What’s wrong with the CBC? A Westerner’s view

By Garth Pritchard

CBC’s The National has become an American news outlet, far more interested in Donald Trump and the American news cycle than anything happening in Canada.

They proved this beyond a doubt with last night’s deplorable coverage of the shootings in the mosque in Quebec City. The National’s newsroom obviously believed that Trump was the story of the day, as usual. Canadians were left in the dark as to what was happening in the horrific shooting in their own country.

The coverage from our national broadcaster was so bad that we turned to CNN – which was actually running live coverage from Quebec – while the Toronto faces rattled on about American news. Totally unacceptable.

As Albertans, we have known for a long time that CBC is the public relations department for the Liberal government. What’s more, over the last year, CBC has become just another bad American news channel, never missing an opportunity to showcase their anti-Trump opinions.

As a Canadian, I have no skin in the American game. I just want good journalism. Give me the two sides and let me, the public, make a decision. The Toronto newsroom has become a de facto propaganda machine.

CBC’s coverage of what happened in Quebec appeared to me as if people in the Toronto newsroom were actually annoyed that they might have to cover what was going on at home.

I could go on about CBC’s mandate and what this debacle of a news outlet costs us, but of course we’re all familiar with the numbers and appalled by the product.

The daily decisions to dispense with solid news reporting and showcase their own political opinions demonstrate the amateurish journalism skills of The National’s news editors. They should all be fired. Now.

Garth Pritchard is an award-winning Canadian documentary filmmaker living in rural Alberta.

What’s wrong with the CBC?

An ambulance is parked at the scene of a fatal shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City
Why did English Canada see none of this live on the CBC?

Globe and Mail TV critic John Doyle’s Tuesday column (Lack of TV news coverage of Quebec City shooting a huge broadcast failure) singles out CBC-TV News, the national network’s touted source for independent news and commentary.

Doyle’s takedown wasn’t strong enough. The CBC failed so utterly, so pathetically, I’m shocked the network hasn’t announced an internal inquiry into who made the call not to break away from regular Sunday night programming, including a pre-recorded The National – and why.

Quebeckers and subscribers watched Sunday evening’s horror unfold on LCN, Quebecor’s all-news channel, or on its Radio-Canada competitor RDI. Both provided the kind of nonstop coverage viewers desperately sought from the moment the first alerts began popping up. If I was forced to choose, I’d say LCN’s remote coverage was better, while RDI’s anchors did a more professional job co-ordinating. (LCN’s usually urbane Pierre Bruneau looked and sounded rumpled and I found myself yelling at ex-politician Mario Dumont, but these are nitpicks.) Both got the job done.

CBC Montreal’s online posts were slow in coming and read as if they were being transcribed by someone watching the Radio-Canada feed. I was the CBC-TV assignment editor the day in 1984 Denis Lortie stormed the Quebec National Assembly, killing three and injuring 13. We scrambled to round up cameras and reporters as Toronto ordered nonstop coverage and demanded why we couldn’t supply more. Now, 33 years later, the CBC’s top brass seems to see nothing wrong in its failure to deliver what its private competitors had no trouble supplying – professional live coverage of a fast-breaking news event of worldwide interest.

My suspicion is that CBC top brass made a political decision. Rather than risking getting it wrong in the news blur (three shooters became two, then one) and giving voice to politically incorrect utterances, the news bosses played it safe by waiting until the SQ and Premier Philippe Couillard had done talking. If I’m right, the CBC  doesn’t deserve a dollar from taxpayers until those who made the call are replaced with professionals.

In 2016, the broadcaster got $34 per Canadian. It wants $46 per Canadian to go ad-free, which it claims will make it more independent and able to branch out into new technologies. My view: why should the CBC get more money if it fails to deliver on its existing promise of performance?

CTV and Global were no better, but they’re answerable to their shareholders and the CRTC, not the taxpayers. I feel for my colleagues who suffer in silence so they can keep their jobs. (As for the CRTC, it has outlived its usefulness, but it will take far more political courage than Ottawa has shown so far to make it relevant.)

Whenever I hear or read handwringing journalism profs and senior executives in Canada’s media monopolies moaning about the slow, sad death of print and broadcast journalism, I wonder whether I’m the one who’s crazy. Journalism isn’t dead. Its beating heart has been transplanted onto the internet, onto podcasts, onto live-streaming sites where inquisitive minds can work without the malevolent interference of corporate bosses. Media consumption has fragmented and as the boomers die, so will the mainstream media.

The CBC likes to pretend it’s a Canadian BBC, PBS or TV5. It is none of those things. It has excellent journalists, editors and producers but it ties their hands with a brain-dead bureaucracy which discourages initiative and enterprise. The sad part is that it could become the daring, disruptive voice of transformative journalism it claims to be.



Hudson’s Brick Shithouse

What is the ultimate capacity of Hudson’s sewage treatment facility?

