More local politicians in Quebec report facing harassment, intimidation: survey

More local politicians in Quebec report facing harassment, intimidation: survey © Provided by The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Incidents of harassment and intimidation targeting Quebec politicians have become more common in the last decade, compounding already strenuous work conditions for many local leaders, a new report shows.

The federation of Quebec municipalities on Friday published the results of a 2023 survey of hundreds of elected officials that sheds light on the challenges facing the municipal political class.

The report lands at a time when Quebec is struggling to retain local officials. Nearly 10 per cent of the province’s 8,000 municipal politicians have quit since the last elections in 2021.

Psychological harassment was respondents’ top issue, the federation says. Thirty-nine per cent reported experiencing harassment or intimidation at least once in their careers, up from 28 per cent in a 2017 survey.

The report states that mayors and elected officials under the age of 45 were more likely to be victims of the offensive behaviours, which respondents said often included defamation and verbal violence.

Twenty-two per cent of elected officials reported having trouble with constituents on social media, 24 per cent said they have faced aggressive people at municipal council meetings and 25 per cent cited problematic interactions outside public buildings.

But more than half of respondents, 54 per cent, also reported facing abuse — such as derogatory remarks, threats and hate speech — from their peers. As well, 57 per cent of female respondents and 51 per cent of males reported feeling “incompatibility” with other elected officials.

Local leaders are also struggling to keep up with the demands of their roles, the survey suggests. Thirty-nine per cent said work-life balance is sometimes a challenge; among elected officials under 45, the figure was 67 per cent.

Feelings of insecurity are endemic, too. Seventy per cent of survey respondents reported feeling powerless in their roles; 39 per cent said they at times felt they weren’t up to the job for which they were elected; 36 per cent felt they sometimes lacked training to carry out their duties.

The report presents an overall “gloomy” portrait of municipal public service in Quebec, St-Jean-Baptiste, Que., Mayor Marilyn Nadeau said in an interview. It will likely take a societal effort and policy adjustments to tackle the challenges facing local politicians, she added.

The federation is calling on the Quebec government to consider a provincewide campaign to encourage good citizenship. Among the other proposals from elected leaders in the survey are increasing public awareness of the roles of municipal officials, more emphasis on teamwork between politicians, and clearer policies to guide conduct in public forums.

“Yes, it’s a dark report, but that doesn’t mean we should give up,” said Nadeau, who is also president of the federation’s committee on women and municipal policy. “I think we’re really good agents of change, so we need to look at being resilient and then see how we can do better.”

Source: Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press