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.

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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.
Guidelines:
• 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)

HUDSON
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.”

 

 

 

 

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Rewrite!

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
program.

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
motion.

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
municipalities.”

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.

Buy a ticket!

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Hudson, the fourth largest water consumer in the MRC, is dealing with  a serious peak-consumption shortfall, yet is in no position to apply for federal and provincial money.

There’s that ancient joke about the guy who prays to win the lottery. Week after week, he lists his financial problems and repeats his plea for divine intervention. As time goes by, his prayers grow bitter with recrimination until one day, the skies open, the clouds part and the Voice of G-d roars “YOU WANT ME TO HELP YOU? BUY A TICKET!”

That geriatric knee-slapper comes to mind as I ponder the Town of Hudson’s mission to seek funding for its growing list of infrastructure projects, beginning with water.

Yesterday, I spoke with Peter Scheifke, our federal MP for Vaudreuil-Soulanges and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister for Youth. Scheifke briefed me on the money currently and coming available for infrastructure projects.

He began by noting $170 million in federal money available to Quebec municipalities of fewer than 100,000 residents for new potable water infrastructure and repairs to existing infrastructure. Costs are split three ways, with Ottawa and Quebec shouldering two thirds. Quebec racked up a $2.1 billion surplus in 2016, allowing an additional $400 million to be earmarked for municipal infrastructure.

Then there’s the Trudeau government’s new infrastructure program, under which Ottawa pays half, Quebec a third and the municipality just 17%.

But there’s a catch. A provincial law passed during the Duplessis era requires the feds to go through Quebec to fund municipal projects. Quebec is the only province with such a requirement.

Despite its infrastructure needs, Hudson isn’t on the list because it can’t satisfy Quebec’s requirements. “Hudson is not currently ready [for anything to be approved],” Scheifke told me.

Hudson’s council adopted a resolution at the town’s December budget meeting to hire a full-time grant chaser, but the town’s DG Jean-Pierre Roy told me this morning the town must file a public works intervention plan with the municipal affairs ministry (MAMOT) before filing grant-eligible proposals.

To draft a public works intervention plan, the town must first hire a consulting firm to compile data on every aspect of municipal infrastructure – roads, aqueducts, sewage and storm sewers, sidewalks, even streetlights.  “They want us to pay what’s broken first,” Roy explained.

I was blown away when the DG said the town should have filed an intervention plan 10 years ago. Hudson has to play catchup and under Quebec’s grant guidelines, must re-prioritize its to-do list. It’s possible Hudson’s bumpy roads and treacherous sidewalks will take priority over waterworks upgrades for infrastructure funding.

Here’s the kicker: Under Quebec’s guidelines, Hudson may not qualify for potable-water infrastructure spending because it uses too much water.

According to an MRC Vaudreuil-Soulanges-funded study (Put Water on the Table, http://www.thousandlashes.ca, February 2016) Hudson’s residents consume 1,123,024 cubic metres of water a year, the fourth highest in the MRC. Quebec municipalities average between 200 and 300 litres per day per person; Hudson’s consumption tops 400. The southwestern sector consumes more than a thousand litres per day per person.

Hudson’s administration hopes to address overconsumption by sensitizing property owners, but if people don’t pay, they don’t care until their toilets stop flushing. And as I posted (Downtown, downtown, http://www.thousandlashes.ca Jan. 3) the usage differential between business and residential sectors is astronomical:

Hudson residents who volunteered for this council’s strategic planning committee looking at the water issue learned from the town’s water technician that Alstonvale and Hudson Valleys consume three times the amount of water used by the centre of Hudson. One participant told me the technician held up his smartphone so the committee could see how the town is able to monitor real-time usage and compare it with archival data. “We saw how it spiked when Alstonvale’s sprinklers went on.”

I’ve also learned the town faces a deadline for the installation of water meters in the  business sector. Originally, MAMOT required business sectors to be metered by September 2017, but that deadline has been extended a year. Bottom line: Hudson must meter business water consumption and ensure the accuracy of its well and filtration-plant flowmeters by September 2018.

Roy said the town may agree to meter a sampling of residential properties to establish a basis for comparison, but is not obliged to do so.

The DG also told me the administration is still wrestling with water and sewer taxation issues beginning with those whose properties are located on the sewer system but are not connected. Roy confirmed these unconnected sewer dwellers do not pay either sewer tax. The municipality has never set a sewer connection deadline, so approximately 250 of the 700 eligible properties haven’t connected or paid sewer taxes in 10 years.

