VEQ and other English-speaking organizations are separating from, not divorcing the QCGN

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Photo: Danielle Burns

VEQ’s executive director Brigitte Wellens offered insight into the organization’s recent departure from the QCGN on Nov. 8. After consulting with the 14 resigning board members, VEQ’s decision to leave the QCGN “wasn’t taken lightly.” Wellens added, “Right now we don’t feel the QCGN is [fulfilling] the mandate it’s supposed to.”

Voice of English-speaking Québec (VEQ) is one of about a dozen community organizations to leave the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) in a recent decampment from the umbrella advocacy organization that until recently represented about 60 English-speaking organizations across the province of Quebec.

In a press release dated Oct. 31, 11 English-speaking organizations collaborated to detail their concerns and reasons for withdrawing from the QCGN. In the statement (see link below), VEQ unequivocally stated that leaving has nothing to do with pressure (and fear of lack of funding) from the provincial secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers (SRQEA). Sixteen per cent of VEQ’s funding comes from the SRQEA.

However, QCGN president Geoffrey Chambers believes the departing groups have had “their arms twisted” by the SRQEA, adding, “The only people objecting and leaving are those who are receiving funding.”

The statement regarding the reasons for member resignations from QCGN can be found on the VEQ website at the following link: veq.ca/our-community/news.

In a phone interview with the QCT, VEQ’s executive director Brigitte Wellens outlined the issues. VEQ was one of the founding members when the QCGN started in 1995. The QCGN’s role has been important to Quebec City-based VEQ as an advocate for English-speakers across the province from the Gaspé to Abitibi, the Eastern Townships and the Outaouais. However, concerns that the QCGN has become too “Montreal-centric” have been raised. Wellens said that the entire province “can’t be painted with the same brush. The needs in the smaller regions are vastly different from those in Montreal.” Wellens also pointed out that problems with the network started long before Geoffrey Chambers began as QCGN’s president, but were exacerbated under his leadership. Wellens said she feels [the conflict] is sad and doesn’t want the QCGN to disappear; on the other hand, she said, “None of us wanted to leave. That’s why we have been trying to find solutions for the last year, until it hit a breaking point.”

Wellens summed it up: “It all boils down to the fact that we felt ignored and completely disrespected. If they really cared or were sorry (as they say to the media), they would have taken action instead of missing many opportunities to fix the problems.” Wellens analogized, “It’s a separation, not a divorce,” adding, “There needs to be a change in leadership and a review of governance” for VEQ to return to the network.

The QCT also spoke to Geoffrey Chambers, who said that civil rights and services for minority groups are under attack by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government and that the SRQEA has an active campaign to dissuade English organizations from remaining with the QCGN as a way to disrupt and weaken English voices and distort the community.

Although he feels the situation is “highly regrettable” he said, “I’ve done what I have to do in terms of channeling the voice of the English community.” Chambers said he does not intend to resign, as requested by the dissident groups, especially when the English-speaking community is in “dangerous waters” with a hostile government. He asserted, “It would be betraying the voices and the people who elected me in the English community.”

The QCGN said they are in a position now where they will have to work hard to “rebuild networks in a whole bunch of sectors, which is disappointing when [we] need to do policy work.” Critics say [Chambers] is “too loud and too angry” but he said the majority of members don’t want him to remain quiet.

QCGN also received $219,545 over two years in 2018-2019 from the SRQEA, a grant that Chambers knows might not be renewed considering the current strained relationship.

The recent QCGN internal conflict has caused half a dozen board members of 14 to resign. Five out of six members were from organizations who had withdrawn and were therefore no longer eligible to stay on the board. To explain the departure of these members, Chambers said, “If you renounce your Canadian citizenship, you can’t sit in parliament.”

While writing this article, the QCT learned that another community organization, the Montérégie West Community Network, left the QCGN citing “leadership problems” as the reason for departure.