(Editor’s note: This is West Carleton’s first of three interviews with West Carleton Online’s political leaders in the three levels of government, based on a look back at 2020 and a look forward at 2021. Not surprisingly for West Carleton, all three politicians were found at home (or in their office) in their riding.)
WEST CARLETON – For Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, “challenging is an understatement,” when thinking about a year where West Carleton was firmly in the grip of a global pandemic due to COVID-19.
El-Chantiry spoke with West Carleton Online yesterday (Jan. 7) about the year that was in 2020 and what will hopefully be an improvement in the year that will be in 2021.
“It was more than just challenging,” El-Chantiry said. “It changed everything and how we do everything in our life – shopping, going out, learning how to engage our community. Etc.”
It was a challenging year personally for El-Chantiry as well who lost his younger sister to emphysema and a younger uncle to cancer as well.
“It’s tough to lose them and not get closure,” El-Chantiry said. “I couldn’t attend a funeral or be there as they were dying.”
The challenges as a councillor were many in 2020. While all in-person City of Ottawa meetings were cancelled in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, city staff, council and residents had to learn a new way to engage in important city discussions.
El-Chantiry says with so many important issues on the table such as the annual budget, the Official Plan, the Transportation Master Plan, the Rural Economic Development Plan, the Langstaff development, to name a few, public discussion couldn’t just be ignored.
“All this happening without the opportunity to meet face-to-face,” he said. “It was difficult, but we did our best. We’ve learned and so have our residents. They are engaging with us and we are moving forward.”
El-Chantiry says there were signs of positivity during the year – and they were side-effects of the pandemic.
“If there is such a thing,” El-Chantiry said of the positives. “Early on we were scrambling to learn to deal with this.”
Constance Bay’s Vera Jones (of Savvy Seconds fame) made the councillor three masks. This was before they became mandatory.
“They were beautiful,” El-Chantiry said. “The David Smith Drug Treatment Centre needed masks. They said they needed 50. I called Vera. She made 100.”
El-Chantiry points out Cavanagh Construction donating 125 N95 masks to the councillor’s office, who passed them on to the seniors of the community.
“And it’s not just masks,” El-Chantiry said. “We had people offering to pick up groceries. We get people calling us offering all kinds of help. We count on their numbers.”
El-Chantiry mentions the community that created the West Carleton COVID-19 Neighbourhood Network.
“We were impressed with the way it supported local businesses,” El-Chantiry said. “Maha and I donated prizes out of our own money to help support local businesses.”
El-Chantiry was a business owner, operating the Lighthouse Restaurant in Constance Bay for many years before entering politics. He is the mayor’s representative for Ottawa’s 19 business improvement areas and is on the COVID-19 business recovery task force.
“We did very well with the campaign to support our restaurants,” El-Chantiry said. “I have visited many of them and they said they are doing well despite the challenges. If everyone can continue that support of local businesses, it’s needed. The vaccine will take a few more months to roll out. We did very well promoting the Carp Farmers’ Market and you saw the lines. The Constance Bay Community Market Cheer Boxes were also very well supported.”
With so much of the year dominated by the coronavirus, people are forgiven for forgetting the stories that weren’t about COVID-19.
“It’s tricky to be honest,” El-Chantiry said. “We began the year with the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference and Doug Ford talking about rolling out high speed broadband and declaring it essential.”
There was $156 million in funding for the project. Even that project has been highlighted by COVID-19 as parents in rural communities, struggle to have their children participate in online learning.
“I understand the challenges because I live it,” El-Chantiry said. “COVID put a push to it.”
The project to bring natural gas to Dunrobin Shores is also top of mind for El-Chantiry and the roads damaged by the 2019 flood in communities such as Constance Bay, Dunrobin Shores, Fitzroy Harbour and Vydon Acres.
“That’s going to cost around $3.5 million,” El-Chantiry said. “I’m still hopeful maybe next year or even this year, the province will step up and help.”
As soon as El-Chantiry looks to 2021, the conversation returns to COVID-19.
“I’m optimistic,” El-Chantiry said when talking about the vaccine. “We’re going to try to have a mobile clinic for the vaccine. I’ve been talking to the city staff.”
El-Chantiry says residents can expect something similar to December’s mobile flu clinic held in Kinburn.
“The goal was to do 60 shots that day,” El-Chantiry said. “We did 96. After that there were three more rural mobile flu clinics. We’re going to do the same with the vaccine when we reach Phase Three. We learned from the flu clinic.”
El-Chantiry does hope he sees something continue from the pandemic in 2021.
“All levels of government are working together, and we need to do more of that,” El-Chantiry said. “What I hope for in 2021, the list is long. I hope for a healthy community and residents. Please be careful. There are more people walking on the rural roads. Take your time, slow down. If you are walking, wear bright clothing. This is not criticism. I’m asking politely. If the rules are leash your dogs, keep your leash on your dogs. Everybody loves dogs, but not everyone is comfortable with big dogs. Please, lets just follow the rules. Snowmobiles in Torbolton Forest. Slow down, take care. To me its common sense, but I know, there’s a small minority.”