Eli looks forward, back

CONSTANCE BAY – It’s a place that holds a lot of memories for Coun. Eli El-Chantiry – The Lighthouse Restaurant.

A lifetime ago, it used to be his business. Just around the turn of the century, you could walk in to the busy restaurant on a Saturday morning and what seemed like the entire Constance Bay community was there eating breakfast. El-Chantiry was behind the counter working the grill. His wife Maha worked both sides of the counter, helping prepare plates as well as serving them.

Server/cook Janine Haudette is still at The Lighthouse, working at the restaurant for more than 30 years, now for newish owners Ji and Sandy Zhang.

El-Chantiry remembers his time as the owner fondly.

“I remember you and I were talking once about 18 years ago,” El-Chantiry tells West Carleton Online publisher Jake Davies from one of the booths earlier today (Jan. 3). “I think we were out back between the trailer and the restaurant. I was smoking a cigarillo (he’s long since given them up). You asked me why I wanted to become a politician. Sometimes I don’t know.”

Eli and Maha lived above the Lighthouse back then.

“I always like to remember upstairs when I’m here,” the councillor said. “I liked to take my meals up there, all alone, and enjoy the peace and quiet for a while.”

His time at the restaurant are good memories, and the start of another New Year is always the time for memories. Yesterday West Carleton Online shared its 2019 Year in Review with a look at some of our most-read stories. Today (Jan. 3) West Carleton Online had breakfast with El-Chantiry (his bill) to talk to him about the challenging year that was and the challenges coming in the year that will be.

The year ahead

El-Chantiry is looking forward to a 2020 that focuses on policies, not disasters.

“It will be a very busy year for the city as a whole,” he said.

Council has already started the process of re-writing the city’s Official Plan – a document that will guide the city, its growth and strategy for the next 26 years. Inside of that Official Plan is the Rural Economic Development Strategy (REDS) and the Master Transportation Plan – key facets of the Official Plan.

“The REDS is very important for us,” El-Chantiry said. “It has to comply with the Official Plan and create work within 15 to 20 minutes of where we live. How are we going to create work and bring business out to the rural area?”

El-Chantiry says the city will have to “think outside of the box,” to achieve those goals but notes some groundwork has already been done. A small example of that was El-Chantiry’s approved motion to exclude rural Ottawa from the city’s new short-term rental rules. The councillor says promoting agri-tourism and the rural lifestyle is another option. He points to the success of Carp winery KIN Vineyards as a success story of intertwining agriculture, destination and special events.

“We’re going to promote converting barns in to special events venues,” he said. “They have become very popular destinations for things like weddings. It doesn’t take a lot of infrastructure.”

Hosts can access special event permits, catering and other rentals to suit the need. City staff has even been testing the market. Last summer the city was a partner in the Pinhey’s Point event From Farm to Table.

“We worked with Ontario Tourism, Ottawa Tourism, local chefs, producers and entertainment,” El-Chantiry said. “It was very successful, and we want to do more of it.”

Transportation is always a major talking point in West Carleton, especially come election time. There is a clear divide between a community that is looking for options apart from owning a car and those who don’t want to pay more on their tax bill to bring OC Transpo to Ward 5.

The Master Transportation Plan “is very important to the rural area.”

El-Chantiry says he is working with the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre “to bring affordable transportation” to the area.

The ward’s two business improvement areas – the Carp Road Corridor and the Village of Carp – also want to see a solution to the transportation issue. The corridor wants to provide transportation to a growing workforce in Ottawa’s largest light industrial park. The village wants to see options for visitors to get out to Carp and take advantage of the growing number of restaurants, breweries, coffee houses and shops.

“What kind of transportation will serve the needs of the area,” El-Chantiry said. “Not necessarily OC Transpo, but all options cost money. The corridor wants morning and afternoon service, while the village is looking more for after-hours transportation. So, there are different needs”

El-Chantiry is looking at models serving other similar communities.

“We met with Rideau-Carleton Casino,” he said.

The racetrack is out on Albion Road, past the airport south of the city core.

