Community first for Champlain council candidate Jim Caputo

“I’m a community guy,” is what Jim Caputo wants voters in West Hawkesbury ward to know.  Caputo is one of six people running in the October 22 municipal election for one of the two seats the ward has on Champlain Township Council.  The retired educator has lived in the area for 30 years and has an extensive past — and present as a part of various volunteer organizations.  A historian by both education and interest, Caputo is a board member of the Vankleek Hill and District Historical Society and of the Friends of the Macdonnell-Williamson House in Chute-à-Blondeau.  His Scottish heritage credentials include being Ontario Commissioner for the Clan MacKinnon Society.  Caputo is originally from the Gaspé region and is a Partner of the Gaspé, Birthplace of Canada organization and is a former Vice-President of the Québec Anglophone Heritage Network.  He is also a member of the Sir John Johnson branch of the United Empire Loyalists.  Caputo has volunteered to assist homeless people in Montréal and is involved with his church and visiting residents of retirement and long-term care facilities.

“I want to give back to the community that has provided so much good to my family,” said Caputo, who has identified five priorities he would focus on if elected to council.  He wants to provide an environment where businesses can thrive and grow.  Caputo wants to ensure senior citizens, whether they live in residences or in their own homes, are properly taken care of.  As Champlain is mostly rural, he said he wants to make sure farmers are provided with support and incentives, so they can continue to flourish.  He said support for educational institutions is important to support the future potential of youth.  And, Caputo wants the township to support the local organizations that help make the community a vibrant place to live.

Careful decision-making is important to Caputo.  “It is important to me that council make the right decisions concerning financial expenditures as we are using taxpayers hard-earned money,” he said, and emphasized he would always use “good judgement,” and “community counsel” when decisions must be made.  Caputo has past municipal experience as an administrative assistant in the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs for the City of Newark, New Jersey.  He taught elementary and high school social studies for 32 years in the Gaspé and at the Collège de la Gaspésie.

“People got to know me really well,” said Jim Caputo about his many experiences and involvements.  He hopes that transfers into winning support on election day.

Bourgeois-Desnoyers wants family-friendly services for The Nation

Danika Bourgeois-Desnoyers of St-Albert wants to change how municipal politics are done in The Nation.  The self-described “new Mom” wants to put a family focus on the services and programming offered by the municipality and that’s why she’s hoping to become its next mayor in the October 22 election.

“I’m aware of what’s needed for young families in our municipality,” said Bourgeois-Desnoyers, who wants to see greatly expanded recreational programming and services.  She noted that other municipalities publish a complete catalogue of activities and The Nation does not.  She said many residents go to other municipalities for recreational programming and that expanding what is available in The Nation would attract not only its own residents, but people from other municipalities.

“It doesn’t have to cost a lot,” emphasized Bourgeois-Desnoyers about expanded programming and activities.  She said that community organizations and volunteers can be used and that municipal support for them does not even have to be financial but is just a matter of the municipality endorsing their activities and making municipal facilities and infrastructure more accessible to them.

“They’re the ones running our villages,” she said, referring to the amount of time and money community organizations and clubs put into their activities.

Bourgeois-Desnoyers said better programming does not have to be a huge source of revenue, but it should not run a deficit either.  To her, it’s a question of “What could we do that is different?”  That includes diversifying recreational programming to include the arts and non-competitive fitness.  She wants to seek feedback from residents to find out what they want from the municipality when it comes to recreational services.

Although she’s only 30, Danika Bourgeois-Desnoyers is somewhat of a political veteran.  Her interest in politics goes back to when she was “very young.”  She attended York University’s Glendon campus in Toronto, has a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from St-Paul University in Ottawa, and did postgraduate work in municipal administration.  In 2010, she ran for a seat on The Nation Council.  She won and represented St-Albert, the fourth ward until 2014 but did not seek-re-election that year as she had just taken a new position at Collège La Cité in Ottawa.  Bourgeois-Desnoyers said a lot of people have been asking her “When are you going to go back?” to municipal politics.

“Absolutely, it’s an added challenge,” Bourgeois-Desnoyers when asked about being a young female candidate and a new mother.  She said stereotypes exist that small-town politicians are all male and older, but that needs to change.

“I don’t think there’s an age and a gender that has to be associated with it,” she said, adding that she’s always inspired when young voters contact her with questions.

“I have a great supporting husband,” Bourgeois-Desnoyers said about her spouse, Jason Clemens, and noted that Glengarry-Prescott-Russell also has provincial and federal representatives right now who are young.  MP Francis Drouin is 34, and MPP Amanda Simard is 29.  Bourgeois-Desnoyers said she had a good conversation with federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna at a recent event in Hawkesbury where she gave advice to aspiring female politicians.  McKenna told her the time is right to go into politics while her children are young.

