Quebec Native Affairs Minister and Jacques Cartier MNA Geoffrey Kelley first jumped into politics in 1994.
Kelley was a political aide for several ministers, including education (1990), municipal affairs and public security (1990–1994) and was chief of staff of the deputy premier and president of the treasury board (1994).
Global’s Raquel Fletcher sat down with Kelley to find out what first drew him to politics, and in particular, First Nations rights:
RF: You are amending Quebec’s adoption process. What will this mean for First Nations families?
GK: They have different family structures and what they want to have is a kind of system where grandparents, often, or aunts or uncles may take charge of a child.
Under our current adoption law, biological parents are automatically out of the picture.
What we’d rather have is a role where it’s a bit more hybrid.
RF: This bill took a long time to draft – eight years. Why did it take so long to get it off the ground?
GK: Well, it’s not just about native adoption.
It’s a broader bill, but there were two elections that came along that complicated the process, for sure, but I think we finally have it right.
There’s the old expression: three times lucky, or third time’s a charm, so I’m very hopeful that this time the legislation will go forward.
RF: Why does it seem like governments are dragging their feet on First Nations issues?
GK: Well, they’re very complicated.
It’s a three-way dance, if you will, but I think you’re quite right and I’m willing to say that, in the past, often these issues were ignored.
I think one of the things that’s very encouraging in Quebec and Canadian society today is there’s a far greater awareness that we have to do a better job.
Part of it came from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which really was an eye-opener for many Canadians.
I think we have some momentum now that perhaps we didn’t have five or ten years ago.
RF: Looking back at the scandal with the Sûreté du Québec in Val d’Or last year, would you, looking at it today, have reacted differently or done anything differently?
GK: Nothing in the letter prepared us for the shock of seeing the report for the first time.
The relations between police and all communities, but particularly native communities, there’s always a bit of tension, there’s always a bit of difficulty.
I was ready for that, but the level of detail, the level of the testimony in the report we saw on television surprised and shocked me.
I think the government moved quite quickly on a number of very short-term measures.
We’re still working at ways of how do we improve relations between the police and the population.
RF: You were first elected in 1994. Was it hard to be a politician and a father?
GK: It was a challenge. I have a great wife, who’s very organized.
The rule from the start always was when I was at home, I had to be at home.
RF: What is your favourite thing about Montreal’s West Island?
GK: It is a great family-oriented community.
It’s a community with a rich, volunteer tradition.
Both my parents died at the palliative care residence, so I can talk very directly as a family who benefited directly from the care and benefited from the services provided.
There’s a whole broad range of community life and so much of it is dependent on volunteers.
So, to represent those people in the National Assembly, those people who believe so much in community, who believe so much in looking after their neighbours is a source of great, great pride to me.