Will Hudson miss the train again?

 

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Schematic for the Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM), an integrated 67-km public transit network linking downtown Montréal, the South Shore, the West Island, the North Shore (Laval and Deux-Montagnes) and the airport through an automated electric light rail transit (LRT) system. Will Quebec extend the REM to include LRT service across the new Ile aux Tourtes Bridge to Vaudreuil and points west? They’d be stupid not to, says former Hudson councillor and Caisse de dépot VP Tom Birch. The existing Vaudreuil-Hudson line is in red.

When mayor Ed Prévost told a Global reporter Hudson was looking at ways to get out of the Montreal Metropolitan Community and its master development plan, Prévost showed he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. (Pythonesque, June 6)

For Hudson to secede from the MMC and its new public transit creation, the Réseau de transport métropolitain, Hudson would have to prove that fewer than 7% of Hudson’s total population work somewhere else in the MMC. The town would have to drop out of the CIT la Presqu-île, serve notice to the Agence Métropolitain de transport it no longer wanted train service and convince Transport Canada it’s in the community’s interest to force the AMT to lift the existing tracks and abandon the right of way.

What I find far more disturbing is Prévost’s lack of vision, a shortcoming shared by far too many Hudson residents.

Accompany me on this rail commute into the future to see what I’m seeing:

It’s 2025. The Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM), an integrated 67-km public transit network linking downtown Montréal, the South Shore, the West Island, the North Shore (Laval and Deux-Montagnes) and the airport through an automated electric light rail transit (LRT) system, has been running for five years. The old AMT trains de banlieu, which includes the Vaudreuil/Hudson line, are still running but ridership is dropping because the LRT is so much faster and more efficient. It’s easier to drive to the Ste. Anne LRT station.

Driving into town has become an ordeal not even the most dedicated motorist looks forward to. The average peak drive commute in and out of downtown Montreal takes over 100 minutes. Tolls on bridges and highways into the city, along with reserved lanes for taxis, buses and car-poolers discourage single-driver vehicles. If you’re driving into the city without a transponder and a downtown parking pass, be prepared to fork out $50.

The big news today is the grand opening of the double LRT line in the centre of the new Ile aux Tourtes bridge. This line is an extension of the original LRT system which opened in 2020. At Vaudreuil station it splits, with one branch continuing southwest to serve the booming southern tier municipalities of Les Cèdres, Côteau du lac and Les Coteaux. The other branch continues west to the new Hudson station. Eventually, it may continue on to Ottawa.

Yesterday was the last day riders caught the 7 a.m. diesel-powered train at the old Hudson station. Much fanfare and a few tears greeted the historic occasion. Hudson residents came close to giving up their train service until a visionary mayor and council realized they had the support of St. Lazare residents for a station closer and more convenient than Vaudreuil.

Plans for a central public transit hub in Hudson’s east end go back to the start of the millennium. While Liberal appointee Joël Gauthier headed the Agence métropolitain de transport, a map on his office wall showing a train/shuttlebus terminal located near where Montée Manson crosses the former Canadian Pacific right of way (ROW).

Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor Guy Pilon lobbied long and hard to make Vaudreuil the end of the off-island line, but the explosive population growth along the county’s southern tier and rush-hour congestion on Highway 20 convinced REM planners to extend the line southwest.

Here we are at Hudson’s new station. It’s on a beautiful road that runs through farmland from the foot of Bédard to the Como Ferry. The provincial transport ministry paid for it because the ferry has been declared an integral part of the highway network and someone had to put an end to the ridiculous traffic jams on Bellevue and Main Road. Benoît Laporte, on whose land the road is located, backed the project because Quebec allowed him to subdivide his farmland into 10 to 20-acre farmettes, a godsend for Hudson’s booming micro-agricultural industries.

Hudson has big plans for the original Canadian Pacific right of way between Montée Manson and the old station. Transport Canada and the RTM must approve the town’s request to abandon the line, lift the rails and ties and grant the town a lease or sell it outright. The big debate is whether to turn it into an aerobic corridor for cyclists, walkers, runners, skaters and skiers or create a new east-west route into the centre of town to take traffic off Main Road and Chemin de l’Anse.

Ahh, here’s the train now. It’ll take us less than an hour to downtown. The RTM offers recharging stations for electric cars, so let’s grab that parking spot, plug in and climb aboard.

This is fiction based on fact. The Caisse de dépot et de placement announced June 15 that the Trudeau government has committed to a 24.5% share of the $6.04B REM project. Quebec has already poneyed up its $1.283B share. The Caisse holds control with 51% of the project. It is to be a public-private partnership and the call for tenders to companies and consortia was issued in February. It is hoped to have trains running by the end of 2020.

The Ile aux Tourtes connection comes from the May 2, 2017 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer which reported that a engineering consortium headed by consultants exp, Stantec and CIMA+ had been awarded the contract “to plan work on the existing [Ile aux Tourtes Bridge] structures over a five-year period to maintain traffic safety until the 50-year-old bridge is fully replaced over a 10-year horizon.”

The contract, awarded by the Ministère des Transports, Mobilité durable et Électrification des transports, will keep the crumbling structure open to some 85,000 vehicles a day while the new bridge is built alongside. Given the timelines, it appears the MTQ hopes to open the new bridge around 2025.

I asked former Hudson councillor Tom Birch whether he thought the MTQ would include an LRT line in the design for the new span. “They’d be stupid not to,” Birch said.

He comes at this from a unique position. Until 2008, he served as Mayor Elizabeth Corker’s councillor in charge of the infrastructure and public transport files. He’s now the vice-president for funds and technology with the Caisse’s Quebec Private Equity team, with net assets of $270B and a yield that averaged 10.2% over the last five years. [Birch has no connection with CDPQ Infra, the unit overseeing the REM project; the Caisse has stressed the information firewall separating the Infra project from its private and public equity, fixed income, real estate, infrastructure and Quebec investment teams.]

As councillor, Birch swung Hudson’s support behind the CIT La Presqu’île when the regional shuttle bus service was just getting going. He lobbied hard for a second weekday train to and from Hudson, noting it would have cost the town $14,000 a year compared to the $330,000 it would cost Vaudreuil-Dorion.

