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To walk in peace and safety

March 25th, 2015

By Kate Aley

Sometimes I leave THE EQUITY office quite late. It’s often dark and sometimes cold and the streets are generally deserted. I worry about the stories I have yet to write and I worry about my car not starting, but I never worry about being abducted. Never

Tragically this is not the case for women in many Canadian towns – and for indigenous woman in particular. A new report into missing and murdered indigenous women in B.C. has rekindled the fight for a public inquiry. The report, conducted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, includes the findings that the highest numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in B.C. are concentrated in Prince George and the Downtown Eastside. The report also notes that the police have “failed to adequately prevent and protect indigenous women and girls from killings and disappearances”, adding that multiple policing jurisdictions in B.C. have resulted in confusion between the RCMP and Vancouver police.

The group strongly supports the creation of a national-level action plan or a nationwide inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Last year, the government committed to a five-year plan to address violence against Aboriginal women and girls. Yet, when reacting to the 2014 murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, Prime Minister Stephen Harper still insisted that the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women was not part of a sociological phenomenon, but a crime to be dealt with accordingly.

The government continues to say it is interested in taking action, yet continues to refuse calls for a national public inquiry. One thing is clear: actions taken so far have obviously not halted the brutal and systemic violence being committed against indigenous women. For the 1,200 families that still seek justice for their missing and murdered family members, an inquiry may help them feel some solace. For indigenous women actually at risk right now, understanding how these crimes continue to be perpetrated may be what stands between them and a horrible fate.

Lawyer Christa Big Canoe is Anishinaabekwe and a member of the Georgina Island First Nation. Melina Laboucan-Massimo is a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation with a master’s degree in indigenous governance. Their quote from a CBC article succinctly sums up the heart of this urgent matter: “An inquiry needs to be called that is accountable to those it affects the most. Public awareness needs to be increased, but most importantly, indigenous women and girls need to be able to walk in peace and safety”.

Kate Aley is an editor at the Shawville Equity

 

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Strip search headline is misleading

March 18th, 2015

By Nancy Hall

The front page of the March 11 edition of the Low Down featured a story with the headline ‘Strip search at St. Mike’s’. I was disappointed that the Low Down chose to run such a misleading headline and to sensationalize what is a very serious issue, and one of great concern to parents, students, and educators across the province. The reader is led to believe that this strip search happened yesterday, rather than two years ago.

To say that the timing is bad for St. Michael’s High School is an understatement. We are in the process of rebuilding our enrolment following the threat of closure and are working on a proposal to improve the facility. This kind of headline is irresponsible, especially for a community newspaper.

Having said that, the issues raised by the family affected are truly justified. I was Chair of the Governing Board at St. Michael’s High School in Low when this incident occurred. While there may have been some justification for the teachers deciding a search was necessary, the parents concerned and those on the governing board were deeply disturbed at the manner in which the entire situation was handled. It is regrettable that the situation unfolded the way it did and I understand the emotional repercussions the family has felt as a result.

While I cannot comment on the specifics of this case, let me state that fault should not be laid solely at the door of St. Michael’s High School or the personnel involved. To point the finger at personnel in the face of a clear lack of provincial and school board policy at the time is to ignore the real culprit.

Searches of all kinds involving lock downs, locker searches, and, in some circumstances, strip searches, have been an unfortunate by-product of the drug culture prevalent in the high school environment. These searches were carried out in the past, albeit infrequently, by staff in high schools across the region with the decision being left to the sole discretion of the principal.

The good news is that this case has led to a change in policy by the Western Quebec School Board. As WQSB Director General Paul Lamoureux pointed out, the police will now be involved should staff feel a search is warranted. We also know that the Quebec Ministry of Education is in the process of examining a province-wide policy, something that is long overdue. The fact that the provincial Minister of Education resigned following his indiscreet comments about strip searches is an indicator of how serious the matter is.

It is my sincere hope that the family involved in this case will now be able to heal and that the change in policy by the WQSB will serve to promote the implementation of a province-wide policy on drug searches sooner rather than later.

Nancy Hall

Chair, People for the Future of St. Michael’s

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The obligation to support Chelsea economic development

March 11th, 2015

In response to Jeanne Dessureault’s letter (‘Public Money Abuse Case’), I would like to provide some background on the role of Quebec municipal councils to explain why Chelsea council is considering a request by Chelsea Commerce, and why that does not constitute a conflict of interest.

