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Quebec mayors call for cultural shift following resignation of Gatineau mayor

Longueuil Mayor Catherine Fournier is asking her fellow elected officials to enter a period of introspection, following the resignation of Gatineau Mayor France Bélisle.

Bélisle stepped down abruptly earlier this month, citing a toxic work environment, death threats from the public, and ultimately concern for her own mental health.

In an open letter published in La Presse Monday morning, Fournier said she respects Bélisle’s decision to step down but insisted things need to change.

Fournier said she herself feels supported despite dealing with online harassment and travelling with a police escort. But she says some of her colleagues in other cities have it worse.

She and other elected officials are warning there could be more departures if there isn’t a change in the way municipal politicians are treated.

Fournier said it needs to start with elected officials themselves; that they need to start showing each other more respect and welcome their opponents’ ideas with less negativity.

Others, including Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, agreed.

“We all have a responsibility — citizens, elected officials, the public servants, the different levels of government — how we all behave towards each other,” she said Monday during a press conference on foreign investment in the city.

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Fournier, who also attended the press conference, invited journalists to reflect on their coverage of municipal politics.

She said holding officials to account is important, but wonders whether some stories — like that of former Montreal executive committee chair Dominique Ollivier — aren’t blown out of proportion.

Ollivier resigned in November 2023 amid controversy over past expenses from when she was in charge of the city’s public consultation office.

“We are humans and we can do mistakes, but sometimes I think we need to be fair in the media treatment,” Fournier said.

She also called on the Quebec government to do more, starting with employee assistance programs.

Already available to city staff, Fournier argued the programs should be expanded to include elected officials.

She added that a more standard mediation process should be put in place to deal with conflicts.

Meanwhile, Quebec City councillor Jackie Smith and a network of young mothers in municipal politics have a list of requests of their own.

Smith said on top of dealing with the psychological toll of the job, mothers in municipal politics have very little wiggle room when it comes to balancing child care with city council obligations.

Among her requests is that women in politics be given more than an 18-week maternity leave.

“If we’re not able to have some type of rest, some type of possibility to have a balanced life, I can see losing a lot of people, a lot of people not running again,” she said Monday.

Municipal Affairs Minister Andrée Laforest is expected to announce additional support for municipal officials on Wednesday.

— with files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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