He worked with former St. Lazare mayor Pierre Kary to counter Vaudreuil-Dorion mayor Guy Pilon’s lobbying efforts to make Vaudreuil the last stop on the line with a proposal to build a new Hudson train station at the foot of Bédard, offering St. Lazare commuters a convenient alternative to having to drive to Vaudreuil or Hudson.

Birch says watching the town not being proactive on the public transportation file for the last eight years has driven him crazy. He predicts the LRT network is “seven or eight years out of the CIT” and will likely be extended south and west to Les Cèdres.

Birch doesn’t think current transit alternatives offer commuters sufficient convenience to abandon their cars. The A40 Express bus takes 40 minutes to deliver you to the Côte Vertu Metro, from where you’ll spend another half hour on the subway.

Birch’s parting shot: if Hudson had followed through with a plan for a new east-end station, there would have been a lot less incentive at the MMC and MRC levels to create a transport-oriented development in a densified downtown Hudson. The TOD would have been moved to a far more logical location along that stretch of Harwood between Bédard and the Galeries Hudson exit off the 40.

In Vaudreuil-Dorion.

Who’s fooling who?

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Fly on the Hudson Town Hall wall: Could the town have leaked contents of its Barreau beef against lawyer/activist Veronique Fischer to discredit her in the court of public opinion?

The Local Journal didn’t want to be accused of leaking the story of how the Town of Hudson is taking lawyer and Hudson resident Veronique Fischer to the Barreau du Québec, alleging ethical breaches.

So it ran a story about the town’s shock and dismay that somebody sent a photocopy of the town’s Barreau beef against Fischer to the Journal reporter’s home.

The Journal attempted to claim the high road by noting that it withheld Fischer’s name and the details of the town’s complaint against the tax activist. But it was fooling no one, certainly not in a small town where everybody and his mother’s dog has heard Fischer’s name bandied about in connection with a number of files, including the withdrawal of the $1.5M repaving bylaw and the recent near-death experience of the $555,000 we’re-not-sure-what-it’s-for loan bylaw.

In an exclusive interview with thousandlashes.ca, a fly on a Hudson town hall wall has alleged the photocopy was sent by the town. I’ve agreed to keep the fly’s identity confidential due to fear of reprisals.

“There were just the two of them,” she said.” “It was after hours and everyone else had gone home. I’m paraphrasing here because my memory isn’t perfect, but they’re agreeing it’s a shame there’s no legal way to make the town’s complaint to the Barreau public. Such a magnificent document, so damning. They figure they can discredit her in her community and cause her financial embarrassment. They jawbone for a while before they hit on the idea of an anonymous leak. Leave it to me, says one of them. You will need plausible deniability. Then they leave.”

If proven, Ms. Fly’s allegation would place the town in a serious breach of Barreau ethics. Because the legal profession is self-regulating, the Barreau receives complaints and builds the file before placing it before the syndic, the tribunal which will determine the veracity of the complaint and possible sanctions.

In itself, the town’s decision to take Fischer to the Barreau is logical and understandable. As I posted in my blog Lawyer vs. Lawyer (thousandlashes.ca, April 21/17), Hudson’s current administration makes no secret of its determination to silence what it considers nuisance critics:

…I sat down with the DG for a 45-minute chat about how the town proposes to silence persistent critics without being accused of stifling free speech.

Roy began by making it clear the town would seek the means to neutralize residents who make it their business to monitor the decisions and practices of municipal administrations and have the know-how to research documents and the means to take their findings to provincial authorities.

Fischer has been highly effective in her ability to pry embarrassing and potentially damaging information loose through the use of Access to Information requests – so effective, the town asked the commission responsible for policing AI requests to impose a freeze until after the Nov. 5 municipal elections.

The core of the town’s Barreau complaint against Fischer is whether she violated the Barreau’s guidelines by conflating her legal responsibilities with her activities as a citizen activist. I know other lawyers who have become enmeshed in similar disputes because of their roles in civic matters. The Barreau seems to decide these matters on a case-by-case basis.

It’s by making this case public – if it is indeed responsible for the leak – that the town has committed a breach of ethics that would leave it open to possible civil action. Moreover, if it can be proven a Barreau member played any part in the breach, he or she would also be liable to sanctions.

It’s possible Fischer or someone close to her leaked the document to discredit the town’s action of taking her to the Barreau, but I tend to dismiss that possibility. No lawyer wants to be taken before the Barreau. It represents time, incurs out-of-pocket expense and could result in sanctions. Leaking the complaint does nothing to halt the town’s action.

Could it be someone with access to the file who thought leaking the report would help Fischer’s cause? Again, I can’t see that. Barreau proceedings are closed. Public opinion plays no role.

…which brings me back to Ms. Fly’s allegation. If true, it wasn’t enough for the town to launch Barreau procedures against Fischer. They’re a confidential administrative process and the results are seldom made public. My hunch: the administration wanted this to be tried simultaneously in the court of public opinion to make a public example of their vexatious critic.

Democracy’s price

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Westmount Municipal Association was to have provided inspiration at the founding meeting of a Hudson citizens’ advocacy group. 
Although invitations were emailed to some 100 residents and members of council, less than two dozen people showed up for what was to have been the founding meeting of a Hudson resident’s association at St Mary’s Hall last evening. When the gathering broke up some two hours later, there was no agreement on the role of such an organization or whether another meeting would move the project forward.

Inspiration for the formation of a Hudson citizens’ group was to have come from the presence of Paul Marriott, president of the Westmount Municipal Association. Founded in 1908 to promote sound civic administration, the WMA is a volunteer organization which operates as a non-partisan community link between citizens and City Hall in dealing with traffic, parking and zoning problems. Membership, currently around 200, has risen as high as 3,000 in a city with a population of roughly 20,000.

Membership increases as a function of what’s happening in Westmount, Marriott explained. “People tend to focus on single-issue projects.” Fifteen years ago, the unifying issue was forced mergers and demerger referendums. Today, the WMA is seeking a voice in the impact of the MUHC superhospital on the city.

Marriott is a council regular, asking questions on behalf of WMA members, demanding answers and the supporting documentation. Notwithstanding the WMA’s long history with the city, cooperation isn’t automatic. Who decides what issues the WMA tackles? Members meet monthly and try to work a month ahead, not just for the next council meeting. The association posts everything, including town documentation.

Once the Q&A with Marriott had run its course, moderator Chloe Hutchison moved the meeting to a group membership discussion. In her invitation, she had emphasized the movement’s non-partisan role “in bringing focus to the community’s day-to-day needs and interests, to serve as a springboard where political platforms are discussed and shaped with respect to public long-term values.”

