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Illustration of the proposed Place du citoyen in Brownsburg from the Brownsburg-Chatham municipal website.

No referendum for Place du citoyen project in Brownsburg-Chatham

There will be no referendum on the proposed Place du citoyen project in Brownsburg-Chatham.  The municipality is also aiming to set the record straight on how property is being obtained for the multi-use community centre planned for the centre of Brownsburg, and has asked Québec’s independent elections agency to investigate opposition tactics during the referendum registry process.

Under Québec law, citizens of a municipality can request a referendum on decisions made by municipal councils.  Brownsburg‐Chatham kept a register from July 8 to 27 where citizens could file their signatures with proof of identification to request a referendum on the project, which included a loan by-law that council approved to borrow the portion of funding to build Place du citoyen; about two thirds of the $5.8-million cost will be covered by Québec and federal government grants.

The Review reported on July 22 that District 6 Councillor Stephen Rowland was encouraging citizens to sign the referendum registry so that the project would be put to a vote, allowing all citizens to be heard. Rowland said in that story that there are some citizens who do not live in or near the village of Brownsburg questioning if they will use a facility that is not in their neighbourhood.  Throughout the registry period, Rowland had emphasized the need for discussions between those for and against the development to be democratic and respectable, advocating for people to request a referendum so that all citizens could vote for or against the project.

To force a referendum, 772 signatures were required, but only 579 admissible forms were received.  This means that under the Québec law respecting elections and referendums in municipalities, the loan by-law 285-2020 is deemed to have been approved by the qualified voters.

“Despite the misinformation and the fear campaign of opponents of the projects, many citizens wish to see the Place du citoyen come to life, said Brownsburg-Chatham Mayor Catherine Trickey when the registry results were disclosed on the afternoon of Monday, July 27.

Trickey had strong words for some elements of the opposition to the project.

“Even by conveying falsehoods and inaccuracies, the small group of protesters failed to get the necessary signatures. Better yet, it reflects that the vast majority support the project. The truth therefore triumphed,” she said.

After the analysis of the objections received by traditional mail, email, or fax, 36 were rejected for non-conformity (missing identification documents, non-residents of the municipality, etc.), 579 valid forms were counted.

Keeping the register was not mandatory for the municipality, but council unanimously chose to do it in the interests of transparency, integrity, and loyalty to the citizens of Brownsburg-Chatham.  Normally, a referendum registry period is 15 days.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the municipality decided to have the Place du citoyen registry open for 20 days.

Municipality presents facts

To counter the opposition, the municipality has emphasized that two-thirds of the $5.8 million maximum cost of the Place du citoyen will be subsidized by the governments of Canada and Québec. A news release issued by the municipality on Monday stated, “It is false to claim that the entire sum will be borne by Brownsburg-Chatham taxpayers.”

The operating costs for the proposed facility are estimated at $83,000 annually.  The municipality also stated that in the past three years, no application has been filed by a private developer wanting to construct a similar venue on the rue Prinicipale property where the Place du citoyen is to be built.

The municipality has no intention of acquiring or expropriating the building located at 207 rue Principale adjacent to the site of the proposed development.  A story recently circulated online and on social media that the municipality was planning to expropriate it.

Investigation requested

The municipality of Brownsburg-Chatham will request the intervention of the Directeur-général des élections du Québec (DGEQ), the province’s independent election and referendum agency to investigate if the human and financial resources of an unspecified private company were used to actively encourage people to prevent the project from going ahead. According to the municipality, these actions could contravene the law on municipal elections and referendums.

The official count will be made public at the next meeting of the municipal council on August 4, 2020.  It begins at 7 p.m. at the Louis-Renaud community centre on Route 148 in the St-Philippe sector of Brownsburg-Chatham.

James Morgan

James Morgan is a freelance contributor. He has worked for several print and broadcast media outlets. James loves the history, natural beauty, and people of eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

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