According to the people who built it, 25% more than what it was originally designed to handle, with future expansions possible. I have been told the system is currently operating at approximately 60 per cent capacity, but the only confirmation I’d accept from this administration would be in the form of flowmeter data.

Above, the Town of Hudson’s sewage treatment facility as seen from Wharf Road. Below, the array of sequencing batch reactors at the back.


The 25% comes from former Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette reporter Matthew Brett’s sewer system notes from November 2007, which I post verbatim together with a big thanks to Matt for preserving them in digital form:

Whole system will be housed in a two-storey round building 28 metres in diameter according to town engineer Trail Grubert. Six-acre site off Wharf Road, next to the municipal snow dump.

Grubert said they’d looked at six other zones that weren’t suitable.

Space already belongs to town, so didn’t have to buy more property.

Discharge flows into the Lake of Two Mountains.

Denis Provencher of LBCD says it will use industrial processing tanks, called sequencing batch reactors (SBRs), to remove bacteria and solids from the water.

The first step in the treatment process involves what Provencher calls a “rotary screen,” where solids bigger than 6mm are filtered out. The liquid waste flows into an equalization tank to await transfer to one of the four SBRs. There, each load is pumped full of oxygen, which promotes the growth of aerobic bacteria that consume the particles found in the sewage.

Afterwards, the wastewater is left to settle before being separated from the leftover sludge. The water goes through a further ultraviolet disinfection process before flowing into the Lake of Two Mountains through a 300-metre pipe. The sludge is treated and dried, and periodically disposed of in a landfill.

According to Provencher, the water and sludge being returned into the environment must meet strict government requirements. One reason the town is installing the system is because municipalities downstream complained to the Ministry of Environment that Hudson is discharging raw sewage into the Lake of Two Mountains.

Building is equipped with a carbon filter that neutralizes odours.

Acoustic enclosure dampens noise.

For now, the sewer system will be available to businesses and residents in the town’s centre within the boundaries of Lakeview, Mount Pleasant, Côte St. Charles and Main Road, and all civic addresses on Bellevue, Sanderson, Seigneurie, Wilkinson and Parsons.

Provencher said the treatment facility has been designed to handle a larger service area in the future. “In the design, considerations have been given to future expansion. For example, by converting the equalization tank to a SBR, the capacity can be increased by 25 percent,” he said.

Let’s keep talking

Zébre Rouge employees, volunteers and backers gather for a photo op in the organization’s  bike-restoration workshop in Vaudreuil-Dorion. Zébre Rouge is one of the grassroots initiatives launched here in Quebec by the families of those with mental health issues.

Today was Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, when Canadians are encouraged to join a national dialogue on mental health issues. To give credit where credit is due, it’s thanks to Olympic medalist Clara Hughes that we’re having this discussion.

I’m not about to question Bell’s sincerity and generosity (any brownie points may have been wiped out with the firing of a Bell Media talk show host seeking a leave of absence for an anxiety disorder) or all your supportive retweets. But I will share some of yesterday’s conversation with Judy Ross, the co-founder of Mental Health Estrie.

Judy is the woman who asked Justin Trudeau at last week’s Sherbrooke town hall meeting what could be done to increase funding for mental health support groups such as theirs.

Trudeau famously told her that since they were in Quebec, he’d reply in French. Ross’s question exploded into another of those language-issue dialogues of the deaf rather than a serious discussion about the lack of mental health services in either official language. As I posted, (What I’d tell JT, Jan. 19, http://www.thousandlashes.ca) it was clear from his reply in French that he has no understanding of the core issue – the federal government has the responsibility of ensuring equal access to health and social services for Quebec anglos and francos in the rest of Canada.

Ross told me she’s worried that the purpose of her question was lost in the uproar. I asked her if she’d heard back from the PM’s people on her original concern. Not a word, she replied. She’s hesitant to launch a formal complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages because she’s hopeful the media storm will somehow morph into a much-needed discussion about funding for mental health support groups such as hers.

I asked her about Mental Health Estrie’s financial footing. Ross said it’s on an even shorter shoestring than it was when it was created 11 years ago. The regional health and social services agency eventually agreed the services they offer are unique and complementary, making them eligible for $52,000 a year. They got half that, indexed. Six years later, they’re making do with $27,000. They fundraise the rest.

That doesn’t include donations to HUGS, their annual winter clothing drive on behalf of the homeless clients of Sherbrooke’s Acceuil Poirier. Ross proudly tells the story of the shelter’s director staring at the table piled with hats, gloves, mitts and long underwear. It was the program’s first year and she was worried they’d done something wrong. He told her that in all his years with the shelter, it was the first time he’d ever seen new clothing being donated and couldn’t wait to play Santa Claus.