Bourgeois-Desnoyers said the family focus of her campaign has been receiving positive responses.

“I’ve got really good feedback from young families so far,” she said.

Bonnie Jean-Louis — For a healthy community

If one were to say that Bonnie Jean-Louis has a great interest in politics, one would be right while also missing the point.

Jean-Louis is a veteran candidate, true, but over her many campaigns, her objectives and ideals have remained true: offering a fulfilling and healthy quality of life for everyone in the community, no matter their age or social standing.

For her, politics was never the beginning; it is simply a means to accomplish her objectives. In other words, politics came later.

“For me, politics is like saying ‘thank you’ to all the people who have supported programs that existed for those of my generation, like Katimavik and Canada World Youth. Katimavik was a social exchange program across the country. It was about cultural exchange, learning a second language and being involved in various communities. You got to learn a lot about civic engagement,” explained Jean-Louis.

Throughout these experiences at home and abroad, Jean-Louis got her first taste of community involvement and teaching in an international context.

“When I came back home, I studied international development at Collège d’Alfred.  Later, in 2007, I decided to start a family here, at home, in Hawkesbury. That’s when I decided to take all my knowledge of international development and apply it here, in my community.”

In 2006, Jean-Louis entered her first political race at the federal level for the Green Party.

“It was quite the challenge and a reality check. You quickly realize that politics has an impact in the community. I was solicited a lot and had a full-time job on top of it all.”

Since then, Jean-Louis has been spending most of her time working in community development.

“I promised myself that if I ran again, I would be taking breaks from work to concentrate on campaigning. Community development work is often contract-based. If I’m campaigning and am in between contracts, I see it as another job search. It’s just much harder to apply for this type of job – it’s not up to one person to make the choice!”

Jean-Louis is no stranger to the ins and outs of Hawkesbury’s town hall, having spent some time working there in addition to her community work through different boards.

“I have an interesting and useful background. I spent time working at the town hall, so I know what the current projects are, where we are going and I want to make sure that projects move forward on the right track. My job there was to listen to my community, to their ideas; their projects and concerns and find solutions. I was also responsible for securing funding through grants and subsidies. In one year, I managed to get $150,000 in grants for Hawkesbury.”

Like any candidate driven by ideals, Jean-Louis has a list of ideals; of accomplishments she would like to reach as a member of council.

“First off, I’d like to keep working on existing projects that are already on the right track. A lot of work has already done on some projects, like roads, by professionals on the outside and priorities have been established. With a new council, some things may be put aside and started anew. I’m not big on starting over when things are on the right track. I’d also love to see our parcs become more inter-generational. I want to see more mature trees for appeal and shade. Our parcs need to be appealing for the elderly, families with young children and everyone between.”

There are two other big, tangible projects in Jean-Louis’s sights, projects directly tied to her goal of creating a healthy quality of life for the town’s residents.

“The first one is the water treatment plant at the west end of town – for drinking water. It needs an upgrade, and one that will ensure elimination of all nano particles in our water. Our water needs to be perfect today and 20, 30 years from now. The second one is our public swimming pool. It needs to be modernized and we need to avoid problems like the one we encountered with the skating rink. It’s a lot of money, but our sports complex is 40 years old. It plays an important part in our quality of life and needs to last another 40 years.”

The 2018 municipal election candidates list is indeed an interesting one. Even Jean-Louis agrees that this year’s list is comprised of people with a lot to offer.

“It’s so interesting! We can choose between candidates that bring a wide variety of experience to the table. It can’t be all about economic development, we need a variety of strengths. I hope that the more cynical, those that don’t usually vote, realize that with these candidates, they actually have a chance to make a difference.”

Hawkesbury 2018 mayoralty race – Paula Assaly aims at turning potential into reality

The 2018 Hawkesbury municipal election is shaping up to be a memorable one. This time around, 18 candidates are on the list, with three competing for the mayor’s seat.

The first to officially declare her candidacy was Paula Assaly, back in March 2018.

Now, five months later, Assaly is still very much driven by her goal. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into her platform and overall candidacy, with Assaly having lots to say on every topic.

“For me, a lot has changed over the last six years. Community organizing, participating in consultations at the municipal and county levels; being involved and realizing all the challenges many faced made me want to get involved even more,” stated Assaly.

