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Quebec launches a psychological help line for municipal elected officials

Photo: Jacques Boissinot Archives The Canadian Press The announcement by Minister Andrée Laforest comes less than a week after the resignation of Gatineau Mayor France Bélisle due to a “hostile” climate in the municipal arena.

Sébastien Tanguay in Quebec

1:15 p.m.

  • Quebec

Faced with an unprecedented exodus within municipal councils, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs is spending an additional two million dollars to offer front-line psychological assistance to some 8,000 elected officials in Quebec.

The announcement by Minister Andrée Laforest comes less than a week after the resignation of the mayor of Gatineau, France Bélisle, due to a “hostile” climate in the municipal arena.

The Quebec Federation of Municipalities (FQM) and the Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ) will be responsible for operating the helpline, available now.

“To take care of your world, you must also be able to take care of yourself,” responded Julie Bourdon, mayor of Granby and treasurer of the UMQ. This psychological support service will therefore make it possible to respond to an important need, at a time when collective reflection must begin in Quebec on the system in which municipal politics is currently exercised. »

Also read

  • Gatineau Mayor France Bélisle resigns
  • The wave of intimidation against municipal elected officials and its backlash

Minister Laforest also plans to enshrine compulsory training in law for all people who access an elective position, starting with the next municipal elections, scheduled for 2025. “Work is not not finished and we will continue our efforts to enable elected officials to be even better equipped to fulfill their essential role,” the minister indicated in a press release.

“We have heard it a lot in recent days: elected officials are human beings,” said the mayor of Laval, Stéphane Boyer, on the X network. This psychological support service will make a real difference for many. »

Wave of resignations

Quebec is facing a wave of resignations never seen before in the municipal sector. At least 741 elected officials have thrown in the towel since the November 2021 election. The resounding departure of France Bélisle has also raised a wave of support and released a voice in the four corners of Quebec, with a multitude of mayors and councilors who have since denounced the conditions of exercise of their function.

The young mayor of Chapais, Isabelle Lessard, resigned in November in the wake of a trying forest fire season at the gates of her municipality. Exhausted and worried about her mental health, she denounced the lack of support resources provided for elected officials.

In October, the mayor of Sherbrooke, Évelyne Beaudin, announced her temporary withdrawal for health reasons, on the advice of her doctor. At the beginning of February, she also spoke of tensions in the municipal council and the work of undermining the opposition.

In addition, in January 2023, the mayor of Trois-Rivières, Jean Lamarche, also took a break for a few weeks due to an “unhealthy work climate” at city hall. He had even considered resigning.

In an open letter published Monday, Longueuil Mayor Catherine Fournier called for a change in “political culture”.

Targeted by aggressive comments on social networks and placed under police protection since September, she maintained that elected officials must themselves set an example and that “it is not normal to see the toxic climates of intimidation which can reign in city halls… and in our parliaments.”

On X, Ms. Fournier also welcomed Minister Laforest’s announcement. “Fortunately, we are moving forward,” wrote the mayor of Longueuil. The more elected officials are supported and equipped, the better democracy will be. » Words which echo those of his colleague from Montreal, Valérie Plante, for whom supporting elected officials “is supporting democracy”.

Quebec City Hall itself has been mired, for a week, in allegations of a “toxic” climate which would have culminated in the corridors of the town hall during a muscular skirmish between two elected officials.

Other elected officials remain hungry

Other elected officials, united under the banner of a coalition which brings together around thirty mayors and councilors, say they remain “unsatisfied” after the minister's announcement. It “is a first step, but it is far from sufficient” and it “does not resolve the problem at the source,” the group wrote in a press release.

“It’s like saying to victims: ‘take care of yourself,’” deplores Sylvain Pillenière, municipal councilor of Lotbinière. This announcement does nothing to put an end to unacceptable behavior that causes distress. » Others, like La Minerve advisor Darling Tremblay, fear that the measure will be “a sword in the water” if the people at the origin of problematic behavior do not receive any training to “change the way they do things.”

Parliamentary commission requested

On Friday, the Liberal Party of Quebec requested that a parliamentary commission look into the issue of threats and incivility targeting elected officials, particularly in municipalities.

The Minister of Municipal Affairs, Andrée Laforest, avoided commenting on Friday on the relevance of a parliamentary commission to urgently study the issue.

During Ms. Bélisle's resignation, however, she maintained that the government “does its part to support elected officials in their functions”.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116