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By Michael Boriero

Local Journalism Initiative

After a tumultuous period in Abercorn, which saw four members of the municipal council suddenly step down in September, including Mayor Guy Gravel, the dust seems to have finally settled in the small Eastern Townships village with new faces emerging at town hall.

Guy Favreau has claimed the vacant mayoral seat. There were originally two mayoral candidates, however, Favreau’s opponent dropped out on Nov. 14 — three days after the nomination period had closed. And the three empty councillor chairs were also acclaimed.

According to the Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l’Habitation (MAMH), there was supposed to be a by-election on Dec. 11. The MAMH also noted since the town was temporarily unable to meet quorum, Abercorn was placed under provisional administration.

In an email, the MAMH pointed out this process is different from trusteeship, noting that when a town loses its quorum, “there are no more council meetings, and no decisions can be made.” The Commission municipale du Québec (CMQ) then took over temporary administrative duties.

In a phone interview, Favreau told The Record he has little knowledge of the exact situation that led to the stunning mass resignation nearly two months ago. It was an unfortunate sequence of events that eventually led to a revolt from members of the community, he shared.

“All we got was a resignation en masse, so we still don’t really know the depth, the breadth, of what really happened. What we do know is people were profoundly hurt and I thought the whole process was […] an outrage to democracy. I just could not accept that,” Favreau said.

When Gravel submitted his letter of resignation, François Cusson, Pierre-Marc Parent, and Raphaël Delacombaz, who were all part of the former mayor’s electoral campaign group, Ensemble pour Abercorn, followed his lead, deciding to also walk away from municipal politics.

In September, Interim Mayor Eric Bissonnette, who remains on the current municipal council, said he was blindsided by the decision made by Gravel and the three councillors. At the time, he explained to The Record that the foursome were feeling harassed by community members.

Cusson also spoke to The Record sharing council meetings would often deteriorate into an abusive exchange between residents and the municipal council. He described a toxic workplace environment, fuelled by the community’s hatred and mistrust in the elected officials.

“I regularly witness verbal abuse, various forms of intimidation, disrespect, and harassment by certain individuals with whom an elected official identifies. I have witnessed the negative effect of such behaviour on elected officials, their spouses and our three employees,” Cusson said.

Abercorn was then struck by more resignations as support staff within the building also moved on to new opportunities. When The Record reached out to the town last week looking to contact Favreau, there was only one person working at the office. It was also his first day.

Favreau said he will have his work cut out for him, as well as the three new councillors, Axel Palomares, Roger Labrecque, and Bernard Carey — none of whom answered The Record’s interview request. The village also recently swore in Pierre Dionne as the new director general.

“There was a special council meeting [Monday] to confirm the hiring of a new director general and the gentleman came well-referred. He’s a very decent fellow, with a lot of experience, and I have to admit the town needs that level of experience,” Favreau told The Record on Tuesday.

He also confirmed there is only one person working at the town hall right now. However, a municipality needs at least three to four people to run efficiently and properly, Favreau explained. But this can happen when there is a major shakeup in the administration, he added.

There will be a lot on his plate as he gets settled into his new role. Favreau noted he will have to completely rebuild his support staff, as well as begin delivering on some of the promises made by the previous council, and address the issues that continue to nag the small village.

Asked why he decided to step into the mayoral race, Favreau said he was nudged into it by members of the community. However, Favreau, a professional architect who has only lived in Abercorn for a little over a year, admitted he has no plans to run for mayor after this mandate.

“I didn’t want to do it, you can call me a ‘maire du temps.’ I’ll do it for the next two years, for this mandate, and the deal is get ready for the next election because I won’t be there. That’s today’s position, but I would like to retire in the town, just not full of animosity,” said Favreau.

Favreau has fallen in love with the village, and he wants to put the municipal agenda back on track. He also intends to mix in his own expertise. As a nearly retired architect with years of experience in sustainable energy design, he plans to put more focus on local climate issues.

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