François Legault held his first official press conference as premier Friday morning in Quebec City, touching on numerous issues from school boards to banning religious symbols and flood compensation.
Quebec premier announces $2M fund for tornado victims
Legault answered numerous questions of particular concern to the English-speaking community and minority groups in the province.
When we were doing the commission, very often you heard a very anguished question: Will they change us? In other words, am I going to be living in a society that I don’t recognize? For generations, people coming from the country to Montreal, which is relatively speaking full of immigrants, felt in a sense: ‘Is it Quebec?’ So it’s perfectly understandable. It’s very wrong to take a moral line on people feeling this. But it’s totally irresponsible of political leadership to play on it because it does create a rift. It destroys the careers of a certain number of very competent, dedicated people who have wanted to be teachers since they were 10 and 12 and suddenly are told they can’t be. It alienates them. The sense of not being accepted very often leads people to build a counter-identity. Which you see in France, among Muslims — ‘We’re not French, we’re Muslims’ — because they feel rejected. It’s very bad for society and it doesn’t do any good for the people that are voting for this (either).
The premier reiterated his intention to get rid of school boards and replace them with service centres, arguing the move will allow for more public money to go directly to schools where it is needed.
Of course, we will change. Our children and grandchildren will change even more. But it will be a slight change. The weight of these people in the population (immigrants wearing religious symbols) is so small and they will propose good ideas and we’ll take some of them up. The weight is so small that tremendous, large-scale, involuntary, unforeseen change is not going to happen from them. They’re going to change and be like us. Most of the people who came to Quebec from Maghreb want to be like us. We asked people again and again, ‘Why did you come here?’ and two answers always came back. First, freedom. Second answer: I could give an education to my children that I never could have in Algeria, Morocco, etc. That’s the classic immigrant motivation. The people who are rushing to the border of Europe and risking drowning, if you ask them why are you going, why are you risking your lives, they would give the same answer. They really want to become like us.
Cannabis is inducing a panic in Quebecs new CAQ government
In the past, the English school boards have said they would mount a legal challenge to prevent school boards from being dismantled.
Dangerous, appalling, divisive, destructive — choose your epithet. I mean it’s just a terrible mistake we’re moving into. In all societies, when a lot of people come in with unfamiliar cultures, people are nervous and afraid. They’re not exactly sure what they’re afraid of but they are. So you can appeal to them by saying, ‘Well, we’re going to put restrictions on them or stop them.’ And (Legault) in fact is doing both — he’s saying we’re going to cut immigration in general and the especially worrisome people we’re going to put limits on.
When pressed about invoking the notwithstanding clause to go ahead with the reform, Legault said he didn’t feel it would be necessary.
In the end, they’re going to have to give it up, for two reasons. First of all, the lawyers, judges, etc. won’t stand for it and they’ll say this is against both charters, both Quebec and federal. And then they’ll invoke the notwithstanding clause, which is a kind of advertisement to the universe — we just violated our charter. And then people (in other parts of the world will notice) like when we had with the unilingual signage issue and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights condemned it. Also, you have to revote (the notwithstanding clause) every five years.
”What is important is that the anglophone community keep their institutions,” he said, arguing English-speakers will have representation within the service centres. “The parents will choose who is on the board of the service centres.”
But there’s absolutely no reason to do that because we have the evidence in our society that when people get to know each other, all these fears disappear. That’s why (the fears) are much less in evidence in Montreal. Because that’s where immigrants are and people mix together. We’re rather unlike the European situation where sometimes the people who come in have a long history of colonial struggles with the host society like in France. But here that isn’t the case. We have very carefully selected immigrants with skills and so on.
“Even on the anglophone side, the participation rate is under 20 per cent,” he said, adding his government’s priority when it comes to education is about improving services for children.
“Even if we keep nine service centres instead of nine school boards, I think it’s important that the money that is spent — which is about $20 million — is spent for services instead of an election where the participation rate is so low.”
When it comes to relations with the English-speaking community, Legault defended his decision to appoint a parliamentary assistant rather than a minister to the secretariat.
