Hillary Clinton visit bites into Wakefield, Quebec business

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by admin on December 16, 2010

Irene Halang was likely one of the few business people who actually welcomed Hillary Clinton to Wakefield, Quebec on Dec. 13, and she gave the American visitor a wave of the hand.

Halang, the manager of Tempol on Valley Drive, was among several Wakefield cohorts affected in some way by Clinton’s presence when the U.S. Secretary of State stopped by for lunch.

Clinton met with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister and Pontiac MP Lawrence Cannon and Mexico Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa for lunch and a media conference at the Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa.

Clinton arrived at the Mill at about 11 a.m., but the RCMP and MRC des Collines police closed Valley Drive, Mill Road and the connecting Riverside Drive strip for about 30 minutes to let the 25-car entourage drive through.

Halang’s store was not adversely affected – she says Mondays are usually quiet – but neighbouring establishments suffered drops in customers.

Across the street, Cafe Molo reported at least a 25 per cent decline in business. The morning is usually its busiest time of day, but police blocked the parking lot, making it more different for people to navigate the busy town.

“It had absolutely no benefit to us,” said Molo co-owner Gillian Lovink. “It put us out, if anything.”

Several police cars with lights flashing parked on the roadside. At about 10 a.m., police officers began telling people parked at businesses to leave the area.

Earlier that day, James Rutherford of Rutherford Bistro had a visit from an officer who wanted to know if anyone else was in the building that is also home to the Black Sheep Inn and a few apartments. The lunch hour was slower than usual, but Rutherford shrugged off Clinton’s visit as a momentary inconvenience.

Some people who wanted to drive down Riverside that morning were a little surprised by the blockade. “I need to get to work,” a woman said as she got out of her car.

Police had to secure the roads until the entourage reached Wakefield from Gatineau, causing a 30-minute traffic stall. The same scenario was repeated at the end of the Clinton’s visit, at about 1:30 p.m. when the caravan headed back to Ottawa.

The drivers weren’t the only people surprised at the wait. Some business owners were not prepared for the holdup.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” said Lovink. “We just tried to stay open for business as usual.”

She said nobody informed her of traffic stoppages or the timeframe. She said her business might not have suffered, had the information been available.

On Dec. 10, meanwhile, management at Pipolinka and La Foret were warned of the impact of the Clinton visit on their respective businesses. A police officer contacted La Foret owner Melanie Lussier and told her that no customers would be allowed inside unless they had police escorts.

Pipolinka owner Phil Benard, meanwhile, complained to the federal government and the businesses remained open.

“I’m really impressed with how well we were looked after,” he said.

Peter Murtagh, owner of Boutique La Tulipe Noire, says Clinton’s visit was beneficial.

“I don’t see it as hurting business,” he said. “It certainly gets Wakefield on the map.”