By the last days of Richard Marcotte’s chaotic time as mayor of Mascouche, Que., hundreds of demonstrators would show up at city council, booing loudly and demanding his resignation, costing thousands of dollars in extra security.
Mr. Marcotte had been charged with fraud, but kept showing up for just enough council meetings to keep his job.
Then, last Nov. 30, he gave up, a few days after the provincial government tabled new legislation, Bill 10, to give Quebeckers the power to ask a judge to suspend a municipal politician facing serious charges. It became law in the spring.
Toronto city councillors are pondering whether to ask their own provincial government to help remove Mayor Rob Ford from office, although he has not been accused of breaking any laws, with similar legislation. Quebec’s Bill 10 had its first test in the summer. A judge upheld it and ordered the suspension of the mayor of suburban Saint-Rémi, who was refusing to step down despite facing seven criminal counts.
The new Quebec law is “the lesser evil” for dealing with officials who cling to their jobs, lawyer Stéphane Handfield said. “I understand the presumption of innocence, but in some cases, one does not have the legitimacy to assume the position.”
Recently elected to Mascouche council, Mr. Handfield was among those who opposed Mr. Marcotte.
In April, 2012, anti-corruption investigators charged Mr. Marcotte and 13 others in connection with allegations of kickbacks and fraud in public contracts in Mascouche, a rapidly growing bedroom community north of Montreal. Mr. Marcotte tried to weather the storm. Council meetings that used to be attended by 30 residents drew 700 to 800 people, most of them protesting against the mayor. Meetings had to relocated to a larger hall and it cost an additional $6,000 to $8,000 to pay for police presence, Mr. Handfield said.
Mr. Handfield said that quitting only a year before the end of his term meant there would not be time for a by-election. Council picked a Marcotte ally as the replacement mayor.
When Mr. Marcotte announced his resignation in an interview with the local weekly, he alluded to the legislation.
“Bill 10 is clearly a politically motivated law and, from what I understand, it is constitutionally dodgy since it is only aimed at one type of elected official,” he said.
The law applies only to municipal politicians charged with offences that could lead to sentences of two years or more. A complainant has to make a court application.
A judge can then order an official suspended with pay. If suspended, politicians who are eventually convicted would have to repay the salary they collected on suspension.
In the first case, Saint-Rémi mayor Michel Lavoie challenged the constitutionality of the new law.
A legal aid clinic took the case on a pro bono basis because it would have cost an applicant $40,000 to $50,000.
On Aug. 29, Mr. Justice Jean-François Michaud of the Quebec Superior Court upheld the law and ruled that Mr. Lavoie could no longer perform his mayoral duties.
The law is, Mr. Handfield said, “the least you could do to maintain the integrity of the office.”