people” and how it is manifesting itself when it comes to the Colacem property zoning application says chapters about the dysfunctionality of our so-called “democratic governance process”. It explains the breakdown of our communities, the cynicism of the people, the abandonment of public engagement and the increasingly poor turnout at the polls.
I took my inspiration to write this letter after reading the Open Letter that Mona Fortier, M.P. for Ottawa-Vanier just sent to her municipal council members regarding a “municipal jurisdiction” property matter. I applaud her courage in doing so when she could have clearly emulated both Grant Crack, MPP and Francis Drouin, MP when it comes to a “municipal property zoning” matter. Like them she could have played the ostrich and remained silent as they have chosen to when it comes to the heavily unpopular municipal property zoning Colacem dossier in one of their riding’s municipalities. To quote Mona Fortier:
“I respect deeply [the municipal] right to make decisions at a municipal level for issues that are of a municipal nature. I however also believe strongly that the three levels of government have a social responsibility to work in concert for the betterment of our communities, with each government contributing the resources and expertise at their disposal.”
That she believed it imperative to not only highlight the planning considerations involved but also the social impacts the municipal decision would have on the citizens shows that she has the chutzpah that neither Francis Drouin nor Grant Crack have. She is not fearful of taking a stand even though she, like they, risks alienating some of her riding’s electorate in so doing.
Mr. Crack and Mr. Drouin, your silence, in your community, is, in my opinion, nothing less than deafening and quite frankly, shameful. Your job is to not only listen to those who elect you but also to clarify and explain where the governments you are elected to stand on matters of local importance that your level of government have a finger in.
Mr. Drouin, while you are tongue-tied when it comes to the Colacem dossier in your riding, you show no hesitation in criticizing a Fraser Institute report minimizing the impact that the province of Ontario’s closure of its coal-fired electricity generating producers has on the environment. It’s most interesting that you are very comfortable pronouncing yourself on an “environmental health issue” that rests in another municipality within the “province’s jurisdiction” yet are unable to speak up on an “environmental health issue” with serious social impacts of significance to a municipality in your own riding? While sitting on the fence is the age-old politically safe thing to do Mr. Drouin, it is a total cop-out when it comes to what I expect of my elected political representatives. While you may feel comfortable in condemning what you label Right-Wing and Left-Wing Institutes, you should keep in mind that voters have very little patience or need for politicians that try to suck and blow at the same time.
Given your tongue-in-cheek neutrality, Mr. Drouin, I hope you will maintain it throughout and not be part of any “first shovel photo-op” pictures taken should the OMB not side with either the local community or the local municipality involved.
Mr. Crack’s silence is even more difficult to understand. Unlike Mr. Drouin, Mr. Crack has two terms under his belt. His lifelong pension is already guaranteed.
That he is silent on the Colacem dossier is very sad and most incomprehensible given that the Ontario Liberal government he is a member of, is very vocal when it comes to municipal zoning decisions that pit local municipalities and local communities (citizens’ groups) against out-of-municipality corporate development interests. Official Zoning Plan requests that pit David against Goliath.
His Liberal government has stated that it has decided: “to overhaul the province’s land use planning appeals system [by replacing the OMB with ‘Local Planning Appeal Tribunals’] mandated to give greater weight to the decisions of local communities*, …and to ensure people have access to faster, fairer and more affordable hearings.”
Mr. Crack, I am sure you agree with your government’s decision to give greater weight to the “local voice of the people”.
Note your government’s emphasis on the words ‘decisions of local communities’ and not ‘decisions of one step removed Upper-Tier County-level mayors’ who speak on their personal behalf and not on behalf of their citizens when it comes to matters outside of their own municipality and are appointed by virtue of their Office (a membership process that is increasingly being replaced in more progressive parts of the province.)
Your Ontario Government’s Minister of Municipal Affairs has stated: “We want to ensure the land use planning system is working effectively for everyone. Our proposal [to replace the OMB] would empower communities and municipalities to better determine how their neighbourhoods develop in the future.”
I am sure you agree with me that when a government Minister issues a public release with clear distinctions between the words ‘communities’ and ‘municipalities with emphasis on the words “local” and “neighbourhoods”, this is not by chance but by with clear and deliberate intent.
If so, I can only assume you have a great deal of difficulty appreciating how an unelected Upper-Tier table such as the UCPR’s, can apparently be so blatantly unaware, ill-informed or ignorant of the province’s intents or directions when it goes ahead with its decision to dismiss the local community’s views and overturn the local municipality’s decision regarding its neighbourhoods’ future developments. Was it a simple case of somebody sleeping at the switch if the UCPR was not aware of the future when it comes to pending OMB changes regarding local empowerment of the local community and the local municipality to better determine future local land use developments’? Or was it simply the same behind-the-scenes lobbying, and all such entails that more-often-than-not determines the decisions of governments at all levels in our fast crumbling “democratic system?.”
Mr. Crack, I’m curious to know if you bothered to bring these things to the attention of UCPR Council members before they voted to override the Champlain municipal decision to reject the requested zoning change in their municipality?
Mr. Crack, your Attorney-General has for his part stated that:
“Land use planning directly impacts Ontario families and their communities. And so, it is important that residents feel empowered and supported in the decision-making process. We want to make sure that the voices of Ontarians are heard by all levels of government and that is why we [are introducing] reforms that would put people and communities first.”
Don’t you think your constituents deserve to hear you on the matter?
Mr. Drouin and Mr. Crack, I ask you both if you agree that the outcome of a planning decision that ignores and penalizes public participation is not a flawed process?
I appreciate that bringing democracy back to land use planning is a very messy process, but returning control over community planning to local municipalities is preferable to tinkering with a broken OMB that has spent decades undermining good planning and siding with deep pocketed developers and Corporations who put profits over livable communities.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Champagne