Internal strife roils Quebec anglophone rights organization

Nine anglophone community groups have left a provincewide umbrella organization, amid concerns over the organization's approach and calls for its president to step down.

9 groups have left the Quebec Community Groups Network over concerns about group's direction, leadership

QCGN President Geoffrey Chambers acknowledged that conversations with the Quebec government around issues like Bill 21 and school boards have been tense. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Nine anglophone community groups from around Quebec left a provincewide umbrella organization last week, amid concerns over the organization's approach and calls for its president to step down.

Founded in 1995, the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) bills itself as "a centre of evidence-based expertise and collective action on the strategic issues affecting the development and vitality of English-speaking Quebec."

In recent months, questions about the group's leadership have emerged. An internal QCGN document obtained by CBC refers to a meeting in August during which several members apparently called for president Geoffrey Chambers' resignation.

The document refers to dissatisfaction with the way Chambers has handled relationships with member organizations and government officials alike, and the discord that resulted from that frustration.

The situation, the document said, had been brewing for about a year, but crescendoed over the summer months.

In an interview, Chambers said he has no plans to resign. He also said he expects the nine groups that withdrew will return to the network in the future. 

CBC has confirmed two of the nine groups that left the network are Vision Gaspé-Percé Now and the Committee for Anglophone Social Action. According to the QCGN website, 51 groups remain in the network.

In an email, Jessica Synnott, executive director of Vision Gaspé-Percé Now, wrote that her group does not consider the QCGN "under its current leadership to be representative of the entire English-speaking community."

Synnott said that there are many reasons her group left the QCGN.

"[The QCGN] has made representations that we do not agree with and that the organization is generally taking actions that are beyond its mandate and are being implemented without the input nor approval of its member organizations," she said. 

"Our organization, along with numerous others, has attempted to address the situation, resolve conflicts and find solutions. These attempts have all been refused leaving us with no alternative but to resign our membership."

Groups wary of biting hand that feeds, Chambers says

Chambers admits the organization's conversations with the government on issues like Bill 21 and school board reform have become tense, and believes that is a factor in the nine groups leaving.

He said the groups may be wary of aggressive conversations with the Quebec government because their funding comes from the province's Secretariat for English-speakers.

"In other words, the government of Quebec funds them directly, and puts pressure on them to not be involved in this kind of advocacy," he said. "So they've got out of the line of fire."

Christopher Skeete, the MNA responsible for relations with the English-speaking community, rejected that assertion.

"To insinuate in any way that the money received by these groups is meant to make sure that they don't say anything negative to the government itself is to not understand the way business is done in Quebec, in terms of the way Quebec has relationships with community groups," he said.

Laval MNA Christopher Skeete, who oversees the province's Secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, says he will work with whoever heads up the QCGN. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Skeete, who has been meeting with community groups that serve English-speaking Quebecers across the province, said he was aware of talk about internal issues at the QCGN, but will work with whoever the group chooses as its leader.

"If it's Chambers, that's great," he said. "When I've had one-on-ones with Geoffrey, we have cordial discussions. I'll deal with him if that's what the community wants. 

"If that's not what they want, I'll deal with whoever they send me. But ultimately, it's the community's decision."

With files from Cathy Senay and Matt D'Amours


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