Premier Philippe Couillard says he’s changed his mind about creating a special Anglophone Affairs Office. The idea has been floated around by both the Liberals and the Parti Quebecois since the last provincial election and now that the next election is a year away — the premier says it’s coming soon.
“John, 75 years old, lives in New Carlisle in Gaspé and has difficulty communicating in French. Does this make him less of a Quebecer than me? No,” the premier said during an end of session press conference Friday at the National Assembly.
John is a real person and it’s through conversations with him and other anglophones that Couillard said he’s come to see that he was wrong to not embrace the idea of an Anglophone Affairs Office earlier.
“I always resisted having different government structures for English-speaking Quebecers because I say, ‘We’re all Quebecers,'” he explained.
However, English speakers have been pushing for years for an Anglophone Affairs Office, an official mechanism for civil servants to consult the community before drafting legislation.
“They make mistakes. They bring forward an education reform bill that is unconstitutional and when the premier or senior level of cabinet see that in second reading, they have to fix that. It’s embarrassing,” said Geoffrey Chambers, Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) vice-president.
Not embarrassing, Couillard said, but “disappointing because we sincerely believed we were doing the consultation.”
Now the premier says he’s been convinced an Anglophone Affairs Office is needed. The opposition said Couillard’s sudden openness to anglophones is just electoral strategy.
“If they were really sincere about this, they would have done it three years ago,” said Jean-François Lisée, Parti Quebecois leader. “Not only did he resist all this, but he worked to dismantle the anglophone community on hospitals and on school boards.”
Meanwhile, Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) leader François Legault has been away from the National Assembly; he says he’s been out on the ground talking with mayors, voters — and candidates.
“I would like to have a very competent anglophone candidate, a few of them,” Legault said.
The CAQ has been inching up in recent polls — but they still lack support in English Montreal. They are now fighting for the same English voters as the Liberals. Perhaps that’s the reason the premier says he’s reflecting on other things the English community has been asking for — like an anglophone affairs cabinet minister.
“I deliver,” Couillard said when asked when he might make up his mind about a cabinet minister, suggesting there could be more announcements for English Quebecers leading up to the 2018 election.