One of Hudson’s mayoral candidates waylaid me this week, wondering how to get people fired up about the upcoming election campaign. (Nominations open and the campaign officially begins Sept. 22. Nominations close Oct. 6 and the campaign finishes with the election Sunday, Nov. 5; so far, there’s next to no interest.)
Uppermost in both our minds: 53% of Hudson’s eligible voters didn’t vote in the last election.
I have the answer: trees, dogs and cats.
Before I get around to explaining, it’s too bad Hudson’s pontificaters and bloviators can’t be bothered to inform themselves on what’s been happening at the Quebec National Assembly this year — and how those happenings relate to Hudson.
If they did, Hudson residents could look forward to a more sophisticated, better-informed election campaign where those seeking election will have to do better than the usual yawners about transparency and commitment.
Trouble is, there’s no easy way to make administrative issues interesting despite the profound effect they’ll have on our community. I’ll begin with Bill 122, ‘an Act mainly to recognize that municipalities are local governments and to increase their autonomy and powers.’
Bill 122 was adopted June 15, but only after the Couillard Liberals agreed to an amendment doing away with obligatory referendums on zoning changes. The amendment gives municipalities the choice of whether to adopt a public consultation policy to replace the ‘subject to approval by referendum’ process. Hudson’s Prévost administration chose the public consultation route without explaining the change to residents.
Back in January, I posted Waiting for Bill 122 (WordPress, Jan. 16/17) following a lengthy interview with Hudson’s director-general Jean-Pierre Roy. He explained in general terms how Bill 122 would allow Hudson to take control of development. But because 122 was not yet law, Roy didn’t explain the political mechanism whereby the town would be able to move past zoning bylaws subject to approval by referendum.
Nor did the current council, presumably because they thought it better to let sleeping dogs lie. It wasn’t until a May 23 public consultation that Hudson residents realized that by adopting three concordance bylaws (688,689,690) the town was giving itself the powers vested in it by Bill 122 to pre-approve a number of development projects, including Sandy Beach, Willowbrook and a townhouse scheme on Como Gardens.
Those three concordance bylaws also enabled transport-oriented development in sewered sectors of town. Two other zoning bylaws (690,691) cleared the way for Wyman Memorial United Church to sell a parcel of land for residential development. (A sixth modification to the town’s master plan, Bylaw 685.2 which I don’t believe was adopted, would have established Greenwood Centre for Living History’s right to non-conforming use.)
When we were done adding the potential numbers, Hudson found itself looking at close to 1,000 new doors in a town without enough water in its reservoirs to fight two fires simultaneously, let alone meet a 30% shortfall during peak demand periods.
The current administration made little effort to explain any of this to residents. Under Bill 122, municipalities are no longer required to post public notices in local newspapers. Instead, they face tougher transparency requirements, including an obligation to post every public document on their municipal website. Not only has this council failed to explain due process; it persists in obfuscation.
Hudson’s development future? Ellerbeck’s 98-door Willowbrook project is on track to become the town’s first development to be approved without recourse to a register or referendum.
And, as they say in the telemarketing ads, that’s not all. If Hudson Valleys developer Daniel Rodrigue had waited for the town to adopt bylaws 688, 689 and 690 before seeking a zoning change for his Mayfair semi-detached project, contractors would be pouring foundations this fall. Instead, the project was rejected in a register because Rodrigue failed to convince residents the project was to their benefit.
It could well prove to be NIMBYism’s last stand in a community notorious for its hostility to new development.
Because Rodrigue’s 24-door townhouse development isn’t toast. Bill 122 allows a municipality to identify requalification zones in its planning policy, where redevelopment such as densification or urban renewal won’t require a rezoning bylaw subject to referendum.
Then there’s draft Bill 132, an Act respecting the conservation of wetlands and bodies of water. It’s called a draft bill because it’s currently before the NatAss Committee on Transportation and the Environment undergoing clause-by-clause consideration. It’s a political hot potato because it delegates decision-making on wetlands and eco-corridors to Quebec’s regional municipalities, or MRCs.
Hudson’s draft conservation plan is being rushed to completion despite persistent questions about wetland swaps approved by the environment ministry. What’s the rush? Sandy Beach? Como Gardens? The enabling legislation hasn’t been adopted — and won’t be until sometime next year.
Other issues loom, like fallout from the 17.5% salary increase to the Sûreté du Québec’s 5,400 members. The formula under which the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC is taxed for SQ policing is part of a Quebec-wide equalization scam. On average, Quebec municipalities pay 53% of the cost, Quebec the rest. But wealthy MRCs (we’re one) are assessed approximately 110%, with individual municipalities refunded half the excess. Quebec’s two municipal federations are fearful those rebates to their members will be slashed, possibly in excess of the 17.5% increase to cover the added cost to have-not MRCs.
Hudson, like most small municipalities where policing represents a sizeable chunk of their overhead, has come to depend on that rebate. But who’s going to get fired up over something they can’t change?
Now to the trees, cats and dogs.
Draft Bill 128, tabled in June, will dictate a province-wide law regarding dogs that bite people. Municipalities will have the power to adopt stricter regulations, but if they don’t the provincial law will prevail regardless of how Hudson’s dog lovers feel about it. Now, this is a hot-button issue in a town where many feel it’s unfair to leash their four-footed furry buddies, let alone muzzle them if they get rowdy with a neighbour’s toddler.
We’ve all seen horrific injuries inflicted by unmuzzled dogs, but like guns and climate change, we’re dealing with denial. Should Hudson ban specific breeds? Prosecute the owners of canine offenders? Aggressively enforce leash and poop laws?
While we’re at it, should people be allowed to trap cats trespassing on their property, eating songbirds and crapping in their garden?
…which brings me to trees. The new owners of a home on Ridge Road cut most of the trees surrounding the house to increase drainage on the perennially wet lot and to let some sun into their new abode. The neighbour, a house-proud couple for whom the illusion of country isolation was important, were outraged. Should the town consult with our neighbours before issuing tree-cutting permits? Now, there’s a fight worth having.
How about closing the town core to traffic on summer weekends? Or metered parking?
If it’s voter turnout we’re after, get people going. Forget the boring stuff, like governance and vision. Find those hot buttons and poke at them until Hudson’s sleeping dogs wake up.