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Francophone community concerned about minister's inability to speak French

WAYNE GLOWACKI / FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Rochelle Squires </p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / FREE PRESS FILES

Rochelle Squires

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/5/2016 (1522 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Some Manitoba francophones are cautious about criticizing cabinet minister Rochelle Squires' inability to speak French — even though francophone affairs is one of her many duties.

They're willing to see how she does in the job.

"The ability to speak French is important, but even more important are actions. Actions will speak louder than words, in any language," said Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface).

"Obviously, it's not ideal. It would be preferable if the francophone affairs minister spoke French," Liberal MP Dan Vandal (Saint Boniface-Saint Vital) said Thursday in an interview from Ottawa. "What's important is she should show engagement to the community."

Squires is the minister of sport, culture and heritage, and minister responsible for francophone affairs and the status of women.

But she can't speak French.

Several members of Premier Brian Pallister's caucus are reportedly fluent in French, though his office has yet to provide a requested list.

There's a lot of disgruntlement on social media, Jacques de Moissac, student president at Université de Saint-Boniface, said Thursday.

"On Facebook lately, it's pretty heavily people complaining about that. There'll be a barrier created," de Moissac said. "We're a bit worried what happens if francophone affairs falls on the backburner," given her many disparate duties. "How are we going to be prioritized?

"Obviously, we are worried — Greg Selinger pushed for francophone affairs. We're worried they won't focus, because St. Boniface isn't one of their ridings."

But, he cautioned, "A lot of people are jumping the gun. It's the wrong thing, jumping to the conclusion that she won't do anything."

De Moissac said he is aware Finance Minister Cameron Friesen can speak French.

Squires must recognize French language rights, said Vandal, who sits on the official languages committee: "They're incredibly important in the province's history."

Said Allard: "I look forward to working with the new minister in my capacity as city councillor responsible for French language services, and I communicated that to the minister in a congratulatory email."

Université de Saint-Boniface chose not to comment on Squires' lack of French language skills.

Peter Dorrington, Université de Saint-Boniface academic and research vice-president, said by email: "Université de Saint-Boniface is looking forward to working with the current government in matters of French and francophone post-secondary education. We expect we can count on a full collaboration from all parties involved in helping students meet their academic goals. USB is committed to strengthening its relationship with all levels of government, and to continue offering a quality university and college education in order to shape today’s leaders in society."

Bernard Lesage, board chairman of the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine, said he is not apprehensive about any impact on Manitoba's French-language public schools.

As a school trustee, "I have had to work with different people in different ministries. A lot of them didn't speak French, but we got things done. I don't think you necessarily have to know French to know the French community."

However, he has met with St. Norbert Tory MLA Jon Reyes: "I had a bit of a conversation with him in French — it was interesting," said Lesage.

On Tuesday, shortly after being sworn into cabinet, when Squires was asked in French about her facility with the language, she could only smile, admit to the "steep learning curve" and pledge to be an advocate for the community.

Tory officials said there may be further comment Friday.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 4:43 PM CDT: Updated

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