English Quebec angered by axing of MNAs - Rookie replacement

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

English-speaking Quebecers have long complained about being the doormat on which the provincial Liberal Party wipes its boots on the way to office.
But their sense of disenfranchisement and underappreciation seems to have reached a new high in the wake of Premier Jean Charest's decision last week to trim anglophone representation from his 18-member Cabinet and dump two veteran Englishspeaking MNAs in favour of a political rookie.
Despite being reduced to minority status by the Action Democratique du Quebec's historic sweep, Liberals Geoff Kelley, the former native affairs minister, and Lawrence Bergman, a former revenue minister, were excluded from Cabinet. Russell Copeman was overlooked, even though all three men have repeatedly delivered huge majorities in their West Island bastions.
Named to the immigration portfolio after just two years on the backbenches was Yolande James, a 29-year-old lawyer who, in addition to being an anglophone, also filled the roles of woman and person of colour on Mr. Charest's newly minted team.
"We are a team and we'll always be a team, and in full ... diversity, whether it be culturally, with the three ... language, and all 48 members of the Caucus will be working strongly together on all issues including those touching the anglophone community. Thank you very much," Ms. James told reporters in her first public statement when asked how she would represent anglophones.
An editorial in The Gazette suggested Ms. James should have declined the plum post in favour of her more experienced colleagues.
The Quebec Community Groups Network, an organization emerging as a voice for English speakers in the province, expressed its disappointment.
A Liberal riding executive member called the lack of room for anglophones at the Cabinet table a "slap in the face."
"I'm astounded that they think they still have the luxury of taking us for granted," said Karin Marks, the Mayor of Westmount and the vice-president of the Liberal riding association in Westmount- St. Louis.
She pointed out that for the first time in decades there is a new party on the block -- the ADQ -- which could begin to siphon away some of that staunch Liberal support.
But most of the community's once strident "angryphones" greeted the news with a resigned whimper and its most combative political pugilists have retreated from the fray.
The reaction is symptomatic of the state of Quebec's withering English-speaking community, observers say.
"What never ceases to amaze me is how much of this anglos are willing to take," said Keith Henderson, who served one term in the National Assembly in the early 1990s under the banner of the Equality Party, which formed when then-Liberal premier Robert Bourassa used the notwithstanding clause to override language rights.
English-speaking Quebecers have been browbeaten for decades into voting Liberal for fear of allowing the sovereignists to seize power, said Mr. Henderson -- only to have their interests sold out as the party seeks credibility among the francophone soft nationalists on whose votes elections historically turn.
"It's very profound fearmongering," he said. "It's like living beside a volcano. It's wonderfully rich land but it's a volcano and it could erupt at any time."
This has led to a mentality within the anglophone community that they ought not complain too loudly or else they'll risk their worst fears becoming reality, Mr. Henderson said.
"The tradition of shutting up and shutting down opposition and going along to get along runs deep," he said.
Brent Tyler, a former president of Alliance Quebec, a now defunct rights group that once launched constitutional challenges and championed English rights, said there is a dichotomy between elite opinion and the grassroots over how hard to push for recognition and respect.
"There's this feeling that we can't talk about rights because it's only going to increase support for separatism," said Mr. Tyler. "There's a trade off between rights and political stability."
Where once Alliance Quebec was the mouthpiece of anglophone Quebec, today Mr. Tyler said there is no unified voice for English speakers in the province.
"There is helplessness and fatigue," he said.
Don Macpherson, The Gazette's political affairs columnist, predicted that despite the lack of love being shown by Mr. Charest, anglophones will stick with the Liberals in the end "as battered mistresses often do."

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