The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is marking its first year in power. The party remains just as popular in the polls as it did on election day, but among English-speaking Quebecers it’s a different story.
Premier François Legault acknowledges he is not popular in anglophone communities and says there are several reasons why he believes a recent Leger poll found 70 percent of anglophones do not trust his government.
“First, I used to be with the Parti Québécois, so of course, many anglophones still see me as a sovereignist, which is not the case,” Legault said.
He also acknowledged that the transfer of two English schools to the French school system did not sit well with many anglophones, although he defended his decision.
“The anglophones were unhappy about that, but I didn’t have a choice,” he said.
“If I wanted all children to have a classroom at the end of August, I didn’t have a choice. And I would have done the same if it was the opposite — from the francophone sector to the anglophone sector,” Legault explained.
The premier said anglophones remain largely opposed to Bill 21, the government’s secularism bill and religious symbols ban for public employees in positions of authority. However, he said he is sure they will embrace the legislation over time.
“It’s exactly what we have in Germany, France, Belgium and Switzerland. It’s no different, but it’s against the Charter of Rights of Canada and some anglophones, for them it’s not acceptable that we do so,” Legault said.
“It’s a bit like the Bill 101. I’m pretty sure that in three years from now, they will have forgotten about that.”
On Tuesday, Legault’s government tabled a bill to abolish Quebec’s school boards and replace them with service centres. This was one of the CAQ’s election campaign promises. Similar legislation was proposed, then abandoned by the former Liberal government.
“I think at the time the Liberals decided not to put in place the bill, because of the lobbies,” Legault said. “People in school boards who are now in politics in Quebec, anglophones and francophones and they try to say that we absolutely need school boards.”
Legault said these reforms will give more power to individual schools and parents.
“For me, the best people to make decisions for our children are those in different schools, including teachers, the management of the schools and the parents involved in different schools.,” he said.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW: Quebec Premier sits down to talk about his relationship with Anglophones
On Wednesday, the Quebec English School Boards Association said their legal counsel was still looking at the bill to see if it respects English schools’ minority rights to control their own schools.
Legault, meanwhile, said he is confident he will not be facing a constitutional battle because English communities will still be able to vote for the people who will sit on the board of directors of the nine English service centres,
“Which won’t be the case on the francophone side,” he said.
Legault said he couldn’t answer yet whether or not he would be willing to re-open Bill 101.
“For example, I don’t want to open it for small businesses. I don’t want to add to the bureaucracy and the red tape. What I want is to make sure that we protect French in North America and French will always be vulnerable in North America,” he said.
Legault, who describes himself and his party as “nationalist” also explained how he sees anglophones and minority groups in his “nationalist” vision of Quebec.
“Come back to religious signs. I know I’ve got friends who are immigrants or anglophones and they agree with the fact that we forbid religious signs (for people in authority positions),” Legault said.
“For them, it’s part of who we are. And they want to make sure we protect who we are, our values and secularism is one of our values,” he said.