Hutchison wondered what it would take to grow local participation in municipal affairs where citizens who ask hard questions at council meetings are seen as troublemakers.
Could a citizen’s group stimulate meaningful communication with council members? Was there any possibility of citizen input in integrating sustainable measures in Town Planning regulations? Is it reasonable to ask for monthly updates on the Town’s actions relating to finance, infrastructure and planning?

She noted that public participation tools exist, such as citizen advisory committees mandated annually by the municipal councils. “These committees are important players in keeping the balance between personal interest, impact and benefits of development opportunities and the long-term public value.”

The ensuing discussion failed to produce the consensus needed to create a citizen’s advocacy movement. Instead, it showed that any grouping would have to be a coalition of single-issue advocates, most of them opposed to something – greenspace protection, anti-densification, anti-development. Some saw no way past the current level of confrontation. Others preferred the image of a glorified chat group centred on non-confrontational negotiating practices.

Faced with a scenario of squabbling factions and no persuasive unifying vision, people left.

“I guess I’m just at the point of giving up,” said one Hudson greenspace activist. “It’s like my neighbour […] said last night, “where are the 5,150 other people in Hudson?”  Am I just a shit disturber? Should I just stay home, drink wine and watch the sunset?”

Not everyone thought it was a wasted evening.

“It shows every volunteer organization needs a spark plug,” said one participant. “You don’t fire people up with calls for balance and non-partisanship when this administration is practising exactly the opposite.”

Others were surprised to learn that even the WMA has to fight to be heard and informed. “There may not be any political value in having an association, but there’s definitely a moral value,” said one young attendee. “The most surprising? For me, it was hearing that it’s not just here in Hudson.”

• • •

Does Hudson need a citizen’s advocacy group? Yes, say those who don’t feel comfortable with how the current administration makes decisions that will affect residents without their knowledge or consent. Take the Villa Wyman project that will house two dozen seniors who need assisted care. It’s a crucial project in the wrong location, being engineered to solve Wyman’s financial problems. Those who have seen family and friends forced to leave their homes for a facility on the West Island know the injustice of this, but one injustice doesn’t justify another. A competent urban planner knows there won’t be enough parking on the current site for churchgoers, employees and visitors. Why is it wrong to ask hard questions, especially in light of Hudson’s sorry track record in dealing with previous development projects?

The argument against the creation of an independent non-partisan citizens’ movement? I’ll leave that to those who place their faith in Hudson’s voting public and bureaucratic infallibility.

Is it the end of the road for a Hudson citizens’ advocacy group? At the risk of disappointing the gloaters, I don’t think so. Several promising initiatives emerged from last night’s exercise. If they take off, they will transform the Nov. 5 municipal elections.

The truth is that most people don’t like questioning authority, especially in a small town where nobody wants to be the target of ridicule. We pay a social price for our fear of being seen on the wrong side of whatever it is. So, to cover up our shame and complicity, we go to ridiculous lengths to rationalize our disengagement and cheerlead the poor leadership choices we make.

The price of democracy is eternal vigilance. If eternal vigilance includes filing access to information requests and asking questions of our elected and appointed officials, so be it. I’m suspicious of anyone who has a problem with it.

 

 

Pythonesque

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From the Global News June 1 morning show: Hudson mayor Ed Prévost says the town is considering asking the Régie municipal de transport to pull Hudson’s weekday train service to save $250,000. Wasn’t the train the pretext for ramrodding compliance bylaws through council?

Hudson’s June council meeting was so weird, I was looking for Monty Python characters somewhere in the audience.

Pro-mayor Natalie Best, subbing for the mayor, opened the meeting by reading a comment from Prévost, slamming residents for circulating fake news and denouncing candidates for using public meetings to campaign for November’s municipal elections and dupe their fellow citizens.

The nearly three-hour session was highlighted by incoherent retractions of previous comments and resolutions modified on the fly. Among the revisions: a bylaw clearing the way for construction of Villa Wyman, an assisted-care seniors’ residence next to Wyman Memorial United Church, will now be subjected to a June 20 public consultation, possible registry and referendum. The controversial proposal to move Wyman and its parking lot into a commercial zone (C-27) will not, since it is now part of the town’s compliance bylaws.

The packed agenda was book-ended by question periods comprised mainly of rants against the adoption of bylaws 688, 689 and 690. These bring the town’s master development and land use plan into compliance with those of the Montreal Metropolitan Community (MMC) and the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC. Critics charge the town with using them as the pretext to permit uncontested development.

The evening ended with the revelation that the absent Mayor Ed Prévost had bushwhacked his own council with a Trump-like blurt that raises serious questions about the legitimacy of his administration’s policy regarding densification of the town core. It also sparked a surreal exchange (“YOUR mayor! No, he’s YOUR mayor!”).

The issue: without consultation with this or previous town administrations, the MMC and MRC classified Hudson’s downtown core as a transport-oriented development, or TOD, on the basis of the single commuter train to and from Montreal on non-holiday weekday mornings and evenings and a shuttlebus service to Vaudreuil and West Island destinations.

Unlike previous administrations, this council has voiced no resistance to the imposition of the CMM/MRC guidelines despite the urging of residents who see it as a threat to Hudson’s small-town heritage. Council’s mantra: Compliance won’t change Hudson’s character.

The administration’s main argument in support of compliance: Hudson will have a stronger say in modifying or reversing CMM/MRC policy once it complies; until then, development projects are stalled. The sooner, the better.

The opposition sees a hidden agenda in the administration’s haste to pass the compliance bylaws: it allows the town to use the harmonized land-use and development regulations to ram through controversial projects. Over the past several weeks, council members and administrators have made comments since retracted or qualified, such as Hudson being the only MRC municipality not to have complied. (Five of the 11 MRC members in the CMM have not done so).

Delay supporters point to alternatives, such as moving the TOD circle east to a proposed intermodal passenger terminal located in the vicinity of where Como’s Montée Manson crosses the AMT right of way (ROW). Hudson would have its TOD and the possibility of a lateral access road to relieve Bellevue and Main Road of the traffic to and from the Oka ferry. Rail commuters living in St. Lazare and Vaudreuil-Dorion would have faster, easier access to a public transit facility with plenty of parking. More users would mean more trains.

