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Anglo groups say English debate offered 'clear options' on issues affecting voters

Education, health and environment are all pressing concerns to the English-speaking minority in Quebec.

QCGN, Townshippers' Association say issues broached Monday night are important to anglophone voters

Geoffrey Chambers, president of the QCGN, said he believed the leaders of the four main political parties pitched their platforms effectively in the English debate. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Leaders of English-language lobby groups across Quebec breathed a collective sign of relief when all four party leaders committed to keeping the province's Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers.

"It's a useful tool, especially for some of the communities that are really at a distance," said Gerald Cutting, president of the Townshippers' Association, which represents anglophones in the province's Eastern Townships.

The leaders of the four major parties were asked point-blank if they'd keep the secretariat, created in 2017 under Philippe Couillard's Liberal government, and all said yes.

CAQ Leader François Legault's response signalled a stronger commitment than what he'd promised when asked the same question earlier in the campaign.

"We're open to keeping it, if it's useful," Legault said earlier in September.

In the scrum following the debate, he clarified his remarks.

"I think it's mostly smoke and mirrors, but I'm ready to keep the Secretariat," he said.

Monday evening's debate was a historic first in Quebec: it was the first English-language leaders debate to be televised in the province.

Parties made their pitches

Both Cutting and Geoffrey Chambers, the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, congratulated the leaders on strong performances — and said all parties succeeded in presenting their platforms.

"I thought everybody got their pitch out very well. Every party has different positions, but every leader got his case or her case out effectively," said Chambers. "That was what the debate was for."

Cutting said he believed the English-speaking community was well served, as leaders debated issues important to the community, including health, education and the outward migration of anglophones. 

"When you look at the major preoccupations people have, we saw a lot [more clearly] exactly what each candidate was offering, on key issues like education," said Cutting.

Legault's education plan under fire

All of the parties except for the CAQ promised to keep the province's school boards — a key pillar in English-speaking Quebec.  

The CAQ's plan is to abolish school boards and replace them with regional service centres.

In the past, Legault's party has described the boards as costly and increasingly unnecessary.

Dan Lamoureux, president of the Quebec English School Board Association, said the role of school board commissioners is vital to the community, and at his board, the Riverside School Board, commissioners cost less than 0.1 per cent of the board's budget.

"We set policy for the school boards. We set zonings for the schools," said Lamoureux. "We also are the oversight of the government."

Cutting said he wishes Legault's plan to introduce pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds had been discussed more fully during the debate. He said he has lingering questions about how such a program would work for English-speaking children in rural areas who often need to travel long distances to go to school.

"It wasn't discussed at all," he said.

With files from Sarah Leavitt

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