Mayoralty candidates voice opinions

WINCHESTER – Senior staff from the village’s Parmalat plant bore the brunt of public backlash during a town hall meeting last week, and it’s clear the complaints involving the plant will be a municipal election issue this fall.

Locked in a mayor’s race for North Dundas’ crown, both Tony Fraser and Gerry Boyce were in attendance at Thurs., July 5’s session.

It’s a particularly sensitive subject for the pair, as Fraser has been a Parmalat employee since 1989 and Boyce was a 21-year staffer of the then Ault Foods factory, which Parmalat purchased in 1997. (Boyce held a management position before being laid off during a restructuring process in 1995.)

Of the meeting, each mayoral candidate was enthused by the candidness shown by company officials.

Both running for mayor in the Township of North Dundas, and both with a connection to Winchester’s Parmalat plant – Tony Fraser (left) and Gerry Boyce.

“I thought the meeting went well… Maybe it was a little late coming, probably should have been held a while ago. Not so much because of the people concerned, but even last year people were concerned… There should have been some openness last year, or when plans were being made,” Fraser said. “Perhaps it would have eased the concerns a little bit… The company would have done themselves a service if they were more open [sooner].”

Added Boyce: “I was quite impressed, and I felt good when it was over. I was worried it might get out of hand, but I’m glad to see it didn’t and glad to see this meeting as a first step. The company admitted wrong, and [plant manager] Bruce [Shurtleff] owned the problems.”

Dust stirred up by vehicles travelling throughout the plant’s grounds, as well as the increase in transport truck traffic and the pungent smell emanating from Parmalat’s wastewater treatment site have been hot topics in recent years.

There are some who believe Fraser has put himself in a complicated position by vying for the mayor’s chair and remaining a longtime employee of the factory.

He sees it differently.

“As an employee of the plant, and if elected mayor, I think I’m in a better position because I’m a known quantity to the company,” Fraser said. “They know I’ve been a straight forward, honest and dependable employee, and that affords me some extra credit in discussions. They are speaking to a person they know, and there is some level of comfort there. I don’t find it difficult to separate myself as an employee, a town resident or a municipal councillor… No one tiptoes around me at work, I am an employee, and I have vested interest in being one and in being on council.”

Boyce, meanwhile, said he is “optimistic” changes are coming to correct issues that have been around since his tenure at Ault’s, with smell from the lagoons being a reason he and his family didn’t settle in Winchester at the time.

“I believe we need to continue with the communication that’s going on now, and keep those lines between the township and Parmalat open,” he said. “I don’t want to say I’ll bully them or hold their feet to the fire if I’m elected mayor, that’s not how I operate, but I won’t look away from it either. We’ve all got to keep an eye on them.”