I asked Judy whether she’s seen any improvement in how society deals with mental illness. Yes, she told me. The ongoing challenge has been to get Mental Health Estrie’s name out there. She and others sit on MRC working tables. They’ve seen the region’s CLSCs hire mental health teams. She’s seen the mental health teams set up direct links with the CHUS (University of Sherbrooke Health Centres, similar to Montreal’s MUHC and CHUM). First responders have protocols to prevent confrontations with the mentally ill.  ERs have quiet places where those in crisis can get away from jammed waiting rooms. Later this year, a supervised residence will open in Lennoxville for 18-35s with mental health issues.

“Where we see difficulties is with access,” Ross continued. “People go to the ER, where they’re triaged. Once they’re triaged, they’re directed to an area for psychiatric services. There they may wait up to eight hours to see an ER doctor, who may call a psychiatrist – and that psychiatrist may not speak English.”

People with mental health issues usually don’t seek medical help of their own accord, Ross said. Many wait months to seek help and if they don’t have someone to advocate for them, their first reflex is to get up and walk out. So Mental Health Estrie’s volunteers and staff are often called upon to accompany their clients, either to a medical facility or to the courthouse.

“There’s a lot of isolation to deal with – in many regions, no public transit means people live in isolation. Then there’s the stigma of mental illness, the history of bad experiences…”

And there’s language. How, asks Ross, can a unilingual French-speaking psychiatrist get a unilingual English-speaking patient to open up about their thoughts?

She speaks from personal experience. Faced with a family mental-health crisis, she and her husband were forced to find help in Montreal, where they met with Ella Amir and AMI. From that, Mental Health Estrie was born, leading Judy to joke that Amir can add midwifery to her CV.

Ross, now 72, describes the past 20 years “as the best and the worst” as she and the organization she co-founded fight on to change the way we think about mental illness. Justin Trudeau’s language gaffe falls into the silver-lining category. “I just try to grab every opportunity,” she says.

I’m posting this as Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk Day winds down. I’m sure we all retweeted their feel-good message but I can’t help asking what, if any, of the money Bell says it will donate finds its way to Mental Health Estrie, Zébre Rouge or any of the grassroots groups involved in the 24/7 struggle with mental illness. They’re the unsung heroes. Too bad Bell doesn’t see the value in telling these stories. Maybe next year…

Annex A

Finished going through Annex A, the document which lists the 789 addresses eligible for connection to Hudson’s sewer system and sewage treatment plant. Annex A forms an integral part of long-term loan Bylaw 505. This one bylaw accounts for $14.8 million of the town’s $24 million long-term debt.

Taken together, Bylaw 505 and Quebec’s Act Respecting Municipal Taxation make it clear every address fronting on a sewer line, connected or not, must pay the interest, principal and charges on the sewer/sewage treatment plant loan according to the rates set for residential and non-residential usage.

Act respecting municipal taxation, Section 244.3:

The mode of tariffing must be related to the benefits derived by the debtor.
Benefits are derived not only when the debtor or his dependent actually uses the property or service, or benefits from the activity but also when the property or service is at his disposal or the activity is an activity from which he may benefit in the future. The rule, adapted as required, also applies in the case of a property, service or activity from which benefit may be derived not directly by the person but which may be derived in respect of the immovable of which he is the owner or occupant.
The extended meaning given to the expression “benefits derived” in the second paragraph does not apply if the mode of tariffing is a fixed amount exigible in a punctual manner for the use of a property or a service or in respect of the benefit derived from an activity. The activity of a municipality that consists in examining an application and responding to it is deemed to benefit the applicant, regardless of the response given, including cases where the subject of the application is a regulatory act or the response consists in such an act.

An accompanying letter from Hudson’s greffier Cassandra Comin Bergonzi notes that a special meeting will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at the Community Centre where a revised 2017 budget will be presented. Finance committee head Rob Goldenberg said at the  January council meeting the revision will include the taxation of properties located on the sewer system but not connected. In my discussions with a Municipal Affairs ministry lawyer and Hudson Director-General Jean-Pierre Roy, I was given to understand the municipality must tariff all properties physically capable of connecting to the sewer system even if they have not connected. The following lists all connectable properties. Annex A does NOT denote which properties have yet to connect.

Annex A: dai207-01-1-annexes-a

Note: This version has been updated with the addition of specific references. 


I resurrected two columns published prior to presentation of Hudson’s water and sewer loan bylaws. Here’s what Peter Ratcliffe had to say: pg-09

My Oct. 30 2006 Hudson Gazette column follows. The water and sewer loan bylaws were presented a month later, raising the total cost from $16 million to $24 million. Conclusion: Hudson went into this project knowing the west end water question was unresolved. I wish we had pushed the issue even if others didn’t.

