Informing, not Influencing
At the time this editorial is written, the results of the municipal election are not yet known. Still, there are a number of reflections that we can already make on the campaign, lessons that we can learn, and questions that we can ask.
Media coverage of the campaign was generally of a high quality, focusing on the issues. However, one notable exception was certain coverage about France Bélisle. Her personal life entered the campaign for reasons beyond her control. First was the prison sentencing of her ex-spouse for harassment. The timing of this trial was clearly unfortunate, and distracted from the campaign itself. It showed strength of character on Ms. Belisle’s part that she stayed focused on the campaign despite what was obviously a very difficult episode of her life. Most of us can’t even imagine what it’s like to be criminally harassed for years on end.
However, Ms. Bélisle also found herself on the receiving end of harassment allegations by ex-colleagues at Tourisme Outaouais, who accused her of yelling and creating a toxic working environment. It’s very difficult to evaluate the situation when our only sources are statements playing out in the public sphere. Yet legitimate questions were raised as to whether a male candidate would have faced the same types of criticism. Maintaining a healthy work environment is of the utmost importance, but stereotypes of men showing passionate leadership versus women being too emotional die hard. To ensure that these biases weren’t present in this situation accusers should have filed formal complaints so that appropriate evidence could be reviewed and an impartial verdict rendered.
Another controversial part of the campaign was the exclusion from debates of highly active candidates like Jean-François LeBlanc who received poor results in the handful of polls conducted in Gatineau. When there are so few polls we need to be careful, as a single poll can easily be off the mark. In this case more than half the respondents were still undecided. If the predicted winners from the few available polls turn out to be incorrect, less emphasis should be placed on polls during the next election to avoid unfairly hurting candidates who are investing large amounts of their time, energy and money into running for office.
Lastly, we’ve seen that it’s sometimes hard to dig beneath the surface. Maude Marquis-Bissonnette and the organizers at Action Gatineau have run a very smooth campaign, staying on message and avoiding major surprises. Yet many of us were wondering whether she would mark a continuation or a break with the approach of her predecessor, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin. Earlier in the year there seemed to be friction between the two, with Marquis-Bissonnette publicly dissenting with the mayor. Yet towards the end of the campaign there was an alignment within the party and its current and previous leaders. Having a better idea of Mr. Pedneaud-Jobin’s likely role in a Marquis-Bissonnette government would have helped many of us cast a more informed vote. The media could have given more priority to such investigative journalism.