Ninety minutes after meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault, Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) president Geoffrey Chambers was feeling optimistic.
“We had a productive meeting with the minister, with the premier who said he was committed to creating a place in Quebec for the English speaking community,” Chambers told reporters in the lobby of the premier’s Montreal office building.
Chambers says it’s the first time the QCGN has met with a premier this early in a mandate. Legault and his party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) only came to power in October of last year.
A lot is at stake for the English-speaking community under the new government.
At the top of the list for many, is the future of school boards in the province.
QCGN wants to save them, but Legault plans to have them replaced.
“He made his case for why service centres might be better. We explained why that’s not how we see it,” Chambers said.
“We have two opposing points of view that are light years apart,” Christopher Skeete — the MNA who advises the premier on relations with the English community told reporters.
Skeete says it doesn’t matter whether school boards exist or not.
What matters, according to him, are the needs of school children.
“We’re talking structures, we’re talking institutions, we’re talking, you know, this group says that; this group…for me, I don’t feel we’re talking enough about kids,” he said.
Plenty of other topics dominated the meeting as well, including stopping the government from turning Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds over to a French school board.
QCGN’s also expressed disappointment with the CAQ government for supporting a decision to remove English from a Lachute hospital sign.
“We made that point, I think he heard,” Chambers said.
But on both these issues — Skeete is supporting the decisions made by his government.
“Our plan is 100 per cent within law 101 (bill 101) which has existed in Quebec since before I was born. We’re not going to touch that,” Skeete said.
However, the MNA from Laval insists he and the premier are open to dialogue and to consulting the English community on future decisions.
“I’m always available. I think Mr. Chambers of the QCGN knows where to get a hold of me. I’m very accessible,” he said.
A followup meeting is planned in six months with the QCGN and the premier.
Chambers says he will update the government at that time on what if any progress has been made on relations with the English community.