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  • Madeline Kerr

Cantley mayor says he’s ‘cleaned house’

Cantley’s Mayor David Gomes says he wants residents to understand that when he became mayor in November 2021 he inherited a financial mess. But, he adds, he is doing the hard work necessary to clean it up. 

The Low Down recently sat down with the mayor to discuss a range of issues, during which finances became a focal point.

David Gomes was elected mayor of Cantley in November 2021. He is a chartered accountant and father of four who has lived in Cantley for nearly 20 years. Facebook photo

Just a few months ago, Cantley was forced to borrow more than $3 million in order to help cover a nearly $4 million deficit. Gomes was adamant that this deficit was the result of poor financial management and a freeze on taxes by previous councils dating back almost a decade. 

“For 10 years [there was] zero augmentation of tax. …For years politicians here were saying ‘no augmentation of taxes, no higher taxes’, so when I arrived [as mayor] and I saw the financial situation, I said ‘f–k,’” an impassioned Gomes exclaimed. 

He showed the Low Down a ledger of financial statements, which indicates that in 2016 Cantely’s surplus sat at over $5 million. Every year since then, the municipality has been running a deficit and taking from the surplus to balance the budget. 

By 2022, not only had Cantley eaten its own surplus, the municipality was a whopping $3,961,395 in the hole. 

Gomes told the Low Down that the former council would regularly take from the municipality’s surplus to cover discrepancies in the budget. 

Unlike the other two levels of government, municipalities are not allowed to run a deficit. In November 2023, Cantley passed a loan bylaw allowing it to borrow $3.26 million with an interest rate of 5.5 per cent. Taxes were also raised 4.95 per cent this year, about three quarters of which is needed to help pay off the loan. 

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing [MMAH] opened an investigation into the municipality in late 2023 after some residents cried foul over the state of the municipality’s finances. 

“The same people were calling all the [newspapers] and saying ‘Gomes has put Cantley in the shit.’ They called Mr. [MNA Robert] Bussière, they called all the deputies, they called the ministry of municipal affairs two or three times to say they should make a denunciation of me, of Cantley…you can see I’m really pissed off,” he said, laughing.  

“With a lot of complaints, the [MMAH] doesn’t have a choice except to call my DG [director-general] and ask, ‘What is happening in Cantley?’” 

He claimed that the investigation has since concluded, and that he has been cleared of wrong-doing.

Gomes admitted that his council is responsible for a further $700,000 deficit accumulated in 2022, but he maintains that he is doing his utmost to reverse Cantley’s situation. In 2023, he raised taxes almost 14 per cent, an unpopular move at the time but one that he said he believed was necessary to help balance revenue and spending. 

“I’ve corrected a lot of things inside. The financials now are back on track. What I’ve said to people is that we’ve cleaned the house here in Cantley,” Gomes explained. 

‘This is democracy’

One of the ways that Gomes said he hopes to bring in greater revenue for the municipality is with the development of a sports complex, which he originally hoped would be connected to the municipal community centre on Chemin River. He said the complex was designed to include a soccer field, a mezzanine for indoor walking, a climbing wall and an outdoor skate park. 

In August 2023, council passed a resolution to expropriate a historic farm next to the community centre for these purposes. But a large number of residents pushed back; 556 signed a petition and over 60 showed up to a council meeting on Sept. 19 demanding that the farm be saved. Five of the six councillors reversed their decision, and the resolution was overturned. 

“The population debated, and we decided not to go any further. A lot of people confronted us, and councillors changed their decision. This is ok, this is democracy, and so we changed the program,” Gomes said. 

He didn’t say where the complex would be relocated, but explained that new plans for the building are smaller than the original. 

He insisted that, although a great initial expense – he estimated between $7 million and $12 million to build – the sports complex would end up paying for itself, something which current municipal infrastructure does not do, he added.

Ambitious plans

Gomes told the Low Down he believes that environmental issues are “very, very important,” which is why he is happy his council formed the municipality’s first environmental committee two years ago. 

“We also [made] a resolution to protect 51 per cent of the [municipality’s greenspace],” he explained. “Quebec says it has to be 30 per cent that’s protected, but we made it 51. It’s ambitious…right now we are working with the MRC des Collines and different [agencies] of government to see if we can buy some land.” 

He said he believes his plans for protecting Cantley’s environment is a step above some neighbouring municipalities, though he wouldn’t name which ones. 

He added that Cantley has “stopped all development outside the urban perimeter.” 

A sizable chunk of Cantley greenspace was recently protected thanks to the efforts of a group of locals who’ve helped conserve an ecologically delicate, hundred-acre parcel of land known as Ginns Eco Park. 

In the past, members of the organization Friends of Ginns Eco Park have voiced concern that Mayor Gomes is not on their side, but Gomes insisted during the interview, “We have protected Ginns Park from the beginning.” 

He declined to comment on the ongoing legal battle between Cantley and Ginns’ neighbour, Sylvain Lafrenière, the owner of the mountain biking centre Domaine Kanewe, who wants to build a road through the park. The court date was originally set for Feb. 19 and 20 but has been postponed. 

Next steps: ‘a clear vision’ forward  

According to Gomes, Cantley does not have a master plan in place, but he said he is keen to develop one as soon as possible. He said he’s hoping to persuade council to put $25,000 towards creating a master plan, something that he said some councillors are reluctant to do. 

“We don’t have a vision, and we need a clear vision for everybody,” he said. “This is about the long term, and the next elected officials who come in after the next election need to have something in place. If it’s not going to be me, then I want to be able to leave something after me,” adding that he has four kids and campaigned on change. 

“The first responsibility of our council was to clean house financially, now we have to do good maintenance for the future,” he added, stating that citizen engagement is a top priority.

“For me, the biggest strength in Cantley is the citizens,” Gomes said, although he noted that, while important, discussions are “polarized these days.” 

Mayor Gomes is in his third year as Cantley’s mayor. The next election will be held in 2025. 


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