Water meters, sewer taxes and related infrastructure issues will be on the agenda for Monday’s January council meeting as this administration gets its house in order. Until that’s done, there will be no point in applying for infrastructure money, let alone any of those fanciful projects on the strategic planning list town hall spent so much time and money selling to Hudsonites.

Sadly, there’s no depanneur selling tickets for the infrastructure lottery.

Put water on the table

This was first published last February. I’m hoping Hudson residents will develop a sense of urgency on this issue. Maybe when their toilets no longer flush…

thousandlashesdotca

No discussions about development in Hudson, Rigaud and St. Lazare should exclude the impact on the water table supplying our drinking water.

A study released in June 2015 found that precipitation falling on Rigaud Mountain and the Hudson and St. Lazare plateaus represents 41% of the total replenishment of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges aquifer, the water table supplying drinking water to more than 100,000 Vaudreuil-Soulanges residents. (FYI, St. Lazare is the largest municipality in Quebec entirely dependent on well water.)

The chief concern expressed in the Programme d’acquisition de connaissances sur les eaux souterraines (PACES) report is that the zones with the highest replenishment rate — Mont Rigaud, Hudson and St. Lazare — also happen to be the most vulnerable to contamination.

The study was carried out over a two-year period by a multidisciplinary team from the Université du Québec à Montréal, École Polytechnique and GéoMont, the agency mandated to map the…

View original post 652 more words

Public service prerequisites

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In his farewell address, Barak Obama made his usual eloquent plea to get politically involved. If you don’t like the way your school board, town, city, state or country is run, jump in. The outgoing U.S. president’s subliminal message: Donald Trump won because of apathetic, disengaged Americans who don’t vote, don’t show at meetings and don’t inform themselves. Want to see Trump and the Republicans ousted? Show up ready to work. Bring a lunch.

At the heart of Obama’s message, this reality: The I-don’t-give-a-damn lobby is far and away the largest voting bloc in North America. I use the term ‘voting bloc’ because of the effect not voting has on the democratic process. Non-voters give those who vote greater influence and bestow unearned legitimacy on those elected.

Trump was chosen by less than half of the 52 per cent of eligible voters who actually voted, roughly 23% of the U.S. voting population. Lest we get smug, Canadians elected the Trudeau Liberals with 27% of the total eligible vote.

…which brings me to a thread on my WordPress site suggesting those who challenge the words and actions of elected politicians should either put up or shut up.

Let’s start with the meaning of the words ‘public service.’ Public service doesn’t begin on Election Day. It doesn’t begin when one files one’s nomination papers or when one is sworn in. Public service starts with a basic grasp of how society’s political, legal and economic systems work. Public service prerequisites include learning how to read a financial statement, how to access information, citizens rights and the responsibilities of elected officials. Some of this is taught in school. The rest is what I call lifelong learning.

For me, the process started in high school. I joined the debating team. We were taught Roberts’ Rules. We learned the elements of Socratic discourse, Marxist dialectic and parliamentary debate. We were educated in how different political systems work and don’t work.

I went on to Loyola College, which in those days was affiliated to the Université de Montréal and run by the Jesuits. There, this Presbyterian was exposed to liberation theology and the Jesuit belief that one must be able to take either side in a debate to earn the right to an opinion.

Most of what I know about Canadian democracy was acquired in my 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator. I covered both generations of Trudeaumania, René Lévesque and his PQ successors, Brian Mulroney and Jean Charest, both referendums, the October and Oka crises, Claude Ryan and Reed Scowen. I also got to know mayors and city managers – Jean Drapeau, Mae Cutler, Peter Trent, Hazel McCallion, Malcolm Knox, Bill McMurchie, Jean Doré, Michael Fainstat, Pierre Bourque, Gérald Tremblay, Gérald Vaillancourt, Michael Appelbaum, Frank Zampino and scores more. Some are deceased, some are in jail or headed there, but every one of them taught me something about how politics works and the meaning of public service.

Throughout my journalistic career I’ve avoided being sucked into politics. Twice I broke that rule. Once was when I was invited to participate in a 1991 estates-general where Quebec’s Liberal interprovincial affairs minister Gil Remillard laid out the five conditions for Quebec’s signature on the 1982 Patriation Act. I was working as a CBC TV reporter and had been cautioned by my boss against being caught in a conflict of interest. I counted on my presence going unnoticed until my name appeared in Joe Armstrong’s 1995 diatribe Farewell the Peaceful Kingdom: The Seduction and Rape of Canada. It was my lesson in the essential nature of journalistic objectivity.

