Farnham citizens’ policy puts participation front and centre

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

The town of Farnham has overhauled its family policy with an eye toward making it more inclusive of residents of all ages and backgrounds.

The new “citizens’ policy,” passed at the March 7 council meeting, is built around eight axes – culture and recreation, community life, communication, public safety, health, transportation, housing and implementation. Council will use the policy “to target actions to put in place over a period of five years,” according to a press release from the town. Each of the axes has an associated list of more concrete goals – for example, “accompanying citizens through the digital transition” falls under the umbrella of communication, “making volunteering easier” under community life and “improving access to local fruits and vegetables” under health.

The policy was developed over the past year by a steering committee including four councillors from Farnham and Sainte-Sabine, two town employees and a diverse group of seven residents. A series of surveys gathering about 350 responses also informed the group’s approach. The policy, which was developed in partnership with the consulting firm Espace Muni, will be in force until 2027.
“The town initially had a family policy, which expired in 2019, but that policy made people feel less concerned if they didn’t have children,” explained Julia Girard-Desbiens, community life coordinator for the town of Farnham, who piloted the project. “We created a steering committee that was as diverse as possible, with young people, seniors, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people working in the community and health sectors, elected officials, recently arrived people and lifelong residents. We met with specific themes in mind and heard from experts. It helped us hear from a wide range of points of view.”

The experience was “very instructive, and makes a person dream of what we can do together,” Girard-Desbiens said. The discussions and survey results gave rise to an action plan presented in fall 2021, which in turn led to the finalization of the plan itself, which was presented to council last week.

“It’s easier to get in touch with people than it was ten years ago, and people want to be listened to,” said Girard-Desbiens, whose background is in international development and community development. “The idea is to orient our decisions…and allow elected officials to see where citizens want them to lead the boat.” She also said city officials will reevaluate the policy from year to year.

Girard-Desbiens said no specific outreach was made to the English-speaking community, but issues such as transport and public safety “are of concern to everyone.” She advised anglophones with concerns or suggestions for future versions of the policy to contact the municipality.

The policy can be read on the town of Farnham website (ville.farnham.qc.ca/politique-citoyenne, in French only).

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