Closure of the ROW would allow Hudson to plan and lobby for a non-motorized usage corridor and/or east-west road on the former ROW between Montée Manson and the centre of town. Either way, cyclists and pedestrians would have a safe alternative to having to share Hudson’s narrow streets.

The community centre was packed with a vocal crowd either for or against compliance, which commits the town to tripling the density of a one-kilometre semicircle around the railway station.

The sports-bar atmosphere was reinforced with the presence of two public security agents at the doors. The anti-compliance fans applauded whenever one of their stars scored on the council and walked out en masse when councillors voted to adopt the compliance bylaws.

Mayor Ed’s shocker came near the end of the second question period, when Charleswood resident Louise Craig asked when the town was proposing to close the railway station. Councillors clearly had no idea what she was referring to until she explained that the mayor was quoted in a June 1 Global News story on their Montreal morning show.
Billy Shields quotes Prévost saying that with a daily ridership of less than 50 people the town’s $250,000 bill is “preposterous.”

Shields’s story continues: “With the reformulation of the commuter rail agency into a new outfit dubbed the RTM [Réseau de transport métropolitain], Prevost said the town is thinking of closing its train station.”

Pro-mayor Best, who represents the town on the regional transit file, denied any knowledge of discussions to pull out of the RTM. (I can find no legal precedent for any CMM municipality pulling out of the RTM or its predecessor, the Agence métropolitaine de transport.)

I can think of three possibilities. One, Global misquoted Prévost and the mayor will demand a retraction. Two, Prévost doesn’t share with his council, which isn’t healthy. Three, the folks at the front of the room are excellent poker players and the conspiracy theorists were right when they saw the TOD as the pretext to densify.

Whatever, it sparked a lighthearted moment, or maybe it’s just me after too many evenings spent in consultations. Craig used the term “YOUR mayor” when referring to Prévost. “He’s YOUR mayor,” a council member shot back. Hmm. No love there.

New treasurer
Hudson has a new treasurer, Claudia Ouellette, a no-nonsense fiscalist who spent the past five years with a software provider for Quebec municipalities. Prior to that, she worked in finance departments in Côte St. Luc, Otterburn Park and elsewhere. Her aim is to get Hudson’s ledgers in order after a revolving door of treasurers.

Salaries to be made public
Town clerk Cassandra Comin Bergonzi reassured Eva McCartney the town will be releasing the salaries of non-unionized town employees as soon as possible. (Union wage scales are already public.) McCartney sharply questioned council in the wake of allegations the town was deliberately stalling their release. Comin Bergonzi blamed the volume of access to information requests for the delay.

Conservation plan tabled
The town’s conservation plan, an essential component of the land use compliance process, was tabled after getting the province’s approval. Residents were assured it will be posted on the town’s website, although the version currently posted dates back to last July. According to provincial regulation, it requires another public consultation and final adoption by council.

Another 60 grand

Hudson taxpayers peeled off another 60 grand for Dunton Rainville, the town’s legalists of choice. It sparked another who-are-we-suing-now query and assurances the town is down to maybe six, seven or eight files. But hey, who’s counting?

Wooing the Coast Guard

The Canadian Coast Guard wants to locate a high-speed search and rescue boat and shore facility somewhere on the Lake of Two Mountains, but has yet to make a final decision. The town says the Hudson Fire Department’s 21-foot rigid inflatable is too small  to fill a patrol-boat mission and an expanded, rebuilt town wharf would be an ideal location for a larger craft. A number of other municipalities on the lake are in the competition, town director-general Jean-Pierre Roy said.

Hudson’s Trojan Horse

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As I predicted they would, Hudson’s Prévost administration has discovered a way out of holding referendums on zoning projects the town perceives as beneficial. How this council did it — and how it justified removing the right to subject zoning changes to approval by referendum at the May 30 public consult on the proposed assisted-care seniors’ residence in the Wyman United Church parking lot— is an interesting exercise in bureaucratic manipulation.

(NOTE: Revised draft bylaw 692.1 tabled at the outset of the June 5 council meeting rezones lot #5 970 081 exclusively for a seniors’ residence and  makes it subject to a public consultation June 20. The designation is therefore subject to citizen approval by referendum. Bylaw 691 removing Wyman Memorial United Church from Zone P-57 and adding it to Zone C-27 is a change to the town’s master plan and is therefore not subject to approval by referendum.

Before we get into that, something equally interesting emerged at the meeting. This was Daren Legault’s impassioned plea on behalf of the project. Legault’s argument: we’ve all seen how NIMBYism has blocked progress in Hudson. The town needs an assisted-living facility for seniors, so we should hold our noses and get it built.

It’s a tempting argument and I’ve been worrying at it since Tuesday evening’s consultation. Does the end justify the means? Or is this the Trojan Horse that will be used to re-engineer Hudson without the need to consult residents? It may be the right thing to do in this case, but is it ethical to place potentially disruptive projects like Sandy Beach (250 doors) two Cameron residential developments (36 doors) and a possible 40-unit densification east of Mount Pleasant beyond approval by referendum?

And the corollary: what projects should go to referendum and which should be exempt? Why should Daniel Rodrigue’s Mayfair townhouse project have gone to register (where the rezoning was pulled) while this project won’t?

Both consultations on May 23 and May 30 fulfilled the municipal affairs ministry’s legal requirements but left residents feeling cheated of a voice in the process. Worse, the administration failed to explain clearly what they were proposing to do and why. The way the truth emerged left residents feeling they were being hoodwinked.

There’s general agreement Hudson desperately needs an assisted care facility. If Hudson’s churches see fit to make eldercare part of their social mission, good. St. Thomas and St. James both own excellent sites. But Wyman’s site is far from ideal. Even its proponents agree it’s small for a three-storey structure 144 by 100 feet where parking and traffic will be an issue. Neighbours fear there won’t be enough trees left to provide a screen, especially in light of the town’s failure to deliver on past promises. They’re urging the promoters to move the project to the east side of Wyman, at the corner of Main and Selkirk.

Christine Redfern, whose house will be next door to the proposed facility, lived through this before when the town built the new firehall and extended the public works yard to her property line. She’s still giving me grief for failing to follow up on the town’s promises to mitigate the effects by building something similar to the big wooden noise barrier off Chemin St-Louis in St. Lazare.

