Sat. Dec 9th, 2023

In recent weeks, the municipal world has been hit hard by the departure or temporary withdrawal of several elected officials.

Departures of elected officials: an alarming situation, according to the president of the UMQ

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The president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec and mayor of Varennes, Martin Damphousse.

  • Rosanna Tiranti (View profile)Rosanna Tiranti

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Since the municipal elections of September 2021, nearly one in ten elected officials – or 741 municipal elected officials – have left their post, an “alarming and infinitely sad situation” for Martin Damphousse, president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec (UMQ) and mayor of Varennes, who calls for support mechanisms for elected officials to be strengthened.

At the beginning of November, Quebec's youngest mayor, Isabelle Lessard, reluctantly resigned, struggling with post-traumatic syndrome and severe anxiety since her management, on the front, of the forest fires which ravaged the municipality of Chapais, in northern Quebec, last summer. At the end of October, near Sherbooke, Mayor Évelyne Beaudin took a break, on medical orders, due to professional burnout.

In an interview with Behind the scenes of power, the president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec takes stock of the growing pressures affecting the municipal world and the possible solutions to avoid the exodus of people who, despite their passion, have not had no choice but to step back.

According to Mr. Damphousse, the pressures have increased on municipal elected officials, those closest to the ground, the most accessible too. This proximity has pushed many towards the municipal world, but it is a double-edged proximity.

We often say that we are the local government. There are positive elements in that, but at the same time, when things go less well […], it's complicated for us.

A quote from Martin Damphousse, president of the Union of municipalities of Quebec and mayor of Varennes

These pressures on elected officials are particularly accentuated when economic conditions become complicated and weigh as much on municipal budgets as on citizens, like the increase in inflation, interest rates and expenses.< /p>

We have new responsibilities which come […] from higher governments and the Financial amounts don't come with that. If I add public transport on top, it means that we are caught between the tree and the bark.

A quote from Martin Damphousse, president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec

Moreover, on a daily basis, municipal elected officials place themselves on the front line during crises and are on all fronts to deal with housing shortages, homelessness or even the repercussions of climate change, as was the case during this year's forest fires, underlines Mr. Damphousse.

Mayors and municipal councilors often bear the brunt of citizen discontent expressed on social networks. These networks allow easier, freer criticism, and the virtual world allows you to hide behind a profile, underlines the mayor of Varennes.

In reality, online attacks can lead to serious threats to the security of elected officials and undermine their confidence and morale. This phenomenon is fueled – Martin Damphousse is convinced – by social networks and would, according to him, affect elected officials more.

The phenomenon of the pandemic has isolated people at home and has accentuated this phenomenon, then to see so many young, quality female elected officials leaving the ship, it's infinitely sad.

A quote from Martin Damphousse, president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec

This week alone, the mayor of Longueuil received death threats linked to the controversial issue of the slaughter of deer in Michel-Chartrand Park. Security around the mayor was therefore reinforced, a first for the City of Longueuil.

In his interview with Les Behind the scenes of power,Martin Damphousse admits that he has the thick shell of a politician. However, he who has been mayor of Varennes for 14 years confides that over the years, this shell has become thinner and more fragile.

Martin Damphousse hopes for the collaboration of Quebec to find solution angles, protection mechanisms, to support elected officials from a psychological point of view and in all kinds [of ways].

If insurance that covers defamation, harassment and online hatred was created by the UMQ in 2022, in addition to training on the uses of social networks and the fight against online hatred, more support is needed.

Mr. Damphousse cites in particular the expansion of employee assistance programs (PAE) to all elected officials, programs which, for example, the young mayor of Chapais, struggling with post-traumatic shock, did not have. not had access before her resignation.

In addition, Isabelle Lessard said she considered the maximum leave period of 90 days to which elected officials are entitled to be too short , unlike the private sector.

It is not normal that this is not for everyone. This is the first of the waves. But second, how can we successfully lower the pressure? asks Martin Damphousse.

This interview with Martin Damphousse will be broadcast on the show Behind the scenes of power at 11 am on ICI RDI and ICI TV.

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