New Brunswick

Brian Gallant's new Celtic affairs cabinet post blasted as 'bizarre'

Critics are calling the appointment of a Celtic affairs cabinet minister by Premier Brian Gallant "laughable" one day after an almost entirely new cabinet was announced.

Mount Allison political scientist says premier should have created an immigration portfolio

Mount Allison University Prof. Mario Levesque called the decision to appoint a Celtic affairs minister 'bizarre.' (CBC)

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant's decision to add a Celtic affairs minister to his cabinet has been described as "bizarre" and "laughable" by critics.

The Liberal premier shuffled his cabinet on Monday, adding two backbenchers to his inner circle, including Lisa Harris, who will take on the dual rule of minister of seniors and long-term care and minister responsible for Celtic affairs. The move is thought by some to be an attempt to pander to cultural groups.

Gallant said on Monday the new position will allow "a co-ordinated approach" to funding Irish, Scottish and Welsh festivals.

"If he thinks that the people of New Brunswick and anglophones in particular are that naive to buy that hook, line and sinker he's way off base," Mario Levesque, a Mount Allison political scientist, told Information Morning Moncton. He went on to say the decision was "just bizarre."

Green Party Leader David Coon has suggested the premier is trying to placate New Brunswickers who oppose bilingualism and duality.

Featured VideoMario Levesque is a professor of political science at Mount Allison University in Sackville. Moncton South MLA Cathy Rogers is New Brunswick's new finance minister

Steve Tweedie, the past president of the Greater Moncton Scottish Association and chair of the Moncton Highland Games, said the move reflects the ethnicity in New Brunswick with more than 30 per cent of the population claiming Scottish heritage.

He said when the number of people living in the province with Scottish, Irish or Welsh backgrounds is added together, it totals likely half of the population.

This right here is just a red herring, no one is going buy it, it's just going to be egg on theGallant government'sface.- Mario Levesque, political scientist

"Celtic peoples in the past have always been lumped in with English … but that doesn't cut it when it comes to our heritage," Tweedie said.

"Even though the Acadians in this province identify separately, you've got to look at some of the names up the north shore, like McIntyre, McLaughlin, McGraw, McPhee, Martin — they all have Celtic backgrounds because a lot of the Irish and Scottish immigrants to this province married French immigrants here as well."

Tweedie said he hopes adding a Celtic portfolio will give people and events, such as the Moncton Highland Games, more recognition and representation.

"There are a lot of things that go on that tend to make some of us feel that we've been forgotten about and I think this provides the opportunity to bring those things back to the spotlight," he said.

"The prominence of these events seems to be dropping off and we need to recognize the number of people that share a Celtic background and ensure that people don't forget that heritage."

The Celtic affairs minister is supposed to create 'a co-ordinated approach' to funding Irish, Scottish and Welsh festivals, according to the premier. (Jacob Morgan/CBC)
Melynda Jarratt, a Fredericton resident who supports the decision, said the move to give people with Celtic heritage more prominence is a good one.

​"Yes, it is a bold move to establish a Celtic affairs portfolio and one that may seem unexpected, but it is something that is long overdue and I am glad to see that it has finally happened," she said.

Immigration minister needed

Instead of creating a Celtic affairs portfolio, Levesque said the Gallant government should have a minister of immigration. (The New Brunswick Highland Games)

Levesque said his reaction to the additional cabinet responsibility is not intended to minimize anyone's heritage.

"The thing is, whenever you appoint a minister for a designated population, it's usually a minority population," he explained

"Anglophones are not under threat of their culture or anything else right now so it's quite the opposite, so from that perspective this is totally off."

Levesque said the move will not do anything to defuse language tensions in the province.

"This is just a facade … Brian Gallant is breaking new ground here but not in a good way," he said.

The political scientist suggests that if Gallant wanted to add a new position it should have been a minister of immigration.

"What would have been more appropriate would be to have a minister of immigration, for example for New Brunswick — that's a more pressing issue right there," he said.

"This right here is just a red herring, no one is going buy it, it's just going to be egg on the Gallant government's face."

with files from Information Morning Moncton