More of the same or time for a change? It’s the eternal question heading into any election. And Wednesday evening’s all-candidate debate in St-Isidore for La Nation Municipality was no different.
Taxes and economic development
The proposed “change” may not be as apparent as first thought. All three mayoral candidates have previously served in municipal politics: incumbent, François St. Amour; ex-mayor, Denis Pommainville; and ex-councillor, Danika Bourgeois-Desnoyers.
Taxes were, of course, a top priority during the debate. To lower rates, Pommainville said he’d use the municipality’s “enormous” reserves to fund services. St. Amour appealed to residents by saying he inherited the current tax level from Pommainville, which is second-highest across the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR). Bourgeois-Desnoyers was vague in saying she’d “find new ways” to grow the tax base and re-evaluate spending habits.
One cannot speak of taxes without economic development. Bourgeois-Desnoyers pushed for improving services and helping businesses already established within the community. She also highlighted the lack of labourers in the area. St. Amour vowed eliminate development fees for builders, while Pommainville said the municipality needs to be more “aggressive” and “proactive” in finding new investors.
Asked about how they would make council more transparent, St. Amour essentially said he’d keep the status quo. Pommainville said he’d publish reports from department heads and reduce the number of closed session meetings. Bourgeois-Desnoyers brought in the idea of live streaming meetings and prevent last-minute additions to a meeting’s agenda.
Transparency was a sticking point for Diane Nesbitt, a resident of the immense Ward 1. She asked the candidates two questions about conflicts of interest: if they would display a registry prominently on the municipal website and how they defined the term. All candidates mentioned new legislation introduced by the Wynne government that would require municipalities keep a registry of declared conflicts of interest as well as the appointment of an integrity commissioner. To the second question, candidates all had a similar answer where someone is in conflict if their decision would benefit someone “under the same roof.”
They may want to expand that definition.
Merriam-Webster defines conflict of interest as, “a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.”
Asked about their responses, Nesbitt said, “The answers weren’t sticking with me.” Since the new legislation still requires council members to declare conflicts of interest, having a registry won’t affect whether they declare them in the first place, she said.
Revisiting the past
Residents also questioned each of the mayoral candidates’ pasts. St. Amour was questioned about revoking the request for heritage designation of St. Bernard church in Fournier. His response was that it bought time for the parish to negotiate with the archdiocese.
Pommainville was a mayoral candidate when La Nation was created in 1998 but ultimately lost the election. He was asked whether he had considered the significant costs of running such a large municipality. He said communities kept adding their name to the list and ultimately deflected the question.
“I see what’s happening in Toronto and I think Mr. Ford is coming with new propositions,” he said. He was likely referring to the premier’s overhaul of Toronto city council, but Pommainville didn’t specify what the propositions would be or how they could affect the municipality.
Finally, Bourgeois-Desnoyers stepped down from her councillor position a few years ago and residents asked why this time will be different. She explained that she stepped down due to a conflict.
“I’m returning to my passion,” she said.
The 10 candidates vying for one of four councillor positions were also asked a series of questions. The two to draw the most diverse answers were what they would do about economic development and reducing the municipality’s environmental impact.
Regarding the former, both candidates for Ward 2, Alain Mainville and Danielle Sarault, mentioned using the proximity of the 417 to develop the area. Hopeful Ward 3 representative, Danik Forgues, said better budgeting was needed, while incumbent Marc Laflèche preferred making economic development a full-time position within the administration. Current Ward 4 councillor, Francis Brière, whose ward is the most densely populated, said it needs to take advantage of the infrastructure investments of the past council and lobby upper governments for more services. His opponent, Dave Mushing, made it explicit that hiring an economic development officer is key, and that they should be “knocking on doors” to attract developers. Finally, Ward 1 hopeful Yves Duval said he’d like to see incentives for developers in the more rural areas of the municipality but didn’t specify what those could be. Incumbent Marie-Noëlle Lanthier said focusing on businesses that are already established will be necessary to grow.
Regarding environmental impact, most candidates mentioned the need for greater education about recycling. Some went further. Laflèche mentioned expanding the program, diverting farm plastics and possibly introducing a leaf pick-up program “for a cost.” Mushing emphatically proposed bringing in a compost program that could “piggy back” off other nearby communities. Lanthier was the only candidate to mention the lack of tree cover in the region and said she’d work towards its protection.
There will be another all candidates debate on October 4 in Limoges. The elections will be held on October 22.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Denis Pommainville was mayor when La Nation was created. The Review regrets the error.