Weil welcomed in the Townships
Kathleen Weil, newly named Minister Responsible for relations with English speaking Quebecers, was in the Eastern Townships on Friday for the first stop in a tour aimed at helping her to get to know the needs of communities across the province. Weil and her team used the opportunity to meet with representatives of Phelps Helps and the Townshippers’ Association was well as Bishop’s University before sitting down with The Record to discuss her new mandate and the work to come.
“What’s really changed is that there’s going to be a permanent secretariat to attend to relations with English speaking Quebecers, and a minister,” Weil said. “Having both together really signals a major change for government and for the English speaking community. It means there is a door to knock on where there will be a group of senior civil servants whose responsibility will be to ensure access to an array of government services.”
Recalling a long history of working in and with English community organizations and institutions, the Minister said that she is personally excited about the opportunity to take on a “fantastic challenge” that will benefit the different English speaking communities across Quebec. At the same time, however, she made it clear that her focus at the moment is getting to know the needs in different places.
“We’re just starting up,” she said, noting that the full details of the secretariat responsible for relations with English speaking Quebecers have yet to be formally announced. In the lead-up to that, she said that the group needs to hire an Associate Secretary General around
Thousands of fright seekers made their way to Ayer’s cliff on Saturday for the town’s second annual Halloween bash.
A variety of spooky themed activities took place throughout the afternoon including a pumpkin carving workshop, costume contest and a witch’s dance class.
People looking for an extra scare were invited to tour one of two haunted houses; one for children and an even spookier one for ages 13 and up.
The line-up for the kid’s haunted house stretched from Tyler Park all the way to the post office, a testament to the popularity of the event.
The Halloween activities were initiated
which a small team of senior civil servants can be built.
“They have to be experienced bureaucrats,” Weil said, pointing out that someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of government work can hardly help serve as an access point for concerned English speakers. She said that the structure of the new body will likely be modeled on similar offices for French speaking minorities in other provinces and will, hopefully, serve not just as a way of helping to grant access to existing services, but also a presence to help ensure that programs include adaptations to meet the needs of English speakers.
The presence of the secretariat will be significant, she added, in that while she has other ministerial duties to carry out that are unrelated, the team will be focused on this work full-time. Once the team is assembled, she said her first goal will be the development of a short-term action plan, but in order to be ready to form that plan she is first touring the province to get to know what English speakers are concerned about.
“(Local community organizations) have got the intelligence on the ground,” the Minister said, explaining that she wants to hear the “deep knowledge” that comes from working for decades with the same group of people.
Once it is up and running, Weil pointed out that the Secretariat will be an office that reaches across all sectors of the government from infrastructure to education. Knowing that, she said that a global view o community needs is important.
With English speakers spread out in varying sized groups from Pointe Claire to Rouyn Noranda, the Minister was not naïve about the fact that there is a wide range of different issues facing people who are first-language English in the province, but she said that even early on in her mandate she can identify some core issues.
“It’s not one size fits all, but there are common themes,” Weil said, listing employability, French second language skills, and access to government services among them. While highlighting the fact that the Education and Health and Social Services Ministries already have programs and structures in place to ensure access for English speakers, she suggested that the new secretariat could serve to help advocate in other areas.
“When it comes to other government services there is no clear way for that government body to identify the needs of the (English) community and respond to them,” the Minister said. “The role of the secretariat will be to do that.”
Citing “very interesting” programs for language minority groups at the federal level, Weil also said that she hopes to improve communication with Ottawa through the secretariat in order to better connect English speakers with projects that ware yielding good results elsewhere in the country. In other cases she said that the group will be well placed to connect provincial government programs with English communities in need of their services where the latter group simply hasn’t been identified as a target.
Ultimately, Weil said, the fostering of vibrant English communities is at the heart of her new mandate. echoing Premier Couillard’s words that Quebec needs the “talents and presence” of its English speaking population, the Minister said she wants that population to thrive and feel at home, and is making her way across the province to see how to make that happen.
Weil will be returning to the Townships at a later date for a visit to the Wales Home in Cleveland.
Kathleen Weil, the new Minister responsible for relations with English Speaking Quebecers, met with several Eastern Townships organizations and institutions on Friday as a part of her first regional visit in her new role. Here the Minister is seen following her meeting with Townshipper's Association representatives Katie Bibbs, Gerald Cutting, , Rachel Hunting, and Heather Bowman (far right). Saint Francis MNA Guy Hardy was also present for the meeting.