When later becomes now
Elsewhere in this week’s paper, Hudson resident François Hudon argues the case that every one of Hudson’s 2,200 addresses should be taxed equally for the proposed sewer treatment system and upgrades to the Town’s waterworks.
Hudon isn’t alone. This past weekend, I was waylaid by a prominent resident who demanded why any household not served by the sewer system should have to pay for it. I had scarcely finished that conversation when I ran into a couple from the west end whose water pressure had just dropped off for the umpteenth time, wanting to know why their taxes aren’t worth as much as everyone else’s.
Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t hear from another resident of Birch Hill, Brisbane and Upper or Lower Whitlock, threatening to vote against the bylaw if they’re not connected to the sewer system.
As I predicted, the Town’s delay in tabling a loan bylaw for the water and sewer works is giving rise to rebellion.
Before I wade deeper into this debate, I’m 100 percent in favour of this project. I’m tired of drinking water that tastes like blood (and get off my case about water softeners!). I’m disgusted with the sight of raw sewage flowing in the Lake of Two Mountains. I’m sick of the pervasive smell of fecal matter in our ditches and streams.
It’s going to cost us. As a business in the centre of town, the Hudson/St. Lazare Gazette will be assessed its share of the 75 percent of the cost of the sewer project. As an unsewered Hudson household, we’ll continue to shoulder the cost of maintaining an aeration system at our home.
But voting against the loan bylaw may end up costing us even more. As I wrote in August, municipalities that take their drinking water from the Ottawa River are demanding that Quebec force Hudson to stop dumping its untreated sewage. Since then, I’ve been told that if Hudson votes aginst the loan bylaw, the feds and the province may well pull their money, force Hudson to clean up its act — and foot the sewage component of the bill all by its lonesome.
If the sewer project dies, so will the continuing-care seniors’ residence and the proposed medical centre, neither of which is economically viable if it has to build its own treatment plant.
So why hasn’t the Town of Hudson presented its case to the people? It’s now November, more than a month after public information sessions were supposed to have been held to brief taxpayers. Here’s the dilemma I suspect is facing the Town:
Sewerage: The original plan connected homes, businesses and public buildings in a quadrilateral bounded by Main Road, Côte St. Charles, Cameron and Lakeview, plus Mount Pleasant Elementary and Westwood Senior High schools and the proposed seniors’ residence on Charleswood. A separate network collected sewage from residences on Bellevue, Sanderson, Seignieurie, Parsons and Wilkinson. Everything fed into a new waste-water treatment plant next to the municipal snow dump on Wharf Road. Now that the folks of Birch Hill and Brisbane are militating for connection, why not the homes around Pine Lake and everyone above Lakeview? It’s mushrooming.
Cost: The federal and provincial governments are committed to $9.8 million, or slightly less than two-thirds of the original $15.5 million cost. That would have left $5.6 million to be picked up by Hudson’s ratepayers according to a cost-sharing arrangement to be presented at a public consultation prior to the tabling of the loan bylaw (or bylaws, depending on how the Town decides to divvy up the cost.) Some 1,300 addresses would be liable for anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of the sewerage bill, with the remaining 900 paying the rest. A number of unsewered homeowners aren’t happy because they’ll end up paying for a sewer system while having to maintain a septic tank, weeper field and all the rest.
Water: Again, who should pay? Not all 2,200 addresses will benefit from improvements to the Town of Hudson’s drinking water treatment infrastructure. Originally, the Town had hoped to be able to solve the west end’s chronic water woes with a new reservoir connected to Rigaud’s two new wells, but that plan fell through when it learned that the proposal carried a $1 million price tag. Does the Town float a separate loan bylaw for the reservoir and tax the 55 west end homes it serves for the full cost? Or does the Town write the cost of laying pipe from the top of Macauley Hill to the Hudson border into the overall water-system upgrade?
Bottom line: Pay now or pay later. For nearly 40 years, Hudson has evaded its duty to the environment and its neighbours. Whatever the reason for the incompetent handling of the water/sewer file, this project MUST be completed.


What I’d say to JT

Mental Health Estrie founder Judy Ross asks Justin Trudeau what he can do to make health and social services more accessible to English-speaking Townshippers. The PM tells her he’ll answer her in French.

When you’re blaming someone for the uproar in Sherbrooke, I hope you’re looking in the mirror.

It wasn’t the fault of your town hall advance team that nobody briefed you on the woman asking you that question about health and social service availability in English.

It wasn’t the fault of the media that your fartbrained decision to answer an English question in French escalated into a Facebook feeding frenzy. You’ve been a Quebec MP long enough to know federal politicians always answer in the questioner’s language if they’re able to. Your father was a stickler for federal bilingualism protocol. Frankly, everyone thought you were past that petty linguistic bullshit.

Yes, you sort of apologized but it only compounded the problem. You had a second chance to admit your mistake and make amends to perhaps the one person in that entire room who has personal experience dealing with Quebec’s systemic linguistic discrimination. You blew it.