The second time was over a five-year period beginning in 1995. I was a talk show barker, first on CJAD, then on CIQC. I deliberately scrapped my journalistic objectivity in interviews and discussions involving Quebec independence. I spoke at anglo-rights rallies. I derided my French-language colleagues for what I saw as their biased coverage. My rants got me sued by then deputy PQ premier Bernard Landry. I acquired — and still own — the Bloc Québéois name in Quebec so I could mock them for being a federally chartered political party dedicated to the breakup of Canada. I grew to love being able to polarize opinion. My ratings showed how easy it was to fire people up.

I found no satisfaction on radio because I knew I was betraying the trust of journalistic objectivity and the discipline imposed by the written word. I still miss radio’s immediacy and reach, but it was far too easy to play to one’s audience, to pander to their prejudices and fears. When the radio gig ended (that’s showbiz!) I returned to print journalism with a vow to keep the faith of journalistic objectivity when it came to reporting the news.

Eventually I moved back to Hudson because Louise and the Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges needed me. The last 15 years I’ve spent exploring the distinctions between objectivity, neutrality, balance and equivalency with the help of a succession of incredibly bright, driven young reporters who quickly grasped the nuances. We were objective without being neutral, balanced without striving for equivalency. We broke major stories by digging while others would send their stenographers to news events, regurgitate the content onto newsprint and airwaves and go home. Together, we re-wrote the book on community journalism.

Since the October 2014 closure of the paper for reasons beyond my control, I’ve concentrated my efforts on developing a virtual community newspaper on social media. This week, Facebook announced it was doing the same, leading Canada’s remaining publishers to announce their own initiative to keep social-network advertising dollars in Canada. Watch for this sector to explode within the next year or two as news consumers seek voices they know and trust.

In the meantime, I keep my writing and newsgathering instincts alive by blogging on WordPress and posting on Facebook. Both are transitional. As Louise is fond of reminding me, people who spend their time on social media are looking for affirmation, not information. Most Facebook threads remind me of those overnight talk shows where the same people call to say the same things night in, night out. We can and will do better. Much better.

As of today, Jan. 12, the municipal elections are in 278 days. According to my calculations based on the DGEQ website, nominations for council positions open Sept. 22 and close Oct. 6. Independents can register before that, but as of today, nobody has registered or reserved the name of an official party and nobody has registered as an independent candidate.

Although we’ve all heard the rumours about people intending to seek election or re-election, the only person who has confirmed to me that he is running is Rod Hodgson, one of Hudson’s longest-serving town employees. Rod says he’ll be running in District 1 (Como). I’m sure Rod will be a valuable member of council. He knows Hudson’s nooks and crannies, having crawled into most of them. The way I measure prerequisites, Rod is seriously overqualified for the job.

I’m sure there are plenty of other Hudson residents out there equally qualified. From the comments posted on thousandlashes, I sense there’s general interest in taking our conversation to the next step. Here’s what I’d like to see accomplished before nominations close:

– The creation of a citizen’s caucus. Some will see this as a direct challenge to the authority of the council and administration. With respect, how is an unelected, unrepresentative citizens’ group able to challenge anyone’s authority? Residents who volunteered for this administration’s strategic planning subcommittees have told me of their disillusionment with the process. I can’t bring myself to blame anyone. We elect a mayor and council to oversee the administration in the performance of their duties on behalf of all citizens. Whatever their expectations, advisory groups are not elected and therefore unaccountable.

I see an arm’s-length citizen’s caucus as an essential first step in recruiting qualified candidates. I’ve often wondered why Hudson has never had much luck attracting enough quality candidates to make most municipal elections a real choice. As Eva McCartney notes, council seats are far too often filled by acclamation or if, there’s a contest, to prevent an acclamation. That isn’t much of a reason.

– Discussion of real issues without polarization, confrontation or publicity. My New Year’s resolution is to fight the temptation to rag on the current administration and its elected members (there will be plenty of that once the campaign begins). Nor should anybody expect a coherent, informed discussion at a monthly council meeting, especially during a question period. People need to understand that for the mayor and council, the public meeting is the final step in a process which included a working table with town hall staff and a caucus meeting the week before. By the time they’re presented at council meetings, resolutions have already been discussed and approved. Adoption is a legal formality.

