An umbrella organization that represents English-speaking community groups in Quebec is accusing the provincial government of trying to undermine it by sowing discord among its members — an allegation Premier François Legault dismissed Tuesday as “completely false.”
The president of the Quebec Community Groups Network alleged Legault’s point man for relations with anglophones, Christopher Skeete, has been encouraging the network’s member groups to either leave or oppose the organization’s positions if they want to maintain their funding.
The QCGN announced last week that nine of its member groups were withdrawing, noting that increased competition for funding had led to “some divergence of opinion within the network.” A 10th later left, the QCGN confirmed Tuesday.
The network’s president, Geoffrey Chambers, said it’s been vocal in opposing several of the government’s positions, including its secularism law banning religious symbols and a proposal to abolish school boards.
Chambers believes that has led to a government attempt to undermine the group’s unity.
“They’ve been taking these groups aside in all sorts of different settings, and saying ‘Your funding depends on, or can vary according to how effectively you push back inside the QCGN against this effective advocacy,”’ he said in a phone interview.
Legault said that while it’s true Skeete has chosen to meet with the province’s roughly 50 English-speakers’ groups individually, he said it’s “completely false” to suggest there is any campaign against the umbrella organization.
“There are organizations that now prefer interacting directly with the government, rather than being represented by this ‘group of groups,”’ Legault told reporters in Quebec City. “That’s their choice, and I’m not going to intervene in how they want to be represented.”
When reached by The Canadian Press, representatives of two of the groups that left the network flatly denied being pressured by the government.
Sharleen Sullivan, the executive director of the Neighbours Regional Association of Rouyn-Noranda, called the notion “completely ridiculous.”
“I actually find it quite insulting that (Chambers) would even utter the words that the voice of the English-speaking population of Abitibi-Temiscamingue could be bought,” she said in a phone interview.
Brigitte Wellens, who heads a group representing Quebec City anglophones, was equally blunt.
Her group’s resignation “wasn’t because of pressure from the (Anglophone) Secretariat, or the government, or anyone,” said Wellens. “That distracts from the real problem which is the leadership of the QCGN, and how it’s been treating its members.”
Both Sullivan and Wellens say they have no problem with the QCGN standing up to governments — their problem is with how the umbrella group is being run.
Sullivan said the network is increasingly shifting its focus from advocacy to program delivery, which sometimes puts it in direct competition with some of its member organizations and gives her the impression it’s trying to centralize control of funding. She also believes the leadership ignores regional voices when developing its position statements.
Wellens, for her part, sees a “clear disconnect between the QCGN and the member organizations it claims to represent.”
Chambers for his part said he knows not everyone agrees with his approach. But in a letter published on the QCGN’s website, the organization denied accusations from former members that it attempted to centralize funding control, blocked its member groups from participating in government consultations, or exceeded its mandate.
His solution right now, he said, is to “keep doing what we’re doing.”