Judy Ross is the name of the woman who asked you that question in English. She’s the founder and longtime executive director of Mental Health Estrie. If your handlers do their job, they’ll discover that Mental Health Estrie does incredible work on a shoestring for English-speaking Townshippers living with mental illness. They run peer support groups for patients, caregivers and their families. They run social integration projects for patients attempting to reintegrate into their communities.

Each year from November until March, Mental Health Estrie runs its annual HUGS for the Homeless for the Acceuil Poirier homeless shelter in Sherbrooke. HUGS stands for hats, underwear, gloves and mittens, socks and scarves but they accept new articles of clothing that will keep people warm in subzero temperatures. (Mental Health Estrie’s website notes that Sherbrooke is one of 11 Canadian cities that can expect at least one night of -30.)

HUGS was started because Quebec has been cutting the number of psychiatric beds in its hospitals since Jean Rochon was Lucien Bouchard’s health minister. Outreach funding was supposed to bridge the gap but a succession of governments has slashed those budgets as well. Of the 600 or so homeless people the Acceuil Poirier provides for, at least 75% of the men and 90% of the women are dealing with a persistent mental illness.

Maybe you’re getting a glimmer of why Judy Ross was so put out by you switching into French. Mental Health Estrie exists mainly because Quebec anglos are at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to accessing health and social services in English. If you’re dealing with a mental health crisis, your only option is the Hotel Dieu Hospital, where you’ll be lucky if there’s a clinician available who speaks English.

It’s the same for English-speaking communities everywhere off the Island of Montreal. It doesn’t matter whether it’s getting your slow learner child assessed, arranging respite care for a spouse with Alzheimer or dealing with persistent mental illness. The average wait time for English-speaking patients and their families is half again as long as it is for French speakers because of Quebec’s specific demands. For example, files must be in French even if the care provider and patient are both anglos. Bilingual providers must be paid a premium so there’s less incentive to hire bilingual staff. Ottawa, through the Health Care Act and the federally funded CHSSN, has some influence, but every dollar going to minority-language health and social services in Quebec is measured against an equivalent amount for francophones in the rest of Canada. It’s an old, old fight and there are no winners.

So, Mr. Trudeau Jr., this is why Judy Ross reacted like you’d slapped her. How were you to know? These town halls across Canada are supposed to be feel-good photo ops and soundbites of scrubbed, respectful Canadians listening intently to your self-congratulatory speechifying and queuing up for selfies. One can imagine the horror among your handlers when angry, disrespectful Canadians puncture the PMO bubble and the fickle media zoom in on their outrage. Those of us who have spent their working lives chronicling this are never surprised. The longer the honeymoon, the greater the fall.

In a Facebook post this morning I compared Canada’s relationship with you and your government to any personal relationship. Most of us have gotten over the initial puppy-love giddiness. We’re beginning to see the things that attracted us to you are becoming the things that piss us off. We still can’t resist a selfie with you at Smoked Meat Pete’s but we’re beginning to hate ourselves for our weakness. Most of us are still hoping you’ll move past the narcissism, the self-love and the bogus I-care-about-you act to a place where you can be both yourself and politically honest.

Wise up, and quickly. Learn from your father’s experiences. PET won grudging acceptance in Quebec because he never tried to suck up. Trudeaumania had a fast, rude trip back to earth during the 1968 St. Jean Baptiste riot where PET’s presence enraged a coalition of violent Quebec secessionists and union militants. Thirty months later, he was dealing with the FLQ insurgency and an apprehended insurrection that would have seen a popular common front take over the government of the province from the rookie Liberal premier Robert Bourassa.

More free advice: Don’t expect worshipful, happy crowds in Alberta unless you’re ready to Trump the hecklers. I just got off the phone with Garth Pritchard, who is hoping to get into one of your town halls to ask you who you represent — Canada or Quebec. Like most Albertans, he’s angry at his premier Rachel Notley for not taking a stronger stand against carbon taxes. He’s angry on behalf of the 200,000 unemployed Albertans, angry about the average $2 billion a year Alberta still transfers to Quebec.

Like most Albertans, Garth can’t grasp why you’re going around bragging about how your government plans to phase out the oilsands while approving new pipelines. Which is it?

I was at a riding environment committee meeting last night in Hudson where someone asked that same question. There’s a conspiracy theory out there that Ottawa promised $40-50 billion to B.C. to approve the Kinder Morgan project. There’s another conspiracy theory that your government’s picks for the reconstituted National Energy Board have a mandate to ensure Energy East gets its pipeline to Montreal and its tankers downriver passage to the Irving refinery. You should know your credibility in environmental circles is melting faster than the Greenland icecap.

You’re a smart, likeable guy. You’ve done well in making Canada cool. But you’re losing credibility for no good reason and when that’s gone, Canadians will begin to wonder what’s left.

Looking back…

I wrote this column back in January 2014. I was sick of hearing a succession of councils weaselling out of the Town of Hudson’s 2006 promise to west end residents the water bylaw included a line to the west end.