“They have mini-buses they own and pick up staff from the Park ‘n Ride,” El-Chantiry said. “So, there are options. It’s going to be a while until the area builds up and transit gets out there.”

El-Chantiry says there is a joint meeting scheduled for March between the Planning committee and the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee, which he chairs, to discuss some of these issues. The first draft of the Official Plan is expected in October.

“In the meantime, we’re going to be working on development charges,” El-Chantiry said. “We’ve got all these spending plans, but we have to figure out how we are going to pay for it.”

El-Chantiry is also the second vice chair of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA). ROMA is the rural arm of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). The association is an integral part of AMO, and a number of its executive members serve on the AMO board of directors. Policy, research and advocacy activities are undertaken by ROMA through AMO. Matters which affect rural communities are brought to the attention of the provincial and federal governments through ROMA.

“We’re working with our colleagues to make broadband access an essential service,” El-Chantiry says is a priority for ROMA in 2020.

And unfortunately, there is still spring flood work to do. Several West Carleton roads were under water for more than a month as a result of last spring’s record-shattering flooding.

“They are still safe, but they are compromised,” El-Chantiry said.

And engineers have told the city it will cost about $3 million to fix those roads found in communities such as Constance Bay, Fitzroy Harbour, West Armitage, MacLaren’s Landing, Willola Beach and others.

“Were working with West Carleton Disaster Relief to meet with (MPP Dr. Merrilee Fullerton), (MP Karen McCrimmon), the mayor (Jim Watson) to see what we are going to do,” El-Chantiry said. “Last month the provincial government released special flood advisor Doug McNeil’s report. He had 66 recommendations in it, but there’s no price tag attached.”

El-Chantiry hopes that meeting will happen in the next couple of weeks.

“2020 will be a very busy year,” he said.

The year behind

It’s impossible to look ahead, without looking behind. And the year gone by was one filled with previously unseen challenges and tragedy – highlighted by the worst flooding in West Carleton history. Flooding that came roughly five months after a tornado destroyed a huge chunk of the West Carleton community in the Dunrobin and Kinburn area.

“How can we have good news stories when we had to deal with the highest record of flooding in recorded history?” El-Chantiry said. “I’ve said it a few times now, we’ve become a very resilient community. Well-organized at dealing with disasters, non-government organizations and the Armed Forces. As tragic as it was, it created some incredible friendships.”

El-Chantiry refers to last Remembrance Day when members of Garrison Petawawa including Major Kevin Wong came down to take part in the West Carleton Royal Canadian Legion’s Remembrance Day service.

Major Wong and members of the Royal Canadian Dragoons served in Operation Lentus which was the Armed Forces contribution to flood fighting last spring.

But it wasn’t just the outside help that had El-Chantiry remembering the positivity that came out of the disaster.

“Just the concern people showed for their neighbours,” he said. “Those devastated by the tornado came out to help those devastated by the flood, just as the 2017 flood victims came out to help the tornado victims. It gives you a different appreciation. Tragedy often brings out the heroism of people.”

El-Chantiry could name hundreds of committed community members, but the one that comes to mind this morning is MacLaren’s Landing’s Shannon Todd.

“People called her the local mayor, but she was so much more than that,” he said. “She knew where the flooding was going to go, she showed the army what to do, she was the spokesperson, her phone was available 24/7.”

It’s these tests that show the resolve of a community.

“It was a year that made us strong, resilient and care for each other,” El-Chantiry said. “It was a time when people came together. Where else would you see that? It will be a year to remember for a long, long time. I can go on forever about 2019.”

Even though time is encapsulated in to a calendar, there is no wall that celebrates one year from another on Jan. 1. No clean slate.

“The ripple effect of the flood is still with us,” El-Chantiry said. “It hasn’t gone very far. There’s still work to do. Homes to fix, insurance, Disaster Relief Ontario applications to process.”

Meanwhile spring is only four months away and there is already talk water levels are still high. West Carleton Online spoke to a few Constance Bay residents New Year’s Day who were caught up in the flood. They have no energy left to do anything.

“I can sympathize with him,” El-Chantiry, who also had property in Constance Bay impacted by the flood, said. “It sucked the life out of us.”