As municipal meetings start happening in-person again, the fire that used to be present in council chambers, which kept elected officials honest and on the straight and narrow, needs to be rekindled. More people need to pay attention to what’s going on in the municipality and the MRC they call home. And beyond that, they need to participate.
Municipal politics and elections may not be as sexy as bigger Canada or Quebec-wide issues. They also don’t get the same level of media coverage as federal or provincial matters — except in community newspapers like the one you’re reading right now. It makes sense why some in this area may pay more attention to federal affairs, since many Gatineau Hills residents work in the federal government.
But municipalities are the bottom-most cog of the government machine.
Municipalities have the most impact on the day-to-day lives of residents. It’s also the best opportunity for everyday people to engage. Good luck getting to the microphone during a Quebec National Assembly or a parliamentary meeting. Informed and engaged residents make for a better community and government.
Cantley Mayor David Gomes said during his recent successful campaign that he wanted to see more people at council meetings. He got what he wanted. In November the council chambers were full of people both for and against a controversial parking lot proposal.
In Low, in the past, people have been so passionate about what’s going on at the municipal level that Sûreté du Québec officers have had to show up to council meetings to make sure things didn’t get too rowdy.
It’s not that everyone needs to take participation to the extreme, but at least there’s been passion up the line. Or at least there was. Since the Low council started holding in-person meetings in July, meeting attendance and participation has been lackluster. Only a handful of people attended the November meeting. The fire needs rekindling.
In Chelsea, people pay attention. Council wants to change a seemingly boring bylaw? The council chambers are packed with people and the question period lasts for an hour and a half. This level of citizen engagement and attention to detail is something all municipalities should strive for.
When Gatineau MNA Robert Bussière was La Pêche mayor and wanted to expropriate undeveloped forest land for development, people got fired up. They packed the council chamber screaming “shame!”; cops were there; and people were lined up at the microphone to speak. He was successful in getting the land that is now the Styro Rail styrofoam factory along Hwy 105, but he wanted the land across the highway too. That land is still mostly forest and field, which locals are currently fundraising to preserve as such in perpetuity.
Would that land still be undeveloped if people hadn’t showed up?
You might argue, council meetings are boring. Why should I care? Because change has to start somewhere and it’s usually at the local level.
Chelsea made waves decades ago by being the first municipality to ban dangerous chemicals that used to commonly be used as a pesticide. Now there are 138 municipalities in Quebec alone that have banned them. More recently, municipal critics have said that pioneering environmental spirit has been lost in Chelsea; but with a little direction from residents, that spirit could be brought back.
We pay taxes that pay election officials’ stipends. We vote for them to make decisions on our behalf. They work for us. They should listen to us. We are their bosses. Regular citizens need to start acting like it.