The photo is of part of the map drawn up by LBCD which was presented at two public loan-bylaw meetings in November 2006. The map formed part of LBCD’s funding proposal to the federal and provincial governments. The administration of that period claims the west end aqueduct was removed from LBCD’s proposal because it would have driven up the cost of the project. Who made the decision? LBCD? Quebec? The administration?

Before this and future administrations spend a dime on wish-list projects, they have to attend to this. It’s an open wound, a reminder of promises made for the sake of political expediency and an insurmountable obstacle to equitable taxation. A competent administration would have dealt with this in their first budget.


What promises were made during those loan bylaw consultations in return for citizen support? These are from the Nov. 29, 2006 Hudson Gazette:   pg-01   pg-04  pg-14  pg-44

On Dec. 6, 2006, Mayor Elizabeth Corker first brought up the possibility of metered water for businesses.

Hudson mulling water meters
By Elyse Amend

HUDSON — Businesses on Main Road may be seeing water meters installed to determine how much they should be paying for sewerage.
Originally the Town of Hudson had proposed to tax buildings and businesses their share of the new sewer system on the basis of how much water they consume, but widespread dissatisfaction forced the town to rethink the formula.
The original taxation structure would have seen businesses taxed according to their daily estimated water use in litres. While most offices and stores, would end up paying on the basis of one residential unit, or 675 litres per day, restaurants would be taxed on the basis of 135 litres per seat per day, reflecting how much water is used for food preparation, cooking and cleanup. Beauty salons would be assessed on 650 litres per day per cutting chair, while bars would pay taxes on eight litres per day per client. Doctors and dentists would be taxed on 275 litres per day per professional, while cleaners would be assessed on 2000 litres a day.
Many businesses complained that the formula doesn’t represent the amount of water they really use, so the Town of Hudson is proposing to instal water meters in the business district, said Mayor Elizabeth Corker.
“It looks like the most logical thing to do. Certainly for some businesses that have installed more efficient equipment, they’re likely to use less water,” Corker said. “The idea’s not to undercharge and the idea’s not to overcharge. We’re trying to make it fair for everybody.”
Complexes that house several businesses, such as Shaars, Lancaster Place, and Poiriers, will have one meter installed for all the units. Property owners will be taxed for the entire complex, and will be responsible for passing on the charges to their tenants.
Meter readings would be done over the course of a year to establish actual consumption.
“Probably what we’re leaning towards right now is, we’ll have at least a year to figure out what their consumption is, rather than basing it on hypothesis,” Corker said.
If the loan bylaw is approved, sewer installation could start as soon as this spring, but may be pushed to the fall if there are delays. The Town proposes to ensure that major traffic disruptions won’t take place during the peak summer months, the mayor added.

On Dec. 13, the Gazette ran this story on how costs would be split. This is the first mention that west-end residents would be getting and paying for town water:

Water-system improvements by the numbers:
Total cost: $6.4M
Minus: federal/provincial infrastructure grants: $1.6M
Cost to ratepayers: $4.8 million ($2.4M over 25 years plus $2.4M over 40 years
Annual cost per address: $145 ($122 for loan bylaw, $23 for operation)
Note: Everyone drawing Town water will pay the $240 water tax as a separate line item on their tax bills. West-end residents may choose to continue drawing water from a private well, but will pay $122 because nearby fire hydrants will reduce their insurance costs.

Sewer project by the numbers:
Total cost: $14.8M
Minus: federal/provincial infrastructure grants, excise tax rebate: ($9.1M + $825,000)
Cost to ratepayers: $5.7M ($1.8M over 25 years plus $3.9M over 40 years
Cost split: 70% paid by 30% of all addresses, the remaining 30% paid by the unserviced 70%.
Proposed annual cost per residence: 789 serviced addresses would pay approximately $474 per year ($335 + $139 in operating costs), while 1995 unserviced addresses would pay $60 per year.
Proposed annual cost per business: To be determined on the basis of ongoing negotiations.
Note: The Town proposes to tax the 144 businesses in 122 serviced buildings on the basis of how much water they consume, and therefore how much they discharge into the sewer system. Water consumption was to have been calculated on a per-unit basis derived from provincial guidelines. Those guidelines define a residential unit as 675 litres of water per day — 270 litres of water per person per day, multiplied by 2.5 persons per address.
• Restaurant water consumption would have been rated on the basis of 135 litres per seat per day, a reflection of the amount of water used for dishwashing, food preparation and equipment cleaning. The number of terrace seats would be divided by two. An 80-seat restaurant serving three meals a day, seven days a week would pay more than a 90-seat establishment open five days a week for breakfast and lunch.
• Daycares: 75 litres/person/day
• Professional offices: 50 litres/employee/day
• Retailers: 50 litres/ employee/day
• Bars: number of clients multiplied by eight litres of water/day.
• Dry cleaners: 2,000 litres per day.
• Medical and dental offices: 275 litres/day per professional, 75 litres/day for office personnel and 25 litres/day per patient.
• Hairdressers: 650 litres per cutting chair per day.
• B&Bs: 180 litres/guest/day.

