Does it matter who runs your town?

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A consultative committee of highly qualified local residents submitted these scenarios for Pine Lake. Mayoral candidate Bill Nash proposes to turn the project over to design school students.

Pine Lake Scenarios report

Those bothering to vote in the Nov. 5 municipal election will be choosing between clear choices for mayor. The Nash-Nicholls race presents two visions of how an affluent small town should operate as it faces an uncertain future. How should Hudson develop? Where should we invest? What should we subsidize? Do we need all those employees? Should taxes continue to increase? Are they equitable? How best to lower them?

What about merging with one of our neighbours to lower costs? It won’t happen tomorrow (it’s a long process and stakeholders are consulted throughout) but don’t think neighbouring municipalities are not eyeing Hudson. Rigaud, St. Lazare and Vaudreuil all have water issues; Hudson’s waterfront offers them the option of drawing lakewater while helping maintain a spectacular greenspace paid for by Hudsonites yet enjoyed by people from all over. In St. Lazare’s case there’s also a cultural fit. If it merged with Hudson, St. Lazare’s population would approach 55 per cent English-speaking. It’s in everyone’s interest to keep off-island English school populations healthy when a third of marriages confer English public school eligibility.

Hudson’s affluence hasn’t protected it from the democratic disease —  apathy. Fewer than half (1,912) of Hudson’s 4,121 eligible voters voted in the 2013 election. Mayor Ed Prévost was elected with nearly 76% of the vote to Jacques Bourgeois’s 24%, suggesting 52.6% of voters didn’t give a damn who ran the town. (The election took place prior to completion of the investigation into former manager and town clerk Louise Villandré’s 15-year crime spree but I question whether subsequent developments would have altered the outcome other than in Prevost’s favour.)

I’ve known Jamie Nicholls since we went hiking in a mutual friend’s woodlot in Eastern Ontario. Gary Dover and I helped found a non-profit advocacy group, Sentiers Vaudreuil-Soulanges. We needed someone to come up with a trail plan for the 32-acre Viviry Valley Conservation Area the town had received in exchange for the right to develop what is now Whitlock West. A landscape architect, Nicholls came up with such a plan. (Parts of his proposed trail network are included in the Parkinson Trail, our winter ski/snowshoe track to the foot of Hudson’s Valleys.)

Like his late boss Jack Layton, Nicholls is a Hudson native. One of 59 Quebec MPs elected in the May 2011 NDP Orange Crush, Nicholls was defeated in the October 2015 Liberal sweep. Since then he’s immersed himself in local, regional and national issues. He’s never without his social democratic values, which he brings to conversations ranging from First Nations land claims and oil pipelines to wetland conservation and protecting the source of our drinking water.

Nicholls is patient, reserved, careful in what he says. He’s a council regular whose question period interventions are polite and reasoned. His concerns tend to be environmental (he and his wife Amanda MacDonald have launched an outdoors day school) and decisions he feels are not in the public interest. On his website and in his campaign meetings thus far, Nicholls has emphasized collegiality, consultation and openness. Discussion, beginning with his proposed design workshops, would allow maximum community input on projected development. Nicholls has a following of like-minded residents of all ages, some of whom have either filed their nomination papers for council or are thinking of doing so.

I caught up with Bill Nash this past Sunday at a weekly neighbourhood gathering. He was there at the invitation of several local residents who see him as the logical successor to Ed Prévost.

Nash is from the same mould as Tom Mulcair, with an Irish wink and the gift of the blarney. (Nash says he’s known Mulcair since he was eight and still talks to him regularly.) They’re both from French-Irish families, both had Irish fathers, both fluently bilingual Outrement boys. (Nash claims his French is better.)

First question: Why do you want to be mayor? “The money.” That got a laugh from around the table. (Hudson’s mayor is paid $17,390 plus $8,695 in non-taxable expenses. The Union des Municipalités du Québec‘s 2015 Guide sur la rémuneration des elus municipaux noted that the salary (ex expenses) for mayors of the province’s 1,300-odd municipalities averaged $15,316.)

Nash and his wife Chantal moved to Hudson in November 2013, after the last election. He said he’s been to most council meetings since then and attended the Quebec Municipal Commission hearings into alleged wrongdoings attributed to the mayor and council members. (The first set of hearings were held over five days in October 2016 and heard from seven witnesses, including Prévost and Rob Spencer, the councillor who filed the complaint. In her ruling, administrative judge Sylvie Piérard held Prévost blameless but faulted the administration at the outset of the mandate for what she described as clear shortcomings at the administrative level. Most members of council were newly elected, Piérard noted, and may have placed excessive trust in director-general Catherine Haulard. Haulard was dismissed by Prévost in July 2015 and recently lost an unlawful-dismissal suit against the town.)

Well before this, Nash had called Prévost and suggested they meet. Nash says they talked about everything but local politics. They developed a friendship as he grew to appreciate Prévost’s tenacity in the face of illness and adversity. It’s clear he has Ed’s blessing, if not his endorsement.

People wanted to know about Nash’s management style. “I don’t micromanage, so don’t micromanage me,” he said. He agreed this administration is guilty of ‘analysis paralysis,’ deferring important decisions. Once he’s elected to take decisions, he says, he’ll start making them, just as he has throughout his working life.

He was asked about Pine Lake. Nash recalled how he and his wife decided to move to Hudson the moment they saw the lake. He proposes getting Montreal’s university design schools competing to come up with a proposal for the recreation of Hudson’s symbolic pond.

Asked about how he’d work with regional government, Nash made it crystal clear he has no intention of beginning at that level. “How do you get things done in Quebec? You start at the top.” He suggested he has the contacts.

I asked Nash why he seldom speaks at council meetings. He said he won’t speak until he has something to say. He’s careful. Members of his entourage argue for the elimination of the one AMT train a day as a waste of money with the added fault of giving downtown Hudson its unwelcome transport-oriented development (TOD) designation, thereby triggering MRC/MMC densification targets. I didn’t hear Nash take a position.

Unless they know something I don’t, neither mayoral candidate intends to run a slate. The official nomination period opens at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 22 and closes at 4:30 Friday, Oct. 6. Would-be candidates are being asked to call Mme. Claudia Ouellette, présidente d’élection, at 450-458-5347, ext. 204 to set up a meeting.

Both candidates are actively campaigning. Their websites: