Anglo secretariat lauded, but underfunded

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Kathleen Weil, minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, announces details of the secretariat serving anglophones at a media conference at Quebec City’s Morrin Centre last Friday.

The man tapped to head the Quebec government’s brand new secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, needs no introduction, as they say, to the community he is mandated to serve.

William “Bill” Floch comes equipped with a solid set of credentials and connections with anglo Quebec.

Kathleen Weil, the minister responsible for relations with the community, officially announced on Nov. 24 Floch will take on the job, the public service equivalent of an assistant deputy minister. The midday ceremony held at the Morrin Centre was packed with officials from the province’s anglo community as well as eight cabinet colleagues and Liberal MNAs.

Floch is well known in anglo circles, due to his nearly 20-year stint with the federal government’s Heritage Canada department where he oversaw many of the funding programs vital to Quebec’s English-speaking minority.

Prior to that, Floch, a graduate of Bishop’s University, served as executive director of the Townshippers’ Association. The bilingual native of Flin Flon, Manitoba, also worked for the Littoral School Board on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, where he was one of the founders of the Coasters Association.

Weil told Floch, “We are so excited to get started building this secretariat, using your knowledge and experience in the community.” She described Floch as “kind of the missing piece (in assembling the secretariat). You need to have someone with the knowledge of structure of government to move things along.”

Floch said the secretariat “is not the direct delivery agent for services; it’s more working with the other actors in government.” Floch said he didn’t hesitate when offered the job, saying “it’s a great opportunity. I’m very excited.”
In her speech, Weil teased her fellow ministers saying the creation of a separate anglo secretariat does not mean you’re “off the hook” to ensure services for anglophones are maintained and enhanced.

According to a communique, Weil “has begun a province-wide tour to meet stakeholders to better appreciate the diverse realities and preoccupations of the community” in preparation for public consultations in the coming months.

One of those preoccupations, according to Warren Thomson, president of Voice of English-speaking Quebec (VEQ), which represents anglo interests in the Quebec City region, is the under-representation of anglophones in the public service. “I heard the statistic 13 per cent of the population considers themselves expression anglaise, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what the representation is in the provincial government.” Thomson says initiatives to boost the share of anglos in the public service “are great ideas.”

In a statement issued after the announcement, James Shea, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), the umbrella organization for most English-speaking organizations in the province, said “[This] is a small albeit promising step forward to ensure that the concerns of English-speaking Quebecers are heard throughout the machinery of government, where policies and programs that impact our community are being drafted.”

The QCGN expressed disappointment at the budget of the new secretariat. According to Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president and head of the group’s government relations committee, “It is clear that the start-up budget of $1 million mentioned by Kathleen Weil … will not support this project on an adequate scale. It is far too modest to accomplish the government's stated goals.”

The QCGN had proposed to Premier Philippe Couillard a secretariat that “would eventually be staffed by more than two dozen people – mostly English-speaking Quebecers who are knowledgeable about the community.”

The QCGN also added a shot of politics to its reaction to the announcement. Chambers said, “It is significant that Coalition Action Québec leader François Legault has staked out a position that his party opposes any increase in the presence of English-speaking Quebecers in the civil service, calling it a bureaucratic response. We need to be involved when policy is developed, not considered as an afterthought when it is implemented.”

Floch started his new job this week, based in Quebec City, with a satellite office in Montreal.