Montreal – November 24, 2017 – This is a moment that could and should inspire positive action for and from English-speaking Quebecers. The Quebec government’s freshly proposed framework for the new Secretariat Responsible for Relations with English-speaking Quebecers is but a first and very modest move in the right direction.
“This is a small albeit promising step forward to ensure that the concerns of English-speaking Quebecers are heard throughout the machinery of government, where policies and programs that impact our community are being drafted,” said James Shea, President of the Quebec Community Groups Network.
“The QCGN is pleased that the Secretariat has been provided with a sweeping mandate to establish a working relationship with sectoral, regional and provincial groups representative of English-speaking Quebecers,” said Shea. “This is essential to ensure that the concerns of our linguistic minority community are taken into consideration during the development of government policies and programs.”
There remains, however, a fundamental issue. “It is clear that the start-up budget of $1 million mentioned by Kathleen Weil, the new Minister Responsible for Relations with English-speaking Quebecers, will not support this project on an adequate scale. It is far too modest to accomplish the government’s stated goals,” said Geoffrey Chambers, QCGN Vice-President and head of the group’s Government Relations Committee.
After Premier Philippe Couillard announced in June he would create a Secretariat, the QCGN mobilized a blue-ribbon panel. It consulted extensively and invested numerous hours of research to examine models from other provinces that long ago established comparable offices in support of their minority French-language communities. QCGN also looked at other Secretariats within the Government of Quebec.
What the QCGN then proposed to the Premier’s office is a Secretariat which would eventually be staffed by more than two dozen people—mostly English-speaking Quebecers who are knowledgeable about the community. This Secretariat would work in three main areas:
- A Policy and Research Directorate, to maintain links with key ministries such as health and social services; education; culture; justice, public security, and economic development;
- A Communications and Community Liaison Directorate, to foster links with English-speaking community organizations and media, providing a venue that would encourage all elements of the community to fully contribute to public discussions and consultation; and
- A Community Development Directorate, to work in partnership with community organizations to develop and coordinate a policy framework and action plan to enhance the vitality of English-speaking Quebec.
“To be comparable to the operational structures granted for other Secretariats addressing similar mandates our proposal would require significantly more funding than what was cited,” said Chambers. “We had sincerely hoped and expected to see something substantially closer to that vision today.”
“We anticipate this new Secretariat will be robust and capable and that it will be able to withstand the test of any change in government,” he said, expressing the hope that further staff to be hired in the coming months will largely come from the English-speaking community: “It’s about ‘le par et pour’ as the French minorities outside Quebec are fond of saying.”
“It is significant that Coalition Action Québec leader François Legault has staked out a position that his party opposes any increase in the presence of English-speaking Quebecers in the civil service, calling it a bureaucratic response.” Chambers said. “We need to be involved when policy is developed, not considered as an afterthought when it is implemented.”
“Our new Secretariat must work within the complex and multi-layered administration of Quebec to ensure we have full and fair access to all of the tools to participate fully in the province’s social, political, economic and cultural development,” he added. “This will require positive measures and an appropriate government investment to ensure the community’s capacity to represent itself in the public space.”
“This new Secretariat will provide a vital mechanism to channel serious and sorely needed policy input from across our community,” said QCGN Director General Sylvia Martin-Laforge. The QCGN, she noted, welcomes the nomination of William Floch, who will be leading the Secretariat: “Bill has a long association with English-speaking Quebec and he has been a dedicated and enthusiastic supporter of our community. His years of experience at the federal department of Canadian Heritage have given Floch deep knowledge of our community and its challenges. We very much hope he can bring that experience to a new environment in the Quebec civil service and be an effective advocate and agent for the development of a strong Secretariat.
“Our goals and those of the government are in full harmony,” QCGN president Shea concluded. “We expect Minister Weil, and her staff at the Secretariat, will work in close partnership with our community leaders to develop wide-ranging, results-oriented and above all pragmatic action plans that can be implemented effectively. We need mechanisms to provide concrete measures ensuring English-speaking Quebecers can obtain the programs and services they require to be full-fledged participants in all dimensions of the day-to-day life of our province.”
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