Chelsea, Quebec’s deep slumber over

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by Nikki Mantell on August 26, 2009

Zzzzzzzz, uh, snort, guh, what?

Come this November, the sounds of Rip Van Winkles  of the bedroom community that oft describes Chelsea, Quebec will (hopefully) be heard rousing themselves from their decade-long slumber.

Finally, this fall will see the end of the exercise in apathy that has been Chelsea municipal elections, and residents will actually have a range of candidates (more than one per seat!) to think about and vote for.

After two hotly-debated referendums in one short year, residents of this municipality have finally woken up to the fact that if they don’t like the way their community is changing, they better stop hitting the snooze button and jump in the game.

This is good news for Chelsea. Whether voters feel their mayor and councillor are deadbeats who need to be tossed or good stewards of the collective ship takes a back seat to the fact that this community needs a good debate about its future. The Chelsea Creek development, the new sewer system, the Meredith Centre, and development in general came at a fast and furious pace that left local bystanders with their heads spinning.

Certain to be on the table is scaled back development along with scaled back municipal spending from the slate of candidates put forward by Preservation Chelsea. (A “slate of candidates from a “party” of sorts – never heard of before in Chelsea! Cantley tried this out at its last election and that group fared quite well in terms of getting seats.)

The Chelsea Chamber of Commerce is talking amongst its members, not to put forward a slate, but to encourage a “pro business” attitude from individuals who decide to run. And kudos to them for organizing a candidates debate (another first for Chelsea?). The group is hoping to make it a bilingual debate with simultaneous translation, though at first glance it’s looking to be an expensive proposition.

Which brings up one of the main barricades to good candidates, not only in Chelsea, but all across this region: language.

It’s almost a guarantee that no matter how knowledgeable, dedicated, motivated and good-intentioned, the chances of a unilingual anlgo or franco  taking the mayor’s seat is next to zero. The unofficial bilingual requirement scares off a great deal of good candidates for all municipal council seats. While we all strive to reach out and include the other linguistic side as much as we can, you have to wonder how much municipal leadership suffers because of this defacto requirement.

This will certainly play out in Chelsea this November, as a number of candidates will be struggling to get their ideas across in French. Tracing the numbers at meeting after public meeting, consultation, debate, protest, or fundraiser shows that the it’s the English population that is typically more involved in Chelsea’s civic life.

One idea being bandied about is simultaneous translation at Chelsea council meetings. La Peche has had this service for decades, and it can be helpful, depending on the whether the translator drank her coffee before the meeting. But done right, it might be a viable option for Chelsea. Almost certainly, the language issue will be one to contend with for candidates – and voters – this fall.