“Blocks the view, blocks noise + has lovely plants growing up around it — about 10 different local varieties of shrubs, vines and trees have been planted,” she wrote me. “Then did you ever look at the fence you pushed for at the public works yard? The nice side facing inwards, not one tree planted and all winter long big trucks parked 6 feet from the neighbouring property where the town promised 21 feet of green space?”

Redfern says she’s had multiple meetings since with the town, with landscapers, with councillors and has sent some two dozen follow-up emails. “I always get a positive response, no action.”

Without the possibility of a referendum to leverage negotiations, Villa Wyman’s neighbours have one option. Once bylaws 691/692 are adopted at next Monday’s monthly council meeting, citizens have 30 days to collect five signatures and file a request with the Municipal Affairs Commission to determine whether the bylaws conform with the town’s planning program.

Then there’s the trust issue. The zoning change (call it what it is) moves Wyman and its parking lot, including the proposed site from P-57, the zone currently occupied by the church, firehall, public works and the town-owned 539 and 541 Main and into C-27, a commercial/residential zone with fewer restrictions. Why move the site into a commercial zone? Twice before, Hudson has been screwed by developers who promised to build assisted-care facilities if the town agreed to zoning changes. Kilteevan and R-55 are legacies of those broken promises. If the Villa Wyman project falls through, nothing prevents the owner from selling it to a developer for any multi-unit residential project.

Or for that matter, the United Church from selling Wyman Memorial.

…which brings us to the compliance loophole. Residents got a sneak peek at the May 23 public consultation for Bylaws 688, 689 and 690, the land use and density resolutions bringing the town’s planning process in line with those of the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) and Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC. Many of those attending that first meeting were still under the illusion that Hudson could dodge the MMC/MRC densification bullet on the basis of a municipal resolution asking to be excluded.

They were to learn this administration had no such intention.

“One thing you all must remember,” pro-mayor Deborah Woodhead said as she called the consultation to order, once the town brings its planning program into compliance with Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC’s revised land use plan, “we will be in a much better position…we’re on the outside now. Once we’re on the inside we can discuss things like the TOD.”

Over the next two hours, the council and administrators attempted to convince residents transport-oriented development (TOD) is just a pretext. By agreeing to TOD-level densities in Hudson’s downtown core, the administration claims it will be able to exempt the rest of the community from MMC/MRC densification guidelines.

“They told us it would be possible after we were in compliance […] after the compliance, we will be able to regress [to lower average densities],” Hudson’s director-general Jean-Pierre Roy told residents.

Confusion continued into the May 30 meeting, where town clerk Cassandra Comin Bergonzi explained how the town could enact zoning changes without going through the usual procedures. Council, she said with a straight face, has the discretion to proceed in this way because it is in the midst of amending the planning program. It can make changes to a zoning bylaw because to not do so would create zoning which would no longer conform to the planning program. “If we don’t amend our zoning bylaw, our zoning bylaw won’t be conforming to our planning program.”

Hudson’s three compliance bylaws are based on the work of Jean-François Viens, an urban planning consultant for L’Atelier Urbain, the firm contracted last year to prepare Hudson’s compliance file. As Viens walked residents through the compliance process, it became clear that densification without consultation had been this administration’s goal from the outset of the process.

Following the meeting, Viens told me that Hudson doesn’t fit the TOD concept, a one-size-fits-all densification tool designed for suburban dormitory communities stretching from Boisbriand to Boucherville. The aim of the TODs was to encourage development like we see along Vaudreuil-Dorion’s de la Gare, with dozens of commuter trains and express buses to and from downtown Montreal and scores of shuttle buses between West Island and off-island destinations.

The core belief driving the CMM’s PMAD and these TODs is that urban sprawl is something to be avoided. New developments mean new services – roads, public transportation, water, sewage treatment, waste management, schools and other municipal infrastructure. Densification makes better use of existing infrastructure and helps local economies remain sustainable.

Hudson, with its two trains a day weekdays, ageing population, infrastructure issues and small-town heritage, isn’t what TOD’s originators had in mind, Viens said.

I asked him whether residents should fight the TOD designation. “It’s too late for that,” he told me. “Now is not the time for a great reflection…maybe in one or two years, with a strategic vision…”

Viens said any appeal for another delay would have to be directed to the municipal affairs minister. The concordance process in Hudson is clearly politicized with the approaching elections and it’s unlikely another delay would be granted.

Those who attended that first consultation were surprised at town hall’s haste in ramrodding concordance past residents, especially since it is not subject to approval by referendum. DG Jean-Pierre Roy said it would be adopted at the June 5 council meeting without further discussion or debate. His rationale – Hudson has already been granted two extensions (six and nine months) and is the last MRC holdout.

As we were to learn, that last statement wasn’t true.

The following night at the monthly MRC council meeting, residents Jamie Nicholls, Marcus Owen and Austin Rickley-Krindle were told Hudson is one of six of the 11 MRC municipalities in the CMM which have yet to harmonize their master plans with those of the CMM and MRC. Councillor Nicole Durand, who has been attending MRC council meetings in the mayor’s stead, said nothing. The next day, MRC spokesman Simon Richard confirmed that number to me.

Since then, we’ve learned that just 44% of the MMC’s 82 municipalities have passed concordance resolutions.

Nor is there any evidence the Prévost administration has attempted to change the CMM’s mind on density requirements in non-TOD sectors of Hudson’s urban perimeter (http://cmm.qc.ca/fileadmin/user_upload/fiche/TOD/FicheTod_11.pdf).

The facts suggest the town is willing to densify wherever it can. At the May 23 consult, a contingent of residents from the Hillside/Charleswood (non-TOD) sector demanded that the town un-tick a box in 689’s Appendix C which would have allowed multi-family dwellings as well as a seniors’ residence in R-55, a five-hectare lot that lies between Côte St. Charles, Oakland, Charleswood and Ridge.

The group’s spokesman, Keith Heller, noted that residents approved zoning in 2007 for a continuing-care seniors’ campus with fewer than 150 doors — but not for a development that would allow double that number of multi-family units.

Heller was especially incensed that two lots he owns at the site’s southern extremity linking the main body to Charleswood had been rezoned without his knowledge or consultation. Town planner Natalie Lavoie told him she did it to satisfy a potential developer.

