AYLMER Nov. 1, 2019
Around 30 representatives of a number of English-speaking organizations from the region gathered at the British Hotel in Aylmer, for a consultation session intended to mend fences between the provincial government and its local minority.
As part of the government’s “Building Bridges Tour”, which has already included stops in several cities, including Quebec City, Laval and Montreal, the goal of the session was to listen to the needs and concerns of English-speaking Quebecers regarding their current government in order to put together a concrete action plan.
Led by Premier Francois Legault’s parliamentary assistant for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, Christopher Skeete, the tour also aims to make the province’s Anglophone community more aware of the Secretariat aux relations avec les Quebecois d’expression anglaise’s mission and its involvement with partner organizations.
According to Skeete, attendees discussed a number of topics, most notably how the English community’s interactions with the provincial government and how certain programs or services can be improved or adjusted to better serve the English population’s needs.
“Everything’s in French,” he said. “How am I supposed to have access to my government and when I don’t feel like my French is proficient enough to go get access? What tools can be developed to help them in that regard? What government programs are not adapted to the English reality?”
Among those who attended were MRC Pontiac Warden Jane Toller, Linton Garner from the Regional Association of West Quebecers as well as a few members of the Western Quebec School board.
After the meeting, Garner said he felt much more comfortable with the secretariat and what it does, noting that the RAWQ has already received government funding on their behalf.
For Garner, expectations weren’t obvious heading into the meeting, having been through a number of similar consultation sessions in the past.
However, this time, he believed the current government’s willingness to share ideas with the Anglophone community felt genuine. He added that he has heard from people in other regions that the meetings have gone swimmingly in other cities as well.
“I think people felt that they were encouraging,” he said. “Certainly, the movements that have been taken over the past year by the secretariat show that they are interested in speaking with English-speaking communities and supporting them, listening to what their needs are and trying to put their money where their mouth is.”
However, he stressed that there’s still a lot of work to be done and that the CAQ government still has a lot of issues with Anglophone Quebecers that it needs to address.
“The CAQ government has been talking about things that the English-speaking population has not been comfortable with,” he said. “Like the elimination of school boards, Law 21 the prohibition of religious symbols, the idea that they want to strengthen or tighten Law 101 preventing Francophones from going to English-language CEGEPs.”
“Those things are disheartening,” he added. “The community doesn’t really know if we can trust them fully.”
As far as other issues that need to be addressed, Garner pointed to better access to second-language training and economic development.
“The community has been asking for this over and over again,” he said. “We’d certainly like to see more funding.”
But Garner concluded by stating that the CAQ simply throwing money at the Anglophone population will not completely solve its qualms with them. He said that they need to work side by side every step of the way, to make things work.
“We need to be viewed as a partner,” he said. “As a partner, we can be more effective and certainly be more efficient in terms of the use of that money to solve social and community problems.”
After the Coalition Avenir du Quebec (CAQ) got elected last fall, Skeete felt like it was important to reach out to the province’s English-speaking community to get a sense of what they thought of their new government’s plans for things like schoolboard reform as well as funding programs for community projects among other things.
“I want to get a sense of the reality on the ground and see how we can come up with a vision for our future,” he said.
After the meeting, Skeete acknowledged that the situation for the Pontiac, from its poor economic vitality to its issues with literacy, needs to be addressed. However, he added that the region deals with a lot of the same issues as other jurisdictions and that all English-speaking Quebecers should be treated with the same level of attention and respect.
“It’s about ensuring that they get what’s rightfully theirs,” he said. “We’re all equal Quebec citizens. How do we ensure that, even if you’re a language minority, you have access to programs equally?”
The next step for the CAQ will be reporting back on the English-population’s concerns gathered from various consultations across the province. Then, the government will publish a report stating its plan for the future, Skeete said.
In an effort to prove the CAQ’s dedication towards putting together a plan that the English community can thrive on, Skeete pointed to Premier Legault’s decision to maintain the secretariat as clear evidence.
“The Premier promised to keep the secretariat,” he said. “He could’ve squashed it. He didn’t. He maintained the funding and this year we doubled the funding. I think our actions speak louder than our words.”
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