It’s unfortunate there’s no quick fix. We had a number of recommendations in the report for more mixing, like schools going away for a week or two weeks — instead of going to Germany or France, go to Rimouski. And the Rimouski kids come here. There are all kinds of things you can do to facilitate and accelerate this kind of contact. But it really takes time.
“First, Christopher Skeete will report to me,” he said. “It means I will get involved trying to ensure that anglophones understand that I want to work with them.”
In its 2008 findings, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on religious accommodation said teachers should not be covered by a ban on religious signs. The commission also said the crucifix should be removed from the National Assembly, an idea Legault has rejected.
On the banning of religious signs for people in positions of authority, Legault said his position hadn’t changed.
Two-thirds of Quebeckers support cannabis legalization, according to recent polls. Thats a pretty robust hurrah for the conception of individual liberty defended by Le Soleil in 1898. But cannabis has a darker history in Quebec than in other parts of Canada. The marijuana trade was one of the stakes in the Biker Wars of the late 1990s. These gangland battles convulsed the province for eight years, killing over 160 and wounding many more. They also cast a shadow of violence and terror over the banal transactions that supplied ordinary folk with their cannabis.
He did nuance his response though in reference to teachers, saying his Coalition Avenir Québec government plans to hold consultations to make sure it has majority support for its ideas.
By the time the government is ready to make its revisions to Quebecs cannabis legislation, however, the current cannabis panic among its rural and suburban constituents may have died down. Taxes from legalized sales in government stores will be having a calming, if not euphoric, effect on provincial finances. Like cigarettes, booze and lotteries, cannabis will pay for its new acceptability in cash.
Legault also spent time trying to reassure Montrealers — especially those who didn’t vote for the Coalition Avenir Québec — that his government has the city’s best interests at heart, despite having only two MNAs from Montreal.
He said the province’s success hinges on the success of its metropolis and that improving the economy was a top priority.
The Catholic clergy in Quebec back then occasionally preached against alcohol, but obviously didnt sway the vote in 1898, or in 1919, when 78 per cent of Quebeckers rejected a provincial ban. A few months later, the entire United States went dry, and Quebecs reputation as a God-fearing place where you could have a good time was born.
“As you know, I am not happy with Quebec’s economic situation and I think we can not improve the situation without improving the Montreal situation.”
One of the first customers at the cannabis store in downtown Montreal lit a joint on the sidewalk in front of the shop on Wednesday, obviously pleased that it was legal. It is for now, but the provinces incoming Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government has vowed to forbid legal purchasers from consuming it in any public place.
There was also good news for flood victims and victims of other natural disasters, with Legualt explaining he had tasked Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault with streamlining the process to ensure rapid compensation.
The CAQ prides itself on being sympathetic to businesses, but may find that its proposed ban on any public consumption plays poorly among owners of Montreals abundant rental housing. If smoking your legal pre-rolled joint on the street can draw a fine, some tenants might be tempted to light up indoors.
Quebec Premier François Legault has announced $2 million for the Red Cross to help victims of the tornadoes in Gatineau, Que., and criticized current efforts to compensate those people.
Historically, the province has been stony ground for prohibition of fun-enhancing substances. In an 1898 national plebiscite on alcohol prohibition, Quebeckers voted 81 per cent against, scuttling any chance that the federal Liberals would ban booze to please the narrow national majority in favour.
The money, announced Friday, brings the total the Quebec government has committed to $3 million since the Sept.21 storm.
It may be that that shadow still affects the opinions of those opposing legalized cannabis, whose views can be surprisingly moralistic. One mayor of a suburb of Montreal recently declared that no government pot shop in his town could be sited along a retail strip where ordinary shoppers might pass.
Legault was sworn in as premier on Thursday after his party, the Coalition Avenir Québec, won the Quebec election on Oct. 1.
The CAQs nowhere-any-time rule on public consumption will be ignored by Quebeckers who are already skilled at discrete puffing in public. The new governments insistence on such a rule, which is opposed by mayors in Montreal and other cities, looks like a panic reaction.
Legault said he was disappointed with the work that had been done in the aftermath of the tornadoes, and said he intends to introduce a new program for dealing with natural disaster recovery.
He said the new program will be less complicated than current compensation programs, but had no details. Legault said it was unfair to require extensive documentation from claimants, many of whom have lost everything in the tornadoes.
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