Intimidation, harassment, cascading resignations, hardly a week goes by without elected officials or municipal employees denouncing unbearable situations. Quebec allocates $2 million to support legal action against abusive citizens.

“Gang of jesters!” “A real masquerade!” Insults and swearing rang out when the municipal council of Wickham, in the Centre-du-Québec region, unanimously adopted the agreement to integrate its fire safety service into that of Drummondville on March 13. The evening, started by an information meeting, was stormy, show the images broadcast by the online media Vingt55.1

“When 200 people are yelling at you, it’s no fun, our brains go into defense mode. We had hired three security guards, lucky they were there, ”ex-mayor Ian Lacharité testified in a telephone interview.

Elected mayor in 2021 after a term and a half as a councillor, Mr. Lacharité resigned on March 21, then filed a complaint with the Sûreté du Québec (SQ). After the mid-March meeting and the hostile messages on social networks, it was an “altercation” involving “a citizen with my spouse” that broke the camel’s back. “It’s too much for me, my wife doesn’t have to go through this,” he said, without giving details of this episode “under investigation”.

“The situation is no longer tolerable”, denounced the mayor of Drummondville and prefect of the MRC of Drummond, Stéphanie Lacoste, in a press briefing held a few days later in the company of elected officials from the region and the president of the Quebec Federation of Municipalities (FQM), Jacques Demers.

This outing was born out of an informal discussion between elected officials where “everyone started telling a story,” Ms. Lacoste explained to us.

Centre-du-Québec is far from the only region affected. Two villages in Gaspésie, Cloridorme and Petite-Vallée, lost mayors and mayoress in March.

In Petite-Vallée, the context of small communities “tore apart with threats and verbal attacks” and the workload got the better of Mélanie Clavet’s commitment, explained the latter in a press release.

In Cloridorme, where the director general has also resigned, “the tense climate has made life difficult for them,” lamented the prefect of the MRC de La Côte-de-Gaspé, Daniel Côté, on Facebook. ” It’s sad. And this case is not unique to Quebec, “said the man who is also mayor of Gaspé and president of the Union of Quebec Municipalities (UMQ).

Elected officials from other regions have complained of intimidation and harassment, including at the Sûreté du Québec, numerous regional media reported.

A formal announcement is expected at the end of April, said the office of Municipal Affairs Minister Andrée Laforest. The minister, the FQM and the UMQ, however, refused to say more Thursday.

Intimidation and harassment are already targeted by a ministerial action plan, launched just before the 2021 elections. The FQM and the UMQ are raising awareness and training. The UMQ even offers an insurance program covering part of the costs incurred to put an end to “defamatory, harassing or hateful” gestures or comments. However, the phenomenon does not seem to be resolving.

Less than 15 months after the last municipal elections, in November 2021, 55 by-elections for the post of mayor have already been held or announced, shows data provided by Élections Québec. It is unclear how many of these seats were abandoned due to intimidation, but the police are more often arrested.

“There are more and more reasons that widen the gap between the population and elected municipal officials, especially in small municipalities,” observes Danielle Pilette, professor specializing in municipal management at UQAM.

Not only do elected officials want to carry out projects when citizens “expect it to cost them as little as possible,” but also the financial situation of the municipality is often misunderstood, she says.

In Wickham, upgrading the fire department to meet Quebec requirements “would have increased costs almost threefold,” said ex-mayor Lacharité.

“When it’s time to make decisions, the big municipalities have a communications department to do positive pressure. We don’t have those resources: we’re struggling to make ends meet! »

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs should organize itself to intervene before these kinds of problems escalate, argues Ms. Pilette.

“It is up to the Ministry, in its regional branches, to train and provide mediation services – and they don’t! »