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Mayor of Russell resigns, citing toxic political discourse

Leroux was elected as township councillor in 2010, then as its mayor in 2014. He's been warden of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell since 2020 and is also leaving that job, according to the counties. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Leroux was elected as township councillor in 2010, then as its mayor in 2014. He's been warden of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell since 2020 and is also leaving that job, according to the counties. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The mayor of the eastern Ontario township of Russell is resigning, describing a toxic culture on social media and his exasperation with the tenor of political debate.

Pierre Leroux, who was elected as township councillor in 2010, then as its mayor in 2014, announced his resignation on social media Tuesday. As of April 19, he'll be stepping away from his duties to become the chief administrative officer with The Nation municipality, just east of Russell.

He cited several reasons to CBC's All in a Day, including that online vitriol weighed heavily into the decision.

"Since the pandemic, ... a lot of politicians have seen a change in the attitude of people and how they're acting online, and in person as well," he said. "It just seems like civility's gone out the window."

Leroux said he'd faced calls from people "wishing his death was imminent," and other making other harassing comments.

"I've considered myself pretty thick-skinned," he said. "But after constant attacks and that kind of stuff, it just gets to be overwhelming."

In a press release from Russell township, Stéphane Parisien, the chief administrative officer of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, said Leroux has been "a strong advocate of our regional interests and well-being, his legacy will be felt for years to come. ... We wish him all the best in his new endeavours."

Leroux is the second mayor in recent months to resign in the area. Gatineau Mayor France Bélisle stepped down in February, saying she did not want to participate in the current political climate, and that she had received death threats.

"Because we're paid with public funds, taxpayer dollars, it seems to be open hunting season on politicians as far as how they're treated," Leroux told CBC News.

Gatineau, Que., Mayor France Bélisle was emotional as she announced Feb. 22, 2024 she is stepping down.
Gatineau, Que., Mayor France Bélisle was emotional as she announced Feb. 22, 2024 she is stepping down.

Gatineau, Que., Mayor France Bélisle was emotional as she announced Feb. 22, 2024 she is stepping down. (Audrey Neveu/Radio-Canada)

A growing township

Following his departure on April 19, the township said an interim warden will be appointed to lead the upper-tier government until a formal appointment process is held, and that it will soon share its next steps.

Speaking on CBC's All in a Day, Leroux reflected proudly on how the councils he has worked with have managed the  township's "incredible growth" over the past 15 years.

According to the Township of Russell, it's population is expected to grow by approximately 45 per cent by 2036 compared to 2016, representing an increase from approximately 16,500 people to 23,800 people.

Leroux said he was especially proud to help build a sports dome which he said has since become a community hub, and had looked forward to seeing the development of a recreational complex that will soon start construction.

"While I won't have my name on the plaque in the building, I'm happy to say that I helped start the foundation," he said.