Sherbrooke Mayor Steve Lussier is facing the first political crisis of his month-old mandate, denying that he ordered his chief of staff to corral citizens into attending Monday's council meeting to ask opposition Coun. Évelyne Beaudin "embarrassing questions."
Daniel Bergeron — until Tuesday, Lussier's chief of staff — levelled those allegations against his former boss, who let him go when social media posts from Bergeron to supporters were made public.
Lussier said in a news release that that he and Bergeron "do not share the same values."
'I respected orders from the mayor': former chief of staff
The whole affair started when Beaudin — designated to council even though she wasn't elected, because her Sherbrooke Citoyen party took more than 20 per cent of the Nov. 5 vote — asked for a budget for research and staff. She is entitled to $333,000 per year, according to provincial regulations, which is a third of the annual mayoral staff and research budget.
According to Bergeron, Lussier ordered Bergeron to round up as many people as possible to come to the council meeting and ask questions that would put pressure on Beaudin to withdraw her funding request.
"What Mayor Lussier wanted me to do was to find all possible means, to bring people who were against this request, to make sure that they come to express their opposition," Bergeron said.
"I was on a commissioned job," Bergeron said. "All I did was look for opposing citizens on this subject and bring them to the council by providing them with the knowledge base so they know what to ask the council."
He said his job was not to analyze strategy and that he was simply respecting the mayor's orders, out of loyalty.
Lussier denies making order
On Wednesday, Lussier spoke briefly to reporters, stating uncategorically that he did not order Lussier to round up people to embarrass Beaudin.
He said Bergeron must have misinterpreted his words.
"If I was in harmony with those actions ... we would not be talking about his dismissal," Lussier said.
While Lussier said he appreciates Bergeron's "precious service," and said while it was not an easy decision, he feels he did not have a choice but to fire him.
He acknowledged that he has privately said he would like to see citizens oppose Beaudin's request.
"Sometimes, in moments of stress and disaccord, we can … say things that are open to interpretation," Lussier said.