Not all municipal candidates showed up for a quick “speed candidating” element added to what started out as a mayoralty debate, but all four mayoralty candidates attended the debate organized by Action Champlain on October 10 at École Saint-Jean-Baptiste School.

The meeting began with candidates from each ward having the opportunity to say a few words about their campaigns.

Moderator Guy Rouleau officiated at the meeting, and asked each candidate to state right off the top, whether he or she was for or against the proposed cement plant for the L’Orignal area. After answering that question, candidates could introduce themselves and then offer their vision for Champlain Township.

West Hawkesbury candidates

West Hawkesbury candidate Pierre Perreault was first up and said he was for the proposed cement plant and was ready to do another four years as councillor. Perreault is currently a West Hawkesbury councillor.

Candidate Gerry Miner said he was against the cement project. Miner recounted his volunteer contributions and experience as a school trustee, along with 18 years as a municipal councillor and said that volunteering has always been a part of his life. His vision for Champlain included saying that the township was in a good financial situation and that he hoped to keep the community in good health without pollution from industries.

Newcomer Jim Caputo said that he was against the cement plant. He related that he is a retired schoolteacher and said that he thought it was a good time for him to give back to the community. He told those present to concentrate on the person, not on the rhetoric and promises.

Candidates Claudette Myre, Sarah Bigelow and Bryan Rodger were absent.

L’Orignal candidates

L’Orignal ward candidate Jacques Lacelle, currently a member of Champlain council, said he was against the proposed cement plant. He cited 20 years of volunteer work in the community and said that 99 per cent of the time, he is able to resolve problems that are brought to him.

L’Orignal ward candidate Marc Séguin is also a member of council seeking re-election. He is in favour of the proposed cement plant. His vision for the township is to maintain taxes as low as possible. He wants to see a community centre built in L’Orignal.  He, too, cited volunteer work in L’Orignal and said he had worked for IMS for 35 years.

Newcomer André Roy said he is against the proposed cement plant. He said he has been a resident of the village for about 30 years and cited his long career with the Centre de services à l’emploi / Employment Services Centre, from which he has recently retired. Roy said he is not against jobs (referring to the cement plant project), but said it is up to residents to determine the type of business they want.

“I know the players,” says Roy. “L’Orignal has been neglected. We have the river, the park, marina and the camping site, we need to reinvest money from that,” said  Roy, before running out of time.

Longueuil candidates

Newcomer Michel Paquette is against the proposed cement plant. He said that he was the only Longueuil candidate who was resident in Longueuil. Complaining about the weighted voting at the United Counties of Prescott-Russell, which voted in favour of a zoning change which would allow the cement plant to move forward (Champlain Township council voted against the zoning change), Paquette said, “We are not masters of our own home.” Paquette told the crowd that he has been a real estate broker for 33 years and that he would make sure that homeowners’ equity would not be affected.

Semi-retired now, Lalonde said that he would offer people a strong voice at the council table. “People have been there too long (Bay Road) to see their work affected by a such a project (the cement plant).

Newcomer Michel Lalonde said that we was against the cement plant. He said that he has spent 30 years in the municipality and is now a building inspector for the Town of Hawkesbury.

“I’m not shy,” he said. He said he would be available to everyone.

Newcomer Violaine Titley said that she was against the proposed cement plant. Her vision for the township includes contributing to sustainable development and agriculture and protection of the river. She said that there could be long-term consequences to the environment if no action is taken to improve forest cover, which she said is less than the recommended 30 per cent.

Candidate Yvon St-Jean was not present at the debate.

Note that Vankleek Hill candidates Troy Carkner (a current Champlain councillor) and newcomer Peter Barton were acclaimed to their seats as no candidates came forward to oppose them.

Mayoralty candidates were up next. They had received the questions ahead of time which were to be asked as part of the debate.

Newcomer Urbano Fumagalli was selected randomly to speak first.

He pointed to 22 years of military service, specializing in strategic planning, which he says would serve him in good stead as mayor, citing his youth, bilingualism and the energy which he would bring to the job.

