CORNWALL, Ontario – At their meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, Cornwall City Council voted against passing a new by-law that would ban open air wood fires on private property in the city.
This comes after Council chose to repeal their by-law on open air burning and burn permits on the recommendation of Fire Chief Pierre Voisine in September.
At the time, Chief Voisine recommended that open air wood fires be banned within city limits as his service was often responding to disputes between neighbours and because of the health hazards the smoke from wood fires posed.
The initial vote to repeal the by-law saw strong reaction from the public, which lead Mayor Bernadette Clement to acknowledge that more public consultations were needed, which were held by Chief Voisine in October. Additionally, the City conducted a survey on the burn ban.
According to the survey, 1511 of the 1779 respondents were in favour of outdoor fires, with 241 opposed.
At the beginning of the meeting, Councillor Eric Bergeron moved that representatives from the pro-fire group be allowed to present their case to Council that evening.
“I don’t see the need for a presentation,” said Councillor Glen Grant. “We had great public consultation. I think we debate this publicly. A presentation will do nothing to support anything. I have all I need here.”
The Clerk Manon Levesque confirmed that the group had already lobbied to present to council, but were denied because of the ongoing public consultation.
“I asked why this wasn’t brought forward in the past and I was told to do it this way,” said Councillor Bergeron. “No matter what side of a debate I’m on, I’m always in favour of more information.”
During their presentation, pro-fire representatives Rodney Rivette and Terry Muir argued that the reason why the previous burn permit system failed was because it was unenforceable.
“Do people have health issues, absolutely. Is that a concern, absolutely,” said Muir. “The people who took part in the debate overwhelmingly want fires in Cornwall.”
Later in the meeting, Councillor Todd Bennett moved that Council reconsider and undo its motion to repeal its previous by-law.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a little while. I’m just thinking that at the end of the day, the process is bad,” Bennett said. “We need to draft a by-law that has some serious teeth in it. There were both sides, people were thanking us for doing it, and that’s fine. There were other people who railed against it and that’s fine too. I was a no vote. It would have to be a very compelling argument to turn it back.”
Councillor Carilyne Hébert seconded the motion, and hoped a compromise could be found.
“I was very much under the impression that when this came back to us, there would be some sort of compromise from administration, and there wasn’t,” she said. “We need to come up with more opportunity to come up with a compromise. If we can’t come up with a compromise, I would vote for people to have the right to breathe over a family’s right to have a recreational fire.”
Council required seven members to vote in favour in order to overturn a previous decision, they were ultimately short by one vote.
Council then considered the motion itself, whether or not to adopt a by-law to ban outdoor wood fires in Cornwall.
“Everyone said we should have public consultation because we would listen to what the public wants to say. Interesting how that works out,” said Councillor Dean Hollingsworth who opposed the ban. “Many of my colleagues said “We don’t care.” Fair enough, so much for democracy, “we don’t care.””
Councillor Elaine MacDonald said however that there was nothing that she heard that changed her opinion.
“I’d like to say that at the start of the public consultation process, I asked if this was going to be a referendum. I was told it would not be a referendum,” she said. “The arguments I heard, in no way out weighs the opinion of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit.”
Ultimately, after much debate, Council chose not to adopt a by-law banning fires in Cornwall, leaving the city without any by-law at all governing outdoor fires.
Chief Voisine explained that in a case such as this, the provincial law applies, which he said bans outdoor wood fires.
The Ontario Fire Act says however that, according to section 18.104.22.168.:
(1) Open-air burning shall not take place unless
(a) it has been approved, or
(b) the open-air burning consists of a small, confined fire that is
(i) used to cook food on a grill, barbecue or spit,
(ii) commensurate with the type and quantity of food being cooked, and
(iii) supervised at all times.
Rodney Rivette was happy with the turn out and was confident in the future.
“The next step is to get the city to put together a by-law that is safe and respectful for everyone,” he said.