Emotional goodbyes as 5 of 7 leave Chelsea council

Oct. 7, 2009 – Chelsea, Quebec still has some love for its beleaguered but outgoing council. As five of the seven chairs were occupied for the last time by mayor and councillors Oct. 1, the packed meeting room – often a forum for hostile diatribes and stiff defences – was a scene of empathy and appreciation.

It was a hopeful and frequently touching display between the council, who say they have endured a lot together since being elected in 2005, and Chelsea residents who came out to offer gratitude to the group that they frequently disagreed with but ultimately respected.

This was the common refrain from a handful of residents who addressed the council, from Harry Gow’s tribute to what he called the council’s “intellectual honesty” to former mayor Judy Grant’s emotional remarks.

“I’m proud of all of you,” she concluded, her voice faltering as she retook her seat.

But the irrepressible former mayor quickly filled the packed room with laughter, relating a story about outgoing councillor Luce Gilbert turning heads on the A5 as she changed clothes in the back seat of Grant’s car, and when Perras told the audience about some early advice he received from Grant when he was first elected to council. It involved a barking dog at night and a question, with heavy implications, about whether the plaintiff was a gun owner.

Extra seating had to be added to accommodate the families, future candidates and citizens who gathered for what would be the mayor and at least four councillors’ final huddle. Only Luc Poulin and Peter Griffin are running again in this fall’s election.

Each councillor made a speech, most of them personal thank yous to constituents and family, before presenting his or her spouse with a gift basket. One-term councillor Josh Moon delivered an eloquent and thoughtful address thanking everyone from his wife, who had “a stiff drink ready” for him after long council meetings, to municipal staff to the mayor.

“Jean, you knew the Hills better than anybody,” he said. “Thank you for being our leader.”

Moon’s speech set the bar high for the evening’s other speakers. “And by the way, I wrote that,” Jim Connolly joked when Moon was finished.

The mood offered hope for a community that is often viewed as bitterly divided after consecutive referenda, and that is losing the majority of its council at least partly because of the toll the last two years have taken on its members. Both Claude Gervais and Connolly have spoken to the Low Down about the frustrations of working for a population that too often accuses the council of working against it.