Mayor Tony Fraser took plenty of criticism on social media this week over a phone call he made to the admin of one of Winchester’s Facebook groups, Carrie Paquin. The situation started when Mayor Fraser didn’t agree with a post Carrie had made in her social media group, which blamed the lack of new available water connections in Winchester for a local business’s decision to pack up and leave.
Ritchie Feed and Seed is the business in question, choosing to cancel plans for a local expansion and instead leaving the area due at least in part to the inability to connect to the Winchester municipal water supply. Carrie wrote in her social media post, prior to the recent election, “With major issues at hand like water supply, losing businesses, and residents leaving town to find employment because their long-time employer had to close…choose wisely when you cast your vote. Please. We need council members that will prioritize these concerns and find solutions.
I’m truly shocked right now to see this listing on MLS and know that we’re losing something really great in this town. My farm wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for these people at Ritchies. I wish there were something I could do. I hope it takes a long time to sell.”
After posting, Carrie received a phone call from Mayor Fraser. When she answered, she ended up wishing she hadn’t. “We spoke for 20 minutes,” Carrie said of the phone call. “His main concern was how this affects the election and that the wrong people will get into office because people are going to vote based on what the candidates are saying in response to the post. He went on to say that Ritchies never has a lot of customers, they are failing on their own and blaming the township. He kept telling me my information was false. I told him I got my info directly from Ritchies. My husband’s company is one that was working on the expansion. He was called to be informed the project was cancelled and Ritchies is selling, and the reasons why. I didn’t make it up, didn’t spread rumours, it wasn’t even hearsay, because I actually went into Ritchies and spoke to the manager after my husband told me the news. Tony said he would call me back with the truth and wanted me to post what he told me. I didn’t answer his additional calls (that) afternoon. He told me I should have called him and got the okay from him before posting something like this at election time. I got off the phone in tears.”
Carrie removed her original post but soon re-posted it, realizing that she had never done anything wrong. She also created a second post, expressing her concern over what had happened between her and Mayor Fraser. The two posts combined received well over 200 comments from members of the community, with the overwhelming majority expressing support for Carrie and criticism of Mayor Fraser over Carrie’s account of the phone call.
Asked for a comment on the matter, Mayor Fraser responded. “As I am sure you are aware, the Chesterville Record posted a story today about the sale of Ritchie Feed & Seed,” he said. “Scott Endicott, CFO and partner of the company, confirmed that the water issue, while solvable with the construction of a private well, was only one factor in their decision to sell. Ritchie has been an important and successful business in our community for many years and their expansion would have been a great addition to the Township of North Dundas. The Township has been working with them on potential expansion plans for several months, and I am disappointed that they have decided to leave.
As Mayor, I am committed to providing North Dundas residents and businesses with accurate information and I am grateful to residents and social media moderators who help spread that information. By the same token, I feel an obligation to have misinformation corrected to the extent possible, while adhering to client confidentiality. My conversation with Ms. Paquin was not meant to intimidate her in any way. Hopefully the article in the Chesterville Record today will bring some clarity to this issue.”
While the Oct 27 Chesterville Record article does point out that other factors were at play in the Ritchie closure decision, exactly what those other factors are is not specified. The article also does place relatively heavy blame on the water issue as a cause of the decision.
Carrie feels that the official response from Mayor Fraser does not accurately reflect the tone of their phone call. “The Mayor has expressed in his email to you, Brandon, that he did not intend to intimidate me,” said Carrie after learning of Mayor Fraser’s response. “But the fact remains that I was intimidated and also disappointed. Someone I used to look up to really let me down. I thought we elected someone very different; someone who cares about the community, the businesses, the residents. But to be talked down to and berated for being saddened by the loss of this business, and to have a local business face the attitude of “figure it out yourself” from our council is so disappointing. The Mayor has my phone number, email address and knows where I live, if he did not have ill intent with his phone call, I have yet to receive an apology. I have lived in Winchester for over 10 years, and for half that time I have been the admin of a community group that now has over 9,000 members. The sole focus of the group has always been community support. Support of our valuable local businesses and our residents. Not just for Winchester, but all of North Dundas. It’s where we share news, concerns, and help for one another. It’s used for advertising, promoting events, activities and fundraisers. It will always be about positivity, truth and support. When the Ritchies is sold and closes, I hope the community will join me in sadly waving goodbye, and wishing the staff well.”