No designated minister for anglophones as Quebec premier vows to take on portfolio himself
'It’s not a bad arrangement,' says president of Anglo lobby group, the Quebec Community Groups Network
Premier François Legault has not appointed a minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers — instead, taking on the position himself.
Legault, a former sovereignist, plans to handle the portfolio in conjunction with his role as premier and minister responsible for youth issues.
He has assigned Laval MNA Christopher Skeete to be his parliamentary secretary, charged with overseeing the province's Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers.
Legault addressed anglophone Quebecers at his swearing-in ceremony, saying in English he plans to "govern in a respectful manner with the historical anglophone community."
Step down from last government?
The president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, Geoffrey Chambers, said he believes it's a workable structure but said he feels it's a step down from the last government's arrangement.
In Philippe Couillard's government, MNA Kathleen Weil was given the anglophone relations portfolio in 2017, overseeing the secretariat which was created at that time.
Weil was also charged with a second, smaller ministry — democratic reform — but Chambers said having a minister focused on anglophone issues was a sincere acknowledgement of the place of the English-speaking community.
Still, he says, he's optimistic he can work with Legault.
"It's not a bad arrangement," said Chambers.
"It's a direct route from the parliamentary secretary to the premier, who is really the decision maker. So it's not a terrible structure. We'll certainly try to work with it."
Before Philippe Couillard appointed Weil last year, Quebec hadn't had a minister for anglophones since the last Parti Québécois premier, Pauline Marois, named Jean-François Lisée to that position in 2012.
Keeping the secretariat — but possibly reforming it
Supporters of the secretariat for English-speaking Quebecers can breathe a sigh of relief: not only did Legault promise late in the election campaign to keep it, but he's appointed an MNA to oversee it.
"We want to make this secretariat work for English-speaking Quebecers," Skeete told CBC's Homerun after he was sworn into the job Thursday.
The future of the secretariat was called into question early in the campaign, when Legault said he would only keep it if it was useful.
During the campaign, Legault accused the former Liberal government of pandering to English-speaking voters by creating the secretariat.
Chambers disagrees, saying it had real, practical uses for the community because having a designated voice for anglophones within the government can influence policy and hiring decisions.
"The virtue and value of the secretariat is to create an opening in government for our community," said Chambers.
Skeete says now is the time to look at what the secretariat does — and change it, if required.
"One of my first priorities is to look at exactly what the mandate is, get a sense of the lay of the land, and make sure it addresses the concerns of the English-speaking Quebecers," he said.
He said, for example, it could be used to ensure anglophone Quebecers outside Montreal have adequate access to health care.
Chambers said he hopes to meet with Skeete and Legault sometime soon.
With files from CBC's Homerun