Several of the candidates running for mayor of Sutton will be familiar faces to those who follow local politics. Current mayor Michel Lafrance, seeking a second term, is facing challenges from former mayor Louis Dandenault, activist Robert Benoit and Éric Peissard, a member of the Festival Jam organizing committee who has worked in the film industry and as a ski patroller. Benoit and Peissard are making their first forays into municipal politics.
The population of Sutton has grown by nearly 30 per cent since 1991 and 10 per cent between 2011 and 2021, and more than 4,200 people now call the municipality home. The candidates have contrasting visions as to how this growth should be managed, especially in light of an ontgoing water shortage and an uptick in tourism.
Dandenault, who was mayor from 2013 to 2017, says bringing down housing costs to make it easier for young families to buy property in the area is at the top of his agenda. “A mayor and council can’t influence property values, but there are other things we can do,” he said.
As mayor, Dandenault supported a controversial bylaw that would have lowered the land requirement for the building of a new house from 20 acres to 10 acres — “the kind of bylaw that would encourage people with less money to live here and find their piece of heaven.”
The city was taken to court by the Regroupement pour un développement durable à Sutton, an activist group led by Robert Benoit. The group feared the bylaws would lead to unchecked growth
n the La Montagne sector of the city. The bylaws were eventually invalidated by the Quebec Court of Appeal. Benoit called the actions of the Dandenault administration an “antidemocratic exercise” that had led to “complete confusion.”
“There are residential zones in the village sector where we can develop further, instead of going up the mountain,” he added.
The experience led Benoit to found a political party, Action Sutton, and put his own vision for development to voters. “We do need affordable housing for people who live and work here; we know there’s a labour shortage,” said Benoit. “The people I’ve talked to while going door to door say they aren’t against development, but it needs to be done respectfully. We need clear rules [instead of] going case by case.” Benoit says one of the priorities for the first year of his administration will be to develop a new urban development plan via a public consultation process.
Lafrance, the current mayor, also says he plans to conduct public consultations on a new urban development plan and tap into provincial and federal programs to build more affordable housing. “We also have [private promoters] who want to build…but we have to find solutions to the water problem first,” he said, referring to periodic water shortages in the La Montagne sector. “There has to be a limit on the amount of water we can draw [from the reservoirs.] At certain points in the year, we’ve had only three days of water reserves.”
The city has also seen an uptick in tourism from the rest of the province over the past two years, with a corresponding increase in the number of homes used as short-term rentals; according to Lafrance, the community’s population “doubles every weekend.”
“At one point we had as many as 125 properties [being illegally used as Airbnbs] in the community,” Lafrance said. “There’s now a new provincial regulation under study that would give cities more power to regulate Airbnbs; hopefully that will…allow us to free up more housing for young workers.”
“Once you have a lot of short-term rentals, there are fewer apartments for families and more party houses,” said Dandenault. He said that in addition to waiting for the provincial law, “talking to the owners and encouraging them to find good renters” was one way of addressing the problem.
Benoit, for his part, said the city needed to take a “surgical approach” to short-term rentals and allow them only in certain sectors. Peissard thinks property owners who are currently using their properties for short-term rentals should be incentivized to take long-term renters instead. He also called for a moratorium on new condominium projects until a longterm solution to the water shortage is found.
Sutton by the numbers:
Anglophones as a percentage of population: 33.4 per cent Bilingual status under Bill 101: No Land area by square km: 245.95
Candidates for mayor:
Robert Benoit (Action Sutton) Louis Dandenault
District 1: Thérèse Leclerc (Action Sutton) Daniel Martin (incumbent) Maurice Richard
Marie-josée Auclair (Action Sutton)
Alan Pavilanis (Action Sutton)
Carole Lebel (Action Sutton) (acclaimed)
Lynda Graham (incumbent) (Action Sutton) (acclaimed)
Marc-andré Blain (Action Sutton) Mélanie Demers