On March 15, approximately 60 people from this area and across Quebec participated in a virtual meeting with Christopher Skeete, MNA for Sainte-Rose and parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers. The event, which had been touted as a way for citizens to learn more about the work of the secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, was organized by Huntingdon MNA Claire IsaBelle.
In a conversation with The Gleaner just prior to the meeting, Skeete was frank, saying that while there is a familiar narrative in Quebec regarding an enmity in English-French relations, he can on the other hand point to work his office is actually accomplishing behind the scenes. “We are really genuine in what we are doing to really incorporate the English community into contemporary Quebec,” he says. In the context of the economic, social and cultural impacts of the pandemic, he argues this means ensuring English-speaking Quebecers are not left out of the recovery.
As an example, Skeete refers to the recent creation of an advisory committee within the ministry of labour, employment and social solidarity, which has been designed to ensure that employability issues within the English community are raised and addressed. He noted as examples several incidences within various ministries, when English-speakers may have been sidelined due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of the differences between the linguistic communities. “These were not malicious attempts to exclude the English,” he laughs.
“The two solitudes that rarely used to speak together finally have an intermediary,” he explains, suggesting he views his role and that of the secretariat as helping to bridge obstacles and remove some of the barriers impacting English speakers. “There is a lot of work to do, but there is also a lot of low hanging fruit,” he says.
Skeete is defensive of the need to protect the French language and culture, though saying he understands the subject has bred skepticism and fear in English communities. He maintains that a vital English community can be encouraged to thrive within a French-speaking Quebec society, and that this will take concessions on both sides.