Candidates for Warden face-off with the public

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Students from Ecole secondaire Sieur-de-Coulonge were the first to ask candidates a question; they asked for a cinema, public transport, and a cultural centre “to engage youth”.

Deborah Powell

CAMPBELL’S BAY ­– The Pontiac Chamber of Commerce’s bilingual forum for Warden candidates, October 10, showed strong public interest, attracting about 200 people.  An English only debate was held in Shawville, on October 12 (see page 45).
The candidates for MRC Pontiac’s first elected warden are Linda Davis, incumbent Raymond Durocher, Charlotte L'Ecuyer, Pierre Frechette, and Jane Toller.  Candidates responded to three broad questions before the floor was open for queries from the public.
Question #1: How to attract and retain doctors, medical specialists?
Mr. Frechette would work with McGill’s Faculty of Medicine which will bring medical students to its satellite campus in Gatineau, whereas Mme L'Ecuyer pointed out that Pontiac’s hospital (which she helped organize) is attractive as one of Quebec’s best, and has a well-managed recruitment system. 
Ms Davis noted that the province assigns doctors to the regions, and she will target doctors in other regions, especially doctors with a rural background. She would recruit specialists near retirement. Mr. Durocher said recruitment is a challenge everywhere, and that the government’s recent centralization was a problem: “We need to offer extras.”
Ms Toller said offering quality community, social and recreational facilities, including a public pool and French CEGEP will attract medical professionals.
Question 2: Economic well-being and jobs.
How to work with local entrepreneurs to improve the local economy?
Mme. L'Ecuyer said the MRC needs better leadership and businesses need on-going support. She wants more accountability and transparency for MRC funds and
personnel, noting that the “SWAT team” is a good step. Ms Davis recounted her
work in the revitalization of Ottawa’s Westboro, stressing local purchasing, and added there is no one solution to attract investment; each sector and its size must be catalogued.
Mr Durocher said “restructuring policies” imposed by Quebec limit MRC actions and have taken money away. The fight is to get it back, he said; “One billion dollars has been invested by local entrepreneurs and the SADC,” he added, praising the “SWAT team”.  Ms. Toller – “I am an entrepreneur” - accusing the MRC of focusing only on big projects.  Cautious of government start-up loans, she promised “a toolbox” to cut red tape and identify missing businesses which could
succeed.
Mr. Frechette said local businesses cannot generate the necessary economic growth and external investment is needed.  The “SWAT team” needs education-sector partners, and praised the Caisse populaire’s young business persons program.
Question 3:  Improve emergency services?
Ms. Davis noted that a public safety plan is already mandatory and encouraged every family to create an emergency plan. She wants increased public education so “everyone knows what to do”. Mr. Durocher clarified that each municipality has a plan, and that the MRC’s plan will be complete next year. “We have limited first
responders and a huge territory,” he commented.
Ms. Toller said cellphone and internet service needs upgrading, not on vulnerable telephone poles. She will get “other players” to improve communication infrastructure. Mr. Frechette praised fire services, which lead the emergency plans, but wants more focus on electricity services and their outages.
Mme. L'Ecuyer will improve cooperation among first responders, fire and
police services, noting that communications infrastructure remains weak.
Public poses questions
1. Students from Ecole
secondaire Sieur-de-Coulonge asked for a cinema, public transport, and a cultural
centre “to engage youth”. All candidates agreed. Toller said culture will also enhance tourism and quality-of-life. L'Ecuyer promised a cultural centre and real public transport.
2. Ms Toller was asked how she will serve francophones, not being bilingual.  Toller said she has a tutor and will know her French, cautioning “Anyone can learn a language, but not everyone can deliver results.”
3. Candidates were asked about the radioactive dump proposed upstream in Chalk River.  Every candidate opposed the plan “as it now stands”.
4.  “How to keep kids in the Pontiac?”  All emphasized better educational facilities in the Pontiac; Davis added that roads need improving so people can get to jobs in other places. Toller repeated her desire for a French CEGEP, while Durocher emphasized the importance of trades and expanding their training locally. L'Ecuyer wants training facilities in various locales.
5.  Saving the forestry and farming sectors?   L'Ecuyer will bring the UPA in to create a long-term plan. She criticized wood hauled for processing elsewhere and will involve workers in a local plan for Pontiac’s quality timber.
Durocher explained the MRC’s Agricultural Zone Development Plan (PDZA), which, using its land bank, matches young farmers with available farmland.
For forestry, he praised
Fibre-Pontiac, a non-profit effort now studying a Bio-Mass Conversion project.
Toller criticized zoning and environmental regulations for harming farm investment. She said forestry could be helped by partnering with a lumber-mill
project in Renfrew County.  Frechette spoke of his long experience in forestry, and Davis referred to several rural-development projects she has worked on.
6. Another person asked about prospecting on private property, but was directed to other sources of information.
7. How to promote Pontiac’s PPJ Cyclo-Parc trail?   Durocher, Frechette and L’Ecuyer forcefully said they would keep it a part of the RouteVert, for cycling and hiking only, to assist tourism.  Toller and Davis would consult on opening
it to motorized traffic.
8.  Plans to create jobs?  Toller promised an extensive “job creation action plan”, while Frechette said he won’t make big promises, but would use tools – like the “SWAT team”—to create partnership opportunities.
L'Ecuyer said a “tourist route” that would keep visitors at least one night in the region, will create tourism jobs.  Ms. Davis wants a picture of the available
workforce completed, “to show investors that we can fill their employment needs”.
Durocher stressed that a warden can’t just “create jobs”. He praised the
MRC-sponsored Vision2020 program which will steadily generate jobs.
Other questions covered recycling, the “Great Luskville Railroad Line Robbery” (PPJ), and green jobs.   Many more voters were unable to ask
their questions, due to time constraints.   Chamber of Commerce president MireilleAlary closed the meeting, as she had opened it, thanking both candidates and the public for the intelligence of their questions and responses.    (AB & FR)