“I was born in Hawkesbury, I’ve worked here. There are many things that were never done, never accomplished in Hawkesbury. I see a lot of things that should be done but aren’t, things that I would like to accomplish.”

Assaly does indeed possess a long list of endeavours she would like to see through. For her, the choice to run became even more real when she realized that she had the support of many in terms of vision and projects.

“For a very long time, I’ve seen our town’s potential and say to myself: ‘We can do better’. For more than 40 years I’ve heard people say that ‘our town’s got so much potential’. The problem is, after ‘potential’, there’s silence that lasts decades. We say it, then nothing happens. I’ve had enough of that.”

Revenue for growth

Anyone who’s seen Assaly’s campaign documentation knows what her main goals for the town are. However, it all needs to start somewhere – with revenue.

“We first need to understand ‘where Hawkesbury is’, right now. What we need is new revenue. If we can’t get any, we won’t be able to move forward. Things have been stagnant for long enough. The key is economic development and tourism, but for that, we first need to increase our funding requests; grants, subsidies. That’s the first step in dealing with the issues citizens have brought forward.”

Assaly is quite aware of the polarizing effect the term “economic development” has. For many, these are words that look good on paper, but often amount to unclear results.

“Let me put it in context through a clear example of a missed opportunity by the Town of Hawkesbury. It makes a lot of people, myself included, sad and angry when we look at the two apartment buildings built on Grenville’s riverfront. They are a reminder that Hawkesbury lost an opportunity and the revenue attached to it. Sixty per cent of the people who live in these buildings are from Hawkesbury. It’s our loss and their gain. Don’t listen to candidates who try to instil fear of development in you. Without it, there will be no revenue, no growth and no jobs.”

Current issues

Assaly has been busy listening to residents and their issues. Even before the start of her campaign, she had on hand a tangible list that laid the groundwork of her political platform.

The issues, according to Assaly, are a declining downtown core, a neglected environment including the riverfront, a negative reputation and lack of transparency at the town hall.

“I think that this transparency issue is caused by lack of communication between council and the residents. Without active participation in council meetings, it’s very hard to obtain tangible information on what’s really going on. Even by reading the council meeting minutes, it can be hard to really understand a topic. I’ve read every single meeting minute document from 2005 to 2018 and summarized it in 67 pages. I have a lot of questions.”

One of Assaly’s solutions would be recurring, dedicated newspaper column on what’s going on at council, as well as online publications on the matter. Another would be recurring assemblies, where any concerned citizen would have a chance to address council and other residents in a respectful and open context; an assembly that would serve as a reality check for both citizens and politicians.

Many citizens don’t express interest in local politics and, in turn, local politics, while open to all, doesn’t generate enthusiasm from the populace. One of Assaly’s goals is to change that by first opening up communication from the side of council.

“Not everyone has time to attend council and committee meetings. We mustn’t forget that citizens are Hawkesbury’s true ambassadors. For them to proudly represent the town, they need to be well-informed. You can’t properly build a town on rumours,” added Assaly.

On tourism

Locally, Assaly has been working on the cultural front and wants more for the Chenail area. While art and culture are always a source of local pride anywhere, they are also counted among important sources of tourism.

“There is no reason for the Chenail island not to have a boardwalk similar to that of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. We could even establish a beach at Confederation Park. Two plans have already been made by professionals for the development of Chenail island as a tourist destination. The waterfront must be accessible to everyone. There are grants out there that are available.”

Assaly is also counted among those that would like to see Hamilton island become a source of local pride. One of her ideas involves an open contest where plans for the island could be submitted.

“There’s also the issue of the downtown core. Main Street needs a new mission. The BIA has been working to bring about change, but they haven’t been able to turn that into reality.”

According to Assaly, she and the BIA were told that major infrastructure work probably needed to be done on Main Street before the possibility of major and imminent reinvention was even considered.

“No one could tell us when and where it would happen, so it’s hard for the BIA and everyone involved to make plans because we don’t know what the town is planning. I can’t help but wonder if even the town knows. Without open communication, plans can’t become reality.”

Voting for change

From the downtown core to tourism, from economic development to political transparency, Assaly’s vision for new initiatives for Hawkesbury is a mainstay of her election platform.

“If citizens want change, they need to vote. Vote for change. Every four years, everyone has the chance to easily take action. I have many projects that are profitable for the community, but if residents don’t vote in October, I can’t do as much. I know it’s easy to succumb to cynicism in politics. However, municipal politics are what affects us the most, it touches us directly and, ironically, it’s where participation is at its lowest. This time around, 18 candidates are ready to undertake massive challenges for the town. There’s clearly interest and the population should, in turn, show as much interest.”