1) Chelsea’s Master Plan outlines our mission: “to improve the quality of life for current and future generations by offering community, cultural, and recreational services and activities, the protection and enhancement of the environment, a viable economic development, and the preservation of territorial boundaries”;

2) The Federation of Québec Municipalities (FQM) defines the roles and responsibilities of council members: administrator, representative, legislator, and economic development agent (FQM. Rôles et responsabilités des élus, pages 64ff; et Loi sur les compétences municipales, L.R.Q., ch. C-47.1);

3) The regional representative of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MAMOT) recently confirmed that “every municipal council has the obligation to support economic development within its community”;

4) The Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Québec (FCCQ) reported that, in 2013, Chambers of Commerce with fewer than 150 members received 13 per cent of their overall funding from local and/or regional levels of government, while those with over 150 members received six per cent (Portrait du Reseau, L’Exclusif Volume 28/No. 2 – Avril 2014. FCCQ);

5) The revised Land Use Plan of the MRC des Collines states: “re-vitalizing village cores, along with the installation of public infrastructures, will contribute to economic development…. Developing strategies in order to diversify businesses and services are ways in which local municipalities can re-vitalize their village cores.” (Schema d’aménagement et de développement révisé, pages 80-81).

The wastewater and drinking water project, designed to clean up environmental problems in Old Chelsea, will allow for a diversity of housing options and for new local businesses and services throughout the core village.

It is a well-known fact that we, as a community, must diversify our tax base in order to reduce our overdependence on residential taxes. Encouraging small, local businesses will increase other revenue streams and serve to lessen the tax burden on homeowners.

Commerce Chelsea’s request for funding would be invested in local economic development initiatives such as clustered parking, street signs, benches, bike paths, community events, and the design of a web platform for residents, community groups, businesses, and visitors.

Council will continue to examine collaborative and innovative ways to work with our partner groups – social, cultural, economic, and environmental – to ensure sustainable, socio-economic development in our community.

Caryl Green is the mayor of Chelsea

 

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Meredith Centre Success

March 4th, 2015

Thank you for your article explaining how much the Meredith Centre costs average Chelsea taxpayers (How much for Meredith? Feb. 18 edition). I would like to share another perspective with your readers.

You report that the capital cost per household to build the Meredith Centre was $60. For those of us who were involved in the early days of fundraising, we remember that projections always included the sale of the old community centre on the revenue side of capital cost estimates. When accounting for inflation and today’s dollar value, and including the $400,000 net revenue to the municipality from the sale of the old community centre, we can be enormously proud that together, as a fiscally responsible community, we built the Meredith Centre within the original target of $52 capital cost per household.

Now what about the report that taxpayers are “shouldering an additional $148.80 per household for operating costs”? Remember that from this we need to subtract the $135,000 per year that the old community centre was costing to operate. Also remember that construction design flaws and the resulting wall damage inflated operational costs of the new building in its first two years of operation. Insurance money will recoup much of this.

In 2015, the Meredith Centre expects its four-season cultural and recreation program to grow. We know that sewage and water costs will decline significantly once the Meredith Centre is connected to the new village systems. And we know that there is potential for significant electricity cost savings. In other words, Meredith Centre operational revenues are growing while costs moderate.

The team that manages the Meredith Centre, led by General Manager Sharon Ryan, is dedicated, hard working and creative. Two full years of audited financial reports provide rock-hard evidence that the centre is able to generate an annual surplus given the present management agreement with the municipality. The trend lines provide confidence that this surplus can be sustained and that operating costs reported by the municipality in your article can be halved.

The untold story of the Meredith Centre is this: Chelsea came together and built a brand-new community centre. Total cost to the average household in 2014 was roughly $4 per week. It will be less than this in 2015 and less again in 2016.

The Meredith Centre was conceived and built by the community of Chelsea, and supported by generous provincial and federal grants, and a loan approved by a visionary municipal council. Unlike many community centres that are operated by city officials, the Meredith Centre is directed and managed by a community-led board. By trusting and empowering its citizens, the municipality has assured that the Meredith Centre program is responsive, efficient and sustainable.

Become a member, participate in a program, come as a volunteer, or stand for election to the governing board or a board committee. Above all, celebrate. The Meredith Centre is one of Chelsea’s great success stories.

