Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard completes major cabinet shuffle
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, October 11, 2017 7:13AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 12, 2017 7:17AM EDT
MONTREAL -- When Philippe Couillard was aspiring to be Quebec Liberal leader, he and Kathleen Weil met with members of the province's main English-speaking advocacy group to discuss its wish for a secretariat of anglophone affairs.
Six years later, the Quebec Community Groups Network has what it wanted.
"From our perspective we have been listened to and this is a reality," James Shea, the organization's president, said Wednesday after Couillard named Weil as the secretariat's first minister as part of a major cabinet shuffle.
Couillard, elected premier in 2014, first announced the creation of the bureau in June.
For now, Weil is a minister without a full department, as many details of the new secretariat have yet to be worked out, let alone announced.
"I haven't had briefings on the work that's been done," she said in an interview. "We still have to select the senior civil servant who will be running the secretariat."
Weil said a secretariat is like a department, but smaller.
"It's very historic," she said. "It's the first time there will be a secretariat with actual civil servants working specifically on the file for the English-speaking community."
Weil, who has worked for years inside and outside government on issues important to the province's anglophones, said she doesn't know what her budget will be or how many employees will be hired.
"It wouldn't be a large (office)," she said.
For years, successive governments have named ministers responsible for liaising between the government and Quebec's English-speaking minority.
When the Parti Quebecois was briefly in power after the 2012 election, Jean-Francois Lisee -- now party leader -- held the post.
Anglophone community groups have often complained about being taken for granted or ignored by the Quebec government, regardless of the party in power.
Shea said the new office will ensure a dedicated bureaucracy inside the civil service working on behalf of Anglo-Quebecers.
The secretariat will collect and analyze data about the English community to be of service to other departments when policy is developed. The new bureau will also be a "clearing house" where English speakers can go directly with questions about government services, he said.
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, general director of the Quebec Community Groups Network, said she hopes a "couple dozen" employees are hired to work in the office.
"The model we proposed is inspired by the secretariat for native affairs in Quebec City, and the secretariats in other provinces for their French-language minority," she said.
Helena Burke, head of the Council for Anglophone Magdalen Islanders, represents the roughly 700-strong English-speaking community on the islands between Newfoundland and New Brunswick.
She said the secretariat will be important for her community, up to 75 per cent of whom are unilingual.
"Sometimes we feel like people only think there are anglophones in Montreal and that anglophones don't exist in any part of the province, but in fact they do," Burke said.
"I would hope that the decision to implement such a structure would be there to increase support to our community, to listen to our needs and challenges and to work with us to offer more support and adaptive programs and services."
Couillard made other significant changes to his cabinet ahead of next year's provincial election, although the main players in the finance (Carlos Leitao), health (Gaetan Barrette) and education (Sebastien Proulx) portfolios stayed in place.
The most important departments to change hands were Transport, Immigration and Environment.
A surprise in the shuffle was the appointment of 35-year-old backbencher Andre Fortin to head Transport, which is a challenging file due to the department's large bureaucracy and past accusations of corruption.
Couillard also boasted women now make up 47 per cent of his new cabinet.
The general election is set for next October.