Kathleen Weil's task is to mend disconnect between government and Anglo communities

Kathleen Weil was sworn in as the new minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers on Wednesday. Community groups say they hope this means more representation and input into policy-making.

NDG MNA named Couillard's 1st minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers

Kathleen Weil, who was minister of immigration, diversity and inclusiveness for the past three years, is now the minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebcers. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Kathleen Weil is calling her appointment as minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers ''historic."

Premier Philippe Couillard had already promised to create a secretariat to deal with anglophone issues.

With this latest cabinet shuffle and Weil's new duties, the government will also have a minister dedicated to the task — the first since the Liberal government's election in 2014.

''There's now a minister that has a responsibility to be on the ground, to listen to the concerns of the English-speaking community,'' said Weil, who lost her post as minister of immigration, diversity and inclusiveness after more than three years at that job.

Asked if the widespread criticism of the government consultation on systemic racism contributed to her being removed from that portfolio, Weil defended her work, which she said she'd loved.

''Anyone who's dealt with the immigration file knows it's a very interesting one,'' she said, but she added she was ready to take on a new challenge.

Weil, of Scottish-Irish descent, is fully bilingual and studied at McGill University.

She said her office will relay the concerns and priorities of Quebec's English speakers directly to the government. 

''It's not easy when you have big ministries,'' she said, adding she hopes to improve the way the government responds to the needs of anglophone communities.

Lingering issues

Community groups say they hope this cabinet shuffle represents a fresh start in the province's approach to the English-language minority.

''This gives us a voice. It's a pipeline directly to the government,'' said Michelle Eaton-Lusignan, director of the English Community Organization of Lanaudière.

Eaton-Lusignan said the specific situation of English-speaking communities isn't recognized by the province. 

''It's not necesarily a reflex yet to consider the anglophone community when making policy decisions,'' said Eaton-Lusignan.

She said for the roughly 14,000 English-Quebecers living in the Lanaudière region, access to health care as well as job opportunities are priorities.

The Council for Anglophone Magdalen Islanders (CAMI) said the key is to adapt programs to make sure they take into account the realities of smaller communities.

Premier Philippe Couillard met the Council for Anglophone Magdalen Islanders last May. (Submitted by CAMI)
Executive director Helena Burke gave the example of a town losing access to a training program because there weren't enough people signing up.

''It's harder for us because we don't have the numbers to warrant the services,'' said Burke. 

Burke said she believes this new secretariat gives Quebec's anglophone population a level of official recognition that wasn't there before. 

''The fact that we don't have access to a lot of services in English makes us feel like second-class citizens,'' she said. 

Burke said she was able to voice some of these concerns in a meeting with the premier in May and is hopeful they didn't fall on deaf ears.

Couillard reaching out to Anglos

During the swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, ​Couillard specifically addressed English-speaking Quebecers, stressing that the creation of this new position was in response to their demands.

''Let me tell you that you are not only an integral part of Quebec, this is your home,'' said Couillard.

The premier insisted that the ''talents and presence of the anglophone community'' were needed in Quebec.

''I want you to know and to feel that you're all first-class citizens,'' he said.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard shuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, in a bid to give it a younger look ahead of next year's provincial election. (Francis Vachon/Canadian Press)