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Heated debate: Should La Pêche take over Wakefield centre?

June 5th,2024 | Municipal News, News

La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux speaks during an information session at the Wakefield community centre May 30, where he discussed the details of an agreement that would see the Centre Wakefield La Pêche cooperative transfer ownership of the building to the municipality. Photo: Trevor Greenway

After two long years of drama, damning financial numbers and infighting between board members, members of the Wakefield community centre cooperative are finally ready to figure out its future. 

About 70 members filed into the community centre on May 30 for an information session on whether or not to transfer ownership of the building to the municipality of La Pêche later in June. But what came out of the meeting was former board members accusing current ones of “skewing” numbers to paint a more doom and gloom picture of the centre’s future finances. 

Former Centre Wakefield La Pêche (CWLP) board president Irene Richardson ignited an intense debate over the origins of the municipal building transfer and suggested that an agreement was drafted without the knowledge of the community centre’s board  by councillors back in 2021. 

“It was an unsolicited letter sent to the board…. I did not really appreciate that whatsoever, and I don’t think that’s accountability or transparency” said Richardson.

CWLP treasurer Lynn Forrest interrupted to state that she has a copy of an email from Richardson to the municipality, officially requesting a letter from the municipality regarding the draft agreement. 

“I did not do that, and you do not have it,” Richardson fired back during an intense exchange. Richardson then took aim at the centre’s finances and claimed that the numbers that the current board put out in its 2024 financial statements were inaccurate. She was referring to the deficit projections put out by the board in late May, which show losses in the $200,000 range for the next three years. 

“We’re not going to be in a $200,000 deficit three years from now,” Richardson told the crowd. “Well, I guess we could but…”

Board member Vanessa Passmore stepped in to say that board members were “very generous” when putting the projections together and added that the board is neither for nor against transferring the building to the municipality. 

“And just to be clear, we are not trying to stretch numbers or anything like that,” she said. “We are you, we are members, and we are doing this for free. We are clearly just trying to bring this offer to you.”

Richardson continued to push buttons, but it was clear that neither the board members nor the crowd were interested in digging into issues of the past. 

“This isn’t about that,” interrupted Forrest. “We have a letter before us, Irene, and we are being asked to review it, and that’s what this is about.”

The draft agreement from La Pêche states that the coop would “transfer ownership of the building” to the municipality while it would “continue the design, implementation and execution of artistic, recreational and cultural programming” at the centre. The municipality would be responsible for “all costs related to the building,” including maintenance, repairs, electricity costs, grounds maintenance and snow removal. The coop would be entitled to use the building rent-free and would have 24/7 access to the building for its day-to-day operations. 

La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux told the crowd that his council views the project as “viable” and that if the coop could focus solely on programming, it would benefit the municipality as a whole. With the municipality already paying off the centre’s 14-year mortgage, and since it owns the land which the building sits on, he said it makes financial sense for the municipality to add another asset to its infrastructure ‘library.’

“I don’t think that we would do this systematically for any building in La Pêche. We’ve seen community centres close, and we’ve not stepped up,” said Lamoureux. “The overall benefit to the community that would be generated by the coop free of this burden would exceed whichever cost.”

On June 20, members will vote “for or against entrusting the board of directors to negotiate and finalize the transfer of the CWLP building to the municipality of La Pêche.”

Hostile community

Former board member Peter Gillies questioned why board members are remaining neutral on the issue, and argued that because they represent the cooperative, they should be making a recommendation either for or against a municipal transfer. 

“I think it’s the board’s job to make a recommendation, and it has made an implicit recommendation tonight by making a very strong and well thought-out case, but for some reason the board is reluctant to stand up,” said Gillies. He noted that he’s aware of the sometimes aggressive feedback board members get from “the hostile takeover group and the other negative narrative people.”

“But I think it’s really important that you stand by your guns and respect the work that you have done and expect that you are going to get good respect from the community on that,” Gillies added. 

Forrest was blunt in her answer, saying that she and other board members didn’t have the “guts” to take a stance in front of the community.

“We have faced, over the last few years and the previous board, an extremely hostile community and a lack of trust,” said Forrest, who told the crowd that she had put in 36 hours of volunteer work in preparation for the meeting. In an emotional plea to the membership, she described how difficult being a CWLP board member really is.  “All you have to do, it appears, is get on this board and you won’t be trusted,” said Forrest. “We have personally been attacked in the community, verbally. I apologize if it’s our job, but we didn’t have the guts.”

Three-quarters of members in attendance need to vote for the transfer of ownership for it to be approved by the board. 

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