50 votes shy of Chelsea referendum
By Hannah Sabourin and Trevor Greenway
Chelsea residents fell a mere 50 votes short of forcing a referendum on the municipality’s master plan Oct. 24.
Residents were racing to beat the 7 p.m. registry deadline, with 545 people making it into the municipal office in time. A total of 595 votes were needed to trigger a potential referendum on the municipality’s master plan, but some residents said they feel there wasn’t enough time for citizens to understand the scope of the decision before the registry was opened.
“The law says you don’t have to give more than a day [to sign a referendum registry]. But why limit it? There’s nothing that prevents the municipality from [extending it to] three days,” said president of Chelsea’s Ward 2 Residents Association Jacques Michaud.
Because the municipality has less than 9,885 qualified voters, the referendum registry must be open for a minimum of one day. Another stipulation is that the notice concerning the referendum must be made public by the municipality five days before the opening of the registry.
The municipality followed both rules – posting a notice on Facebook and on their website on Oct. 18, 2022 – a timeline that complies with the law. A referendum would have invited the electorate to vote on one political question: whether to move forward with the master plan or redo it.
Michaud added his name to the registry and said his main concern is that Chelsea doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle the influx of development that is set to come in with the approval of the master plan, which is a road map for development in the municipality for the next decade; the last one was passed in 2005.
“The previous master plan was already approving that we could build 1,000 extra units in the Centre Village. What we’ve been stating is that – with the current situation of the water plant, [and] the increased traffic that is not resolved – they don’t have a satisfactory plan for Chemin Old Chelsea. If you increase the number of residents [… and] pursue more construction the way the municipality has been doing for the next five years, we’re hitting a wall,” said Michaud.
“The current water plant is creating pollution in the Gatineau River; Chemin Old Chelsea is a mess,” added Michaud. He explained that, if these problems are not repaired before the municipality moves forward with new developments, problems surrounding Chelsea’s infrastructure would compound.
Several residents, including Ward 2 Coun. Dominic Labrie, who also added his name to the registry list, had serious concerns that the documents in question – a subdivision bylaw and a zoning bylaw – were not made available in English prior to the opening of the registry.
“There’s no excuse for the documents not being in English,” Labrie said. “As a municipality, we can’t – on the one hand – put our hands on our hearts and say we defend bilingualism, and then, on the other hand, ask people to vote on a fundamental document that determines the future of the municipality with an untranslated document.”
Chelsea has an official bilingual designation. Stats Canada 2021 census found that a majority of Chelsea residents identify as anglophones.
Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard said there was not enough time to outsource the corresponding master plan bylaws for translation ahead of the referendum.
“I spoke with our staff, and that isn’t possible. But every time a resident had a question – our employees were able to respond to their questions via email throughout the entire process,” said Guénard.
Guénard did not provide a response by press time as to why the registry was opened so quickly – within a week of the master plan approval – when the municipality had 45 days, by law, to open it.
Farm Point resident Tineke Kuijper, who was rallying residents online to vote Oct. 24, said she has concerns about the process of the entire master plan, and wonders whether or not the 200 comments from consultations were taken into consideration.
“People feel that the municipality hasn’t been all that transparent,” she said. “The municipality has consulted [with residents]. But until recently, they haven’t produced any kind of summary that would help us understand the input they received [from residents].”
Overall, Kuijper expressed disappointment with the local government’s communications strategy. She remarked that council members seemed to have been left in the dark on what changes were made to the master plan following consultations.
Ward 5 Coun. Rita Jain expressed similar concerns during the Oct. 4 council meeting — the same day that council voted to move forward with the master plan and its corresponding zoning and subdivision bylaws. Jain said she voted against the zoning bylaw because she was unhappy with how the municipality consulted with residents.
“We did not follow up with our communications,” said Jain, explaining that the municipality had yet to provide a summary of all the changes made to the document as of Oct. 4.
At this meeting – which took place in Hollow Glen – the majority of Chelsea councillors voted to pass the municipality’s revised master plan, which includes subdivision and zoning bylaws.
According to council, the newest versions of these bylaws help Chelsea protect the environment and offer essential services. The revisions will also help the municipality develop affordable and multigenerational housing, all while protecting Chelsea’s rural character.
To read more about the public consultation report about the master plan and its corresponding bylaws, visit the municipal website: https://bit.ly/3FcZvxQ.
The next step is for the master plan to be approved by the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais in the coming weeks.