EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: If only we all had the vision of Chuck Charlebois

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City hall has drawn a line in the sand – and is daring the federal government to cross it. Angry city councillors, if you haven’t heard by now, passed a bylaw Monday night that prohibits the work being done on Cornwall’s waterfront to build a pair of tanks that could someday house calcium chloride.

The issue is simple – the municipality says all work on that site must comply with its official plan, a document city hall uses to determine what kind of development can take place on any given property in Cornwall.

In this case, the city says that parcel of land can’t be used as a chemical storage or transfer depot. Now the big question is, what will the federal government do about it? City councillors are banking on the government, in this case Transport Canada, will avoid a very public, very messy battle over what gets to be built on the waterfront.

The city has the PR war sewn up. It’s hard to spin chemical tanks on the waterfront into a positive event – especially after all the hard work that this community has done to repair the image of that area of town.

City councillors were saying all the right things Monday night, and the message was simple: “If they want a legal fight, we’ll give them one.”

Of course, that’s just what it might come to – and that’s where things could get troubling for the city and the rest of us who want no part of more chemicals on the waterfront.

Unless there’s something we don’t know (there always is) it looks like the federal government played by the rules on this one. It doesn’t have to get any permits or site-plans to do something on its property and it signed an agreement in good faith with a private industry (Trillium Distributing). The only thing the government could be accused of is doing all this behind our backs – which is terrible, but won’t exactly rule the day if this fight ends up in a courtroom.

But we have a secret weapon, and his name is Chuck Charlebois.

If you haven’t shaken Chuck’s hand recently do yourself a favour and shake it the next time you see him. Chuck bleeds Cornwall blood, and despite a crippling affliction that would have left lesser people wallowing in self-pity, there he was trudging through the snow at a protest Monday, rallying the city against the tank construction.

City council, in spite of a landslide of problems this term, got it right Monday night. For a while I thought this thing would result in a lot of hot air that the federal government would simply ride out until tempers cooled.

I was wrong (again) and it looks like city hall has both barrels loaded and will fight. Awesome.

The guy who comes out of this with problems is MP Guy Lauzon. He has been vilified in some circles, perhaps unfairly, because it is a federal government ministry that owns the land and signed the lease agreement. It wouldn’t be the first time that the federal government did something without first consulting the MP of the riding in question.

The issue now is what will Guy do for his riding? He made an appearance at the protest Monday and suggested he’s hopeful common ground can be found. I’m not sure that’s what people want to hear, as evidenced by the reaction these tanks have created.

We want them gone, and this is where we start to fight back. Chuck Charlebois has a vision for the waterfront that I hope, one day, becomes a reality. Of course, I could be an old man by that time, but so what? At least it will be a part of Cornwall we can look at with pride instead of embarrassment.

If these tanks are built, it sends a message that Cornwall is regressing instead of breaking free of a mold that has kept us a prisoner for decades.

How many times have you heard someone say, especially these last few days, ‘Well, that’s Cornwall for you.” A lot. I say this is the issue where we cast that sentiment aside.

To those who would look to build chemical tanks on our waterfront I offer this: please find someplace else. We’ve charted a different course for our waterfront, because the dream of a man who uses crutches to walk, can run circles around those tanks.

Organizations: Transport Canada

Geographic location: Cornwall

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