“I believe we are at a watershed moment for our community. Linguistic issues must not be seen as a zero-sum game.”

Sylvia Martin-Laforge brings a wealth of government experience to her position as Director General of the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN); having worked for the Ontario and Federal governments in support of linguistic minorities. “My trajectory has been working with specific groups that include advocating for women’s issues, anti-semetism and French-language schools in Ontario. I’ve had experience in tackling issue-based policy topics such as Aboriginal Health and Wellness. These are issues that brought about transformational change.”

“I’m a fully bilingual and bi-cultural product of the Eastern Townships… I went to school in the English system and attended Sacred Heart for my high school years in Montreal. I graduated from Concordia University and began working for the Federal Government in Montreal in what was then the Department of Employment and Immigration.“

“I chose to work in government because I have a personal belief in a commitment to good public service.”

Sylvia’s husband was transferred to Toronto in the early 80s, and when the couple relocated, she continued with the Federal Government and then the provincial Ontario government. “I worked in the Ontario Ministry of Education in support of Francophone education for ten to twelve years.” Sylvia developed and led key programs for French-language education at primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels.

(left to right) QCGN Board President Eva Ludvig, Senator Marc Gold, Official Languages Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Sylvia Martin-Laforge and Federal Mont-Royal MP Anthony Housefather

“My work always has been in support of under-represented groups, be they based on language, gender or indigenous. When you look at the barriers different groups face, you see a similarity to those barriers – even though the under-represented groups are different.”

“In 2000 I started working with Official Languages in minority communities. In 2002, The Privy Council pledged additional funding, and I was then working in the Privy Council Office (PCO) to develop an action plan for this important initiative.”

“Official Languages involves working with government policy and it touches all aspects of life. It affects provincial and federal legislation. The challenge is to knit together provincial and federal interests, policies and legislation.” With a chuckle, Sylvia adds; “There’s no way that you can get bored with this job!”

“Having worked to support Francophone interests in Ontario, I had a good understanding of the issues faced by Francophones living outside of Quebec. Similarly, I had a good appreciation of the challenges faced by English-speaking Quebecers. The English community in Quebec is the largest linguistic ‘minority’ in Canada. The English-speaking community in Quebec has a long history of contributions to political life, legislation, commerce, school boards and policy issues.”

“I was working in Ottawa until 2007, when the Director General’s position at the QCGN came open, along with a renewed mandate. I felt that my professional background had made me well-prepared for this job.”

“There was a lot to do when I arrived, and in the intervening years, a lot has changed. The Board was and continues to be very helpful and supportive. In my first five to seven years with the QCGN, there was a linguistic peace in Quebec. Part of my job was to ensure that the QCGN would be ready to be a policy advocate in the future.”

“We negotiated with the federal government to provide appropriate funding for our forty-five groups across the province. We were successful in that. This pro-active stance was new for many of our not-for-profit organizations. When in fact – all we were asking for was equitable treatment.”

“In the past four to seven years, we recognized that we needed to make our voices heard. We have moved from policy advocacy to political advocacy. Coincidentally the QCGN has experienced a renewal of our group and the wider community. We have become more active in the political realm. Our governance structure has evolved.”

“We recognize that not everyone belongs to a group. Even with forty-five member groups, that doesn’t mean that we represent all Quebecers. Therefore, it’s logical that we consider opening membership to individuals. We have a very strong Board, and we’ll be transitioning to this renewal in the coming weeks and months.”

Quebec Community Groups Network

(left to right) QCGN Board members Katherine Korakakis, President of the English Parents’ Committee Association; Westmount City Councillor, Matt Aronson; Senator René Cormier; Mont-Royal MP Anthony Housefather; QCGN President Eva Ludvig; Justice Minister David Lametti; Alix Adrien, President · Quebec Board of Black Educators; Senator Judith Seidman; Sylvia Martin Laforge; Former MP Eleni Bakopanos; retired professor Maureen Kiely; MP Marc G. Serré, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Official Languages

“This comes back to my belief in Public Service, and that notion that through our work, we have a duty to make our place better. In keeping with that philosophy, I feel that the QCGN could (and should) make this place better for the English-speaking community.”

“As a society, you have to fund your Public Service. The current language legislation could seriously undermine English-speaking education and services. To resolve these issues, it requires innovative thinking and humility. I say ‘humility’ because you’re not always right. At the QCGN, we recognize that we are a community of communities. We are not all white… not all able… and definitely not all the same. Our history has divided us as Scots, Irish, Italian, etc. I believe that the English-speaking community needs to see itself as a whole that includes those historical ethnicities. Most of us live in Greater Montreal, but we need to remember and respect the English-speaking communities in the regions… in West Quebec, the Laurentians, Quebec City, The Townships, The Gaspé and The North Shore.”

Sylvia addresses the challenge of mobilizing the wider English-speaking community. ‘I saw a mobilization of English Quebecers at the rally last May 23 at Dawson College. We knew that it was a risk to help organize that rally. We asked ourselves – could we bring everyone together to protest Bill 96, and the shelving of the expansion of Dawson? (By-the-way, that expansion included training facilities for nurses – a job category that we are sadly lacking in Quebec.) Could the QCGN lead an organization of parents and School Boards? Could we bring together a multi-generational and multi-ethnic group that included students?”

“We were delighted with the turnout – with the numbers, energy and the enthusiasm expressed by our community. It was an important day for our community. I have to tell you, that’s why I get up in the morning! Even with that success – we’re going to be at this for a bit.”

Sylvia reprises her earlier statement; “I believe this is a watershed moment for our English-speaking community. We feel disenfranchised. But we need to step up and propose solutions. We have to work with all political parties. Over the next 12 months we have to shore up what we want and need. That’s why I asked for 15% of the government funding that goes to cultural organizations – because the English-speaking community is 15% of the Quebec population.”

“We need to write letters to politicians – both federal and provincial. We have to stand up and work hard to communicate. We need to show that in diversity there is strength!”

For more information about the Quebec Community Groups Network; please visit: www.qcgn.ca, or call: 514-868-9044 or by email: [email protected]

QCGN At A Glance

QCGN traces its roots back to 1994 when the 15 Quebec-based regional and sectoral organizations that were funded under the federal Official Language Communities Program were brought together by Canadian Heritage to better manage program and funding priorities. In 1995, that ad-hoc group founded the Quebec Community Groups Network.

As a centre of evidence-based expertise and collective action, the QCGN identifies, explores and addresses strategic issues affecting the development and vitality of the English-speaking community of Quebec and encourages dialogue and collaboration among its member organizations, individuals, community groups, institutions and leaders.

English-speaking Quebec is a recognized, respected, and diverse linguistic minority that is an integral contributor to the development of all aspects of Quebec and Canadian society.

The Quebec Community Groups Network provides leadership and representation through dialogue, public awareness and advocacy for English-speaking Quebecers and their diverse institutions, organizations, and communities.

QCGN Principle with respect to Official Languages
The QCGN respects French as the official language of Quebec. It supports the protection, support and enhancement of the linguistic rights of Canadians to thrive in two official languages. English-speaking Canadians living in Quebec represent one of the two official language minority communities in Canada with equality of status, rights and privileges.
Source: QCGN