‘It’s time to test the pulse’: CAQ to hold consultations with English-speaking community groups

CAQ MNA Christopher Skeete, the government's point man for anglo affairs, is seen at his riding office in Laval, Que., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government has announced a consultation tour scheduled for this fall, aimed at developing an action plan geared towards the needs of the English-speaking community.

Christopher Skeete, the parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-Speaking Quebecers, made the announcement on Tuesday, during a visit to Grosse-Île, an English-speaking community in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

The details of the tour are still being hammered out, but Skeete said community groups will be invited to voice their concerns at various meetings across the province.

“We’re hoping we can get a sense of their preoccupations,” he said.

Skeete explained that when the previous government created the secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, community groups were solicited by phone or online.

“I figured after two years, it’s time to test the pulse,” he said, adding that the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government has identified key areas of concern.

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Skeete cited various examples including a lack of English-speaking civil servants, the need for more access to services for the elderly and high rates of unemployment.

“In the regions, sometimes you have two times, or triple the unemployment rate in the English-speaking community,” he said.

The CAQ has been accused of not listening to the concerns of English-speakers.

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The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) recently expressed a sense of anxiety among anglophones, according to Geoffrey Chambers QCGN president.

“The initial indications from the (Coalition) were that they were going to be quite open,” Chambers said in a recent interview. But over time, Chambers realized the conversations his group was having with Skeete and others in the Coalition “were having absolutely no impact over policy.”

As one example, Chambers pointed to the decision by the CAQ to transfer underused English schools in Montreal to French-language school boards.

Skeete countered the transfer of schools was a fair decision under the circumstances.

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“When we have three half-empty schools, it’s not a rights issue,” he said. “Our analysis is based on facts.”

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Skeete said it would have been more unfair to tell 3,000 French students they couldn’t go to school than to have the English students commute to a school farther away.

Had the situation unfolded in the regions, where there aren’t necessarily any nearby English schools, the results would have been different, according to Skeete.

Another looming source of contention involves the CAQ’s promise to abolish school boards. Elected English-language boards are one of the few institutions anglophones control.

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Skeete told Global News a bill would be tabled soon to that effect.

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He insisted anglophones will not lose access to or control over their schools and the bill would respect respect the minority language education rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Despite perceived tensions, Skeete said the upcoming tour is a chance for both sides to come together.

“I strongly encourage the representatives of English-speaking communities to come out, express themselves and participate in this consultation tour this fall. It promises to be an enriching and awareness-building experience,” he said in a written statement. “It will be a time for co-creation, aiming to ensure that the concerns of English-speaking Quebecers are taken into account by the government.”

— With files from Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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