Beaconsfield lays down question period law
YLJ FILE PHOTO/CARMEN MARIE FABIO Beaconsfield Mayor George Bourelle told attendees at the March 23 council meeting that he would be enforcing the question period parameters distinguishing between those coming from residents and those from journalists and bloggers.
A verbal spar surfaced at the March 23 Beaconsfield council meeting when Mayor Georges Bourelle voiced his objections to a question being asked outside of the allotted question period as well as to the question-asker’s agenda.
Following the Urban Planning department request for a permit for the construction of a main building at 600 Lakeshore which was approved by five of the six councillors, resident Rhonda Massad asked for clarification on why District 4 Councillor Pierre Demers voted against the motion.
“I will allow the question,” said Bourelle to Massad. “You’re here as a journalist and you’re not supposed to be asking questions, but I will allow it.” Massad countered she was in attendance as a Beaconsfield resident and taxpayer, a response that precipitated a verbal exchange between the two on who can ask questions of elected officials.
“You’re here as a journalist,” Bourelle repeated to Massad who is a freelance contributor to a community newspaper. “It’s very, very clear, and questions from journalists are asked at the end of the meeting.”
Describing the mayor’s actions as denying ‘Freedom of speech,’ and saying she paid $9000 in property taxes, Massad polled the six sitting council members to determine if they supported Bourelle’s statement. With the exception of Demers, the councillors sided with the mayor.
“As far as I’m concerned,” said Demers, “she should be able to specify whether she’s asking a question as a resident or a journalist.” As chair of the CCU (Comité consultatif d’urbanisme), Demers then explained his position in voting against the proposed changes to the home due to its high roof-line. Demers said he supports the recommendation made by the PAC (Planning Advisory Committee) to refuse the permit.
When questioned after the meeting, Bourelle reiterated that because Massad contributes to a newspaper and posts her stories on a blog, her presence at council meetings is one of a ‘journalist’ as opposed to a resident. “She writes articles about Beaconsfield. She wrote recently questioning our EAB (Emerald Ash Borer) program,” said Bourelle. “As a journalist, that’s her right. But if she wants to write and comment on Beaconsfield, she has to respect the fact that we’re going to treat her as a journalist.”
District 3 Councillor Wade Staddon said, “Mayor Bourelle has been very good at shutting down the chaos factor that we had in the last two councils. I personally am not one to see it return so I have no problem with shutting anyone down, as required, during the middle of the meeting when they shouldn’t be asking questions.”
“If she wants to come to council meetings and be treated as a resident, then she will simply have to stop doing journalist work on Beaconsfield municipal affairs,” Bourelle told Your Local Journal. “She cannot do both.” He further said if Massad were to ask questions during the 30-minute public question period, she would also be refused.
“A citizen (who) becomes a journalist cannot ask questions that they can then go ahead and report on,” said District 1 Councillor David Pelletier. “You can’t set a fire, as a journalist, and then stand back and report on that fire.”
Bourelle said Councillor Demers’ actions in siding with Massad asking questions was due to a ‘partnership’ in becoming the opposition to the rest of council and said it’s clearly part of a political agenda. When asked if silencing a resident was undemocratic, Bourelle replied, “She can do all the talking she wants in her blog. I don’t have to give her a platform at my council meetings. She’s got plenty of opportunity to carry her political agenda.”
Massad ran for mayor against Bourelle in the 2013 municipal elections, losing by 259 votes. Reached before going to press, Massad told Your Local Journal she’s sought legal counsel to clarify who can ask questions at municipal council meetings.