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Municipal elected officials are increasingly the subject of personal attacks and threats from disgruntled citizens. (Archive photo)

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The last 12 months, marked by numerous resignations, will not have been easy for the municipal elected officials of Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Bas-Saint-Laurent. While many of them turn the page on a year 2023 marked by tensions and conflicts, even intimidation and threats, improvements are ardently desired in 2024.

Causapscal, Petite-Vallée, Saint-Jean-de-Cherbourg, Sainte-Paule, Les Méchins… Resignations within the territory's municipal councils have multiplied in 2023. Without detour, the new prefect of the MRC of La Matanie, Gérald Beaulieu, agrees that 2023 will have been a fairly difficult year for mayors and municipal councilors.

If several administrations have had to deal with tensions within their own municipal council, citizens have also contributed to making life difficult for certain mayors and councilors. There are also many elected officials who had to take a work stoppage because the pressure was intense, observes the mayor of Gaspé, Daniel Côté.

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Daniel Côté was recently re-elected prefect of the MRC of La Côte-de-Gaspé. (File photo)

Combined with insults, insults and threats, this pressure can, in his opinion, push certain elected officials to jump ship and make their positions very unattractive for possible replacements. When things start to get out of control, it becomes unbearable and it poisons the lives of many, deplores Mr. Côté.

This is not normal!

A quote from Daniel Côté, mayor of Gaspé and prefect of the MRC of La Côte-de-Gaspé

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While the threats are generally more subtle, Mr. Côté says he has recently witnessed more extreme cases that end up in the hands of the police and go well beyond the frequent heated sessions in some city halls.

There are places where elected officials receive visits at home. It goes into the kitchen of elected officials!, laments Mayor Côté, who was president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec from 2021 to 2023.

When Daniel Côté refers to elected officials who have turned to the authorities to denounce behavior that exceeds the limit of what is acceptable, he is referring in particular to the mayor of Chandler, Gilles Daraîche.

Taken by a citizen, the main person concerned filed a complaint with the police last November for harassment. The person said "I'm going to find you, I'm going to follow you everywhere, I won't let go of you", he relates.

At some point, it has to stop. If it is hidden, it does not demonstrate the seriousness of the matter.

A quote from Gilles Daraîche, mayor of Chandler

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The mayor of Chandler, Gilles Daraîche, photographed in front of town hall (Archive photo)

The elected official was recently informed that the Director Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) will not bring formal charges against the suspect, which the organization confirms. The DPCP explains that no offense under the Criminal Code was committed.

The main person concerned seriously questions the idea of ​​running for a new term as mayor in 2025 due to the intimidation he experienced. He came out disappointed with the process, even though he says he was taken seriously by the police authorities.

For me to file a complaint with the Sûreté du Québec, now, I will absolutely have to have a death threat. […] It’s a waste of time!, deplores Mr. Daraîche, who explains that he lived on alert because of the individual in question and what could have happened.

It is not true that we are defended, he adds for the benefit of the Fédération québécoise des municipalities and the Union of Municipalities of Quebec, who each received one million dollars from Quebec to cover the legal costs related to the defense of intimidated or harassed elected officials.

Gérald Beaulieu, elected to the prefecture of La Matanie in November, intends to make the problems experienced by elected officials a priority during his mandate. When we see movements at town hall or municipal councils resigning en masse, everyone is worried about this situation. We have reduced staff and it is absolutely necessary to see to the daily affairs of the Municipality to ensure that everything is in order, summarizes the man who is also mayor of Baie-des-Sables.

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The mayor of Baie-des-Sables and prefect of the MRC of La Matanie, Gérald Beaulieu

According to his observations, wholesale resignations have also been more numerous since the last general elections. Matania is no exception. It has happened in the past, but it has never happened with the frequency we have seen since 2021. It is across Quebec.

If Gérald Beaulieu, Daniel Côté and Gilles Daraîche do not agree exactly on how to achieve this, all three hope that the picture will improve in 2024.

M. Beaulieu would like to see better support offered to mayors and councilors. He also intends to document the problems that have been experienced in Matanie by meeting all the municipal councils of the MRC and the elected officials who have slammed the door.

When we see that 4 out of 11 municipalities in Matanie have had major problems in terms of governance, it is definitive that we must put in place an aid system […].

A quote from Gérald Beaulieu, mayor of Baie-des-Sables and prefect of the MRC of La Matanie

For Daniel Côté, the key lies above all in awareness. An elected official remains a human, basically. There are some who seem to forget it, he says. Le Gaspésien also specifies that efforts will have to be made with the police forces. According to him, an elected official filing a complaint with the authorities about threats or intimidation will not always receive the same attention as someone else.

Society, and that includes our constabulary forces, it seems that it takes for granted that when you are an elected official, it's normal that you get bumped into.

A quote from Daniel Côté, mayor of Gaspé and prefect of the MRC of La Côte-de-Gaspé

Without falling into complacency, Mr. Côté believes that we need to pay a little attention to the people in power, for the benefit of a healthy democracy. For him, constructive criticism will always have its place, but an individual is not likely to make himself heard better by resorting to intimidation or threats.

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The elected officials consulted by Radio-Canada believe that it is easy for some to hide behind a screen and attack mayors and councilors to express their discontent, which they deplore. (Archive photo)

For Gilles Daraîche, the time is no longer for awareness. We did it in spades. […] This is largely insufficient, he claims. The mayor of Chandler would like a repressive means to be found to dissuade offenders whose threats are veiled or who, without committing a formal offense, poison the daily lives of municipal elected officials.

What's unfortunate, I think, is waiting until there are death threats before you can take serious action. As long as there is no death threat, we will give a little slap on the hand and it's over, he laments.

Are we going to wait until someone is waiting for me next to the house with a knife, with a gun? Are we going to wait for that to warn these people that what they are doing is not correct?

A quote from Gilles Daraîche, mayor of Chandler

Asked what he would like for 2024, the prefect of the MRC of La Matanie does not hesitate for a single second. Three things. The first: respect. The second: respect. The third: respect. Respect for the role of elected official with all the challenges that entails, concludes Gérald Beaulieu.

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