Bob Vandenberg is a Chelsea resident and member of the Chelsea Foundation Board of Directors

 

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Biased campaign against Chelsea development

February 25th, 2015

By Peter Markhauser

In Barbara Martin’s Valley Voices submission (Feb. 18), she laments the fact that I am trying to build 120, rather than just 35, new residences on our property in Chelsea. She suggests that the people of Chelsea will be “victims” of this development.

The properties that we own are approximately 30 acres in size , which were to be developed with 120 single family homes for this neighbourhood, as allowed in the master plan. The Quebec Ministry of Transport study on land stability released in 2011 rendered approximately 25 of our 30 acres unsuitable for residential development, which required us to consider other ideas, including clustering the 120 homes onto unaffected land on our property. Clustering is an accepted concept included in the master plan.

A building of this nature will yield cost efficiencies that will allow us to introduce more affordable housing solutions for a broad spectrum of our community – not just seniors. It will also allow us to build underground parking and communal spaces. This is about sustainable development that meets the stated needs of our community and leaves 25 acres of land for non residential use, such as parks or community gardens already included in our plan.

Barbara Martin states that only 35 homes should be allowed and that these can still be affordable, but the reality is that each time that we compromise on efficiencies of scale, there will be a corresponding effect on the cost of a unit.

She also stated that a building of this size will overwhelm the neighbourhood, including the adjacent “one storey” CLSC building, failing to recognize that the CLSC building, designed by Alan Hopkins and me in 2002, is one of the biggest buildings in Chelsea; and it has two stories, not one. It is in harmony with the streetscape as direct a result of clever design practices which we intend to leverage again in our current project.

The size of the proposed building will not be out of character with the surrounding buildings, and the design will be harmonious and integrated with its neighbours. It is important to note that the current zoning change request is the first step in a planning and design process that includes other requirements to ensure that the final design will ultimately be appropriate for the neighbourhood.

This biased campaign against this project by a municipal councillor comes as no surprise, as it comes on the heels of similar inaccurate and sensationalistic campaigning on the Facebook group Chelsea Folks, where Martin made the exaggerated statement that we are trying to increase the density allocation from four houses per acre to 30 houses per acre – which was blatantly misleading. Clustering houses is a sustainable practice that leaves green space in exchange for increasing density on one part of the property. This is our plan and we are confident that there is a market demand for these homes from a broad spectrum of our community.

Peter Markhauser is a resident of Chelsea

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Re-writing the rule book?

February 18th, 2015

By Barbara Martin

Change in Chelsea may be inevitable, but we do not have to be victims of change. We can ensure that, as we grow, we respect and protect what makes us want to stay here. Right now, change is being advocated in the name of affordable housing and housing for seniors, which are already identified needs within Chelsea’s Master Plan. That plan was agreed upon three years ago, after extensive public consultation. Developers in Chelsea have sought to incorporate these needs into their plans, and, so far, they have done it without requesting changes to the Master Plan. So, let’s keep our arguments straight. This is not about whether the rules allow affordable housing and housing for seniors. They do.

So why does one developer consider the current zoning for a parcel of land beside the CLSC building to be unacceptable? Right now, some 35 units spread over several two- or three-storey multi-unit buildings up to 39 feet high could be built there. The scale would fit with surrounding buildings. They could accommodate singles, couples, and seniors. What is wrong with that? The condos in Wakefield do it – and provide about 1,400 square feet of living space to boot.

The proposed zoning change would allow for one 91,500 square foot building, 49 feet high, with 120 units (averaging 600 or 700 square feet). A building of this size would overwhelm the small, old houses on Mill Road, and make the United Church and the historical homesteads on Hwy 105 look out of place. It would tower over the one-storey CLSC building. It would not fit with Chelsea’s rural look and feel. Why is such a massive building necessary? Who really benefits from supposed ‘economies of scale’?

According to CMHC, affordable housing costs no more than 30% of total income before tax. However, Logement Quebec has subsidy programs for “affordable housing” for low- and moderate-income households and for people with special housing needs. The Farm Point units come to mind. So what do we mean and, more importantly, what does Mr. Markhauser mean by “affordable housing”?

As to seniors’ housing, there is housing where those over 65 live and there are residences for the elderly. These are very different things. Residences for the elderly require provincial compliance relating to such things as health and safety, food, and medication. Are we talking about condos for seniors who want to downsize or residences for the elderly?

There is a lot to consider before we rewrite the rulebook for the first developer to ask. For the sake of Chelsea, we need to get it right.