Veteran councillor Paul Emile Duval told the audience he had spent his life here and that he had deep roots in the community. He says young people and local jobs are a priority. With 38 years of experience as a councillor (18 for the Town of Vankleek Hill and 20 for Champlain Township), he says Champlain Township has a bright future.

Helen MacLeod has been a councillor for the past 30 years. She says her experience and knowledge of the history of Champlain Township make her a good candidate for mayor. She cited volunteer experience with the Champlain Seniors Gala, Doors Open and Champlain in Bloom.

“I am proud of my efforts to make Champlain greener,” MacLeod said.

Mayoralty candidate Normand Riopel says his family dates back to 1884 in L’Orignal. In business for 26 years and having served 27 years as a councillor (seven for Longueuil Township and 20 for Champlain Township) make him a good candidate; he says he has experience at all levels of municipal governance.

At this point, mayoralty candidates were asked to respond to the questions they had received beforehand. When asked about green industries, Fumagalli said that it was clear to him during his door-to-door campaign that seven out of 10 people are against the cement plant.

“We have become more mindful of the environment. It is our duty to encourage cultural strengths and profit from the success of cultural activities in Vankleek Hill. He also mentioned the beauty of the (Ottawa) river.

When asked what municipalities should do to efficiently protect forests and water courses, Helen MacLeod said people often say they move to the region because of the fresh air. She mentioned that in the coming year, there would be a municipal plan to protect the trees and the forests.

When asked about his position on land planning, Paul Emile Duval said it was a big problem in Champlain Township. Although he did say there were not too many industries, he talked about the need for good planning and zoning.

In response to a question about protecting agricultural land, Normand Riopel said it was important to keep agricultural land intact. He suggested discouraging clear-cutting by reducing taxes on forested land and said that there needed to be rules about tree-cutting and replanting.

Moderator Guy Rouleau asked candidates if there was anything else they wanted to add about the environment.

Duval said there would be rules coming from the government by April and that rules would follow by springtime.

Riopel said that at the council level, there should be a tree-cutting rule in effect for land so that it was used within two years for agricultural purposes if that was the reason given for the clear-cutting.

MacLeod pointed to the township’s “excellent” recycling program, adding that the province will be reducing its recycling incentive. This is going to become an issue, she said.

Economy

When asked about a strategy for economic development, Urbano Fumagalli said that the township had to double-down on winners and cut losses. He referred to investing to support Oktoberfest.

As a small business owner with a company building two new homes in Vankleek Hill, he says that the area municipalities should work as a group.

“If elected, I would meet with the neighbourhood mayors,” Fumagalli said.

MacLeod was asked about economic development, agriculture and natural spaces.

“We have to start building our own businesses,” MacLeod said, “to encourage environmentally-friendly businesses to come here.”  She referred to agriculture-related products and tourist attractions such as the river, parks and cycling routes.

“We need to put time, effort and money into these events to help them grow,” she said.

Riopel was asked about supporting industries and recreo-tourism. Riopel responded that the township should work with communities. He talked about having people visit organic farms and stay at bed and breakfast operations. “We need to invite the population to participate,” Riopel said.

Development on Highway 17

Paul Emile Duval said development on Highway 17 was one of his priorities.

“We need to sit with Hawkesbury and come up with a solution,” Duval said, saying that businesses were going to Vaudreuil and to Rockland instead.

Referring to land in the township’s business park, Duval said that employment should be created for youth so they do not move away.

Urbano Fumagalli replied to Duval, saying, “You’ve been there for 25 years. What’s going to change if you get elected?”

Duval replied that the township could bring water to its land on Highway 17 on its own for a million dollars.

“Why haven’t you done that in the past 25 years?” asked Fumagalli.

“I don’t need Hawkesbury. I’ll take it from (Highway) 34,” interjected Riopel.

“Everyone has to remember that you have one vote at the council table. You can present something that you think is very reasonable, but if the others don’t agree with you, it doesn’t pass,” said MacLeod.

Finances

Candidates were asked about additional sources of revenue for the township.

