It was a civilized and respectful debate in the large municipality of Cookshire-Eaton attended by 150 persons last week at the Guy-Veilleux hall in Cookshire. A number of citizens from Johnville and Sawyerville, in addition to those from Cookshire, participated in the meeting to learn what mayoral candidates Sylvie Lapointe, Yvon Roy and Marc Turcotte had to offer.
At first visibly nervous, the candidates participated in a little quiz to break the ice, followed by a short presentation explaining their respective motivations for seeking the position of mayor. The debate was in French.
To the question of whether the municipality needed development tools, whether economic, cultural, agricultural, or other, Sylvie Lapointe said yes, but specified that the municipality should use means already in place, such as the CLD (Centre local de développpement). She said that the absence of the municipality around the CLD table was a lack, and that she would be present there. She added that the creation in 2017 of Cookshire-Eaton Innovation aimed to develop «our very own products.»
Yvon Roy stated categorically that «yes, the municipality need tools. We have one (Cookshire-Eaton Innovation). We have to give some time to the organization.» He added that the municipality also should work with the CLD and other agents of development. Marc Turcotte spoke about growth and satisfying needs. He mentioned that the Quebec government’s Bill 122 gives municipalities a much greater opportunity to obtain necessary funds. He noted the existence of organizations and aid programs that can be used as levers. He insisted that «to carry out projects, you need a vision and the best way is to have a plan.» He added that working to improve citizens’ quality of life constitutes a good beginning.
Regarding the quality of municipal management, Roy said it is «effective enough, and complicated. There are no big management problems.» Roy said the mechanisms in place are efficient and that he would like to create a policy that leave no place for psychological and sexual harassment. Marc Turcotte spoke about «a flagrant lack of communication. In the structure, people should know their jobs. That takes managers and leaders to assure that each person does their job.» The candidate added that if staff members showed a lack of good will, he could call upon an external firm. Sylvie Lapointe expressed her disagreement with her predecessor, maintaining that the personnel in place are highly competent. «The personnel are just not well administered. With the staff in place now, we can accomplish much more.» We just need to better define the tasks of each person, she implied.
Municipal taxes are not to be ignored. To the question «Are citizens over-taxed?», Turcotte said that citizens pay, but see nothing around them that helps invigorate their milieu. He insisted that better management consists of planning the projects to put into place. «We have to plan, to take care of our assets before plunging into new projects,» he proposed, calling for a truly balanced budget based on expenditures equal to revenues, not dipping into funds to balance the budget.
Right away, Lapointe said «I do not want you to think that I will freeze the taxes two years and then come up with an increase of 4% the following year. I would maintain a reasonable level. We need to raise municipal revenues by introducing new industries, with the construction of new houses and renovation.» Roy held that the tax level is «balanced well enough and the municipality offers complete services.» The problem with comparing our municipality with Sherbrooke, he said, is that the latter has many more residences on its territory than Cookshire-Eaton has.
The last question concerned the administration of public finances and expenditures. Lapointe said that certain posts could be cut, but others were untouchable, such as the fire services. She proposed to closely oversee the expenditures, beginning with the cellphone costs of employees. Regarding public works, she remarked, «When there are six workers leaning against a post, and only two digging a hole,» you have to ask questions. Turcotte said it is important to first know the state of the general situation of the entire municipality and «to put in place a process of planning, and see what you can pay for. When I hear that there are blue-collar workers who spend their time standing around beside a hole, it’s because there is a manager who gave them an order. It’s the manager who should explain why, the type of work to be done, and the number of persons necessary.» Roy maintained that the workers, especially in public works, do their work adequately, and there is no reason to reduce the expenditures in this sector, given the amount of work to be done on our roads. «I don’t believe the work is mismanaged,» he said.
During the question period a young girl asked what the candidates’ plans are for youth. Turcotte and Lapointe invited youth to make their needs known to the municipal council, and said they would have an attentive hearing. Roy spoke about upgrading the infrastructures in place, such as the skate park and the skating rink, and creating a place that would permit youth to get together. Outgoing councillor Yvan Tremblay asked how the candidates would approach the contract negotiations with employees, given that this cost represents 40% of the municipal budget. Candidates Lapointe and Turcotte responded prudently, implying that it is necessary to respect the municipality’s capacity to pay. Roy said he could not respond, because no demand has yet been submitted.
A teenaged girl asked what could be done to meet the needs of young English speakers. Turcotte argued that the English-speaking community feels more and more excluded, and proposed that information be automatically distributed in both languages. Lapointe added that we need more bilingual brochures, and invited the public to suggest some solutions. Roy spoke about a project to bring together young Francophones and Anglophones within the Sawyerville Elementary School. Candidate for the councillor seat no. 5, Danielle Tremblay asked the candidates to get involved in conserving the bilingual character of the Sawyerville sector, and to help the youth of the two linguistic communities to grow up together. The preservation of the Sawyerville library, as well as the one in Cookshire, was raised.
A citizen asked the candidates to commit themselves to give local entrepreneurs an opportunity to make submissions for projects. All three candidates emphasized the importance of doing this, while Turcotte suggested registering the names of local entrepreneurs, to enable them to submit their proposals. Diane Latendresse asked the candidates to explain their position vis-à-vis the Essenian community. All three refused to comment, saying that the dossier was pending before the court, but noted that they would hold a discussion once the situation was clarified.
After the debate, the outgoing mayor Noël Landry clarified that he had not left the CLD table, but rather had been replaced by the municipality of East Angus during a vote to name the members of the executive committee.
The debate was organized by two citizens, Michel Turcotte and Irène Dubé.