Gatineau elects France Bélisle, city's 1st female mayor

Residents of Gatineau, Que., have elected France Bélisle, who is the first woman to hold that position in the city’s history. 

Municipal political party Action Gatineau has lost its control of the mayor's office

France Bélisle has said a vote for her — an independent candidate — is a vote for change from the party Action Gatineau which has been in power for eight years in the city. (Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada)

Residents of Gatineau, Que., have elected France Bélisle as the new mayor, and the first woman to hold the position in the city's history.

As of 9:15 p.m., Bélisle had 45 per cent of the vote, a lead over second place candidate Maude Marquis-Bissonnette who had 37 per cent. 

"I've worked so hard in the last few months with a lot of people that helped me. I'm so grateful," she said in an interview with CBC Sunday night.

Bélisle will replace Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin. in January, he announced he would not seek re-election for the job he's held since 2013.

"I think people wanted a change, a change with the tone, with the attitude, with the dynamic. They wanted someone closer to them, someone that cares about them, that speaks to them," she said. 

 "[Someone] that tells them what's happening and tells them the truth, not necessarily what they want to hear, but just the truth and be grounded to the citizens. And this is what I've done all in the last few months, and I think it made the difference."

Bélisle said one of her top priorities during the campaign was to focus on speaking with people for long periods of time while door knocking. 

Six candidates stepped forward to replace Pedneaud-Jobin. Aside from Marquis-Bissonette, who replaced Pedneaud-Jobin as leader of the party Action Gatineau — political parties are permitted at the municipal level in Quebec — all candidates ran as independents. 

As of early Monday morning, 16 of 19 councillors were officially elected, including 11 for first-time councillors.

Maude Marquis-Bissonnette was the only candidate for mayor of Gatineau, Que., who ran with a political party — Action Gatineau. (Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada)

Bélisle is the former president of Tourisme Outaouais and campaigned as the vote for change after eight years of having the Action Gatineau party in power. 

Her campaign promises included increasing transparency in the city, such as limiting the use of closed meetings. She also promised to ensure better governance than her predecessor, sound management of public finances and reducing administrative obstacles for citizens and businesses. 

She said she wants to see a post-pandemic revival of the city's downtown with, in particular, its world-class convention centre project — a project first pitched by Tourisme Outaouais. 

And she wants to work together with Ottawa. 

"I worked at Tourisme Outaouais before, and we worked really, really closely with Ottawa, with Ottawa Tourism, and this is something that is important for me," Bélisle said.

"We need to work closely with Ottawa, so I look forward to speak with Mr. Watson and meet him and just see what are the different projects that we are sharing and what are the new ones that we can develop together."

Municipal party ousted from mayor's office

The role of political parties at the municipal level came up repeatedly during the election campaign. 

Jean-François Leblanc who came third in the race, released a Facebook video at the end of October in which he accused the Action Gatineau party of lacking transparency, calling it "a political party and not a movement." He said because members must follow the party line, it impedes their work at city hall. 

Leblanc left his seat as a city councillor to run in the mayoral race. 

Outgoing Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin endorsed his successor in the party for the job, based on her experience — she was first elected as a city councillor in 2017 — and her plans for the city’s economic recovery and environmental action. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

A CROP poll carried out on behalf of Radio-Canada during the electoral campaign put Maude Marquis-Bissonnette ahead. The poll also showed that the number of undecided voters were numerous, when they were asked, in October.

With his departure, and the creation of a new electoral district of Mitigomijokan in Aylmer, the majority of Gatineau city council's 19 seats will now have new faces. 

The other candidates for mayor were former Gatineau fire captain Jacques Lemay, Rémi Bergeron and Abdelhak Lekbabi.

With files from Radio-Canada