Barbara Martin is councillor for Ward 3 in Chelsea

The editor responds: ditto my response to Peter Newing concerning the ‘seniors’ housing’ label – see Letters.

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Pay to play on Gatineau Park trails

February 11th, 2015

By Carsten Podehl

‘Pay to Play’ is an increasingly accepted system in recent years: requests for funding to use public lands for recreation are inundating land management organizations. These come from a growing number of user groups as funding for operation expenditures becomes tighter. Paying to access trail networks and related infrastructure is pretty much the norm across the continent. For our local park, the future may include accessing parking lots and roads via automated fee gates (construction at P19 shows that this may already be underway).

The recent price change for various forms of winter access to the Gatineau Park is an interesting ball of used ski wax. For some, the new fee is welcome, as it helps to level the field among winter trail users. For others, skiing and walking should be free. Yet others understand the infrastructure required for trail maintenance: plowed parking lots, cabins, fire wood, and trail rescue – items not covered under general land management. Then there are the locals, who may have a tainted view of paying for the park and take issue with its governing body. Judging by the money spent on the park, it does seem that, at times, the NCC has money to burn.

Trail etiquette is worth mentioning. Trails are maintained, used, and destroyed with consequences to the end user. For example, one set of footprints or snowshoe tracks on a groomed ski trail can elicit expletives from skiers. The grooming is for specific activities – the trails that leave from P8 are for skate and classic skiing.

Walking over a ski trail can destroy the skiing experience and can even be hazardous. It is peculiar that in the backcountry people charge over a ski trail with their snowshoes without a second thought, destroying the groomed track. The Low Down editor has it right when she says, “to don the appropriate footwear”. The Gatineau Park is finally promoting exactly that with their new signage: ‘To each their own trail’.

The winter experience in the park is world class and, for what we have, we have it fairly cheap. At the same time, I grew up in a family of four on thrice-used gear and skied for free on un-groomed trails; a family of four now needs $60 to simply get on the snow with skis for one afternoon. The library does have a few individual passes for loan, but I believe that the NCC should also offer family passes.

The beauty of the honour system is that it’s designed to allow access for those who can’t afford to pay, who shouldn’t be shamed by those who can pay. In the end, karma and nature have always played well together.

Carsten Podehl is a resident of Wakefield

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Worrisome Wardship

February 4th, 2015

By Steve Connolly

Chelsea’s Council must be congratulated. They deliberated long and hard to come up with a 2015 tax increase of 1.95 per cent. With profound care for their taxpayers, council delayed its budget presentation for a month in order to get it right. They used much of their surplus to reduce a tax increase. Bravo.

For 2015, municipalities are collectively seeing the lowest tax increases in memory. Many have announced zero per cent increases and almost none have come in with more than a three per cent increase. Except for one: the municipality of Low.

Citizens turned out in droves for January’s public council meeting. They are angry and concerned at being faced with an 8.6 per cent tax increase. Council unanimously voted for the increase and supported the director general, who was quoted as saying the increase “was not out of whack with reality.” Really? Knowing that the increase would upset citizens, council did not warn them prior to the public budget meeting in December, where only three people showed up.

Municipal Affairs Minister Moreau, demanding austerity, had noticed that municipalities across Quebec had been overcharging taxpayers, resulting in surpluses totalling $1.3 billion. For 2015, he requested all municipalities to give the surplus back to taxpayers to reduce tax increases. All of the councils in our MRC did so except for Low, which only gave part of it back and, as one councillor said, the amount of the surplus estimate was not even available during budget deliberations.

At the public meeting, it was obvious that the municipality’s priorities are significantly out of whack with those of its people. Citizens are always forced to wait until the council meeting agenda is completed before question period. During the agenda procedure, council nonchalantly approved $3,000 in donations. The audience was furious – they would have preferred that this money be used to reduce the tax increase.

After questioning, citizens discovered that $60,000 is to be used to build another park. Lots of angry discussion ensued about a municipal vehicle being used for personal purposes, high administration costs, lack of confidence with the hastily gathered surplus amount, and huge unpaid taxes. Council did not listen.

The mayor has stated that the MRC 13.2 per cent cost increase to municipalities came as a surprise. Really? On average, the increase has always been about 10 per cent. If there had been no such increase, Low taxpayers would still have seen a tax increase of over seven per cent. Are taxpayers fools?

