Pro-Meredith candidates in Chelsea, Que will be biased

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by admin on October 28, 2009

By Robert Chaffers

Chelsea, Quebec voters have been presented with a slate of candidates, including a mayoral candidate, who have a strong vested interest in, and have declared their unquestioned support for, the proposed Meredith Centre. Without in any way questioning their personal integrity or sincerity, I find it difficult to imagine how I would, or they will, be able to maintain complete objectivity in their mandate to first protect and promote the “public interest” of the generality of Chelsea citizens.

They will inevitably be faced with difficult decisions in managing our public purse and the future development of Chelsea.
Already we have witnessed the moralistic judgment by enthusiastic supporters, of those who have expressed legitimate questions about the rationale and affordability of the project. We have seen the common cause between the Chelsea Foundation, the developer whose tactics to gain approval were publicly exposed and the non-resident business that is heavily dependent on water to push for full municipal services.
This mutuality of self interests does not necessarily correspond with the wider “public interest”. With this municipal infrastructure, there is no longer a natural limit to development density and ultimately no way, even for a large sophisticated municipality, to resist the pressures of big developers to realize the profits they seek in land development. In fact, ‘sustainable development standards’ to which the Foundation and the municipality are committed, require a minimum of seven units per acre for the total area served. Then what is the justification for not being included into the urban area to the south by Quebec City. We won’t have the rationale that Cantley had.
With their declared positions how will these candidates deal with these issues and with the financial challenges to come?
These candidates have promised “no cost overruns” as if that was the whole story. What if our very, very rough original (Class D), estimate should escalate? We will only find out next year when the bids come in and we have spent hundreds of thousands on the prerequisite engineering work.

The Foundation has assured us we can cut back the scope, but the federal/provincial contribution agreement requires completion of all three components. So could we cut back on quality and energy efficiency? That strategy simply transfers the costs to operation and maintenance on our account.

Then there is what to do about the unbudgeted/unfunded costs. To name some – geothermal energy system, emergency shelter functionality, green building standards – (even a modest “silver” standard, forgetting the higher standards that most Chelsea citizens would expect in their “Environmentally Friendly Community”), etc.

The next challenge will be the uncertainty of the availability of the other required contributions – the voluntary charitable contributions and the proceeds of sale of the current community centre, a very specialised building. All hypothetical? Perhaps now, but all potentially real and without a ‘plan B’ apparently – unless it is to ask the taxpayers for more later because “how can we stop now after we have invested so much?”.

We have already seen the social impact of the distrust resulting from the perception of the “public interest” coming second to private interests whether they are non-profit or commercial. Who can we now entrust to deal cautiously and transparently with our resources and the future of our community?

Robert Chaffers lives in Old Chelsea, Quebec.