La Pêche council says 'no' to COVID petition
La Pêche Mayor urges other municipalities elected councils to distance themselves from petition By Stuart Benson
La Pêche council voted 7-1 to distance itself from a controversial change.org petition created by one of its councillors after it received national media attention in an attempt to clarify that not everything an elected official believes and does represents the will of the public nor their elected colleagues.
Michel Gervais, councillor for Ward 2 in La Pêche, launched a petition on Nov. 30 to pressure Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais to ease COVID-19 public health restrictions on the MRC des Collines and re-designate the region from red to orange.
By Dec. 4 the petition had received more than 1,200 signatures, and surpassed 2,000 signatures on Dec. 5, according to Gervais.
“The response has been very positive,” said Gervais. “More people from Wakefield and Old Chelsea signed the petition than anywhere else in the MRC.”
However, the response, and some of the media coverage from national and mostly francophone news sources, has caused quite a bit of confusion among many of the MRC’s residents and elected officials, a number of whom made phone calls to the La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux inquiring whether the petition was officially supported by council.
Lamoureux spoke to The Low Down after the Dec. 6 council meeting.
“I don't think [Gervais] was trying to confuse anyone, but it wasn't so clear in some of the [media] coverage,” Lamoureux explained. “So it was important that the council clarified that,” he said about council's connection to the petition.
Lamoureux said that, given the national coverage the petition has received, he believes that his colleagues on the other municipal councils in the MRC should seriously consider adopting a similar motion to the one Lamoureux submitted on Dec. 7.
He said that in the coverage he had seen, there had been references to support from elected officials for the petition, but other than those who had already spoken to the media on the subject, it was not clear who or how many actually did, which Lamoureux believes could begin to reflect poorly on all of them.
“Councillors are technically only councillors during public meetings, but mayors are always mayors, so it is even more confusing when a mayor takes a position for citizens to differentiate between their personal and official positions,” Lamoureux added, referencing Val-des-Monts Mayor Jacques Laurin, who appeared on TVA Gatineau-Ottawa on Dec. 4 to support the petition.
The Dec. 6 motion by the La Pêche council stated, “The municipality informs the media, its regional partners and its citizens that the petition is neither an initiative of the municipal council of La Pêche nor an initiative with which the municipal council is in favour.”
‘A decision made by the public health authorities… not public officials’
The change.org petition argues that, when compared to the case numbers of surrounding MRCs that still remain in the orange zone, the MRC des Collines should also be considered as such. For example, the MRCs of Papineau and La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau are both designated as orange and have more active cases in their territory – 45 and 17 respectively – for populations more than two times smaller than the MRC des Collines, which has 14 as of publishing deadline.
“...Keeping a red zone, despite the many efforts that our merchants have put in place to respond to preventive measures, greatly harms the economic and social level of these small communities,” Gervais wrote in the petition. “Many services cannot be offered and residents must travel to obtain the desired products and services.”
He suggested that, if the designation was changed from red to orange, then “the MRC could at least ... offer certain services and survive economically.”
Gervais said he is creating a 15-person regional committee to consult on the next steps for the petition, with two members from each of the MRC’s seven municipalities. They will have their first meeting on Dec. 10.
However, Caryl Green, Chelsea mayor and warden of the MRC des Collines said she believes that elected officials have neither the complete data nor full analysis to determine whether these changes should be made.
“The decision to change from red zone to orange is a decision that will be made by the Public Health authority and not by public officials,” Green explained, adding that the council of mayors was in regular contact with CISSSO for updates on the virus in the region and has urged public health officials to be more clear in communicating their decision-making in both French and English.
In response to a request for comment on just such decision-making, CISSSO responded that, while last week’s data may show a decreasing trend of cases for the region, the situation remains “fragile.”
“The MRC des Collines and the City of Gatineau are urban and peri-urban territories that have been considered as a whole, as there is a lot of commuting between those territories. In order for a return to the orange level to be considered for these territories, we would have to see a sustained decrease in cases, outbreaks and hospitalizations,” wrote Marie-Pier Després, media relations agent for CISSSO.
“When we talk about a sustained decrease, we are talking about a decrease that would last over at least a few weeks,” she added. CISSSO said it will continue to monitor the evolution of the virus epidemiology over the next few weeks, and encourage residents to continue to apply the current measures to decrease the risk of transmission.
If you would like more information on the petition, you can find it on Michel Gervais’ Facebook page or by going to https://bit.ly/37HTUgG
The red zone designation is the highest level of restrictions. Concerning businesses, red means dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms and casinos are closed, while an orange designation would allow them to be open, but restrict tables to six people.