Unlike Chelsea council, our money guardians refused to go back and review the budget. They feel that they did their best. And that is precisely the problem.

Steve Connolly is a resident of Low

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A universal resolution for the New Year

January 28th, 2015

By Jonathan Feldgajer

In April last year, I was diagnosed with an ‘ultra rare’ illness known as Very Severe Aplastic Anemia (AA). I’m 31 years old, live in Wakefield, and before April I had never heard of AA before. That’s because it only affects one to two people in a million. For no known reason, my bone marrow stopped working. No new red cells, so oxygen couldn’t travel through my body. No new white cells, so I couldn’t fight even the smallest infection. And no platelets, so my blood could not clot.

I spent the following six months in quarantine, both in hospital and at home. Because my body wasn’t making any new blood cells, I was in desperate need. Platelets live only briefly, so I would receive transfusions every two to three days. Red cells last longer so those I received only once a week or so, but usually two bags at a time. Over the course of half a year, my treatments added up to well over a hundred bags, and that was just for one person.

The typical medical treatment for AA is either a sibling’s matched bone marrow transplant (my sister was not a match), or a combination of immunosuppression, steroids, and foreign antibodies (known as ATG) to revive failed marrow which works roughly 70 per cent of the time, but didn’t work for me. My last hope was a riskier path: somewhere in the world someone was a bone marrow match, and would agree to donate their marrow.

The Ottawa Hospital is one of our country’s best facilities to treat blood and marrow conditions. It has excellent doctors and incredibly dedicated nurses (including a wonderful local from Brennan’s Hill). My luck in treatment finally turned a corner, and a perfect bone marrow match was found and they agreed to donate. Through this gesture, I’m here today, recovering and in good health.

Regrettably, though, during my treatment I heard of another patient from Wakefield who was diagnosed and admitted with the same rare condition but who died due to complications before receiving a transplant in time. I reached out, but we never got the chance to connect in the hospital before it was too late.

For readers who are looking to make a New Year’s resolution, donating blood or marrow is a universal and much needed contribution that could end up being a life-giving gift for someone in our community. The processes is simple and you can learn how easy it is by visiting www.blood.ca.

Jonathan Feldgajer is a resident of Wakefield.

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Let’s be transparent: Chelsea should fess up

January 22nd, 2015

By Sylvia Shawcross

It is time for residents of Chelsea to recognize they have a voice. Dragging this town into transparency and democracy practically involves kicking and screaming. In the past, this has involved lawsuits, gag orders, and generalized threats. At present, we have a citizen calling for the resignation of a councillor and engaging in what is, in my opinion, bullying on social media. It is not okay to do this. Councillors represent their wards, and if that ward has elected them, they have the right to expect that no one will attempt to muffle their voice on matters of council. If a councillor does not agree with their fellow councillors, then they don’t agree. End of story. A vote is a vote is a vote. That vote matters. That vote represents a ward. It is many voices.

It is unfortunate that our council lacks the leadership needed to bring this divided community together. How leadership handles constructive criticism and differing opinions is a matter of urgency. Citizens have rightfully become cynical, if not downright afraid, about speaking out. They are tired of feeling as if their voice doesn’t count. The line between developers, business interests, and municipal council does not seem to have been maintained, and it is hard for citizens to understand the difference between them. People no longer believe that their council is working for them; they are working for developers and business interests.

When Judy Grant left office, we had no debt. When Jean Perrault left office, the debt may have been in the millions – a lot, but still manageable. Mayor Green’s legacy will be a $30 million debt, which will be underwritten by the people of Chelsea, now dependent on the developers and new residents to pay it back in a housing market that is clearly in a bubble, if we are to believe the financial news. Development will clearly bring a glut of houses into a market that is already inflated.

Added to this nightmarish scenario is past council’s poor performance on several key projects such as the Farm Point sewer system, the Meredith Centre, and the Mill Road sewer system. Is it any wonder citizens are worried, afraid, tired, and cynical? Track records have not been good.

The single most important thing this council can do is stop intimidating residents. I do not take any great pleasure in saying that citizens can call for the resignation of our mayor. I do not know the mayor personally and do not cast aspersions on her character. I know it is a very difficult job. But this is not a popularity contest. It is about proper leadership. If this mayor’s defence is that citizens don’t fully understand all that is involved, why don’t we understand? Transparency please.

Sylvia Shawcross is a resident of Chelsea.

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