An insult to anglos and to Montreal

If this is the way Charest treats his friends, Mario Dumont is looking better all the time.

PLQ - le parti du Canada... anglais, du West-Island, des fédéralistes purzédurs

It would have been too much to expect, we suppose, that Yolande James could have refused the opportunity given to her yesterday.

By accepting cabinet office, however, the 29-year-old James has allowed herself to become the instrument by which Jean Charest delivers a contemptuous slap to the anglophones and allophones who kept him in office in last month's election.

The Liberals came a poor third among francophone voters in the March 26 election, and somehow Charest translated this into a need to reduce the number and stature of anglophones - who did vote for him - in cabinet.

That's just one of the weirdnesses of the Quebec cabinet sworn in yesterday, which looks oddly old, with the same people back in the senior jobs. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because some of them have proved to be decent ministers.

But at 18 ministers plus the premier, this cabinet is mysteriously tiny, which has meant some good people have been thrown overboard and others have been passed over.

The new team is heavily skewed to the regions, where the Liberals did so poorly last month. The new cabinet of 19 has just six members from Montreal, three of them rookies and only two - the estimable Monique Jerome-Forget at finance/Treasury Board and Jacques Dupuis at justice/public security - in major portfolios.

This is more than a matter of prestige and bragging rights. Around the cabinet table, major decisions are made, and Montreal's voice will now be drowned out, more than ever, by the clamour from the regions.

But if all of Montreal is under-represented in the new cabinet, the anglophone community fares even worse. Dumped unceremoniously was Geoff Kelley, the respected Indian Affairs minister whose good relations with northern native communities might have proved quite useful in any new hydro-dam negotiations.

Kelley's successive massive majorities in his West Island riding symbolized the support of the anglophone community for the Liberals. Charest obviously calculates that he's in no danger of a voter revolt in anglo areas.

Also ditched, on the pretext that Lawrence Bergman has health problems, was the Liberal tradition of finding a spot at the table for someone from the Jewish community; N.D.G.'s Russell Copeman would have been eminently suitable for cabinet.

So where Charest's first cabinet included anglophone Assembly veterans Kelley, Bergman and Tom Mulcair, James now becomes the sole anglo in the new cabinet.

First elected MNA for the West Island riding of Nelligan in a 2004 by-election, James is by all accounts intelligent, capable and qualified. But consider her assignment: the first visible-minority female minister in Quebec history will be minister for immigration and cultural communities. It's a little too simplistic.
No doubt the whole touchy dossier of reasonable accommodation will be handled directly from the premier's office. In fact, anyone who expects that the only anglophone minister will have much real importance should examine the official press release announcing the new cabinet: Yolande James's first name is misspelled.

The insult to the Liberals' electoral backbone among Montreal anglophones and allophones is not the only odd thing about this cabinet. What was the point of making it so small? It might be that a streamlined cabinet is needed to operate speedily, because the government is in a minority now.

But Charest didn't say that. Maybe he could find no more capable MNAs from the regions. Maybe he wanted to boast of having half women and couldn't find more than nine he considered ministrable. Did he even try to bring Pierre Paradis back? Why has he loaded so many duties onto a few super-ministers? Are there really so few people he can trust fully?

Nor does it make sense that Nathalie Normandeau, so utterly ineffectual in dealing with Montreal's problems as urban-affairs minister, should be retained in that post. She is also going to be minister for the regions, and for that reason Charest made her deputy premier. But if she's going to be concentrating on rebuilding the Liberals from their disastrous third-place finish in the regions, why has she been left in charge of Montreal, as well? Why is there no minister for the metropolis? Why is a Liberal premier creating a unilingual deputy premier? Because he takes Montreal for granted?

One of the few unqualified good things about yesterday's announcement is that Charest kept his promise to name a minister for seniors, Montreal MNA Marguerite Blais. This is a worthwhile initiative in an era when demographic change, in the shape of an aging population, is increasingly affecting so much of life.

But on balance, this cabinet doesn't add up. The reduced margins and low turnout in safe Liberal seats seem to have sent Charest no message from the groups and region that have been his strongest supporters.
If this is the way Charest treats his friends, Mario Dumont is looking better all the time.

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