MacLeod said it is difficult to find sources of financing other than taxes and added that infrastructure needed replacing and that Champlain Township was always faced with just meeting expenses. Policing costs are 25 per cent of the municipality’s budget, she pointed out.

Encouraging business growth and having more people in Champlain while continuing to offer a level of service that is agreeable to most people is part of the answer, according to MacLeod.

Duval said that grants have been cut and that 40 per cent of the taxes that people pay are going to the United Counties of Prescott-Russell and for education taxes.

If we end up with $1,600 in property taxes, $400 of that amount pays for the OPP; that’s not much to operate with, Duval said.

“We take very little for the service we provide,” Duval said.

“But let me tell you, when there is a big accident and within four minutes there are four police cars, eight ambulances and two fire trucks and it’s one of your grandkids out there, you’ll be happy to pay taxes,” Duval said.

Riopel’s focus would be expenditure control, making sure each department stays within the budget.

Fumagalli said that goals would have to be set and that action needed to be taken to slow down tax increases.

“We need to find where we are losing money and try to increase the revenues. The L’Orignal Park should stop costing us money. We need to put the brakes on taxes and have a strategic plan,”  Fumagalli said.

All candidates disagreed with the weighted voting at the United Counties council table, which could over-rule the wishes of any particular municipality. The weighted voting system allots more “votes” to certain mayors of municipalities based on population.

When asked how to unite the municipality, Fumagalli said it had to start with the children and he wanted to contact school boards. He said that doing events together would unite the young people.

Referring to any competition or conflict between L’Orignal and Vankleek Hill, Fumagalli said, “I have no patience with that.”

“We need to forget what happened in the past.”

Cultural/Social

Normand Riopel spoke about having tiny houses in each ward. He talked about revenue from the community hall, the park and campground. “Champlain has everything it needs to succeed.”

“All wards have their qualities,” said Helen MacLeod. “We are not separated; we all share our activities.”

Fumagalli said that the potential for tourism should be realized, including the creation of footpaths, and sporting events such as treathlons could attract visitors.

Duval referred to existing heritage facilities like the L’Orignal Old Jail, the courthouse (in L’Orignal), the work of Claude Brabant refurbishing heritage building in L’Orignal, the Vankleek Hill Museum and the Higginson Tower.

A brief discussion ensured about the facilities in place for seniors and then candidates’ take on services for youth.

Duval said, in response to comments from Fumagalli about activities in Vankleek Hill versus L’Orignal, that, “We want to help them, we never said no to anyone. Vankleek Hill has an arena, that was built 35 years ago. Maybe we can’t afford two big arenas, but we are helping everyone as best we can.”

Fumagalli countered this point, saying that the L’Orignal Chevaliers de Colomb had hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a community centre and that he did not see the township stepping up to help.

The next topic was the cement plant and all candidates were against it and gave their reasons.

Riopel explained that he owned property adjacent to the proposed site and was therefore in a conflict of interest.

Duval said that even though Champlain Township provided $50,000 to Action Champlain to defend its case against the cement plant in front of the Ontario Municipal Board, some people were against the township giving money to Action Champlain.

“Not everybody is happy, but I think we made the right decision,” Duval said.

MacLeod had pointed out earlier that it was her motion at a special meeting which put forward the idea of giving $50,000 to Action Champlain. The citizens group is appealing the decision of the United Counties (in favour of the zoning change which would permit the cement plant to move forward to next steps) while Colacem is appealing Champlain Township council’s decision to not approve the zoning change. Those two appeals were to be hard in front of the Ontario Municipal Board at the beginning of September. Three weeks had been set aside for the hearing, which was postponed at the last minute. No new date for the double-appeal has been set.

Questions from audience members were at the end of the evening. Lucette Bertrand made an impassioned plea for councillors and a mayor who would put the environment first.

“I heard more about care for the environment tonight than I have before, but no passion,” Bertrand said. The township could become known for its stance on the environment, she said.

“This would be seen by citizens. Every time you take a decision and check and see if the decision fits with your vision. Why can we not unite? We are fast approaching disaster,” she continued, adding that politicians are not taking the lead to bring about change.

She ended by saying that the new council should state its vision for the environment.