I have yet to find a story reporting on the loan bylaw’s approval or how many, if any, residents signed a register which would have forced either or both bylaws to a referendum.

I recall a story in 2007 quoting Corker as saying the west end water line was off the table, but I can’t find it. Next step is to go through all the bound copies and page PDFs for 2007 and 2008.

This March 12, 2014 update marks the entry of the Prévost administration in the file.

PHOTO: Hudson’s sewage treatment plant was a $5.5 million piece of a $23.3 million puzzle. If unserviced sectors are exempt and Hudson’s three schools can’t be forced to pay, who is left to foot the bill? (Gazette, Jim Duff)

Town grapples with long-term debt scenarios
By Jim Duff
What percentage of Hudson’s $32.5 million in long-term debt represents the cost of the sewage treatment system? The waterworks upgrade? How much represents a dozen other loan bylaws approved over a dozen or more years?
What happens if Quebec upholds a citizen’s complaint at having to pay for a service they’ll never get?
It’s challenge facing mayor Ed Prévost and the administration as the town braces for two municipal affairs ministry (MAMROT) decisions.
The first is on the legality of $23.3 million in waterworks and sewer loans authorized under three borrowing bylaws already approved by MAMROT. Last week, town manager Catherine Haulard urged citizens to complain to MAMROT on the basis taxpayers can’t be forced to pay for services they can never hope to receive.
If MAMROT acts on those complaints, the town could be required to rewrite and re-adopt one or more of the original loan bylaws.
The second is whether Quebec will honour its commitment to service more than $6.5 million of Hudson’s long-term debt.
Late last year, MAMROT informed the town it won’t begin paying the interest and carrying charges on its $6,572,428 share of the deal until the audit of every contract is completed. Prévost said the town has heard nothing more.
Earlier this week, Prévost cited figures showing Hudson requested a total of $15,085,331 to install sewers, build a treatment plant and upgrade the town’s waterworks under the federal-provincial infrastructures program. Of that, $13,074,428 was entered in the town’s books as receivable.
So far, $6,502,000 has been received from the federal government in a lump sum.
If and when MAMROT agrees to pay what it committed to, Hudson taxpayers are on the hook for $10,225,572 over 25 years.
But if MAMROT refuses outright or delays the decision on the basis of the audit, add the annual cost of servicing an additional $6,572,428.
The 2014 budget earmarked $896,742 to finance the town’s total long term debt and $905,056 for repayment of principal.
The mayor assured residents they would be getting adjustments to their tax bills in coming days and said that if MAMROT forces the town to rewrite the original loan bylaws, council has the option of extending the term to 40 years.
Former mayor Elizabeth Corker says MAMROT signed off on every one of the water and sewer loan bylaws at the time. “Never once in 16 years did we have a loan bylaw returned,” Corker added Monday.
“Why are they opening this Pandora’s Box? We spent two years negotiating with MAMROT, traipsing down there every week with the engineers.”






The Town of Hudson will table a revised 2017 budget as soon as possible after discovering it had understated this year’s tax increase by two thirds. 

A subdued Ron Goldenberg, the councillor responsible for fiscal policy, told tonight’s January council meeting they had used the wrong mil rate for 2016. Instead of the average 1.6% increase he had quoted to reporters, Hudson taxpayers face an average 4.9% increase before tariffs – exactly what I predicted in my blog Hudson’s true tax load, published a week ago.

Goldenberg and mayor Ed Prevost said it was an honest mistake, but it means the town will have to find ways to slash in the budget adopted Dec. 21. It puts the town in a quandary, especially with a long list of organizations already having received assurances they’ll be receiving municipal grants. There was some indication of that tonight when resident Trevor Smith asked why the list of recipients and the amounts they’ll receive hasn’t been released even though the announcement was made at that same Dec. 21 meeting.

Once letters go out to hopeful recipients the amounts of the grants will be made public, councillor Barbara Robinson replied. Recipients include the Hudson Village Theatre, Greenwood, the music festival, St Patrick’s Parade and more.

Goldenberg confirmed the revised budget will tax those whose properties are located on the sewer system who have never paid sewer taxes because they never connected. Some 250 doors, roughly a third of the eligible total, haven’t paid sewer taxes and tariffs since the system came on line nearly 10 years ago.

Following the meeting I asked Goldenberg when residents could expect the revised budget. He said he was hoping to get it done in time for the February council meeting.

