KEVIN DOUGHERTY - Kathleen Weil, Quebec's justice minister and MNA for N.D.G., in Old Montreal this month.
Kathleen Weil, Quebec's justice minister and MNA for N.D.G., in Old Montreal this month.
Photograph by: Pierre Obendrauf, The Gazette
Kathleen Weil sees language and diversity not as irritants but as lubricants, changing the face of Quebec.
"It's French here, but with a thriving English community," Weil said in her first interview with The Gazette since her political debut in the Dec. 8 provincial election.
Premier Jean Charest named Weil - who pronounces her name "While" in English but "Vial" in French - as justice minister after she held the Liberal stronghold of Notre Dame de Grâce.
She sees N.D.G. as a microcosm of Quebec's future, with people from English, French and other backgrounds who increasingly speak French.
Michael Goldbloom, a founding member of Alliance Quebec and principal of Bishop's University, says he and Weil have been close friends since the 1980s, when she was the English-rights lobby group's legal adviser.
He recently saw the justice minister and her husband, Michael Novak, when their daughter Elisabeth, 13, played in a hockey game in Bromptonville.
"She really is a hockey mum," Goldbloom said.
Family values and empathy motivate her, Goldbloom added. Working with Batshaw Youth & Family Services and Quebec's regional health boards, Weil established links in Montreal and across the province.
"You've got to be connected," Goldbloom said, adding that her shift to politics was "a perfectly logical step." Paul Jones, who was with Alliance Quebec, as he puts it, "from its inception to its decline," remembers Weil as "very pleasant" and "very intelligent." And Jones observes that the two solitudes that once defined Quebec society are now blurred.
Weil sees Quebec's English community is a " tremendous asset," plugged in to Quebec.
"If it didn't exist, you would have to invent it, because Quebec is stronger because of the English community.
"My best close friends are francophones," she said, adding that the shifting demographics of Montreal mean the city will be quite different in 10 years, in 20 years, with more anglophones and newcomers at ease in French.
"When I was campaigning in N.D.G., I was amazed," Weil said. "I was amazed at the anglophones, how bilingual they were." Going door to door, she would greet voters in French and in English. "Anglophones would sometimes continue in French," she said.
"I was meeting Chinese people, where the dad didn't speak English or French, but the child spoke fluent French." But Weil recognizes that the government has to be sensitive to English-speaking seniors and others who are not at ease in French and who have a legal right to services in English.
Quoting former PQ premier Lucien Bouchard, she said: "When you are sick, it is not the time to take a language course." Running in December was Weil's first venture into partisan politics, but she said she is "very comfortable" with the Quebec Liberals.
"I've always been a Liberal in my heart," she said, recalling that her mother, Mary, was an active Liberal.
"I believe in their values of social justice. I believe in supporting the private sector to create jobs to better share the wealth, which is one of the fundamental principles of the Liberal Party." Weil inherited her social conscience from her parents. Her father, Dr. Paul Weil, ran the blood transfusion service at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He wrote medical research papers, but the dinner table conversation was about history and socioeconomic issues.
"He cared about people who did not have advantages." Her mother worked full time in public relations at the hospital and corresponded with Dr. Norman Bethune when he was in China.
Her mother, from Almonte, Ont., decided she should be schooled in French.
Weil, the sixth of seven children, recalls that her father, originally from the United States, would take the younger children on house calls in the southwestern part of the city.
And Verdun is where she takes her daughter Elisabeth to pre-dawn hockey games.
Weil admits to being a "hockey mum," but rejects the comparison with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
Aside from impromptu runs, when she can find the time, Weil, 54, says her daughter's hockey games are important, to maintain contact with the youngest of her four children, but also to meet other parents.
"Some lose their jobs and they are stuck," she said.
As justice minister, Weil aims to improve access to justice, using mediation to cut legal costs and save time.
She wants to reintroduce the anti-SLAPP law - to stop Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation - which died on the order paper when the election was called.
As justice minister and attorney-general, she is the government's lawyer in court cases. She also follows trials in progress and bills under consideration.
"You're the legal counsel for the government on all laws," she said.
She is not, however, allowed to comment on cases before the courts.
"The Gazette may get frustrated because probably I will be the quietest minister of all, and I have to be," Weil said. "If a minister of justice is not above the fray, that's when people lose confidence in their justice system."
Anglos key to Quebec, Weil says
New justice minister discusses her political debut, her views on Quebec society and the language issue - and her other job as a hockey mom