The knowledge of the audience and the quality of questions at both meetings has been, and continues to be, the high point of this process. Those who stood in line at the mic represented three generations and included a former mayor (Elizabeth Corker), both declared candidates in November’s mayoral race (Bill Nash, Jamie Nicholls) and several potential council candidates. I counted half a dozen former Town Planning Advisory Committee members and probably missed some.

Most of the questions were focused and informed. Most who asked them succeeded in keeping their tempers. Some of the sharpest observations (“What sidewalks?”) came from young residents who will be voting in their first municipal elections this fall. It was tremendously heartening to see the youth and experience working in tandem. One result: the creation of a group tentatively calling itself the Hudson Group for Smart Development (that may end up being a working name, with an official shingle and structure to follow a June 19 gathering.

A lot still isn’t clear. We know there’s a draft bylaw in the works to bring Greenwood Centre for Living History into compliance. We can assume the town would like to make similar concessions for the Auberge Willow Place Inn, Como ferry and a list of grandfathered businesses operating in residential and agricultural zones. From what I’ve learned about Bill 122, the province’s draft legislation handing more power to municipalities, referendums will become the exception in zoning and land use.

Is this good or bad? Like all powers, this one depends on whose hands in which we place it.

This story was edited June 5/17 to make it clear the town is proposing to transfer both Wyman United and its parking lot from  P-57 to C-27. It was further modified June 6/17 to reflect a land use bylaw revision making Bylaw 692.1 subject to approval by referendum. 

What would Steve Shaar do?

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One of the Town of Hudson’s full-page ads in the Hudson Gazette prior to the town’s 1999 referendum on whether to become part of the Montreal Metropolitan Community.

Will the grassroots citizen activism taking root in Hudson translate into a more open, consultative council and administration on the far side of the Nov. 5 municipal elections?

It depends on who we elect.

Tuesday, May 30, the town’s rapidly evolving email thread (approaching 100 names) was urging the creation of online and paper petitions calling on the mayor and council to delay passage of changes to Hudson’s master development plan until after November’s election.

As the day wore on, several people I suspect will run for council, as well as a local institution with something to lose by seemingly siding with rebels and rabble-rousers, had asked that their names be taken off the mailing list.

By day’s end, the email thread had become Hudson Citizens for Smart Development, a Google Group that allows people to come and go without fanfare or obvious slamming of doors.

It’s a good, forward-thinking name and the right platform as we head into this politically charged next few months, with dozens of residents mulling whether to run for the mayoralty or a council seat.

Hudson’s current council is proposing to adopt five bylaws at the June 5 monthly council meeting, including three concordance bylaws and the two zoning changes. This administration pretends all five can be adopted without recourse to the usual approval procedures of register and referendum because they fall within the CMM/MRC concordance framework.

It’s typical of the covert, cowardly, convoluted, confrontational stance this administration has taken since taking power — an approach which, until six months ago, appeared to go unquestioned by the majority of citizens. (In fact, those who questioned this council were mocked as troublemakers by a number of those now jumping on the citizen-activist bandwagon, but I digress.)

This latest call to action came the same day the town’s second public consultation in a week was to present modifications to the town’s site planning and architectural integration programs (SPAIPs in English, PIIAs in French) to conform with those of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC.

The May 23 consult, to bring Hudson’s planning and land-use bylaws into concordance with those of the MRC and the Montreal Metropolitan Community, turned into a contentious discussion of why the administration was in such a rush to get it done when five other MRC municipalities which, like Hudson, are also part of the CMM, are delaying the procedure for various reasons.

As I explain in a companion post (Trojan Horse), the administration itself confirmed last week the concordance – and the transport-oriented development zone (TOD) it enables – is the pretext to allow half a dozen multi-unit residential projects to proceed without the inconvenience of a referendum.

Also on the agenda for the May 30 consult: a zoning change in the commercial core to permit an assisted-care seniors’ residence adjacent to the Wyman United Church and a long-promised non-conforming usage derogation for the Greenwood Centre for Living History.

It would be premature to call Hudson’s fledgling citizen’s forum an organization. Those with a hand in its creation can’t agree on the need for a formal structure. Some think the energy wasted on creating a shadow opposition and organizing petitions would be better spent running for office.

Others would like to see the resurrection of various consultative committees even though this and previous Hudson councils have shown no interest in using their input for anything other than window dressing and pretence.

Still others urge delegations to attend CMM and MRC meetings, where citizen participation is limited and strictly controlled.
But what binds them is the conviction this is a battle to save Hudson’s soul.

In truth, Hudson’s battle to to save its soul began in the spring of 1999, when Lucien Bouchard’s Parti Québecois government proposed to enact the recommendations of a 1993 report urging the province to adopt measures to cut Quebec’s 1,600 municipalities by two thirds.

This existential threat to Hudson’s existence began life as the 115-municipality Greater Montreal Development Commission before morphing into the current 82-municipality Montreal Metropolitan Commission, the CMM. By that April, the PQ’s Bédard Commission recommended including 10 Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities in a new supra-municipal structure, the precursor to the 82-municipality Montreal Metropolitan Community that Hudson’s current stooges are hiding behind.

From the outset, Hudson mayor Steve Shaar made it clear he wanted nothing to do with the Montreal-centric péquiste juggernaut that would stretch from St. Jerome to the north, Chambly to the south, Contrecoeur to the east and Hudson to the west.

“Hudson is a special place, different from anywhere else,” he said. “There’s a sense of community. We’re not Montreal, we’re not typical of any other area in Vaudreuil-Soulanges. It’s a very special place, not only to ourselves, but in the province. That feeling, spirit, sense of belonging will be eroded if we are forced to merge.”

Hudson wasn’t alone. It would be the westernmost of 11 Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC municipalities, along with St. Lazare, Vaudreuil-Dorion, Vaudreuil-sur-le-lac, L’Île-Cadieux, Les Cèdres, Pointe-des-Cascades and the four Île Perrot municipalities — Nôtre Dame, Pincourt, Terrasse-Vaudreuil and L’Île-Perrot.

Shaar urged Hudson residents to get involved in the fight. “I am against it, the councillors are against it. And I believe that 99.9% of the citizens are against it. I intend to be energetic in the defence of my community.”

He couldn’t do it alone, Shaar added. “It may become necessary to enlist the co-operation and involvement of citizens in a somewhat militant manner (no guns!).” As for a strategic merger with one or more of Hudson’s neighbours, “I will not accept any amalgamation with anyone. We like it [Hudson] the way it is.”

