MAX HARROLD, The Gazette - Quebec's anglophone community is slowly withering and there appears to be no leader ready to revive it, a new report suggests.
Weakened political clout, declining English school enrolment and a high proportion of unemployed English-speakers are endangering the community's long-term survival, indicates the report, being made public today by a coalition of English-language groups.
Based on public forums held in and around Montreal by the Quebec Community Groups Network, the report says English-speakers are a fragmented, multi-ethnic lot with few compelling reasons to unite. But coming two years after the demise of the English-rights group Alliance Quebec, which some had seen as too confrontational, the report calls for a more introspective approach, including greater teamwork among anglo interest groups.
"We're very fragmented," said Sylvia Martin-Laforge, one of three of the report's authors who met with The Gazette's editorial board last week.
More co-operation among anglophones will generate new leaders, which the community is sorely lacking, she said.
"We're just ticking along. There's a lack of collaborative leadership. We need to pull something together," she said.
But when asked at the meeting if they would stand as leaders of a reinvigorated English community, the three authors of the report demurred.
"Who are we?" Dennis Smith said. "Nobody elected us. We represent no one."
Martin-Laforge said new leaders might emerge from one of the task forces the report recommends be set up - on issues like jobs, health care and the arts.
The reduction of anglophone ministers in the current Quebec Liberal cabinet to one from two adds to anglos' sense of exclusion, Smith added.
"Even though we have the numbers, we don't have the presence," he said.
The 38-page report focuses on the Montreal region, where nearly 700,000 English-speakers live, based on 2001 census figures.
That's about three-quarters of Quebec's anglophone population.
The Network, which links 23 regional and community groups, spearheaded the project, known as the Greater Montreal Community Development Initiative.
Input for the report was gathered at community forums held in March in Montreal, the West Island, the South Shore and Laval. A larger public forum took place in April at the Bonaventure Hotel.
Among the report's recommendations:
Improve French-language skills in English schools and through job-training programs.
Despite a high degree of bilingualism in the community, some anglos lack enough French-language skills to find jobs. This helps to explain an unemployment rate of 9.2 per cent among Montreal anglos in 2001, compared with about eight per cent for all of Quebec.
Hire more anglophones for public sector jobs. Of the 65,000 people employed in such jobs in Greater Montreal in 2001, anglos held only nine per cent of those posts despite representing 25 per cent of the workforce.
Work together. English-language school boards, for example, should join forces to fight declining enrolment, improve French-language education and better prepare students for the job market. The report recommends school boards plot a 10-year strategy.
Create an online database of resources, services and expertise for the anglo community.
Politicians need to realize English-speakers here define themselves more as a minority in Quebec than as members of Canada's overall anglophone majority, Martin-Laforge said.
"We have to figure out where we fit" into the new Quebec, she said.
The cost to hold the forums and to produce the report was estimated at more than $165,000. The Network has requested $500,000 more from the Canadian Heritage Department to hold more forums and to lobby political leaders for change over the next 18 months.
The Quebec government has not provided any funds.
On the Web: The report is available online, in English and French, at http://qcgn.ca
Anglo survival in peril
'We're fragmented'. Report calls for teamwork among interest groups