It also came out that the town faced a potentially critical water shortage following the Jan. 4 fire in the town’s Como sector. A mother and her two daughters escaped with their lives after being rescued by a passing Hydro Quebec crew. Town DG J.P. Roy told resident Richard Rothschild the combination of the fire and four leaks in the system together significantly lowered the town’s water reserves. Rothschild noted the town would have been in serious trouble, had there been another fire in town. Roy said later that while the level was of concern, the town never faced an emergency situation. 

More to come once I’ve listened to the tape and gone through my notes.

Waiting for Bill 122

Warning: some elected officials may find this dangerously boring. Do not attempt to understand while doing anything which requires wakefulness.img_0798

Bill 122 was introduced in Quebec’s National Assembly Dec. 6, “an Act mainly to recognize that municipalities are local governments and to increase their autonomy and powers.”

When it is adopted sometime in 2017, it will give Quebec’s 1,600 municipalities broader powers over urban planning, including zoning. It will change how municipalities are allowed to ask for the 10% greenspace requirement for a proposed subdivision. It will govern how municipalities plan their spending priorities. It will lay down tough new freedom-of-information and fiscal reporting requirements.

It will make public consultation a cornerstone of development policy.

Municipalities will no longer be required to post public notices in local newspapers. Instead, they will face tougher transparency requirements, including the obligation to post every public document on a municipal website.

Once Bill 122 is adopted, municipalities will have far greater autonomy over zoning and development. Section 85.5 deals with a new word, requalification. A municipality may identify requalification zones in its planning policy, where redevelopment such as densification or urban renewal wouldn’t require a rezoning bylaw subject to referendum. Until Bill 122, a municipality wishing to direct development or renewal had to adopt a plan particuler d’urbanisme, or PPU. Vaudreuil-Dorion used a PPU to bigfoot opponents to the sunless canyons on de la Gare. L’Île-Perrot used a PPU to rehabilitate Grand and Perrot Blvds., but in both cases all it required was Quebec’s blessing.

Here’s what the new law says (boldface type and quotation marks denote exerpts lifted verbatim from the draft bill’s English version available on the National Assembly website):

Every municipality that wishes to avail itself of the power provided
for in section 85.5 shall first adopt an information and consultation policy.
The policy must contain measures that are complementary to those in this
Act and are designed to foster public participation and the dissemination of
information. The policy must enable the public to make comments or
suggestions, orally or in writing, and provide for dissemination of information via the Internet.
The policy must also provide for the production of a consultation report and
its tabling before the council of the municipality.
The Minister may, by regulation, fix any other requirement concerning the
content of an information and consultation policy.
The policy applies, throughout the territory of the municipality, to any
amendment or revision of the planning program. 
Every municipality that wishes to amend or revise its zoning or
subdivision by-law in a way that significantly modifies the standards applicable
in a territory situated within a requalification zone must first produce and make
public an analysis of the probable social, economic and environmental effects
of these new standards. The analysis must draw a connection between the
modifications and the directions and objectives contained in the planning

Another major change governs the 10% greenspace requirement from developers.

The rules must also take into account, in favour of the owner, any transfer
or payment made previously in respect of all or part of the site.”
[…] The municipality may require the
transfer of land whose surface area is greater than 10% of the surface area of
the site if the land in respect of which the subdivision or building permit is
applied for is situated within a central sector of the municipality and if all or
part of the immovable is green space. […] If the municipality requires both
the transfer of land and the payment of a sum, the amount paid must not exceed 10% of the value of the site.
The council shall, by by-law, determine the boundaries of the central sectors
of the municipality and define what constitutes green space for the purposes
of the third paragraph.

Bill 122 also imposes stricter fiscal reporting requirements on municipalities. For example, a municipality’s treasurer must submit to Quebec by May 15:
– a financial report;
– the chief auditor’s report;
– the external auditor’s report.
Any revisions must be tabled at the next public council meeting. Moreover, “the treasurer shall table two comparative statements at the last regular
sitting of the council held at least four weeks before the sitting at which the
budget for the following fiscal year is to be adopted.”

Municipalities will be forced to clean up their procedural act. No longer will they be able to present a notice of motion of a proposed bylaw, then adopt said bylaw later in the same meeting.

Every by-law must, on pain of nullity [declared null and void],
be preceded by a notice of motion and a draft by-law tabled at a sitting
of the council and be adopted at a subsequent sitting held on a later day.
The notice of motion and the draft by-law may be tabled at the same sitting
or at separate sittings, but the draft by-law may not precede the notice of

Finally, Bill 122 will make Quebec the final arbiter in determining “what information every municipality is required to disseminate in an open document format on a storage medium so that it can be reused.

The regulation must set out the terms governing the dissemination of such
information, which terms may vary according to the different classes of

When will Bill 122 be adopted? We don’t know. The Couillard government and Quebec’s two major municipal associations have been trumpeting its virtues for the past year but it could take another year before it becomes law.

In the meantime, the old rules apply. Municipalities should keep this in mind before attempting to justify policy changes based on legislation yet to be adopted.