Parmalat a full-fledged political issue during final municipal all-candidates’ debate in North Dundas

Fraser says his employment at cheese plant will only benefit Winchester if he’s elected mayor

WINCHESTER — The cheese plant at the heart of their community — and its controversial odour issues — set the flavour for the final North Dundas all-candidates’ debate in Winchester on Monday night, where three candidates suggested taking a harder line with multinational Parmalat. Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Tony Fraser found himself forcefully defending his status as an employee of the company while answering a question from the floor some had characterized as unfair and insulting.

Marnie Fossitt, a neighbour to the recently expanded processing plant and vehement critic of the ongoing “stench,” again vented her frustration with the impact in her community while posing a question on what the candidates would do about it — specifically councillor candidate Gary Annable and deputy mayoral candidate Brad Pinch. Both are residents of Winchester and running for council for the first time.

“If elected, how will you advocate for the residents’ safety, physical and mental health, and quality of life when dealing with the stresses with Parmalat?” asked Fossitt. In reference to her own street, Gladstone Avenue, she added, “such as the ongoing destruction of a residential, dead-end street, and if this stench continues on into yet another year, despite promises and a possible winter respite. By the way, it’s now October and the stink was alive and well this morning.”

Annable promised that, if elected, he would do “everything in my power to encourage, prod, push Parmalat into complying with the needs of the village.”

Pinch — Parmalat’s most strident critic in the field of North Dundas candidates — repeated his campaign assertion that a “$15-million upgrade was done at Parmalat without considering how that was going to change the waste and waste water that was coming out.”

The shorter clip below begins with a question posed by Parmalat neighbour Marnie Fossitt and concludes with Jan Roosendaal’s uncomfortable query for Mayoral candidate Tony Fraser, who delivers a fiery retort. And that’s just several minutes of the exchanges that evening. 

The candidate acknowledged that everyone wants the major dairy processor to stay in Winchester, “but we want Parmalat to be a good neighbour.”
Pinch argued it was “extremely important” for the new council to take action, lest the firm again treat waste “as a second thought” in any future expansion. “We have to make sure that we actually hold Parmalat accountable,” he said, triggering a round of applause in the audience of 325 by suggesting the township start by documenting incidents of foul odour in Winchester, each time they occur.

For the first time in the series of three all-candidate meetings, mayoral candidate Gerry Boyce also played more directly to the accountability-for-Parmalat sentiment. In his closing remarks, Boyce said he would be “respectful of having Parmalat as a strong member of our business community” but acknowledged the odour in 2018 is “much worse” than  when he worked at the plant over 40 years ago. “The people of this great community deserve better, and I will follow up weekly with the Parmalat team for progress reports.”

Mayoral candidate Tony Fraser elicited perhaps the loudest applause when answering a hard-hitting question from Winchester’s Jan Roosendaal. The Christie Lane resident prefaced his query by suggesting the next council “has to grow some balls” and eventually asked Fraser, a Parmalat employee, if he would be able to “split” his loyalties to the township and his employer. Nancy Smirle of Morewood stood up to complain the question was “inappropriate,” but a fired-up Fraser forged ahead with a reply.

“I have to agree with you, Mrs. Smirle, parts of the question are inappropriate,” Fraser began. “As an employee of Parmalat, I’m hard-working employee, I’m an honest employee, I’m a stand-up type of guy,” said the blue collar worker, noting his involvement with the health and safety committee for over 20 years.

“I’ve been involved in many disagreements [with management] advocating for safer workplaces,” Fraser pointed out.

“I do stand up for what is right, I recognize what is right, and I am able to argue for what is right. My being an employee of Parmalat, I see it as a benefit. I am a direct conduit from their issues to me,” he said, arguing it made him more than “someone pretending to hold their feet to the fire.”

“I understand the issues. I see on a daily basis the changes that are being made, the efforts that are out there, the engineers that have been hired, the millions of dollars that are being spent,” he asserted. Turning his attention to his questioner in the audience, Fraser completed his thought: “to ensure that, Jan, your ag community has somewhere to ship milk. That is what I’m able to do, be an advocate for all of us in this community….”

“I do take offence to whenever people think that I’ll be a scapegoat or bend over backwards for Parmalat’s wishes. That has not been the way, I have been there for 29 years. I have been an advocate for the betterment of our community…. I have done a standup job. I believe I have represented our community well … and I will continue to do so when given the opportunity to be your next mayor. That is something you can take to the bank.”

Responding to another question, deputy mayoral candidate Al Armstrong couldn’t resist reflecting on the previous question. “It’s easy to be insulting to people that have stood at your council table, trying to do the best job that they can do for you. But I would ask that you temper your insults and try to keep them as questions. Because it’s easy to go after people who have a record, when you don’t have a record…. We’re up here to answer tough questions but we don’t need to be insulted for the work that we’ve done for our township.”

The debates were jointly organized by the Dundas Federation of Agriculture and the North Dundas Chamber of Commerce.  Full video of the final debate appears at the top of this article.



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