Tuesday, May 24, 2005

 

Voice of English Quebecers Bankrupted by Federal Government

You'd think with $355,000,000 being spent on Quebec separatists, the Libranos could see fit to throw a few crumbs to the only people in Quebec who DO vote for them anymore. Alliance Quebec is the sole meaningful voice of English Quebecers. It has been forced to operate on a shoestring budget of several hundred thousand dollars a year for some time, but even that is being cut off by Ottawa, leaving the organization on the verge of bankruptcy. Never mind the $355,000,000 ostensibly spent on federalist propaganda to counter Quebec separatists - how much does Heritage Canada spend outside of Quebec in the name of national unity? If the Liberal government really is serious about preserving Canada as we know it, how can hundreds of thousands of Quebecers be left to fend for themselves simply because they happen to speak the majority language of this country from the wrong side of the Ontario border? My suspicion is that visible minority groups in Quebec, as elsewhere, have no such difficulty.

From the Montreal Gazette May, 24, 2005 by HAROLD FORESTER (Freelance)

"Why are English-speaking Quebecers getting shafted by the federal government? The slashing of Alliance Quebec's funding will force the only significant group that has defended the rights of Quebec anglophones into bankruptcy. Who will then be available to support the countless legitimate grievances the community faces?
Alliance Quebec has always agreed the French language needs a degree of support and protection. However, over the past 25 years, successive provincial governments have applied regulations that have effectively suppressed the use and visibility of English in this province, to the point where it has stifled investments, driven many English- speaking Quebecers to leave the province, and discouraged English-speaking immigrants from coming here. Commercial businesses have frequently taken the easy route out by posting only French-language signs and providing only limited product information in English.
Alliance Quebec fought on anglophones' behalf by first pointing out the issues, then demanding changes and, finally, when all other options were exhausted, by taking the offenders to court.
Examples of Alliance Quebec's endeavours include expanding access to English schools, ensuring health and social services were available in the English language to all Quebecers, demanding that governments at all levels provide both services and documentation in English. It has had both failures and successes, but were there to respond to the needs of more than 600,000 English-speaking Quebecers.
Alliance Quebec had been funded by Heritage Canada, not because that agency had any particular affinity to English-speaking Quebecers, but because its mandate is to support minority-language groups throughout the country. The problem arose when AQ expanded its role from mainly providing cultural activities to become adversarial.
Heritage Canada did not intend to fund advocacy and Alliance Quebec was forbidden to use any federal funding to cover the costs of going to court. AQ attempted to raise money itself, but businesses were reluctant to donate funds to a group that was perceived as political and possibly "anti-French." Over the years, Heritage Canada gradually reduced AQ's annual funding from more than $1 million to less than $600,000. It downsized, but continued to function, at a reduced level.
Serious problems began when Alliance Quebec began to investigate and support a postal employee who was dismissed after he had filed many grievances against Canada Post for defying the Official Languages Act. This was not only beyond the scope of cultural issues, but AQ was now perceived to be by biting the hand that fed it, as both Canada Post and Heritage Canada are part of the Canadian government. It was also seen as threatening the language peace in Quebec by constantly confronting the Quebec government on its treatment of anglophones.
Heritage Canada then chopped AQ's funding down to $200,000, but only after AQ had already spent $400,000 midway into its fiscal year. This was virtually guaranteed to put the group into bankruptcy, as AQ has no other significant source of funds.
Heritage Canada claimed AQ had failed to provide proof they had spent the federal funds on specific projects that had been previously approved.
That is an unreasonable requirement to impose on Alliance Quebec. AQ has to be present in the community, to instantly respond to unanticipated issues that arise. AQ needs funds to cover its core operating costs of an office, staff to respond to public queries, communications and legal expenses before a single planned event can even take place. The recent intervention by AQ to assist the nurses who had been fired for failing their written French-language exams is just one example. AQ should not be paid by activities any more than police or fire departments are paid by the call.
Alliance Quebec is the only organization that has been present to fight injustices against English-speaking Quebecers. It is unfortunate that such an organization is needed, but it is up to the federal government to find a way to provide the necessary funds for Alliance Quebec to continue its good work.
(Harold Forester is a former director of Alliance Quebec and a former chairperson of the AQ Laval/North Shore.)

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