Depending upon who you talk to, Le Chenail Cultural Centre in Hawkesbury either owes the Town of Hawkesbury approximately $17,000 for power and heating expenses—or the centre has already paid what it is expected to pay.

According to an interview with Le Chenail Cultural Centre General Artistic Director Lynda Clouette-Mackay, the centre is paying 20 per cent of energy costs – an amount she says all organizations which have used the town-owned Maison de l’île have historically paid. Those past organizations include the COMZAC-BIA and Ontario Ministry of Tourism. Le Chenail has been located at the historic building since 2011 and its present lease with the town expires in 2024.

Clouette-Mackay defends the reduced rate by emphasizing how the centre’s leverage of federal and provincial grants has benefitted one of Hawkesbury’s most prominent heritage buildings. Improvements to Maison de l’île funded by those grants include repairs to two exterior stone walls, interior walls, and new flooring.

Paying the full cost of heating the building would have a huge impact on Le Chenail’s operating budget, which is approximately $180,000 per year. Clouette-MacKay is the only full-time employee and there is one other part-time permanent employee. Up to seven students work at the centre, depending on the season. 

Clouette-Mackay admits the lease the cultural centre has with the town does not specify the requirement to pay no more than 20 per cent of the electrical and heating costs. She said the town decided to change the heating system inside Maison de l’île from electricity to propane gas in 2017, and then asked Le Chenail to pay 100 per cent of the heating costs going forward. However, the centre has continued to pay only 20 per cent of the costs, resulting in an alleged amount owing of approximately $17,000. 

An occasionally volatile discussion took place at the January 24 town council meeting about the power and heating expenses – an issue which was first raised at the November 16, 2021, Committee of the Whole meeting. At that meeting, Councillor Yves Paquette said he did not want interest to be added to the amount, but wanted the balance to be paid and requested an agreement be reached between the town and the cultural centre for the payment. Councillor Lawrence Bogue agreed to have a discussion with Le Chenail President Grace Batista and report back to council on November 29.  The report was later rescheduled to the January 24, 2022, meeting.

At the January 24 meeting, Bogue told council he had met with Batista, Director of Recreation and Tourism Samuel Cardarelli, Recreation and Tourism Coordinator Bonnie Jean-Louis, and Clouette-Mackay. Bogue recommended Cardarelli be given the authority to negotiate a solution on behalf of the town. He said further exterior wall improvements are needed at Maison de l’île and the centre plans to install permanent exterior signage.  

Paquette interrupted with a point of order, alleging Bogue was off topic. Mayor Paula Assaly told him to let Bogue speak. 

Paquette interrupted again and said it was supposed to be a report about the heating and electricity costs. 

“That’s what I’m talking about!” said Bogue, raising his voice. 

Paquette attempted to raise the same point of order again twice during the meeting. 

Councillor Robert Lefebvre said the issue is about paying the bill, not negotiating the bill. 

“Why are we taking this tack with Le Chenail?” questioned Councillor Antonios Tsourounakis. He equated the value of the cultural centre to Hawkesbury to the benefits provided by the town’s public library. 

Bogue referred to a letter from former Mayor René Berthiaume, which noted that Le Chenail and previous users of the building historically paid no more than 20 per cent of the energy costs. Clouette-Mackay provided The Review with a copy of the Berthiaume letter.  

He then compared the Le Chenail partnership to the arrangement the Hawkesbury Food Bank has for its use of a municipally-owned building.  However Lefebvre countered by pointing out that the food bank pays all of its own heating and power bills.  

Chief Administrative Officer Dominique Dussault reminded council that in October 2021, it had agreed to not allow Le Chenail to proceed with its new permanent sign until the power and heating cost issue was resolved. Dussault added no recommendation had been made about charging interest on the unpaid amount, and it would have to be addressed at a future meeting. No decision was made to allow Cardarelli to negotiate and Assaly continued with the next item on the agenda. 

In a separate interview, Lefebvre expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the January 24 discussion regarding the establishment of a payment plan. 

“I don’t think I ever got an answer to my question,” he said.  

Lefebvre said the cultural centre is using 100 per cent of the building and should be paying 100 per cent of the cost of the propane for heating. He said the original agreement called for Le Chenail to pay energy costs proportional to use of the premises. 

Lefebvre said that for now, it is up to municipal administration to decide if interest charges, or collection procedures should proceed. 

To see the complete January 24 council meeting discussion on Le Chenail Cultural Centre’s energy costs, go to . The discussion begins at 1:00:15.