QCGN interim president reflects on action-packed mandate
Ruby Pratka, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
After former Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) president Marlene Jennings stepped down earlier this year, longtime board member and former federal civil servant Eva Ludvig took over as interim president. The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph (QCT) caught up with Ludvig to discuss her vision for the organization and the upcoming Quebec election. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
QCT: You took over the leadership of the QCGN at an action-packed time, with Bill 96, the upcoming election and the new census data among other things. What have the last few months been like for you?
Eva Ludvig: Nonstop! I’ve spent a lot of time trying to explain that you can interpret [census data] in many different ways, and certain numbers are being used by nationalist media to create … the fear of Quebec becoming Louisiana. I’ve also been pointing out that growth comes from immigration. There are now 8.5 million people in Quebec – there were 8.1. Those 400,000 didn’t come from us having babies. They came from immigration and mobility [within Canada].
QCT: A few years ago, as you know, several regional organizations, including Voice of English-speaking Québec (VEQ), left QCGN to form the Regional Development Network. Do you think QCGN is still an effective voice for English speakers in the regions?
EL: I was on the board of directors when this happened and I was very sad to see it because I think unity is important. However, QCGN took the opportunity to learn from this. We have the Regional Association of West Quebecers and the Coasters Association [on the Lower North Shore] which are regional organizations much like VEQ doing community development, and we see our role as supporting them. We feel that we serve all of the English- speaking community, whether they are members or not. Any members who have left, including VEQ, are welcome to come back. We’ll also be introducing individual membership, most likely next year.
QCT: What are your priorities for the upcoming election?
EL: We are nonpartisan – we are not telling anyone who to vote for. We think it’s important for everyone to know the issues and what the parties stand for, and then vote. I know many people have said, ‘What’s the point? The CAQ is going to win.’ Every single vote can make a difference.
QCT: In light of the campaign, what do you want the parties to understand about English speakers’ concerns?
EL: It’s difficult because there are so many issues. It’s not that all we care about is language. We care about everything that all Quebecers care about. We’ve organized virtual town halls with party leaders and sent questionnaires to each party, and we are going to make [their answers] public.
QCT: How important would you say this election is for the English-speaking community compared to past years?
EL: I think it’s critical, because in the past 20 years, we had language peace. We thought this was all behind us. We believe [Bill 96] was done for political reasons, because there was nothing on the ground to indicate there were problems. We think stirring up these issues and creating division within society is harmful to all Quebecers. There’s also Bill 21 [on religious symbols] and Bill 40, which [affects] the management of our school system. By creating all this, the CAQ has brought us together – cultural communities, religious groups, minority groups, English speak- ers, immigrants – and [given us] strength. I think that was a mistake on their part. The more we are, the stronger we are, and I’m hoping we will all give a very strong message to this government.
QCT: The QCT is a bit unique in that a lot of our readers are francophones. What would you like our French-speaking readers to understand about how the English community is approaching this election?
EL: Our francophone neighbours should know that we are troubled. We are insulted by [the idea that] the English- speaking community is at fault for any perceived decline in French. We understand the importance of French, and we know it needs support. We believe Bill 96 is not the right tool. It is a punitive bill towards the English-speaking community and it does nothing to support French. This government is practising divisive politics, and that’s not good for anyone. The other thing is how important our Charters of Rights and Freedoms are – this government is treating them like a piece of paper by invoking the notwithstanding clause preemptively [on Bills 21 and 96]. It’s a threat to our democratic system, and I think that’s important to all of us.