English-speaking Squires to oversee Franco-Manitoban affairs

Residents in St. Boniface are raising questions about Premier Brian Pallister's choice to oversee francophone affairs in Manitoba — because the minister he chose does not speak French.

Rochelle Squires is MLA for Riel in Winnipeg

When asked by a Radio-Canada reporter if she speaks French, Francophone affairs minister Rochelle Squires said "I have a steep learning curve ahead of me." 0:48

Residents in St. Boniface are raising questions about Premier Brian Pallister's choice to oversee francophone affairs in Manitoba — because the minister he chose does not speak French. 

Rochelle Squires is a unilingual anglophone who represents the Winnipeg electoral district of Riel. She has a background in communications, journalism and fine arts and along with francophone affairs, she will oversee sport, culture and heritage as well as status of women in Pallister's new cabinet.

French Canadian Daniel Perron expressed frustration with Squires' suitability. He said Winnipeg and Manitoba have to "wake up."

"It's a problem because she has to represent one of the major cultural things in Canada which is the French Canadian culture," said Perron, who is originally from Quebec.
Rochelle Squires (MLA for Riel) was appointed minister of sport, culture and heritage and minister responsible for status of women and francophone affairs. (CBC)

Paul Ndambwe in St. Boniface expressed concerns Squires wouldn't understand the culture she is in charge of protecting. He said speaking French makes a "big difference."

"I believe if you understand the French speakers, you have to speak the language," he said. "You can't represent somebody [when] you don't even know the language."

Roxanne Brown does not speak French but said her father was francophone. She said she's "not too impressed" with Squires' lack of French fluency.

"I value the diversity of languages and unless you really understand what it's like to communicate in that language and to work in that language, you don't understand what the issues are," Brown said.

Université de Saint-Boniface professor Raymond Hébert said the Franco-Manitoban affairs portfolio was more prominent under premier Greg Selinger than it is under Pallister.

"It's a downgrade for the portfolio because it's been in the premier's office for almost 17 years now. It gave a bit of prestige to the position because in national or even international forums he would be the one representing Manitoba francophones," said Hébert.

The only member of Pallister's inner circle who is fluent in French is rookie St. Norbert MLA Jon Reyes, added Hébert. Reyes was appointed the military envoy.