Montreal

Quebec Anglo rights group defends track record amid dissent

The Quebec Community Groups Network, an umbrella group representing English-language community groups across the province, is standing by its track record as an advocacy group amid a wave of departures from unhappy member organizations.

QCGN says it stakes out 'forceful and principled positions' on issues that matter to English community

Geoffrey Chambers is president of the Quebec Community Groups Network. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The Quebec Community Groups Network, an umbrella group representing English-language community groups across the province, is standing by its track record as an advocacy group amid a wave of departures from unhappy member organizations.

In a lengthy and combative statement Monday, the QCGN said it will "continue to advocate for and represent the interests of all English-speaking Quebecers."

It also defended its "forceful and principled positions" with regard to Quebec health reforms, the elimination of school boards and Bill 21, the province's religious symbols law.

The QCGN claimed the Coalition Avenir Québec government is trying to destabilize and undermine the "legitimate leadership of the community in health, education and other fields."

A total of 10 community groups have parted ways with the QCGN, taking issue with the organization's approach and leadership style as it deals with the CAQ government.

According to the QCGN website, 50 groups remain in the network.

The conflict within the QCGN has been playing out for more than a year, said Sharleen Sullivan, executive director of Neighbours, an English-speaking community group in Rouyn-Noranda, Que.

"We do not see a solution forthcoming," she said Monday on CBC's Quebec AM.

When asked if she had an issue with president Geoffrey Chambers, she said "it's not about the individual man, it's about the leadership style."

In an interview Monday, Chambers acknowledged there have been some "contentious board meetings" within the network about how to approach issues of controversy.

He said his own view, which is one shared by many others within the QCGN, is that the group should speak out forcefully.

"We want to be fairly clear with the government of Quebec that they are not really treating the English community properly and they are trampling on our human rights and there are real issues," he said.

QCGN criticized as reaching, overly aggressive

But Brigitte Wellens, executive director of The Voice of English-speaking Québec, another departing group, said the QCGN has gone "beyond its mandate" in the way it approaches the province, which she said is "a little aggressive" in tone.

"We're more of an organization that tends to want to work in collaboration with our community members, with our partners," she said on Daybreak.

"The message comes across in a fashion that we wouldn't present it."

She denied the province's Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers put pressure on them to "destabilize" the QCGN in return for "community development funding," as the organization has alleged.

"We didn't leave because the secretariat told us to. Our funding is not contingent on us making waves with the QCGN or leaving the organization," Wellens said.

Her organization's operating budget for the current fiscal year is $510,000 and about 16 per cent of that comes from the secretariat — something that has never come into question, she said.

The QCGN, for its part, said it will "stand firm in its mission," despite the loss of members.

The organization said it will "not be bullied or silenced by surreptitious campaigns" by the province. 

Founded in 1995, the QCGN describes itself as a centre of "collective action on the strategic issues affecting the development and vitality of English-speaking Quebec."

With files from Sudha Krishnan, Daybreak and Quebec AM

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