The government’s promise of negotiations proved to be a lie. Shaar and St. Lazare councillor Paul Laflamme returned from an April Fool’s meeting convinced there was no way out. Government statistics (which Shaar disputed) showed that more than half of Hudson’s population worked on Montreal island, one of two factors which determined whether an off-island municipality would be included in the CMM. The other was Hudson’s population density.

There was one bright spot. Shaar was assured Hudson would be able to keep its rural small-town character. There is no reason to believe that the MMC would refuse zoning intended to keep that character, chief negotiator Louis Bernard told him. “We may be able to maintain our integrity.”

Other off-island mayors weren’t as confident. On March 29, the 23 MRC municipalities unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that the 11 CMM inductees be excluded in order to respect the region’s distinct geographical and political nature. “Vaudreuil-Soulanges will not negotiate the partition of its territory, MRC prefect Normand Ménard said. “We don’t want to sell out our municipalities, our citizens, to the Montreal Metropolitan Community.” Ménard’s chief fear was that the MRC would lose control of its planning process.

Municipal morale hit a new low at the end of April when a leaked government white paper revealed Quebec was looking to force municipal mergers. In 1999, 85% of Quebec’s 1,300 municipalities had fewer than 5,000 residents; 552 had fewer than 1,000. The Bouchard government was looking at measures that would allow Quebec to demand that small municipalities seek mergers against their will. The aim: cut costs.

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Mayor Steve Shaar with pre-referendum signage outside town hall: He was never one to surrender a principle.

That was enough for Shaar, who announced Hudson would join forces with 27 North Shore municipalities in holding a referendum asking residents whether they agreed with municipal affairs minister Louise Harel’s proposal to force Hudson to be part of the MMC. (Quebec had said it would ignore such referendums but Shaar felt it would set the legal bar when and if Quebec proceeded with its threat to force mergers.)

Shaar was especially incensed at a sentence in Harel’s white paper talking about the redistribution of growth revenues (a variant of that redistribution means our MRC pays for SQ policing in poorer regions). “That’s the Trojan Horse,” Shaar warned. “It could take bigger and bigger pieces of our revenues. I will do everything in my power to block this thing.”

Hudson’s referendum was held June 8-12,1999. (St. Lazare, in keeping with the conciliatory policies of the four South Shore MRCs, held a registry.) Shaar kept the question simple: Are you in agreement with Minister Harel’s reform project which forces Hudson to become part of the Montreal Metropolitan Community?

In his press conference, Shaar kept to his message: “A reorganization of this magnitude will have a profound impact on the lives of Hudson citizens and such changes should not be made without public consultation.”

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Hudson voters knew the Bouchard government would disregard their votes but they turned out anyway.

Hudson residents proved Shaar right. Close to 74% of Hudson’s 4,000 eligible voters voted 99.73% No. Seven residents voted Yes. Among the five Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities to hold registers, tiny l’Île-Cadieux had the highest No vote and turnout — 89 of the 92 residents voted No unanimously. The three others were out of town.

The Bouchard government was true to its word on only one of its promises: it ignored the results of the referendums, Hudson’s included. The MMC was proclaimed into law in 2002 in the dying days of the PQ government but if anybody thought the Charest Liberals would reverse the process, they were fooling themselves. The consultation process continued.

Some of Harel’s white paper proposals, like forced mergers and wealth redistribution, have gone silent. They’ve been replaced by others that serve to concentrate political and economic power in the hands of Quebec’s major cities as central governments seek new revenue sources to cover the cost of their skyrocketing infrastructure deficits and worsening traffic gridlock.

Suburban densification is one of those tools. It makes sense in theory. Urban sprawl gobbles up farmland and greenspace while imposing costs for roads, public transit, schools, hospitals, daycares, sewer and water infrastructures and a long list of additional costs. But this isn’t a totalitarian society, where government can forbid people from looking for an exurban lifestyle, which is what the MMC set out to do with its master land use and development plan, or PMAD.

Adopted March 12, 2012 and approved by a Liberal government under Jean Charest, the PMAD has been an unmitigated disaster for Vaudreuil-Soulanges. It blocked the creation of a institutional hub that would have preserved close to 400 hectares of greenspace while providing our region with a hospital, CEGEP, schools and other facilities lacking.

At the same time, it unilaterally and without discussion, imposed ridiculous population densities on the serviced sectors of existing municipalities, beginning with transport-oriented developments. As L’Atelier Urbain’s Jean-François Viens says in Trojan Horse, my companion blog, TODs were never designed for Hudson. They’re for de la Gare in Vaudreuil-Dorion, for Brossard’s Dix30, for Candiac and Boisbriand. They’re not for picturesque small towns whose residents want them to stay that way.

Mayor Shaar was just 56 when he died of colon cancer in December 2004 but his successor Elizabeth Corker maintained his position vis-a-vis the MMC and its densification proposals. In a June 2005 brief, the Town of Hudson made it clear it wanted nothing to do with the PMAD. (http://cmm.qc.ca/psmad/avis/CS-A6.1_Avis_Ville_Hudson.pdf)

The brief begins by noting that Hudson was never consulted and that if it had been, some of the glaring inaccuracies in the MMC’s schema could have been corrected.

Its main points:
• The proposed master plan doesn’t take Hudson’s peculiarities into account;
• The MMC’s demand for an average 24-unit-per-hectare minimum would require more water than Hudson’s waterworks could supply and a sewer system (then unbuilt);
• Hudson Valleys and Alstonvale were left out of the MMC’s proposed master plan;
• A minimum density of 24 units per hectare would result in 1,600 units on 812 hectares, a density 12 times greater than that found within the town’s urban perimeter.

“These densities are clearly not applicable in a town like Hudson,” the town’s brief stated. To achieve such a density, it would be necessary to build triplexes or apartments next door to single-family dwellings on 40,000-square-foot lots. “Multi-family dwellings, row housing, triplexes and quadriplexes would completely transform the natural environment and unique character of Hudson.”

Notwithstanding Hudson’s objections, the PMAD passed into law with the Charest government’s blessing on March 12, 2012.

Before he died, Shaar told me the writing was on the wall in 1999, when the péquistes decided they were going to empower Montreal and Quebec City to collect more revenues.

So why, if he knew the MMC was a foregone conclusion, did he take the town through the exercise of a referendum?

