Chelsea needs to push back
Chelsea is in another heated fight that threatens to be as divisive as previous issues like the community trail or the Meredith Centre. This time it’s over the municipality’s plan to expropriate land, including a soccer field owned by the Chelsea Foundation.
How did we get here? It’s definitely not the fault of the Foundation – it had a clear plan going back some 25 or more years and got much of the community involved in the fundraising and volunteering to make that dream a now well-enjoyed reality. Since Chelsea municipality is the one doing the expropriating – and yes, it’s expropriating when the landowner does not want to sell – fingers are pointing at council.
But the original source of this contentious issue is the Coalition Avenir Québec government, which has unleashed divisive legislation after divisive legislation. When it passed Bill 40, the widely criticized legislation that weakens the autonomy of school boards both French and English, it slipped in a greedy provision that forces municipalities to give the province land free of charge to build schools.
Back in 2020, when the bill was introduced, mayors all over Quebec loudly protested this unfair land grab. The Union des municipalités du Québec called it “disguised expropriations.” Its president said back then that the new rules “made no sense” and explicitly warned that it could lead to the service centres (formerly French school boards) taking public parks and green spaces.
And that’s exactly what is playing out in Chelsea.
This ill-conceived and detrimental piece of legislation has the potential to put the Foundation, council and the whole community on a crash course of arguing, infighting, distrust and ill-will for years to come.
Not to mention the huge bill the province is forcing Chelsea to eat for both the expropriation of highly valuable centre-village lands and the potential rerouting of existing water, sewer, hydro, roads and other services that are already in place. That, of course, will eventually be dumped on taxpayers.
But this is not a done deal – the resolution Chelsea recently passed is to have its lawyers pursue the acquisition of this particular parcel of land. It is surprising and disappointing that only one councillor voted against this resolution. But it’s also understandable. With all the new developments, Chelsea needs a new school even earlier than the unrealistic deadline of 2026 issued by the CSSPO service centre.
There is a lot at stake with this move to expropriate: the goodwill of all those volunteers and donors of the Chelsea Foundation and the community at large; the years of ill-will should Chelsea go through with forcefully taking that land without at least trying to preserve it; and, very importantly, setting a precedent for the rest of the province that could see similar expropriations of public parks or protected green spaces such as forests.
Why should the CSSPO dictate the terms and take its first choice of land parcels when its choice is so detrimental? The land it wants is in Chelsea – shouldn’t Chelsea hold the cards? Chelsea does not have to roll over; it can, and should, take more time to consult, do its research and push back for a better option in the name of community harmony and protecting public green space.