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  • Madeline Kerr

Chelsea residents frustrated over dismissive mayor

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Tineke Kuijper is still waiting for a response to a question she posed to Mayor Pierre Guénard during Chelsea’s council meeting on Tuesday, Oct 3.

Kuijper, a long-time Chelsea resident and former lawyer with decades of experience in public policy said she was “disappointed but not surprised” that the mayor rebuffed her question in a way that she described as “very dismissive.”

Kuijper’s question concerned the adoption of a policy governing the relations between elected officials and municipal staff. She said she emailed the municipality about the policy prior to the meeting and received a vague answer stating that the policy doesn’t affect the way councillors and the public interact. Unsatisfied, she decided to ask the mayor directly at the public meeting.

“For this reason, I’m asking you to clarify the role of councillors tonight,” she asked Guénard, adding, “Can you please explain to me how a policy that…changes the relationship between councillors and municipal staff doesn’t also affect the relationship between residents and council?”

That’s when Mayor Guénard told Kuijper, “you emailed with one of our staff today…that was finished with a ‘thank you’ so I consider that as answering all of your questions and sub-questions.” He did not offer a public response to her questions and told her, “there are no more sub-questions, your timer is up.”

Kuijper said she was frustrated by the encounter, later telling the Low Down, “I have better things to do on Tuesday nights.” She wondered why the mayor, who she said has frequently reminded residents of their need to be respectful in their interactions with councillors and staff, “is not held to the same standard of respect?”

Question period previously fraught

Jacques Michaud, the president of Ward 2 Residents’ Association, was also in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting and said he felt frustrated on Kuijper’s behalf. He told the Low Down that, while he “totally agrees” that residents need to be respectful, “the same needs to be true in reverse.”

Michaud had his own run-in with Mayor Guénard during question period during a heated council meeting in Hollow Glen on June 6.

It was at this meeting where Mayor Guénard abruptly adjourned the meeting about twenty minutes in after Michaud began pressing him on why he was interrupting residents as they addressed him.

Guénard banged his fist on the table like a gavel, yelling, in French, “the meeting is adjourned". He later reinstated the meeting, but not before several residents left, including Jennifer Haire, Penny Allen and Barbara Shaw wrote later penned a letter to this newspaper reflecting on the "sad day for democracy."

“I’m a loud guy, maybe,” Michaud admitted after the June 6 meeting “and I was firm, but I was not yelling.”

Regardless, Coun. Christopher Blais stood up out of his seat in a way that Michaud said he believed “insinuated that I was threatening,” which he said he also “could have perceived as a threat.”

Mayor Guénard later told the Low Down, “According to labour laws, the municipality must ensure a positive and peaceful work environment,” adding, “With the rise of violence towards elected officials and municipal staff, this is something that must be addressed and respected.”

An issue of democracy

Although Kuijper said she was disappointed to have her question dismissed during the council meeting, her greater concern is the content of one of the policies that the council adopted that night.

She said her main concern is that a clause contained in the “policy governing relations between elected officials and municipal staff” states that councillors must act “in the interest of the community and not of certain individuals or pressure groups.” She worries that the policy will affect citizen advisory groups — like the one Farm Point councillor Rita Jain has established in her ward for residents to provide monthly feedback on local happenings. Kuijper said she is concerned that these kinds of groups, which she said she believes are good for democracy, could be deemed unacceptable under the new policy.

“I’m worried that…if [a councillor] speaks up on behalf of a community group, they are by definition not representing the community interest — that’s what this policy states. That’s really problematic in a democracy,” Kuijper told the Low Down.

When asked why he didn’t respond to Kuijper’s question at the meeting, Mayor Guénard told the Low Down that council acts in accordance with bylaw 1131-19 “concerning the internal management of the council,” which was adopted in 2020. This bylaw is not publicly available, although the municipality sent a copy to the Low Down upon request. The by-law stipulates that questions must be addressed to the “President of the Council” and establishes a three-minute limit on residents’ questions during question period.


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