By James Shea and Geoffrey Chambers
English-speaking Quebecers have long been striving to convince successive Quebec governments to acknowledge and help mend a gaping democratic deficit — one that for decades has quietly been hindering our community and our province.
We have long called for a mechanism for the voice of our linguistic minority community to be both heard and heeded throughout Quebec’s complicated, multi-levelled machinery of administration.
Until recently, our efforts met with rhetoric and denial. With the recent appointment of Kathleen Weil as minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, however, Premier Philippe Couillard has taken a significant and encouraging step forward. Even prior to this appointment he promised to create, within his office, a secretariat empowered to look out for — and speak up for — the interests of our community.
Our government has long needed such a pragmatic mechanism, which is both perfectly reasonable and genuinely required. This secretariat must be appropriately staffed — largely by members of our community — and provided with adequate resources. It would contribute our community’s perspective, providing high-level input and insight to help shape inclusive government policies and programs. Too many times in the past, the needs of our community have been left to fall through the cracks — ignored, unacknowledged or unheard by a provincial bureaucracy in which our community is notoriously underrepresented.
For years, the Quebec Community Groups Network had been pushing hard for exactly this type of approach. Initially, Premier Couillard told us that all cabinet ministers and MNAs represented English-speaking Quebecers. A year ago, he began to acknowledge that while we should be treated like all of our fellow citizens, there are areas where this is simply not the case. One flagrant example: jobs in the civil service. Fewer than 1 per cent of our government employees belong to our community. Our premier realized that we cannot be equitably represented without some support.
Even today, our community’s full participation in and contribution to Quebec remains hobbled by multiple myths — notably, of course, those ruling Westmount Rhodesians and la minorité la plus choyée au monde. In truth, English-speaking Quebecers have lower median incomes than French-speaking Quebecers and francophone minority communities in all other provinces, as measured by first official language spoken. We face higher unemployment. The most vulnerable members of our community have a difficult time obtaining basic government services in their own language.