– Set new governance goalposts, beginning with transparency and accountability. I’ve watched Westmount’s Peter Trent redefine the planning process to add public consultation on any project that could impact on public spaces. Hudson residents have been told time and again council’s hands are tied when it comes to planning secrecy. I don’t believe that to be true. Likewise, essential data should be posted on the town website as soon as it can be made available. The municipality complains about being swamped with access-to-information requests. Why not post everything as soon as possible as a matter of routine unless there’s a specific reason not to do so? Better still, why not stream council meetings live?

– Get more people involved in the process. Anyone thinking of seeking office should begin attending council meetings, starting next week (the agenda should be posted on the town website by the end of the day tomorrow). Attend. Listen. Observe. Read the documents handed out. Learn what they mean. Repeat for the next nine months, when this council is dissolved prior to the election. Watch for special meetings called with 24 hours notice.

To summarize: it’s way premature to talk about candidates for the mayoralty and council. My public service assignment is helping others set up a framework for discussion, possibly but not necessarily leading to nominations. As Obama said, democracy isn’t pretty and it can be bloody. I’ll settle for not drawing blood.

I’m curious about your reactions. Anyone interested in talking about this in confidentiality can email me at duffcraig48@gmail.com, message me on Facebook or call me at 450-458-5353.

Tranparency on all sides, because we’re all on the same side

It’s always surprised me that incoming councils don’t include those who lost the election into committees or as advisors. I have mentioned this to councils present and past several times quietly, but the animus of a campaign lingers far too long in a supposedly friendly community.

By year two of a new council, frustration and anger generally becomes prevalent on both sides of the council table. Did citizens really expect that 10+ years of evil or 30+ years of infrastructure neglect could be undone in two years? Certainly the present council could never understand fully the depths of the swamp they volunteered to drain for us.

Every four years, when we’re lucky, we get interested groups and individuals from all around town who prepare and work to get elected. Those who do get elected take the wheel, but those who don’t are generally among the best prepared and knowledgeable people in our small town, yet by having run and lost they are treated as castoffs and often seem like enemies to council because the heated emotions and statements of the election have divided the losers from those who won. Those who lose an election, people with time, energy and ideas, barring some major flaw or inability to work with others, should form the backbone of committees where their expertise is strongest.

That’s the first opaque curtain of virtually every incoming council as they sequester themselves, gird their loins and build walls. Silence and opacity bring distrust and eventually anger and a town remains oppositional and not cooperative.

There have been exceptional ideas discussed at length in these blogs by interested people. There have been exceptional efforts to reach compromises on points and bring formed ideas together in understanding. In the end, with only a microscopic component of disallowed and deleted discourse. There are other places full of similar interested people with similar patterns of discourse. Yet it seems to never filter past the opacity to council.

If council pulls curtains closed, so do groups. The participation rate in blogs like this one are generally low, I believe largely because they are public and require that you own your words responsibly.

Citizen formed places of discussion can be models of transparency and should always be public and not closed groups. I’ve slacked off a bit, there was a time until recently that whenever I posted anything on any blog or Facebook I would immediately send an email with a link to all Councillors and the Mayor so that I might never be accused of talking behind anyone’s back.

Now, I only do that on something I deem truly significant to them or critical of them, so as not to overwhelm their interest and focus or blindside them with criticism from behind. Because trust is important, at the same time I have had private and face to face communications which will remain in strict confidence which allow me to better understand the limitations and challenges council faces.

I’ve encouraged other groups to include council in their email chains, most or all the angry mobs have been driven underground to silence by fear of litigation from thin skinned council and municipal staff.

These are my personal, if not perfectly adhered to, examples of a willingness to transparency with responsibility of confidentiality where it’s important.

If anyone forms an interest group, please take minutes of your meetings, work towards consensus and compromise and forward your minutes and conclusions to council quietly. If you have an idea, well formed and workable, email it to council. The goal is to assist and guide council, not to nail them publicly in an embarrassing position at monthly council. I won’t actively get involved in groups that do not reach rational conclusions with constructive proposals which they share openly with council.

In fact I’d prefer to only get involved with small constructive groups who would invite council to their meetings, they’re unlikely to attend but we can’t ask for transparency and hope for open caucus when we’re not willing to demonstrate it ourselves.

Those we have and will elect to lead our town are our friends and fellow community members, they are not the enemy and they deserve exactly the same respect from us that we do from them. It would be great if such a future mayor was part of a number of interest groups, or the leader of an interest group that sets a sterling example of transparency prior to election.

We’re all on the same side, we all have the goal of a better place to live and only ignorance or anger can defeat and deny good the constructive will we need as a community.