Kathleen Weil, Minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers.
Open letter published February 23, 2018 in Montreal Gazette.
Last spring Premier Philippe Couillard, on a tour to the Gaspé, met with English-speaking community leaders. It was an eye-opener for the premier. He learned first-hand of the challenges the local English-speaking community, from access to health care, to youth retention, to low representation in the civil service and to the challenges of poverty and unemployment in the region. This led to a rethinking of how the Quebec government can better meet the needs of English-speaking Quebecers.
Until then, our approach had been to assume needs were being addressed by individual ministers and departments. And, in reality, they were through initiatives including our support for the continued existence of school boards, ensuring our health-care institutions continue to offer services in English and our investment in pivotal institutions such as Bishop’s University, the Jewish General Hospital and the Wales Home, to name a few.
However, the Gaspé experience showed that on the ground there are fundamental challenges that were not being adequately addressed. This in turn led to my appointment last October as the minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, and five months later we have not only set up the secretariat but we are beginning to make a difference through dialogue with stakeholders and reaching out to experts from the community.
Our initial focus has been on information gathering. Since my appointment we have conducted 16 hours of online consultations where we heard from more than 80 community stakeholders, organizations and institutions. We have also been out in the regions to hear from the community.
At Heritage College during a round table discussion with the Regional Association of West Quebecers, Mavis Brownlee, an Anglican minister in Shawville, spoke frankly about the enormous challenges in gaining access to mental health programs and services and how the government needs to do more to support local organizations.
During a visit to Golden Valley School in Val d’Or I was delighted to see how bilingual children in the Grade 5 math class were (one even spoke four languages!) but principal Mary-Louise Rodger also informed me that once students complete high school they tend to leave the region to attend CEGEP and are unlikely to return.
In Montreal, Youth Employment Services confirmed to us the very real brain drain we are experiencing as our highly educated youth leave the province, taking their much-needed talents with them. Quebec is facing a manpower shortage and we quite simply cannot afford to lose such valuable Quebecers.
In the months and years going forward, it is clear that good policy will hinge on good data, expertise on the ground and an ongoing dialogue with the community.
I am encouraged so see that the presence of the secretariat is already being felt within the government. When a recent study showed that poverty among anglophones is higher than the provincial average, my colleague François Blais, the minister of employment and social solidarity, reached out and expressed his desire to work together to address this issue. Carlos Leitão, the finance minister, will be hosting a pre-budget consultation with the community’s leadership. Gaétan Barrette, the health minister, is focusing on delivering a new generation of access plans to ensure services in the English language across Quebec. Finally, I will soon be meeting with Mélanie Joly, the minister for Canadian heritage, to discuss how we can better serve the community together.
English-speaking Quebecers have deep roots in Quebec and have always played a significant role in its social and economic development. We need the energy and talent of all Quebecers to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities before us. The government is committed to building a stronger future for the community, ensuring that for the present and future generations, Quebec is a place we are all proud to call home.
Kathleen Weil is the minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers.