Pierre-Paul Routhier upset outgoing mayor Nathalie Simon in last weekend’s election in Chateauguay, news the MCK welcomed. (Courtesy Sonia Lopez Moran)
Pierre-Paul Routhier is saying all the right things since he was elected as the new mayor of Chateauguay. He was officially sworn in on Sunday.
In his first interview (on K103.7 FM Kahnawake) on the subject of the relationship with neighbouring Kahnawake, Routhier said he hopes for a strong partnership between the communities.
“I know that there’s a problem between the two communities that was more active in the last eight years actually,” Routhier said. “But I’m looking forward to having a better relationship than the one that was there before.”
That is music to the ears of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK).
“It’s no secret that Kahnawake and Chateauguay’s former mayor (Nathalie Simon) have not seen eye to eye, so I think change is good,” MCK political attaché Joe Delaronde said. “I think the council here is certainly pleased about this. We don’t know what the new mayor will be like but we certainly wish him the best and hopefully we will have a much better and smoother relationship.”
Grand chief Joe Norton appears optimistic.
“From the information and intelligence I have been receiving, he seems to be someone who is eager to work with Kahnawake,” Norton said. “That’s certainly a welcome change from what we have been involved with for a number of years now. And I look forward to, we’ll call it a challenge, to reconcile the differences that we’ve had over a number of years.”
Routhier is a businessman first. He ran a moving company in Chateauguay for years before going back to school at the age of 44 to earn a law degree in 2002.
With both communities looking to bring in more revenue for their respective populations, it could lead to cooperation after nearly a decade of open hostility.
The most significant case of hostility was when Simon led the surrounding municipalities in a court challenge of Quebec’s legal obligation to return over 500 acres of lands to Kahnawake that were expropriated for the construction of Highway 30.
It was a mistake according to mayor-elect Routhier.
“Regarding the case I can tell you one thing, I would never have spent a dime on any lawyers representing the city of Chateauguay trying to fight that,” Routhier said. “I don’t think that it was fair for Chateauguay and the other municipalities also to hire some lawyers to try to fight it. Actually, I do approve of the courts decision to throw out this fight and recognize that it was only a question of responsibility of the Quebec government and the Mohawk community.”
“That’s pleasant to hear because that opens the door, not only for the kind of reconciliation that we’re talking about in terms of being able to talk to each other, but if there’s opportunities to do some joint ventures together,” Norton said. “For me that’s very important in terms of having relationships with neighbours and for future investment.”
“We will do our best to develop our part of Highway 30 and the industrial park,” Routhier said. “Now if we can do something with the community, I would love to have that because it’s a hell of an advantage.”
Norton sent a letter of congratulations to Routhier on Tuesday, and extended an invitation for the mayor and grand chief to meet as soon as possible.
While Routhier has lived in Chateauguay for most of his life, he admits he has a lot to learn about his neighbours.
Brian Goodleaf has had business and legal dealings with Routhier for years. Goodleaf took him on what he calls the five-dollar tour of Kahnawake on Monday.
“He is open to our land grievances and land claims,” Goodleaf said. “He’s very interested in Kahnawake. He was astonished at our infrastructure and how developed it is.”
Goodleaf said that Routhier is a good listener, and what you see is what you get.
“He’s very genuine, (and) to the point. Very direct,” Goodleaf said. “He’s not sugar-coating anything. He’s a very honest fella and a good man and a man of his word.”
Things aren’t nearly as rosy 45 minutes north for the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake, as four more years of uneasy coexistence at best are ahead for Kanesatake-Oka relations it seems.
Mayor Pascal Quevillon was re-elected in Oka on Sunday with 55% of the vote.
“People are pretty pissed off.” said council grand chief Serge Otsi Simon.
Relations between the communities have taken a huge step backward in recent months and they don’t promise to improve anytime soon after a private housing development began on lands adjacent to the pines in Kanesatake, as reported in The Eastern Door and elsewhere.
Simon said the last meeting he had with Quevillon was over zoning on that land.
“Almost six months ago, when he lied about the development,” according to Simon. “He said there wasn’t anything going on and that we would talk to you and consult you. And next thing I now there were permits and the development was going ahead.”
When the municipal election campaign got underway across the province, Simon got involved. He went on record saying that he supported Quevillon’s challenger Marie-Claude Provencher.
Despite supporting the losing horse, Simon has no regrets.
“Bitter disappointment (about the results) and maybe a little bit of fear for the future for the relations with our neighbours around here,” Simon said. “This is a big step backwards. It shows us what people around here are about. If this is what they want they’ll get back exactly what they dish out.”
Simon knows that he’s not only speaking for the residents of Kanesatake. As grand chief and a proud Mohawk he feels a responsibility for all his people in the region.
“It’s going to be a stressful four years for some of our people who live in the municipality of Oka,” he said.
Simon is considering court action to make municipalities respect First Nations rights and treaties. That, however, would be costly, take an enormous amount of time, is not guaranteed to turn out in Kanesatake’s favour and may affect all First Nations communities across Canada.
“There was a court case and the B.C. court of appeals ruled that municipalities don’t have to consult First Nations, as they are not under the crown,” Simon said. “But I’m thinking of maybe challenging it in court. Canada created the provinces and the provinces created the municipalities so they should respect our rights.”
The Eastern Door placed several calls to Oka mayor Pascal Quevillon and left messages, all of which went unanswered.