It was a matter of principle, he said. “Hudson punches way above its weight politically. We had a reputation to uphold.”

Lawyer vs. lawyer

How far can we go in criticizing the people who run the town we live in?

When does citizen activism overstep the boundaries of what’s legal?

What tools can a municipality use in protecting the reputations of its public and elected officials?

What protection does a citizen activist have against a vengeful administration bent on libel chill?

Is there a way to evaluate the damage done to a town’s reputation?

Hudson mayor Ed Prévost and director-general Jean-Pierre Roy have been wrestling with these issues following the events leading up to this week’s adoption of Bylaw 687.

It isn’t the first time this administration has tried to come up with a policy on the public’s right to comment and question. Shortly after taking office in November 2013, the current council found itself in a social media shootout with critics. I can’t find the Facebook threads, so all I have to go on is hearsay on what was posted and who was threatened with libel chill.

The fair-comment issue resurfaced this past Tuesday evening on Hudson’s town hall steps, the same steps that supply the backdrop for innumerable photos and TV standups about Hudson’s dirty laundry. The DG had just announced the results of a registry on Bylaw 687 allowing the town to borrow $550,000 to refurbish the Community Centre. The registry fell 65 signatures short of forcing a referendum or the bylaw’s withdrawal.

I asked Roy whether the town proposed to take action against Véronique Fischer, the Hudson lawyer who has been a persistent pain in the butt of Hudson’s current body politic. The week before, Fischer spent $500 to mail pamphlets to every Hudson household questioning the bylaw and urging residents to sign the register.

There have been several interpretations of Roy’s comments regarding the action the town proposes to take to silence Fischer. Roy didn’t use the word “actionner,” the closest translation for “sue.” He used the more euphemistic “prendre action,” which suggests anything from a lawyer’s letter to a lawsuit.

There’s a place for public debate, he continued, but citizens have the right to correct information. He and the mayor are in agreement that there must be “zero tolerance” for actions such as Fischer’s mailing.

On Thursday morning I sat down with the DG for a 45-minute chat about how the town proposes to silence persistent critics without being accused of stifling free speech.

Roy began by making it clear the town would seek the means to neutralize residents who make it their business to monitor the decisions and practices of municipal administrations and have the know-how to research documents and the means to take their findings to provincial authorities.

Are Hudson’s citizen activists and dissenting voices at risk of being sued? Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada with a law that protects citizen activists. Adopted in 2009, Bill 99 prevents businesses from filing strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPS. These are civil lawsuits filed with the specific purpose of silencing organizations without the finances to wage a lengthy court battle.

The law allows a court to declare a lawsuit abusive, order the plaintiff to provide for costs and to cover the legal bills of the defendant.

The original purpose of the bill was to protect ecologists targeted by major corporations. I can’t find jurisprudence on whether Quebec’s anti-SLAPP law has ever been used against a municipality, but I can’t see a reason why not – an excellent reason for the creation of a Hudson citizens’ association. There’s strength in numbers.

The DG walked me through the jurisprudence, the body of legal decisions on the subject. He began by showing me a legal opinion that a citizen cannot use a town’s name, crest, logo, etc. without authorization. The opinion cited a 1960 decision in favour of Montreal against the Fraternité des policiers which established fines of $1,000 per individual and $2,000 for the union.

Next was last month’s Superior Court ruling in favour of the City of Saint-Lambert in its defamation lawsuit against the St-Lambert Journal and its publisher, David Leonardo.

The judge found that the weekly newspaper had repeatedly published “false, inaccurate information that was factually incorrect and did not correlate with events“ and ordered the defendant to pay a total of $100,000 in moral damages and $30,000 in punitive damages “as compensation for moral damages caused by [the] wrongful, abusive and illegal conduct [of the defendants].”

The municipality’s position was that the newspaper had “significantly damaged the integrity and reputation of employees, managers, elected officials, and the municipal administration in general.”

Roy’s expert cited judgments involving half a dozen municipalities, all variations on the theme that accusations and insinuations are actionable. A couple of citations stood out: the right to speak doesn’t carry the right to defame” and “citizens who go into politics are no different than other citizens…they have the right to safeguard their reputation.”

Roy pointed out the cost to the municipality’s reputation as well as to those who represent it. Canadian courts have established that one can libel a corporation as well as an individual or individuals. Hudson’s bad press (“Just Google Hudson and see what comes up.”) makes it more difficult to find qualified managers and technicians.

Roy, too, is a lawyer, so we danced around the role Fischer has played and continues to play in town politics. Fischer represents Catherine Haulard, the former DG. Provincial labour relations tribunal judge Mylène Alder was to have submitted her ruling by today (Friday, April 21) on whether Haulard’s 2014 dismissal was unlawful. If it isn’t out by the time you read this, expect it any day.

The Prévost administration has a growing list of grievances against party or parties unknown. Did Robert Spencer have legal help drafting his complaint against the mayor to the Commission municipale du Québec? Who filed a complaint with MAMOT regarding the legitimacy of the loan bylaw authorizing the expenditure of $1.5M for the repaving of the town’s main arteries?

Roy’s only comment directed at Fischer? “She’s given me a lot of work.”

I questioned Roy on the town’s latest legal adventure. I scanned Fischer’s pamphlet. I couldn’t find a single legally actionable phrase. She questions actions but does not impute motives. She attacks no one. She makes no questionable assertions. The town’s only case against her – if there is a case – centres on her use of Hudson’s logo by copying the top of the loan bylaw.

I asked Fischer for comment for this post. Her response was to send me the results of her latest access to information requests, showing that as of January 2017, Hudson wasn’t on the list of approved Canada 150 projects. She also produced a May 2016 grant application for the Hudson Community Center presented by the Hudson Music Festival. The application is for $53,122 toward the $105,300 cost of installation and renovation of the Hudson Contemporary Arts Centre.

There’s an expression in French: Elle persiste et signe. Whatever she may or may not have accomplished in the past, Fischer shows no intention of stopping her campaign to have the Community Centre loan bylaw invalidated. Prévost and Roy will do their utmost to shut her down, but I suspect the damage has been done.

Now that the curling rink roof is off the table, what’s left? Loan Bylaw 687 makes no mention of matching grants or that to-do list citizens were promised. All it says is taxpayers are on the hook for $555,000 for the next 20 years.

But not if Fischer can help it.