Quebec Liberal Party MNA Dominique Anglade during question period, Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at the legislature in Quebec City. Within days of entering the Quebec Liberal leadership race, Dominique Anglade was hit with a whisper campaign suggesting the colour of her skin and her connection to Montreal hurt her chances of becoming premier. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebec Liberal Party MNA Dominique Anglade during question period, Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at the legislature in Quebec City. Within days of entering the Quebec Liberal leadership race, Dominique Anglade was hit with a whisper campaign suggesting the colour of her skin and her connection to Montreal hurt her chances of becoming premier. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Whisper campaign questions black Liberal candidate’s appeal outside Montreal

Dominique Anglade is in the race to become the leader of the Quebec Liberals

Within days of entering the Quebec Liberal leadership race, Dominique Anglade was hit with a whisper campaign suggesting the colour of her skin and her connection to Montreal hurt her chances of becoming premier.

The comments didn’t come from the dregs of social media but from people in her own party speaking to two of the province’s most seasoned political reporters. The message was that party members didn’t think Quebecers in regions outside the big cities were ready to vote for a black woman from the province’s multi-ethnic metropolis.

In a recent interview, Anglade said the anonymous Liberal insiders “underestimate Quebecers.”

“Honestly,” she said, ”I would rather respond to what I know as a fact and what people say publicly.”

Denis Lessard of La Presse reported last week the existence of an “anybody but Anglade” campaign among Liberals worried a Montrealer from a “cultural community” couldn’t win over the regions. Michel David in Le Devoir, noted a woman with Haitian ancestry as Liberal leader would represent a big change. “Clearly, not everyone in the party is convinced that Quebec is ready for such a change,” he wrote.

The reporting never identified the people making these claims, but it spoke to very real issues facing Anglade and her party. The Liberals are going to need to figure out how to appeal to the largely white, francophone regions suspicious of Montreal if they want to win power again.

Anglade, 45, is an engineer who was born in Montreal to Haitian parents. She used to be president of the party that now governs, Coalition Avenir Quebec, but quit and joined the Liberals in 2015.

Her only opponent so far in the leadership race, Drummondville Mayor Alexandre Cusson recently said he was ”stunned” by the whisper campaign.

“In 2019, are we still reducing the competencies and the qualities of a person to the colour of their skin?” he wrote in an open letter published on Facebook Nov. 27.

Cusson, who declared his candidacy Nov. 23, recognized that the anonymous comments directed at Anglade were also very much about him — the white man from outside the big city who some see as the Liberals’ winning ticket.

“It’s as if my only qualities are that I am a white man from a region of Quebec that isn’t Montreal …. These comments and insinuations need to stop,” he wrote.

Anglade says she wants to shift the leadership debate away from race. Not only are Quebecers ready to vote for a black woman, she says, but the Liberals are the only party that can offer a fully inclusive, federalist vision of the Quebec nation.

Anglade is positioning herself as a uniter, someone who will defend Quebec’s language and identity but respect the province’s diversity. She is also highly attuned to the need to steer clear of positions that put her at odds with the majority she is trying to court.

For example, she won’t say whether she thinks systemic racism exists in Quebec. The Liberals tried to launch public consultations on systemic racism in 2017 but cancelled them after strong criticism from political opponents, including the man who would go on to be elected premier in 2018, Francois Legault.

“I think we need to recognize that there are still challenges,” Anglade said, when asked if systemic racism exists in the province. “We still have issues with regards to integration.”

And Anglade, who voted against the government’s secularism legislation last June, now says if elected premier she wouldn’t get rid of it. Bill 21, which is facing multiple lawsuits, prohibits certain public sector workers, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

The law invokes the Canadian Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to shield it from court challenges, but the clause must be renewed every five years. Anglade said if she were premier, she would let the clause expire in 2024.

“Every law should be tested in court to ensure it is valid,” she said.

But in keeping with her position not to antagonize the majority in favour of the legislation, Anglade wouldn’t say what she would do if the courts eventually ruled it unconstitutional.

“So you will call me at that moment, and we’ll talk about it,” she said.

Benoit Pelletier, a senior Liberal cabinet minister under former premier Jean Charest, says Anglade is a quality candidate who understands that the party needs to reconnect with the regions if it wants to regain power.

Pelletier, who is now a law professor at University of Ottawa, said in an interview if the Liberals want to reconnect with people outside Montreal they need to leave Bill 21 alone. The party cannot play a role in getting the law tangled up in the courts, he said.

“I don’t know what the winning recipe is,” he said. ”But I can tell you the losing recipe is to mess around with judicial challenges. That seems pretty clear to me.”

ALSO READ: Tory deputy leader apologizes for comparing Pride, St. Patrick’s Day parades

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Victoria filed a petition with the Supreme Court of B.C. March 2 to have it clarify whether, under the Trustee Act, Beacon Hill Park can be used for temporary sheltering. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria asks court to clarify if Beacon Hill Park can be used for sheltering

City of Victoria filed petition to Supreme Court of B.C. March 2

The application proposing to rezone Western Speedway was passed by Langford’s planning, zoning and affordable housing committee Feb 8. A petition has since been started by residents of Trudie Terrace, hoping to stop the proposed residential portion of the development plan. (CBRE Victoria)
Petition opposing Western Speedway development proposal gains steam

Save Thetis Heights Neighborhood petition aims to stop extension of Trudie Terrace

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

Boma Brown won the Emerging Leader Award for her work founding the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour. (Courtesy of Boma Brown)
Victoria SNIWWOC founder up for national women’s award for volunteer efforts

Victoria’s Boma Brown is a semi-finalist in the running for the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth award

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (File photo)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

(File photo)
RCMP arrest man after report of gun-toting threat-maker near Parksville schools

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

Most Read