Newspaper article The Canadian Press

When No One Wants to Run for Mayor: Quebec's Small-Town Democracy Deficit

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

When No One Wants to Run for Mayor: Quebec's Small-Town Democracy Deficit

Article excerpt

When no one wants to run for mayor in Quebec


MONTREAL - Lise Dery, a single mother and outgoing mayor of a small Quebec town, decided not to run for re-election this year so she could spend more time with her nine-year-old son.

The problem is no one wanted to replace her.

Saint-Stanislas, a community of about 1,000 people on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River between Trois-Rivieres and Quebec City, is one of five municipalities in the province where no one will be running for mayor in the Nov. 5 elections.

Moreover, citizens in just about half of the 1,100 municipalities in Quebec won't vote for their mayor that day because their candidate ran unopposed and was acclaimed.

This lack of choice is primarily a problem in Quebec's smaller towns, where low pay and difficult working hours make the job less attractive -- especially to people with young children, experts say.

Out of the 203 Quebec municipalities where the entire local government was elected by acclamation this year, 164 have fewer than 2,000 people.

Quebec's eight largest cities have at least three people running for mayor, while Montreal, Quebec City and Laval -- the three biggest -- have eight, six and seven candidates, respectively.

Dery, whose primary income comes from her job as a pharmacy technician, said her annual pay as mayor was so small she only recently found out the amount.

"I actually never took stock of what the pay was," she said with a chuckle. "I read it the other day in the newspaper, it was $10,000 or something like that."

But for her, the pay wasn't the main problem because despite leaving the mayoral job, she is returning as a councillor, where the work schedule is more consistent.

"I'm a single mom," she said. "I have a great relationship with (my boy's) father, but when you have a meeting almost every night ... my son started to have issues with the fact his mother was never around."

Laurence Bherer, a professor at Universite de Montreal who researches civic engagement, said Quebec's small towns are paradoxes.

"They are the places with the most acclamations, yet when there are elections they vote the most ... often reaching 85 per cent participation," she said.

Smaller towns have fewer candidates to choose from, she explained, adding even a municipality of 1,000 must have a council of six people in order for it to be a proper deliberative body.

The provincial government could merge small towns but then it gets harder for politicians to travel and visit constituents, Bherer said.

"We are looking at a problem where the solutions aren't easy," she said.

Sandra Breux, who researches municipal democracy at Quebec's National Institute of Scientific Research, said the high number of acclamations in small-town elections isn't a new phenomenon in Quebec, and no municipalities are alike. …

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