Photo: Adil Boukind Le Devoir The municipal councilor in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Jasmine Sharma
Isabelle Porter in Quebec
January 29, 2024
On January 15, Geneviève Dubuc, municipal councilor in Saint-Sauveur, resigned from her position, deploring the unhealthy climate within her council. Another one. Like other elected officials before her, the young politician denounces the incapacity of the municipal world to civilize its ways of doing things.
“I did everything I could to improve the situation. But at some point it becomes extremely heavy,” she explains in an interview. Elected for the first time in 2021 at the age of 31, Geneviève Dubuc perfectly embodies the profile of the new elected official that the municipal world seeks to attract. And, like many young people in the 2021 wave, she has a marked interest in the environment and citizen participation.
“As a young woman involved in the community, I care about our living environment,” she declared with a smile in an election campaign ad. But after a little more than two years, she preferred to throw in the towel and now devote herself to an environmental organization.
Unlike others, she says she was not personally intimidated. It was the general climate of disrespect that undermined her, she explains. Some “were shouted at during meetings”, “accused each other on both sides”…
And when it is pointed out to her that people could criticize her for not having a thick enough shell, she responds with the speed of someone to whom the comment has already been made. “What these people consider “normal” in politics is not normal in society. […] Yes, there is a way to toughen up, but yes, there is a way to do better. »
A wave confirmed and documented
Joanie Bouchard, professor at the School of Applied Politics at the University of Sherbrooke, is currently carrying out a study on the phenomenon on behalf of the Fédération québécoise des municipalities (FQM). His research confirms that the problem is real. “Between 2017 and 2023, there really was a jump in the amount of reported incidents of bullying by elected officials,” she says.
A recent survey conducted by the daily newspaper La Tribune also showed that nearly one in ten elected officials had resigned since the last municipal elections . This is 41% more than in 2017. And as reported Le Devoir last fall, intimidation often comes from citizens, but tensions between elected officials also constitute a major problem.
According to Ms. Dubuc, the municipal world is simply not adapted to today’s reality. In an open letter recently published in Le Devoir, she describes the municipal world as a “bibitte” that needs to be modernized.
She is not the only one looking for solutions. Jasmine Sharma, municipal councilor in Vaudreuil-Dorion, has been working on a “code of civility” for several months. Ms. Sharma, who also denounced the lack of respect within her municipal council, argues that people who behave inappropriately are not “always necessarily in bad faith.” “Communicating, having a language that promotes equity, diversity and inclusion, can be learned. »
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His project is based on three main principles: respect, openness and effective communication. In terms of respect, he suggests, for example, avoiding “stoking rumors and practicing judgment and innuendo.” As for openness, he commands not to be “defensive” or “condescending.” Finally, effective communication would require avoiding “expressing oneself aggressively or by raising one’s voice.”
The arrival of a new generation of elected officials with different values marked a “major change in the last elections,” she notes. “We really saw a transformation at the municipal council level, but we did not necessarily provide tools to prepare those who were already in politics for this new reality. »
Enthusiastic, the councilor even submitted her project to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Andrée Laforest, last November.
The latter replied that a law already requires cities to include the notion of civility in their codes of ethics. The minister also said “to continue discussions” with the Union of Municipalities of Quebec and the FQM “in order to find a way to offer psychological support to all of their members”.
The CMQ pointed out
Ms. Sharma is rightly calling for specific assistance to be offered to elected officials who are caught in internal tensions. She says that before leaving her political party in January 2023, she herself sought mediation resources. In vain.
The ministry certainly offers a mediation support program, she says, “but it takes a resolution from the municipal council to seek this help.” “When you are in a minority situation and the political will is not there, if we do not recognize that there is a situation to be resolved, it is an option that we cannot take advantage of.”
In an interview, Geneviève Dubuc reports having made the same observation. “There is no help,” she laments.
There remains the Quebec Municipal Commission (CMQ), a resource whose recourses are, in the eyes of Ms. Sharma, sometimes disproportionate and counterproductive. “We didn’t have to file a complaint with the CMQ, we just wanted to resolve the problem. Sometimes, it can just make the situation even worse. »
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Ms. Dubuc experienced this in Saint-Sauveur, the city having been targeted by a vast investigation by the CMQ following a complaint. According to her, this investigation contributed to sour relations between elected officials. Note that she herself was fined in August by the CMQ for having disclosed personal information to a third party during her mandate, but indicates that the investigation in question affected several elected officials and had a broader scope.
“There was a big investigation, and afterward, it was never discussed again. Someone made a complaint about elected officials, it was “investigated” and afterwards, there was no debriefing,” he says. -She. After that, “everyone suspected everyone.”
A gendered problem ?
It's hard not to notice: problems of intimidation in the municipal world are often denounced by women.
When Ms. Sharma denounced the climate in Vaudreuil-Dorion, she did so with two female colleagues. Almost everywhere, elected women are getting together to discuss these questions. In spring 2023, the Network of Elected Women of Lanaudière produced three podcasts on the theme of intimidation of women in politics. Two municipal councilors took part, in addition to former Liberal MP Lise Thériault. In Sherbrooke, the PEPINES organization held a panel on December 1st on the difficulties experienced by elected officials, during which the theme of intimidation was addressed.
Is this a gender issue ? Ms. Sharma nuance. Rather, she sees her civility code “as an approach to encouraging inclusion and diversity.” “When I say that, I’m talking about young people, women, people from ethnic communities, people who have different experiences, different perspectives. »
Joannie Bouchard is also not ready to say that this problem is necessarily female. But the survey she is working on shows that elected women are more at risk of being intimidated by a colleague. “Elected women are targeted more than other elected officials when it comes to intimidation and harassment,” she says.