Have your say, whether you are for or against Place du citoyen. But to enable each citizen to have his or her say, a referendum is needed — and that means that 772 citizens have to register to request a referendum before July 27, 2020.

That’s the message from Brownsburg-Chatham Councillor Stephen Rowland. He knows that many of the constituents he represents in District 6 are opposed to “Place du citoyen” – a multi-million-dollar complex that is being reviewed prior to its tentative construction in the core of the village of Brownsburg. Rowland says his residents live at the extreme southwest of the municipality, closer to Lachute, Grenville and Hawkesbury than to Brownsburg. He knows that those residents may feel they don’t need the multi-functional centre.

At its July 7 meeting, municipal council approved the construction of a multi-functional centre, including a library, and organizing financing of $5.8 million. The cost of Option “D” was attached to the bylaw. (Rowland was absent from that meeting, and says that is because municipal rules in Québec do not permit councillors to abstain from voting on resolutions brought forward during meetings.)

Brownsburg-Chatham Mayor Catherine Trickey contends that the project would represent renewal for the centre of Brownsburg and is in keeping with the municipality’s strategic plan. The facility could also serve to attract new families to relocate to the area, would include a performance space, a gymnasium and meeting spaces for local organizations, in addition to housing the municipal library.

There were four options under review and these were presented in an online presentation on July 2, during which residents could vote in response to various questions and the session included a question period at the end. The approximately 67 virtual attendees voted 76 per cent in favour of Option D, which comes with a price tag of $5.8 million. The cost for the four projects varied as each contained some different elements.

Rowland recently sent a bilingual letter to District 6 constituents to communicate what he feels are key points.
He first points out that the municipality’s tax base has been stagnant for many years. He does point out that in 2020, the municipality has been issuing (building) permits for new addresses at a rate two to three times faster than in the past. But he adds that the municipality has to increase the value of existing properties even while it attracts new residents.

Rowland says that he understands the opportunity for the project, especially as the federal and provincial governments are ready to pay about two-thirds of the project.

“We would be getting a $6-million project and it would cost us $2 million,” Rowland said in a conversation with The Review. He says that he worked to reduce the scale of the project — with some success.

He has advocated for no additional staffing costs for the facility and the council is in agreement.

Annual operating costs for the biggest version of the facility, with 1,700 square meters, were estimated at $140,000 per year, according to the two-hour online presentation. That amount would include heat, electricity, garden maintenance, insurance and other incidental costs. Option A, with 1,500 square meters, would have cost $124,025 per year, and Options B and C, at 1,600 square meters, would have cost $132,560 per year.

“We have to find a way to have this administered by the not-for-profit groups that would use it,” said Rowland, referring to the availability of meetings rooms and space for events and fairs.

Although he understands people’s objections, he says he does believe that the project is in the best interests of all the residents of Brownsburg-Chatham in the long term.

In his letter to residents, he points out that the municipality covers a geographical area that is one-half the size of the island of Montreal.

“It is easy to only think about our own situation and not look at the big picture. Clearly, residents of the Pine Hill area could have objected to spending $600,000 to pave Montée Robert in 2019. No one did,” he wrote.

Conceding that the pandemic has made communications more difficult in many cases, he says that when it comes to registering for a referendum, the pandemic is working in people’s favour.

During normal times, people would have to go to city hall in person during a short time period, often during a business day, to register their comments. But in the current situation, that time period is longer and now, residents have until July 27 to formally sign the register to request a referendum on the bylaw approving the multi-functional Place du citoyen. People can mail, email or fax a form to the municipality. (See below for a link to the website.)

“We cannot go to a referendum for everything,” Rowland comments, but he feels that Place du citoyen is dividing the population and wants all residents to have a chance to weigh in. “If there is no referendum and the project goes ahead, it will be a source of anger and frustration for the next 20 years. The process will be seen as having been undemocratic,” Rowland says.

Even if a referendum costs the municipality $100,000, it is better to hold one and find out whether people are in favour of going ahead.
“If the project is cancelled, we have to pay all the costs incurred to date, but it is better to find out now than later,” Rowland said.
Residents can find information about how to register for a referendum, along with detailed costs of Option “D”, here: http://www.brownsburgchatham.ca/avis-public-50/

The deadline is July 27. Eligible voter/residents need to complete a form that is posted online, and include the name and number of the bylaw that is the subject of the referendum request, along with their name, address, proof of their right to vote, their signature, and a reproduction of one piece of identification (a choice of identification items is listed on the website, including driver’s license, Canadian passport, provincial health card, etc.).

Citizens’ requests for a referendum must be received on July 27, 2020 by 8 a.m. and can be mailed to Box 300, rue de l’Hotel-de-Ville, Brownsburg-Chatham, Québec, J8G 3B4, sent by email to: [email protected] or sent by fax to: 1-450-533-5795.
The number of persons required to trigger a referendum on this bylaw (285-2020) is 772. If 772 voters do not register to request a referendum on this bylaw, it will be understood that the bylaw putting forward the multifunctional facility is accepted by ratepayers.
The results of this referendum register will be published on the municipality’s website on July 27, 2020.

Most of those who had comments at the end of the online presentation on Place du citoyen had positive comments and welcomed the project.
“In a case like this, it is always the people who are against something that make the loudest noise,” Rowland said. He is advocating for people to be heard, without making personal attacks. Both sides of the debate have valid points, he says, and all opinions should be respected.
“We are believers in democracy and mutual respect,” he ended.