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Democracy on the rocks

To The Editor,

I believe that few would argue that democracy has become little more than a fictitious farce in Trump’s USA.
That, when all is said and done,  the “will of the people” is little more than window dressing.

That said,  the Colacem vs. the people decision that will shortly be handed out tells me there is nothing to gloat about when it comes to the mockery of the supremacy of the will of the people that was played out at the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) governance  table.

Yes I am referring to the shameful decision of the lower tier municipality mayors who sat at that upper tier municipal table that is the UCPR.  Mayors who, with the exception of the mayors of the Champlain Township, the Town of Hawkesbury and the Hawkesbury-East Township, decided to turn their backs on the duly expressed “will of the people” in the Champlain Township. That is to say citizens who clearly indicated their objection to a zoning change to “Official Plan designated” agricultural property in their Municipality that, if adopted,  would see it rezoned “Heavy Industrial”. A zoning change intended to permit the property to accommodate one of the five most environmentally polluting industries in the world. A Cement Plant. A cement plant to be built in proximity to the Ottawa River and the neighbouring homes along its shores.

The Champlain municipal council did its job and did it honourably,  In a fair and democratic way that respected due process. One of its councillors, who on the advice of his lawyers, refrained from voting given what might be construed a “conflict of interest”. 

They voted to reject the zoning change of property in their Township after holding their due process required public consultations on the Colacem requested  change to the Official Zoning Plan request.

The Champlain municipal council, under the leadership of then-mayor Gary Barton took seriously their responsibility to respect the democratically expressed will of the people who elected them. They voted to put the longer term clearly expressed health and wellbeing “will of the people” who elected them ahead of the financial returns that a Cement Plant could generated. To their duly recorded way of thinking and that of their residents the costs outweighed the benefits.

I attended all of the UCPR council meetings and wish I could also say that all eight of the mayors at the United Counties of Prescott-Russell Council table acted as honourably and ethically in their decision to approve the zoning change, but I cannot.

While it is clear that the need to act “according to the democratically expressed will of the people is not a requirement at the UCPR table, you’d think it would be given due consideration at that Upper Tier Municipal Table. And particularly so when the matter under consideration is one that the most negatively affected people were clearly concerned about. That was evident in the unprecedented overflowing presence of citizens in attendance at  each of the county council meetings on the subject –meetings at which the public was clearly not allowed to speak.

Council meetings where they had to be silent when one mayor indicated that when it came to pollution, each person in attendance that day polluted by driving to said meeting. Another who indicated that his concern rested in whether or not there would be a berms with hedges to muffle the sound and hide the cement plant from view. Another, whose vote carried more weight than that of all others, indicated that what would emanate from the cement plant chimney would be cleaner than what went in. This same mayor indicated that if the council did not vote for the zoning change they would be making a costly mistake by not listening to their county employee charged with the dossier.
He clearly seemed to miss the fact that it is also his duty as an elected population to hear and take into consideration the views of the people. It is this same mayor whose municipality had received a generous contribution towards its Canada 150 celebrations.

It is this same county council that decided to vote to approve the zoning change request without its due process requirement to hold st least one public consultation on the matter before voting, something they hastily decided to correct and carry out once Action Champlain, the community citizens group opposed to the zoning change proceeded to take legal action against their county government decision.

Also puzzling to me is how the Russell Township mayor could vote in favour of a zoning change without understanding the UCPR due process obligation to hold a public consultation prior to the vote. Puzzling in that he shortly thereafter  ran as the Liberal candidate in the ensuing Ontario election when the Ontario Liberal government had a very clearly articulated on-the-books policy of  not only expecting that procedural law re:  public consultations on zoning change questions be held but also that, where the local population objected, municipal rulings should be heavily weighted in standing with the will of the people.

My final remarks are intended for  Federal MP Francis Drouin.

While you claimed to wish to not take a position on the matter since it is not a matter of federal jurisdiction, you did say you would not support that the federal government not provide a single dime to Colacem in the building of the cement plant should it be approved.

Given your government’s stated commitment to climate change mitigation and given my understanding that while the environmental standards Colacem is prepared to meet are in compliance with the minimum standards expected, and not the maximum environmental standards possible,  I would ask that you reconsider and provide what funding would be needed (estimated at 15% more) to ensure that, if the cement plant is built, it at the very least be a state of the art plant meeting the highest health and anti-pollution standards known to the industry.

The democratically expressed will of the people is on the rocks, not just in the USA – but in our own backyards.

Chapeau aux membres d’Action Champlain et à tous qui mettent la santé de nos écosystèmes avant tout.

Gary Champagne, Ottawa

 

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