Sylvie Dionne-Raymond was recently acclaimed for a fourth term as mayor of the municipality of East Farnham. Counting her previous terms on town council, she has worked for the municipality for a total of 28 years. All but one of the town’s six council seats was also filled by acclamation.
“Sometimes I think they must put glue on the chairs at the town hall, because once we’re there, we tend to stay there,” Dionne- Raymond joked. “There isn’t much interest among the population to take these positions, and I like my job a lot.”
East Farnham has experienced a small but significant population boom in recent years. In the 2016 census, the town is listed as having a population of 554, but Dionne-raymond said the current population is closer to 600. “For four or five years, we have been working to increase the population,” she said. “We have an entirely new neighbourhood and 30 or so new houses built, and we have couples with young families. We were part of a promotional campaign with the MRC, and it worked.” Increasingly, East Farnham is a bedroom community for families who work and go to school in surrounding municipalities. “We can’t have a big industrial development in East Farnham proper — we only have 5.2 square kilometres — so we help businesses in surrounding communities attract and maintain people.”
Dionne-raymond said as of yet, the growth of the past few years hasn’t put a significant strain on municipal services, many of which are provided through agreements with surrounding municipalities. “Some places facing significant growth have to scale up their services, but what we have now responds well to what people need, because of those agreements,” she said.
What has put a strain on the town is the regional water shortage. “People have been able to cross the Pike River and even the Yamaska River on foot this summer,” she said. “That is something I’ve never seen in 47 years in this area. People are having to dig new wells and even get water trucked in. People are calling the municipality and saying they don’t have water, but when that happens all you can do is dig another well.”
East Farnham residents get water from wells that have been dug on private property, which limits how the town can restrict water use. “All we can do is tell people not to waste water,” Dionne-raymond said. “Do you really need to wash your driveway? People will just have to pay more attention.”
Dionne-raymond is far from the only small-town mayor in Quebec, or even in the MRC of Brome-missisquoi, to be acclaimed this election cycle. The towns of Brigham, Brome, Bromont, East Farnham, Frelightsburg, Brome Lake, Notre-dame-de-stanbridge, Pike River, Saint-armand, Sainte-sabine, Stanbridge East and Stanbridge Station all elected their mayor by acclamation.
She observed that in many smaller municipalities, being mayor is not a fulltime job; mayors are expected to hold other jobs (or be retired, or have other means of support). In consequence, they receive annual salaries of less than $10,000.
“Sometimes you need to deal with [city issues] during the workday, but you can’t ask a person with a day job to leave that job and come to City Hall for three hours…and we can’t offer fulltime salaries,” said Dionne-raymond. “It’s not a salary thing alone, though — young people in their 30s are so busy with work and family obligations and homework that they can’t be involved in other things. I don’t really know how best to seek out the next generation. I love working with the public on projects that immediately affect people; in municipal politics, it doesn’t take three months to see the impact of your decision.”
East Farnham by the numbers:
Population: 554 (2016) Anglophones as percentage of population: 18 per cent
Bilingual status under the French language charter: no
Area: 5.03 km3
Mayor: Sylvie Dionne-Raymond (incumbent, acclaimed)
Councillor, Post 1: Sophie Catherine Chapleau (incumbent, acclaimed)
Councillor, Post 2: Caroline Cusson (incumbent, acclaimed)
Councillor, Post 3: Virginia Wilson (incumbent, acclaimed)
Councillor, Post 4: Melissa Brock Marie-pier Poirier
Councillor, Post 5: Nathalie Vermette (incumbent, acclaimed)
Councillor, Post 6: Neil Rodrigue (incumbent, acclaimed)